My Turn: Offenses not limited to one denomination

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2002

Like most people, I have watched with dismay the unfolding events of sexual misconduct centered on Roman clergy. I have no doubt the new protocols and procedures that have been adopted will begin to address this problem, but I wonder why the press centered in upon the Roman church? Could it be that is was so easy? A huge hierarchical church always gives more press bang for the buck, since finding a pedophile under that clerical rock means you get bishops, cardinals and even the pope all in one press release. It has been the turkey shoot of the new decade and one that leaves me even more frightened for the sake of our children.

Denominations and other religious institutions with little or no central authority have seemingly been excused by the press from the classroom of scrutiny. Some of the denominations have flatly refused to even comment upon this issue and no one has challenged their positions.

Some have absolutely no policies that protect anyone and require no background checks of their ministers or lay leadership. What makes the problem twice as bad is the fact that in many of these churches lay people have as much power as clergy, and since sexual exploitation is a crime of power, we have double the trouble.

Certainly exposing a fictitious Pastor Joe from the Sunlight Christian Fellowship does not allow the press to film bishops celebrating Divine Service or take a trip to Rome to watch them all sweat together. It only catches one sick minister, but it might also save countless children from the horrors of sexual exploitation. The idea that only Roman Catholic clergy deal with pedophiles in their ranks is a blatant statement of prejudice, and just plain stupid. And since the overwhelming cases of the sexual exploitation of children occur at the hands of their parents, celibacy is obviously not the issue.

I am also troubled about those states whose district attorneys have demanded the files of accused Roman clergy, but I have heard nothing about their requests for the same material from other denominations and free congregations. So the Pastor Joes of this world get to go scot-free, destroying children sometimes for decades.

Let us also remember that not all abuse is overtly sexual. A while back a young girl came to see me with her mother investigating whether the Episcopal Church would be a good choice for them. In the context of the discussion she showed me deep scars on her back inflicted by her minister for speaking in church. She was too frightened to go to the police, since she was told that she would go to hell if she ever revealed this righteous punishment. We have to protect her, too, from overt cruelty masquerading as religious doctrine.

I urge our state's and even our national legislature to enact laws that will address all clergy, physicians, therapists, teachers - anyone who deals with children in high-risk situations and require the same background checks and procedures that will keep our children safe. It must force anyone who calls themselves a counselor to either be licensed or at least list under their shingle what qualifications they have. It must not exempt any church, temple or mosque under the guise of religious freedom or because one's employment stratification of newspaper sales are only enhanced by going after the big fish.

The Roman Catholic sexual scandal has been a turkey shoot - a can't miss story. As we take our guaranteed shots let's not forget the wolves that prowl just beyond our gaze.

The Rev. Rob Bruschi is rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau.

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