Skip to comments.3 insurers shed light on Protestant church sex abuse
Posted on 06/15/2007 5:33:53 AM PDT by Between the Lines
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The three companies that insure the majority of Protestant churches in America say they typically receive upward of 260 reports each year of young people under 18 being sexually abused by clergy, church staff, volunteers or congregation members.
The figures released to The Associated Press offer a glimpse into what has long been an extremely difficult phenomenon to pin down — the frequency of sex abuse in Protestant congregations.
Religious groups and victims' supporters have been keenly interested in the figure ever since the Roman Catholic sex abuse crisis hit five years ago. The church has revealed that there have been 13,000 credible accusations against Catholic clerics since 1950.
Protestant numbers have been harder to come by and are sketchier because the denominations are less centralized than the Catholic church; indeed, many congregations are independent, which makes reporting even more difficult.
Some of the only numbers come from three insurance companies — Church Mutual Insurance Co., GuideOne Insurance Co. and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co.
Together, they insure 165,495 churches and worship centers for liability against child sex abuse and other sexual misconduct, mostly Protestant congregations but a few other faiths as well. They also insure more than 5,500 religious schools, camps and other organizations.
The companies represent a large chunk of all U.S. Protestant churches. There are about 224,000 in the U.S., according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, although that number excludes most historically black denominations and some other groups, which account for several thousand congregations.
Church Mutual, GuideOne and Brotherhood Mutual each provided statistics on sex abuse claims to The Associated Press, although they did not produce supporting documentation or a way to determine whether the reports were credible.
The largest company, Church Mutual, reported an average of about 100 sex abuse cases a year involving minors over the past decade. GuideOne, which has about half the clients of Church Mutual, said it has received an average of 160 reports of sex abuse against minors every year for the past two decades.
Brotherhood Mutual said it has received an average of 73 reports of child sex abuse and other sexual misconduct every year for the past 15 years. However, Brotherhood does not specify which victims are younger than 18 so it is impossible to accurately add that to the total cases.
Abuse reports don't always mean the accused was guilty, and they don't necessarily result in financial awards or settlements, the companies said. The reports include accusations against clergy, church staff and volunteers.
Even with hundreds of cases a year "that's a very small number. That probably doesn't even constitute half," said Gary Schoener, director of the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis, a consultant on hundreds of Protestant and Catholic clergy misconduct cases. "Sex abuse in any domain, including the church, is reported seldom. We know a small amount actually come forward."
Tom Farr, general counsel and senior vice president of claims for GuideOne, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, said most abuse cases are resolved privately in court-ordered mediation. Awards can range from millions of dollars down to paying for counseling for victims, he said.
One of the largest settlements to date in Protestant churches involved the case of former Lutheran minister Gerald Patrick Thomas Jr. in Texas, where a jury several years ago awarded the minister's victims nearly $37 million. Separate earlier settlements involving Thomas cost an additional $32 million.
When insurance companies first started getting reports of abuse from churches nearly two decades ago, the cases usually involved abuse that happened many years earlier. But over the past several years, the alleged abuse is more recent — which could reflect a greater awareness about reporting abuse, insurance companies said.
Insurance officials said the number of sex abuse cases has remained steady over the past two decades, but they also said churches are working harder to prevent child sex abuse by conducting background checks, installing windows in nurseries and play areas and requiring at least two adults in a room with a child.
Patrick Moreland, vice president of marketing for Church Mutual, said churches are particularly susceptible to abusers.
"By their nature, congregations are the most trusting of organizations, so that makes them attractive targets for predators," he said. "If you're a predator, where do you go? You go to a congregation that will welcome you."
A victims' advocacy group has said the Southern Baptists, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, could do more to prevent abuse by creating a list of accused clergy the public and churches could access.
"I think they should have a list of credibly reported clergy child abuse," said Christa Brown, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group initially created to hold the Catholic church accountable for sex abuse by its clergy.
"These are things people are entitled to know," said Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a child by a Southern Baptist minister. "The only way to prevent this crime is to break the code of silence and to have absolute transparency when allegations are raised."
At the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in San Antonio this week, the Rev. Wade Burleson of Enid, Okla., proposed a feasibility study into developing a national database of Southern Baptist ministers who have been "credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse."
A convention committee referred Burleson's motion to the SBC executive committee, which will report back with findings and a recommendation at next year's meeting in Indianapolis.
Southern Baptist President Frank Page said leaders are considering several options to help churches protect children against abuse.
"We believe that the Scripture teaches that the church should be an autonomous, independent organization," Page said. "We encourage churches to hold accountable at the local level those who may have misused the trust of precious children and youth."
Several years ago, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which represents moderates who have increasingly distanced themselves from the conservative-led Southern Baptists, started a list of accused clergy for churches, but not the public. Under pressure from victim advocates, the Texas group just released the names of some convicted sex offenders who may have been ministers in local congregations.
Joe Trull, editor of Christian Ethics Today and retired ethics professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, helped the Texas convention create its registry and says there are now about 11 cases involving clergy abuse with minors.
But he believes these are just the "tip of the iceberg" because churches don't have to report abuse cases to the registry and aren't likely to.
"The problem we're having is that churches just weren't sending the names," Trull said. "In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret. We're going to have to be more proactive and let them know if they don't come forward, they're helping to perpetuate this problem."
As do I. While I understand Salvation's frustration with the (perceived) disproportionate media coverage, IMO the media zeroed in on the Catholic Church because they caught the church in a cover-up, not because of the abuses themselves. These aren't just ecclesiastical crimes; they're civil crimes as well. The various Archdioceses' retention of these abusive priests may satisfy ecclesiastical law re the former category, but their refusal to acknowledge and respond appropriately re the latter category is IMO what gave this issue "legs" with the press.
Aside from the civil issues, "Protestant" churches tend to address their ecclesiastical issues quite rapidly. The Ted Haggard story "went away" because his church (rightly) booted him from his position of authority, and he removed himself from leadership at the National Association of Evangelicals, all within a matter of days after he was outed. Had Haggard tried to retain either position, or had the church tried to install him in another congregation w/o a revelation of his deeds to them, I'm sure the media would have hounded Ted Haggard to the end of his days.
Nor, apparently, for the police.
I'll take "Cover-ups by Another Name" for $2000, Alex.
It's you guys' turn in the grinder ... you have my sympathy. Best thing to do is visibly and vigorously purge yourselves of the satanic perverts. I'd think that would be obvious, by now.
Don’t hide it. Prosecute all offenders the first time they are offenders. If someone has a history of it and they have done their jail time, tell them to worship at home. That may be tough, but a truly repentant person would be completely willing to do whatever it takes to keep the kids safe.
You may be right - I missed that in my reading of the article.
Drawing up such a list for internal purposes is IMO a wise move for dealing with the ecclesiastical issue (say, adultery by a pastoral member), and the charge should be investigated by the ecclesiastical body for church discipline. Any accusations of a civil violation (i.e. statutory rape) should be encouraged to be reported by the accuser to the civil authorities, as well as be investigated by the ecclesiastical body for church discipline.
Hopefully, another list is drawn up that shows the names of those "accused and cleared" covering both the ecclesiastical and civil realms - and said ecclesiastical body should vigorously defend the honor and reputations of these named individuals afterwords, since they are cleared. Any names found on my theoretical first list that don't make it to my theoretical second list should be dismissed and prosecuted immediately, both ecclesiastically and civilly.
It's conceivable that this Baptist group's list is composed of those accused but cleared, but we don't know that from the article, and on first reading it certainly isn't painted that way.
YEah, One of my last “official” Episcopal things to do was to go for a day long sexual ethics and what-not course. It was clear the Insurer required it as a condition of insuring the Diocese for rates which were affordable.
Limiting liability is the name of the game.
I think this article and follow up discussion shows how difficult it is to track abuse in bodies that have a looser beaucracy.
Given that many other Faith Traditions can “Call” from across the Country, it is difficult to always get all the background.
Case in point: we have a so-called “independent” Latin Mass Chapel here in West Roxbury. They hired a Pastor awhile back name Brian McMahon, who it turned out, did time for Manslaughter and is rumored to have forced a parishioner he had an affair with to have an abortion.
And if anyone is wondering why this is comparable this guy is not a Catholic Priest he was/is a Sede therefore not “rostered” anywhere, just a free agent.
The RCC only wishes there were sex scandals in Protestant churches of the same magnitude that exist in the RCC.
I urge everyone, Protestant and Catholic, to rent or buy the jarring, engrossing and truthful documentary DVD, "Deliver Us From Evil."
After viewing the DVD you realize the problem is so deep and vast as to be nearly insurmountable for the RCC.
And you understand better what the difference is between sexual transgressions in the RCC and the Protestant churches. In Protestant churches the minister is seen as a fellow believer, a leader who is learned and commissioned by God to teach and guide, but who is not any closer to God than any of his flock.
OTOH the RCC teaches that the priest is actually different from other believers, significantly closer to God because he is seen as the actual and required administrator of God's grace. Protestants rightly acknowledge this responsibility as belonging to the Holy Spirit alone and not to any man on earth.
It's this elevated position of supernatural authority, coupled with an unnatural, unBiblical celibacy, that create the massive, systemic problem in the RCC which the Protestant churches simply do not have, by the grace of God.
It's the difference between law-breaking under a republican form of government with its checks and balances, compared to law-breaking under a monarchy. One is open to scrutiny as much as possible; the other is hidden and subversive by definition and the perks of the position.
For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." -- Ephesians 5:11-14
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.
But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." -- Ephesians 5:11-14
The one case I know of ( a man in training for the pastorate touched a young girl inappropriately, no sodomy or intercourse),was announced to the church at a service, he was reported to the police and needless to say dismissed from the church and denomination
“Yes, all men are fallen.”
And women too, except, being shorter, they don’t have to fall as far.
Along those lines, and in light of our other recent conversations, I'd be interested to see what the operating definition of "Protestant" is for this article.
For the purpose of that post, please see the footnote :)
I was thinking of you when I made it.
Fru, my experience in the military is that they wanted to view everything in Christianity that wasn’t catholic or orthodox as protestant.
Methodism came a couple hundred years after the reformation, so it’s ify whether one could agree with Wesley and include them in the reformation. The reformation churches, in my mind, should be the true definition of protestant.
It’s simply incorrect to view the Assembly of God or the Church of God, etc., as protestant. Some other label would be more appropriate: American Evangelical....something like that.
If only they were allowed to get married.
Oh, wait, nevermind.
I find it hard to believe that American Roman Catholics view the priest as other than just another joe. They might “like” for him to represent them well, but surely they know better than to think that he’s of a different nature than the rest of humanity.
Wherever there are humans there will be sinners, whether or not it is reported.
That is a common mistake repeated over and over again by so many people. They assume that because the Protestant Reformation marked a departure from the Roman Catholic Church that any church not Roman Catholic (or Orthodox) is therefore Protestant, even though they bear little if any doctrinal resemblence to the Reformed churches.
Methodism came a couple hundred years after the reformation, so its ify whether one could agree with Wesley and include them in the reformation. The reformation churches, in my mind, should be the true definition of protestant.
Wesleyan Methodists would be considered borderline at best. Obviously there is little question about Whitefield Methodists.
Its simply incorrect to view the Assembly of God or the Church of God, etc., as protestant. Some other label would be more appropriate: American Evangelical....something like that.
Agreed. Those churches really are not Protestant in any true sense of the word.
My Pastor ... or any other priest ... or Bishop ... or Pope ... is, in and of himself, a sinful man as much in need of Jesus' saving Grace as you or I. And as even the most casual observer can tell, historically some of them have seemed to be far more Grace-filled than others. They are called (by God) to to an office of enormous responsibility, but also given the Grace (by God, though the Sacrament of Holy Orders) to fulfill that responsibility. What they do with it can be great or scandalous.
Yes, we believe that Holy Orders leaves an "indelible mark" on their soul ... but it doesn't make them anything other than human.
To suggest that we believe that the priest is some sort of half-divine superman is an egregious act of false witness.
“And I give Thee thanks that I am not like other men — drunken, greedy, grasping, and sexually immoral — and not like that Romanist over there ...”
Its simply incorrect to view the Assembly of God or the Church of God, etc., as protestant. Some other label would be more appropriate: American Evangelical....something like that.
I agree. In my own mind, I tend to break down "Protestant" into categories of:
"Reformed/Protestant" (16th century, those that trace denominational and creedal roots back to the Reformation),
"Evangelical" (17th century, like xzins' Wesleyans/Methodists or the Baptists, largely anabaptist, that arose after the Reformed groups);
"Restorationist" (19th century, independent "first century style" churches / denominations that can be traced back to the Stone/Campbell movement in NY's Hudson River valley); and
"Charismatic" (20th century, any "Spirit-led" but anti-creedal church or denomination that followed or appeared alongside the Restorationists, but especially those that originated with the "baby boomer" generation i.e. the Calvary Chapel/Vineyard churches).
I'm honestly not sure where I'd place groups like the "emergent churches" or even the Warren / Osteen style megachurches. They lack the strong theological distinctives (Calvinism, creedalism) that characterizes the earlier groups, and the strong cultural distinctives (display of charismatic gifts, fierce cultural isolationism) that characterizes the later groups. I tend to think that they should get their own category, but I usually lump them under the "evangelical" label because they usually associate themselves with that group socially.