(04-04) 10:42 PST (AP) --
The flood of sex abuse allegations against priests this
year has focused attention on the Roman Catholic Church, but
Protestant denominations have also faced sex scandals
In fact, while data are sketchy, at least one expert
believes the incidence of clergy molesting young children may
be about as frequent -- or infrequent -- in Protestantism as
it is in Catholicism.
Penn State historian Philip Jenkins argued in his 1996
book, "Pedophiles and Priests," that both secular and Catholic
media exaggerate the extent of Catholic cases involving
minors, while downplaying Protestant abuse.
For instance, the Rev. Robert Eckert of Grand Rapids,
Mich., a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church,
was sent to prison in 2000 for sexual involvement with a
15-year-old girl who worked as his baby sitter -- but the case
received relatively little attention.
Jenkins, an Episcopalian, thinks a 1992 survey from the
Chicago Archdiocese is more representative of the true picture
Among 2,252 priests serving over four decades, 39 priests
(1.7 percent) apparently abused minors. Only one abuser could
be termed a pedophile under the strict, clinical definition of
the word -- meaning the victim was prepubescent.
"I am prepared to be convinced the Catholics have a bigger
problem" than Protestants, Jenkins said, but nobody has good
data, partly because Protestant groups are too numerous. "I
certainly haven't seen anything, and I'm looking hard."
Minneapolis psychologist Gary Schoener agreed.
"There are no real scientific data" on Protestants, he
said. Since 1974, his Walk-In Counseling Center has been
consulted on more than 2,000 cases of clergy sexual misconduct
of all types, two-thirds of them with Protestants.
He finds that sex with adult women or teen-age girls is the
most frequent Protestant problem.
In a typical Protestant case, a jury awarded $10 million in
February to relatives of the late Deborah Yardley of Columbus,
The suit charged that the Rev. Steven Colliflower, a United
Methodist, had an affair with Yardley when she sought his help
with alcohol and emotional problems. He left the ministry
shortly after she made the allegation. She later died of liver
The conservative World magazine says Protestantism faces a
"severe problem" of clergy involvement with people the
ministers are counseling, calling this "an egregious abuse of
Schoener said that clergy having sex with prepubescent
victims is "very rare" in all denominations.
A study of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), covering eight
states over six years, found 17 cases filed against clergy
with 31 victims, all female, with one case involving a minor.
There are also differences between Catholicism and the many
Protestant faiths in the way sex abuse allegations are
The U.S. Catholic bishops adopted a set of principles in
1992 calling for rapid response to allegations, openness with
parishioners, care for victims and compliance with secular
laws on reporting criminal conduct. But some Catholic bishops
have admitted they didn't always follow those guidelines.
The Catholic principles also say a priest should be
"promptly" suspended and referred for medical evaluation upon
"sufficient evidence" of misconduct. The matter of
reassignment is left open for a decision later.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at least,
events occur more rapidly.
Bishop Donald McCoid of Pittsburgh, chair of the Conference
of Bishops for the 5.1-million-member denomination, said when
colleagues receive allegations against clergy "anything else
on our agenda is dropped." If a pastor admits the charge, he
said, the bishop defrocks him within a day and refers charges
involving minors to civil authorities.
Another difference: Protestant lay officers -- most of them
mothers and fathers -- exercise pivotal powers in supervising
clergy. Catholic power is held almost completely by ordained
bishops or religious superiors.
Lutheran -- as well as Methodist or Presbyterian clergy who
claim innocence -- are put on leave but can defend themselves
through church trials and appeals.
During debates over homosexual behavior, those three
denominations have defined clergy standards that limit sexual
conduct to heterosexual marriage and require chastity for
It's difficult to assess the response to abuse accusations
in Baptist and other denominations, where each local
congregation handles cases.
The most important example is the Southern Baptist
Convention, the largest Protestant group in the United States
with 101,000 clergy, double the total of U.S. Catholic priests
and brothers. In the past decade, its press service reported
two charges of molesting minors, against a youth worker and a
martial arts teacher.
But Dee Ann Miller of Council Bluffs, Iowa, says misconduct
is more widespread.
Since writing a 1993 book about her own abuse by a
missionary in Africa, she has been told of allegations against
22 Southern Baptist clergy involved with minors, including six
who molested prepubescent children.
Miller charges that the denomination has ignored the
problem. Sounding just like a Catholic activist, she said
abuse will "only stop when laity get upset enough to hold
their leaders responsible for incompetency."
On the Net:
Resources on sexual misconduct in all professions: http://www.advocateweb.org/