After a month of two of reading such reports and revelations, I noticed -- it was hard not to notice -- that all of the revelations were about alleged abuse by members of the Roman Catholic clergy; in the eyes of the Boston Globe reporters "clergy abuse scandal" seemed to be a synonym for the "Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal."
I sent two e-mail messages to the Boston Globe that spring to ask why its investigative team wasn't looking into sex abuse by Protestant clergy.
The Boston Globe responded. Its response was not that it already had too much on its hands and that it didn't have the time or resources to broaden its investigation or to launch a new investigation. The Boston Globe's response was that the consensus is that sex abuse by Protestant clergy is not a serious problem.
Over the years the Boston Globe has worked hard to defend the proposition that homosexuality among the Catholic clergy was not the cause of the "[Catholic] clergy abuse scandal." But the Boston Globe has not hesitated to say or intimate that the Catholic Church's clergy celibacy policy [which it opposes] was a major cause of the "[Catholic] clergy abuse scandal." See, e.g., James Carroll, "The Basilica of Denial," Boston Globe (December 5, 2005) ("Last week's Vatican 'instruction' restricting admission to the priesthood to heterosexuals was an exploitation of prejudice about homosexuality aimed at drawing attention away from the real crisis facing the Catholic Church. If any one group "caused" the priest sex-abuse scandal, it was not gays, but rather the bishops themselves, who now scapegoat gays. ... What the scandal reveals is the moral bankruptcy of the entire Catholic clerical culture, but in order to deal with that, basic questions about celibacy, women's ordination, the role of the laity, and repressive authority would have to be asked.")
In 2005 the Irish Echo Online reported that the Boston priest "[Paul] Shanley, who is 73, received favorable press coverage from the Boston Globe and other publications during the late 1970s, when he served as a celebrated street priest working with alienated youth." In 1980 a New York Times columnist scolded the Boston Archdiocese for putting limits on the pastoral work of Paul Shanley, who was known for directing his pastoral work at homosexuals. See Columnist in NYTimes Criticizes Roman Catholic Hierarchy for Reining in Paul R. Shanley. It was this same Shanley who later became one of the principal figures in the "clergy abuse scandal" in the Boston area.It is possible that clergy celibacy is a cause of sexual misbehavior by Catholic clergy. But, thanks to Martin Luther, Lutheran churches do not have a "policy" of celibacy for clergy. And it seems that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may now be experiencing its own "clergy abuse scandal." The first major sign of such an impending disaster for Lutheran churches was the $60,000,000+ (yes, more than sixty million) settlement in 2004 of legal claims against a Lutheran minister, against a Lutheran seminary, against the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA], and against various Lutheran officials. The gravamen of the charge was that a Lutheran pastor molested male children and that various Lutheran officials and organizations allowed a known sexual predator to become a pastor who was in a position to molest children. See Christianity Today:
In what may be the largest per capita clergy abuse settlement ever, nine victims will receive $36.8 million from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Northern Texas/Northern Louisiana Synod and two former officials. The civil case follows the conviction of Gerald P. Thomas, former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Marshall, Texas, for sex crimes against children. An additional $32 million out-of-court settlement was reached before the trial ended. Total awards amounted to nearly $69 million awarded to 14 victims.See also Bob Ross, Jr., "Judge OKs settlement in Lutheran Church abuse case," Chicago Sun-Times (April 13, 2004) ("The case of former Lutheran pastor Gerald Patrick Thomas Jr., who was sentenced last year to 397 years in state prison for sexually assaulting boys in this East Texas town, has drawn parallels from victims' advocates to some of the worst cases in the Roman Catholic abuse crisis.")
Individual awards ranged from $50,000 to $9.8 million depending on medical needs and the amount of abuse suffered. The settlements involve Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Ohio, a Michigan candidacy committee that ordained Thomas, Good Shepherd Church, the Northern Texas/Northern Louisiana Synod, and Bishop Mark Herbener of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod and his assistant Earl Eliason. According to the ELCA, the 5 million-member denomination will pay $8 million of the total settlement.
It now appears that a second big shoe may be about to fall: twenty (20) men in New Jersey have brought a lawsuit against a Lutheran parish, against the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA], and against the New Jersey Synod of the ELCA. These men seek approximately $100,000,000 in damages. They aver that a male Lutheran minister molested them when they were children.
A $100 million lawsuit against St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Brick will proceed after a judge on Friday declined to dismiss complaints brought by 19 men who allege they were molested as children in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by the church's onetime pastor.
Toms River attorney Robert R. Fuggi filed the lawsuit on behalf of 19 plaintiffs, who now range in age from 29 to 52, who allege they were molested by [the parish pastor] Slegel when they were children ranging in age from 5 to 15. There is a 20th man who also claims he was molested as a child by Slegel, whom Fuggi said he plans to add as a plaintiff to the lawsuit. &&&
"Today was a significant victory," Phillipsburg attorney Gregory Gianforcaro, another attorney representing the plaintiffs, said afterward of O'Brien's decision. "It means that the case can proceed on for pretrial hearings."
For a 40-year-old Brick man who is one of the 19 plaintiffs, the decision means he can continue with his quest to protect his own and other children from similar sexual abuse. "I'm a parent, and I have two small children, and I don't want anyone to go through what I went through," said the man, whose identity has been withheld because he was the victim of alleged sexual assaults. "I don't want anyone to go through the hell that I and the other 19 did."
The man, who attended Friday's hearing with 12 of the other plaintiffs, said outside the courthouse that he was 6 years old and would play ball in the street every day with his friends when Slegel opened the doors to the church's facilities to them, telling them they could have a place to play, rain or shine.
Soon after that, Slegel would take him into his office, make him sit on his lap and molest him while the boy played with the pastor's typewriter, the man alleged. The molestation occurred weekly for seven years, until he was 13 years old, the man claimed.
Asked the number of times it occurred, the man responded, "I can't count that high." By the time he was a teenager, "I turned to alcohol, marijuana and cocaine — anything to bury it," the man said. "I was guilty of living a block away (from the church). I was just trying to be a kid."
Also outside the courthouse, the mother of one of the plaintiffs, who did not identify herself to protect the identity of her son, said, "We thought it was awesome that the church was opening its doors to the kids, and we were totally trusting. We never heard anything (about sexual abuse by clergy) back then."
Attorneys for the church on Friday argued that the church, school and its officials have immunity from the claims in the lawsuit because of their status as charitable organizations. The attorneys for the defendants also argued that the two-year statute of limitations had long passed before the lawsuit was filed in 2005.
"The alleged acts of sexual abuse took place between 1967 and 1985," William J. Conroy, attorney for the church and school, told O'Brien.
"My client is deceased, which means this case is a very difficult case to defend for all of the defendants," said Linda A. Olsen, the attorney representing the estate of Slegel, who was living in Southern Shores, N.C. when he died last year at age 77.
Normally, the statute of limitations would have started to run when the plaintiffs turned 18. But Fuggi said because of his clients' repressed or delayed memories of the alleged abuse, the statute of limitations would not start to run until they realized the molestation caused emotional problems they are experiencing as adults.
O'Brien ordered that the plaintiffs be examined by medical and mental-health experts for the defense to determine when they remembered the alleged abuse and realized what effect it had on them. The judge ordered future hearings to be held on that matter and on the relationship of each plaintiff with the church and school to determine whether their claims can proceed to trial or are barred by either charitable immunity or the statute of limitations.
O'Brien, in making his ruling, cited a 2006 decision by the state Supreme Court in a case involving alleged child sexual assault — John W. Hardwicke against the American Boychoir School. The Hardwicke decision said charitable organizations are not immune from claims brought for willful, wanton or grossly negligent conduct, and that an institution such as a school can be viewed as a child abuser if it is standing in place of a child's parents and fails to protect the youngster from abuse.
The judge said he would meet with the attorneys in the case in November of 2008 to schedule the pretrial hearings, after the plaintiffs are examined by medical and mental-health experts. O'Brien dismissed complaints brought by two of the plaintiffs against the Rev. John M. Elstad, an associate pastor who worked under Slegel and assumed the post of senior pastor upon Slegel's resignation amid scandal in 1993. O'Brien dismissed the two complaints because the allegations of abuse preceded Elstad's arrival to the church, but he let stand the complaints of the remaining plaintiffs against Elstad.
The lawsuit has alleged that Elstad, who retired in 2004, and other church and school officials turned a blind eye to the sexual molestation.
Elstad's attorney, Michael Gilberti, has denied that Elstad had any knowledge of the alleged abuse. Joseph Goldberg, an attorney representing officials of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and 192 Lutheran churches known as the New Jersey Synod, said the church officials named as defendants were not yet in office when the alleged molestation occurred.
Does the story sound familiar?
Does the Pultzer Prize-winning Boston Globe want to reconsider its position about the scope and possible causes of the "clergy abuse scandal"? If not, is the Boston Globe guilty of anti-Catholic prejudice?
N.B. I have been a Lutheran all my life. I am now reconsidering my religious affiliation. I live in New Jersey. To my knowledge, there has been little if any discussion in by the ELCA hierarchy about the possible problem of Lutheran clergy abuse. The position of the ELCA seems to be like the Boston Globe's: "What problem?" I suspect that time will tell a different story.