Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Clergy Sex Abuse: Protestant v. Catholic

Was the "clergy sex abuse" scandal predominantly a Roman Catholic phenomenon and was it attributable (as many observers seemed to suggest) to the Catholic rule about the celibacy of the clergy? I don't know the answers to these questions but I have always been suspicious of shoot-from-the-hip affirmative answers.

I recently found this old op-ed about a sex abuse case involving a member of the clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

Carol Marin, Protestant Sex Abuse: A $69 Million Jury Award Chicago Tribune (April 28, 2004):

Think back.

Do you remember reading a story about clerical sexual abuse last Friday?


Think hard. It was a pretty big story.

It involved a Chicago-based denomination of 5 million members that, according to the Associated Press, "has drawn comparisons to the worst abuses committed during the Roman Catholic molestation crisis."

It is a tragically familiar tale. Fourteen male victims. A bishop accused of looking the other way. And a whopping $37 million civil jury award plus a separate out of court settlement of $32 million for a total of $69 million. Still not ring a bell?

Don't blame yourself. This is a church sex-abuse story that got little, if any, real coverage. When the case was decided last week, the national TV networks didn't cover the story. It was not big news on Chicago television stations. Nor was it in the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times. Instead, each paper ran the same short account provided by the Associated Press. You could find it on page 16 of the Tribune. Page 44 of the Sun-Times.

This is a story about Protestant sex abuse.

It involves the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, headquartered on West Higgins Road in Chicago, and a former minister named Gerald Patrick Thomas Jr., who was the pastor of one of the denomination's churches in Marshall, Texas.

Arrested in 2001, Thomas is now in federal prison on child pornography charges. When he is done serving a five-year sentence there, he'll move on to a Texas state penitentiary where he has been sentenced to 397 years for molesting boys.

How is it that in the last few years we have learned so much about predator Catholic priests like the late John Geoghan or Paul Shanley, both of Boston, but so little about Gerald Patrick Thomas Jr. of Texas?

Is there a whiff of anti-Catholicism in the "Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal"?

Personal note: in the spring of 2002 I wrote an investigative team at a prominent American newspaper and asked why the team was not investigating sexual abuse by Protestant clergy. The summary reply I got: sexual abuse by Protestant clergy is not a serious problem.

Some fragmentary information recently came to light about claims of sexual abuse by Protestant clergy. See Rose French, Report: Protestant Church Insurers Handle 260 Sex Abuse Cases a Year Insurance Journal (June 18, 2007)