Child Abuse

10 Myths of Abuse in the Church

Jesus-like image hiding face, Elena Ray /

Jesus-like image hiding face, Elena Ray /

Editor’s Note: As we continue reporting on the important topic of sexual abuse and violence, Sojourners has opened up the Sexual Violence and the Church blog series for submissions. This piece is one such submission. If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please email the Web Editor HERE.

I first became aware of the realities of sexual abuse in the church at the tender age of five. I happened to look at the television screen and witnessed police officers escorting my hand-cuffed youth minister in front of a crowd of reporters screaming questions. The words “YOUTH PASTOR ABUSED CHILDREN” flashed across the television screen.

I was confused and scared. My family comforted and assured me that the pastor had only “hurt” teenage boys and that I was safe. The church hired a new minister and, on the surface, life seemed to resume to normal for our congregation. But as a child I had no idea of the effects of the abuse and its aftermath had on the survivors, their families, and our church community. Many families soon experienced disintegrating marriages, friendships were broken, and faith was lost. One survivor’s family had their home repeatedly vandalized and were forced to move hundreds of miles from our town to escape fellow believers who grew angry with them for filing a lawsuit against the perpetrator. 

Church leaders shunned media attention and feared “airing dirty laundry” in public, encouraging members to keep the experience a secret for the sake of the boys and church. As a child, and then a teenager, growing up in an otherwise loving, connected church, I never remember hearing church leaders address this aspect of our shared history in the open. To some of the survivors and the broken-hearted, the silence on this topic was welcome; to others it was deafening. While secrecy was the rule, the legacy of the abuse was real and active in the community. Rather than being cared for with dignity and love, the survivors and their families felt that they were a shameful secret to be whispered about and hidden. I learned as an adult that I was intimately connected with some of the survivors but never knew about their silent pain. I had no idea that I was a participant in a culture of silence and shame that often surrounds sexual abuse and is especially pronounced when boys are abused by men in the church. 

BREAKING: Sandusky Sentenced to at Least 30 Years

Former Penn State Football Coach Jerry Sandusky has been sentenced to no fewer than 30 years in prison, and up to 60 years. Given Sandusky's age, 68, the ruling is basically a life sentence. 

From NBC News

"Sandusky, who was defensive coordinator and for many years the presumed heir-apparent to legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, could have faced as long as 400 years for his convictions on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, but at age 68, he is unlikely ever to leave prison, assuming he loses any appeals."

Yesterday, Sandusky released an audio statement maintaining his innocence and lashing out at his offenders. 

What’s Next for the First Catholic Bishop Convicted in Sex Abuse Cover-Up?

RNS photo courtesy Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Finn is charged with failing to report suspected child abuse. RNS photo courtesy Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Finn, leader of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and an outspoken conservative in the American hierarchy, was convicted of a single misdemeanor count for not telling police that one of his priests, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, had taken hundreds of lewd images of children in Catholic schools and parishes.

But even as he became the first U.S. bishop ever convicted in criminal court for shielding an abusive priest, Finn’s standing inside the church appears uncertain, and the subject of intense debate.

Should he stay or should he go? Finn has indicated that he wants to tough it out.

Father Benedict Groeschel Leaves Catholic Cable Show After Abuse Remarks

 RNS photo courtesy Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

The Rev. Benedict Groeschel (seated). RNS photo courtesy Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

The Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a well-known Catholic author and television personality, has given up his longtime spot on the conservative cable network EWTN following comments in which he appeared to defend clergy who abuse children while blaming some victims.

“Father Benedict has led a life of tremendous compassion and service to others and his spiritual insights have been a great gift to the EWTN family for many years. We are profoundly grateful to him and assure him of our prayers,” Michael P. Warsaw, head of EWTN Global Catholic Network said in announcing Groeschel’s decision to step down.

In his statement on Monday Warsaw also asked EWTN viewers “to pray for all those who have been affected by this painful situation and in particular those who have been victims of sexual abuse.”

Catholic Bishop Says Church’s Credibility on Sexual Abuse Is ‘Shredded’

The U.S. Catholic bishops' point man on sexual abuse has said that the hierarchy's credibility on fixing the problem is "shredded" and that the situation is comparable to the Reformation, when “the episcopacy, the regular clergy, even the papacy were discredited.”

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., last month told a conference of staffers who oversee child safety programs in American dioceses that he had always assumed that consistently implementing the bishops’ policies on child protection, “coupled with some decent publicity, would turn public opinion around.”

Federal Court Says Accused Abusive Priest Didn’t Work for the Vatican

A federal judge on Monday dismissed the Vatican from a lawsuit filed by a former Portland teenager who says he was sexually abused by a pedophile priest who was transferred from Ireland to Chicago and then Portland in an alleged church effort to hide his past.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman of Portland said the Vatican didn't employ the Rev. Andrew Ronan, who — according to the lawsuit — molested the teenager in 1965 and 1966. Mosman's ruling means the Vatican can't be held financially liable for the abuse.

"It's clearly a disappointment, but we're definitely not discouraged," said Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who is representing the victim, listed in the suit as John V. Doe.

Monsignor William Lynn Sentenced to 3-6 Years for Catholic Sex Abuse Cover-Up


Monsignor William Lynn leaves Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center in March. STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Monsignor William J. Lynn, the first U.S. Catholic official convicted for covering up the sexual abuse of children, was sentenced to 3-6 years in prison on Tuesday.

Lynn, 61, has been in jail since his June 22 conviction on endangering the welfare of a child. Prosecutors were seeking the maximum penalty, up to seven years.

“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” said Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.

Sarmina told Lynn that he enabled “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.”

Lynn was head of priest personnel for a dozen years and was one of the highest-ranking officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Trial Revives Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Pedestrian walks past the Archdiocese of Philadelphia headquarters. Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Ten years ago, the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal dominated the headlines with horrific stories of priests preying on vulnerable youths and a church hierarchy more concerned with protecting clergy instead of kids.

Now, it's back. A Philadelphia jury is deliberating whether, for the first time, a high-ranking church official will be held criminally accountable.

However the jury rules, the case carries symbolic freight far heavier than the grim details in the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary for the clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It revives the breadth and depth of the abuse crisis, its extraordinary costs and unending frustrations.

10 Years After Catholic Sex Abuse Reforms, What’s Changed?

RNS file photo by Matt Rourke

.S. Catholic bishops met in Dallas in 2002 to hammer out a set of reforms. RNS file photo by Matt Rourke

When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather in Atlanta next week (June 13-15) for their annual spring meeting, a top agenda item will be assessing the reforms they adopted 10 years ago as revelations of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests consumed the church.

The policy package they approved at that 2002 meeting in Dallas was known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, or the Dallas charter, for short. With it, the bishops vowed to finally put an end to the abuse and secrecy. They also pledged to help raise awareness about the plague of child abuse in society.

But is anything different – in the church or in the country — 10 years later? Here’s a look at what has changed, and what has not.

Death by Faith Healing: A Church-State Separation Dilemma

 Lori Howard/

At the intersection of Church and State Streets in Salem, Ore. Lori Howard/

The sovereignty of religion in the United States is a thorny issue when it comes to state powers. But most Americans can agree that there are lines that even the Church cannot cross.

The problem is that sometimes that realization comes too late.

Sixteen-year-old Austin Sprout is the most recent victim of such religious transgressions. Oregon’s Register-Guard recently reported that Sprout’s parents declined medical care for their son, opting instead for prayer to ensure his recovery from an undisclosed but commonly preventable illness. He died in spite of their faithfulness.

Sprout’s father, Brian, reportedly died of sepsis five years ago when the family refused medical treatment for his medical injury, opting for faith-based healing. The family attends The General Assembly Church of the First Born, a congregation the Huffington Post notes is “known for their practice of faith healing.”