The Southern Baptist Convention is currently embroiled in an investigation about how it harbored sexual abusers for years. A report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News found that, over the past decade, more than 250 staffers or volunteers with Southern Baptist churches were “charged with sex crimes” against more than 700 victims.
If all of that sounds eerily familiar, it’s because the Catholic Church has been exposed for its own (larger) problems sheltering and covering up for sexual abusers.
Now, writing for Religion News Service, Rev. Thomas J. Reese has an excellent list of ways the two scandals are different. In fact, he says, the Southern Baptist problem actually debunks many of the myths spread by critics and defenders of the Catholic Church.
For example, how many times have you heard people blame the Catholic Church crisis on its policy of celibacy? The Southern Baptist scandal shows that treating sex as a sin for ministers isn’t the problem:
… Many liberal critics tried to blame the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church on priests’ vow to abstain from sex, yet Baptists are having the same problem, and there is no equivalent requirement for SBC ministers. Most Baptist predators are married men. There are good reasons for married priests in the Catholic Church, but marriage does not prevent a man from abusing.
Similarly, Church defenders often blamed the abuse on gay priests… but most (if not all) of the Baptist ministers are straight.
Is the Catholic Church’s abuse problem exacerbated by its hierarchical structure? The Southern Baptists don’t have that structure, yet the abuse thrived.
You get the idea.
Reese also offered advice to the Southern Baptists based on what’s happened with the Catholic Church.
Don’t think it is going to blow over. When victims come forward and scandal erupts, it is just beginning, not ending. As bad as the reports in the Texas newspapers sound, this is the tip of the iceberg. After the Boston Globe exposé, several thousand more victims came forward to tell their stories. Victims get angry and empowered by seeing stories of abuse survivors. There is every reason to believe that the current media coverage of abuse in Southern Baptist churches will stimulate more survivors to come forward. Get ready.
The only way to fix the problem, he says, report abuse to law enforcement, adopt a “zero-tolerance policy toward abusive clergy,” and be open and transparent about how you’re handling these issues.
It’s a sad day when one large religious group has to learn lessons about handling sexual abuse scandals from another large religious group. The Catholic Church’s response has been a failure in so many ways. The Southern Baptists have a chance to show the world it takes these problems seriously, but if their history is any indication, they’re not about to take responsibility for their actions.
They’ve never put the needs of the victims ahead of the wants of the ministers. Why would they start now?
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