Search This Blog

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Church Sex Scandals

Unless you have been in a hole the last couple of weeks, you are aware of the sex scandal that has hit the Roman Catholic Church again. This time it seems that the Pope himself may be guilty of covering-up these atrocities and providing safe-haven for child-molesters. See this story .

In a recent interview with Bill Maher, noted atheist Christopher Hitchens discusses the allegations. One very important point, I think, he makes in the interview is that the Catholic leadership including the Pope seem to have been more concerned about the well-being of the church than about the well-being of the children. This is to me inexcusable for anyone but especially the one who is supposedly the vicar of Jesus Christ on earth.

(For a number of different views on how the pope is/is not handling this abuse problem, see the On Faith discussion at the Washington Post.)

Since my blog has to do with why I rejected evangelical Christianity, one might wonder what relevance this sex scandal within the Catholic Church might have to evangelicalism. The relevance is that evangelical churches have done precisely the same thing the Vatican has done, namely, cover-up the abuse and relocate the offending parties to new congregations. As David Gushee, distinguished professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, said in an article comparing the Catholic scandal to Baptist scandals: The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view .

There are many cases of Baptists and other evangelical Christians who have been involved in sex scandals with children. For examples, see and the book Schizophrenic Christianity: How Christian Fundamentalism Attracts and Protects Sociopaths, Abusive Pastors, and Child Molesters by Jeri Massi.

I am personally aware of the case of Bob Gray, Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonsville, FL for 30 years and President of Trinity Baptist College. Pastor Gray was a leader in Baptist fundamentalism from the 1960's through the 1990's. He was not only the Pastor of a megachurch but also a very popular conference speaker around the world. I remember in particular hearing him in the late 1970's at the Southwide Baptist Fellowship meeting in which several thousand were in attendance. He preached a fiery sermon as usual and the altar was flooded with hundreds of pastors and other Christians at the end of the sermon asking God to fill them with the Holy Spirit and bless their ministries as God had blessed Pastor Gray's. I remember a conference speaker the next day comparing what had happened at the end of Pastor Gray's sermon with what happened on the day of Pentecost (minus the tongues-speaking). He said he had never before seen such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

What was not known by very many people at the time was that Pastor Gray liked to invite elementary children (and he had his own private school at his church) into his office for private sessions. These sessions involved Pastor Gray sexually molesting these children, both male and female.

The really sad thing is that this went on in his church for decades and when things finally began to come out in the early 1990's, Gray resigned the church and his hand-picked successor, Rev. Tom Messer, had the church pay for Pastor Gray and his wife to go to Germany as "missionaries." The story given was that Pastor Gray had long wanted to go to Germany and minister to the US servicemen and their families there. Nothing was said publically at all about the allegations of child abuse. Only the new Pastor, the deacon board, and those who had alleged the abuse, were aware of why he was actually going to Germany.

In May 2006, when Gray returned to Jacksonville, he was arrested. Gray initially denied any wrongdoing but later admitted he had "french-kissed" some little girls while they were sitting on his lap. Gray died in November 2007 just days before his trial was to begin. By that time more than 20 women and one man had come forward alleging sexual abuse at the hands of Pastor Gray. Currently there are at least 7 civil lawsuits against Trinity Baptist Church seeking millions of dollars in damages for their cover-up. To my knowledge, no criminal prosecution has been brought against any church leaders for their involvement in the cover-up. Amazingly enough, Tom Messer is still the Pastor and the church is still quite large although not as large as it once was. Its also interesting that even though the Church was founded by Bob Gray and pastored by him for over 3 decades, his name has been removed from the website. There is no mention of him or the history of the church at all on the webpage.

The excuse commonly given to those who wondered why the church leadership covered-up the actions of Pastor Gray was that they did not want to do damage to the "cause of Christ." Just as the current Pope, apparently was and is more concerned about the well-being of the church than he is the well-being of the children, these evangelical leaders were only concerned about their "ministry." This in spite of the fact that the Scriptures, which they claim to believe are the inspired Word of God, say concerning pastors: Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning (1 Timothy 5:20). And Jesus himself is reported to have said: But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6).

As a footnote, Christa Brown of, has a letter written tongue in cheek to the Pope regarding the Sex Scandals:

To His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI:

I know it must have hurt to see that front page story in the New York Times. And such ugly documents! Those pieces of paper sure came back to bite you, didn’t they?

That’s why I’m writing. If you want to better protect your image, I figure you could learn a thing or two from Baptist officials.

For starters, take a lesson from the Baptists and quit keeping so many records on your clergy. I know you’ve got that pesky little problem of Catholic canon law, which requires record-keeping. But since you’re the top-dog, why don’t you just issue some sort of edict?

You could just say, “No more record-keeping.”

That’s how it works in Baptistland. No records -- no trace -- no trouble.

It doesn’t work out so well for the kids, of course, but it works out great for the high honchos. You might want to give it a try.

In fact, I’d guess that a whole lot of those troubling priest-abuse lawsuits might have never even been filed if you guys weren’t so big on record-keeping. And they sure wouldn’t have brought in the big dollars that some of them did.

The records are the root of your problem. Lawyers know that, with a lawsuit, they’ll be able to force the disclosure of documents, and then it’s what’s in those documents that drives up the dollar cost of the lawsuits, isn’t it?

So just say "no" to record-keeping. That’s the Baptist way and it makes things so much easier. Well … easier for church leaders and denominational top-dogs, but no one seems to have any problem putting on blinders about the kids.

And then there’s the problem of that office you used to head up -- the office that decides whether accused priests should be given ecclesiastical trials and defrocked. It’s the office you call the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

I like the catchy name, but that office has really caused you a lot of trouble.

A Baptist guy once proposed that Baptists establish something called an “Office of Ministerial Accountability and Integrity.” He had in mind an office that would do things similar to what it sounds like your office did -- look into reports about clergy sex abuse -- but since he’s Baptist, he never even considered the possibility of an office that would actually “defrock” ministers. He just thought it might be helpful to have a denominational office where trained people would look into clergy abuse reports and then inform people in the pews about their determinations. But of course, this guy was just dreaming pie in the sky. Baptists don’t have anything even resembling such an office.

You see, once again, that’s where you Catholics messed up. You never should have had such an office to begin with.

If you never had such an office, then no one would have even known where to report all this stuff. And no one would be pointing fingers at you, as the former head of the office, for what you did or didn’t do. And you wouldn’t have all those file cabinets filled with things you guys are probably still hoping no one will see.

Just say “not my problem.” Put up a big, bold-face, all-caps, red-letter disclaimer saying “We don’t endorse any priests.”

Just shrug and say “We leave it totally up to law enforcement.” That’s the Baptist way.

The side benefit is that, if you did like Baptists and waited for the law to throw a priest in prison, then you wouldn’t have such a shortage of priests. Virtually all experts recognize that the vast majority of cases cannot be criminally prosecuted, and so about 95 percent of those hundreds of priests who have been removed from active ministry could be put back into churches. It’s because of your own ecclesiastical processes that they’re gone.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but you might want to think about it. The Baptist system of denominational do-nothingness works out really well for the honchos.

Of course, it’s hell for the kids.

Respectfully and with hope,
Christa Brown


  1. Sad - profoundly sad. Not just what the Church did but who we are as humans. Hiding our wrong doing is not, of course, a behaviour limited to religion. It can be found in all areas of life. But when it happens within a religious setting it is certainly more disturbing.

  2. BTW, Some may thing that this post contradicts what I said in the comments section yesterday related to whether religious people are really bad people. In my mind, it doesn't because I am not ready to condemn every individual in the churches for what some have done. I can't blame every single Catholic or every single Baptist for the atrocities that have been done in their churches. However, I do think they have an obligation to speak out though and make it clear that they repudiate it just as I think it necessary for Muslims to speak out and make it clear that they repudiate the terrorism that is done in the name of their religion.

    I wish that all men could realize we share the same planet and that we are all of the same species and we have an obligation to learn to get along and work together for the betterment of our species. I agree, though, that religion is a big obstacle standing in the way of that cooperation. Conservative religions that divide the world between the "saved" (children of God) and the "lost" (children of the devil) are in my mind just as evil as those who have promoted racial segregation. So, I guess what I am saying is that the religious beliefs of these conservatives are evil even though every individual who holds them is not.

  3. To further support my comment above, here is a quote from Blaise Pascal: Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction .

  4. While this is not sexual abuse, it is physical abuse and the "great" evangelical leader, James Dobson promoted it probably better than any other person in the last 50 years. See this article in the Denver Post about his recent retirement and note the hostile comments in the comment section.

    Cipher--I know I am giving you lots of ammunition.

  5. See this follow up article by Susan Greene of the Denver Post dealing with comments received about her prior article on James Dobson.

  6. Part of a comment I posted on a PZ thread: I don''t know about comparative numbers, but the problem transcends the Catholic church; the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, to name a few that I know of, have had their own "problems", and have dealt with them, at least until very recently, in the same way as the Catholic church does. Threatening and intimidating whistleblowers and victims, moving pastors from church to church,
    allowing them to continue their depredations in one congregation after another, denial, promises that turn out to be mere words ... Same tune, same lyrics, different choir.

    The scandal has been hushed up, in part, I think, because these churches do not answer to one single authority, so each case is dealt with in isolation.

    For a couple of examples (out of many) of a series of abuses, try Googling "Mamou Christian Academy", (C&MA) or "PCUSA apology abuse". At least the Presbyterians eventually issued an apology for the abuse of missionary kids!