December 17, 2015

Child sexual abuse is not just a Catholic problem

By Msgr. M. Francis Mannion *

The movie “Spotlight” (which I saw last week, and thought remarkably fair—not at all expressive of the familiar media attacks on the Catholic Church) has again opened up discussion about the issue of child abuse in the Catholic Church. The movie portrays the disastrous handling of sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston over a number of decades.

“Boz” Tchivividjian (don’t ask me how to pronounce the name) offered an insightful commentary in a Religion News Service blog last week entitled “Spotlight: It’s Not Just a Catholic Problem.” Tchivividjian, a former child abuse prosecutor, the founder and executive director of ABUSE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), and a Professor of Law at Liberty University (and I would guess a Baptist) argued that child sex abuse is just as prevalent in the Protestant Churches as it is in the Catholic Church.

Regarding the movie “Spotlight,” Tchivividjian writes: “Some may be tempted to watch this film with disgust at the Catholic Church and a sigh of relief for Protestants.” But, he says, “such relief would be unfounded and misplaced” for the reason that over a number of years the three companies that insure most Protestant Churches reported receiving approximately 260 reports per year of minors being sexually abused by church leaders and members. This compares to the 228 ‘credible accusations’ a year of child sexual abuse reported by the Catholic Church.”

Tchivividjian offers a surprising assessment: “In reality, the likelihood is that more children are sexually abused in Protestant churches than in Catholic churches.” This means that “Protestants are going to have to accept the fact that there are many more similarities than differences with our Catholic brothers and sisters when it comes to how we have failed to protect and serve God’s children.”

Tschivividjian identifies three areas of similarity between the Churches on this matter.  First, regarding the clergy who abuse: “The evil perpetrated by those who use their religious cover to access and abuse children is alive and well in Protestantism.” The sinister reality is “that sex offenders who hold positions of authority while carrying Bibles and quoting scripture are treacherous, regardless of whether they are called priest, pastor, or reverend. It’s not just a Catholic problem.”

Second, the attempts to protect reputations among church leaders and their denominations are widespread. Tschivividjian says that this is an all-all-too familiar problem in the Protestant Churches. He points to situations where offending pastors, missionaries, and other leaders have been reassigned or allowed quietly to retire all in an effort to insulate the institution.

Third is the problem of silent bystanders. “Among the disturbing truth that surfaced in ‘Spotlight’ was the deafening silence that surrounded the sexual abuse of children that had permeated inside the Church in epidemic proportions.” However, “the same deadly silence permeates inside many Protestant institutions.” Pastors will preach on all kinds of social ills, but studiously avoid the topic of child sexual abuse.

Catholics should take no joy whatsoever in Tschivividjian’s assessment. One child sexually abused in any tradition is one child too many. But it does put the Catholic situation into useful perspective. However, Catholics do not have to work less at the prevention of child abuse, but continue the stringent measures to protect children and bring offenders to justice.

One may ask, finally, why the Catholic situation has not received fair treatment in the print and electronic media. The answer: the media themselves—which often seem rather less interested in exposing child abuse at all levels of society than in Catholic-bashing.

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Salt Lake City. He holds a Ph.D in sacramental theology from The Catholic University of America. He was founding president of The Society for Catholic Liturgy in 1995 and the founding editor of the Societys journal, Antiphon. At the invitation of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago he founded the Mundelein Liturgical Institute in 2000.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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