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 posted Saturday, April 6th 2002
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Pastors: Sexual abuse by clergy hurts all of Christianity

Pastor Peg Nowling of First Baptist Church said that sexual misconduct and child abuse is a societal issue, not just a problem for some Roman Catholic priests.

SPEAKING OUT: Pastor Peg Nowling of First Baptist Church was abused by a family friend when she was 5 years old. She says child molestation is a societal problem and should be discussed.
(Photo by John Terhune, Journal and Courier)

Nowling, 50, was molested at age 5 by an adult male who was a family friend. She said she didn't come to terms with the assault until she was 40.

"If we could get an honest response, we would find out that most women have been molested," said Nowling, who was ordained in 1995.

"When the church is guilty of it, it is even worse."

An informal sampling of local Protestant ministers shows that denominations have similar methods of dealing with sexual misconduct allegations.

"This splashes mud on all of the Church, not just Catholics. It is not a time for other religions to gloat," said the Rev.

Edward Tourangeau, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church.

"If the Roman Catholics are hurting, we are all hurting as the Body of Christ."

St. John's, which is in the Indianapolis Diocese, has had sexual misconduct protocols in place for 10 years.

"Our policies are pretty much on a national level, although they are administered on a diocesan level," he said.

"There is a response team in place."

Tourangeau said that members of the vestry in the parish must read the policy and sign an affidavit.

When an allegation is made, the accused is removed from the position as the response team investigates.

"The bishop stays out of it," Tourangeau said. "During my time in the diocese (11 years), we've never had to use the response team.

"The misconduct we encounter nationally is not pedophilia, but adults who cross boundaries with other adults."

Episcopalian priests are permitted to marry, unlike Roman Catholic priests.

"Our clergy tend not to be cut off from normal psycho-sexual development," Tourangeau said.

"But it is condescending and wrong of us to think that because our clergy are free to marry, we don't have problems like these."

Nowling said that the American Baptist Conference has a system in place to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct within the Indiana-Kentucky Region.

"A pastor could have his or her ordination stripped if accusations are proved to be true," she said.

"Baptists churches are autonomous, so a church out there could still hire that person."

She said sometimes American Baptists wish they had a hierarchy similar to Roman Catholics, Episcopalians or United Methodists.

"Then we could say, 'Go away.' "

Randy Skidmore is pastor of Elston Heights Baptist Church, which part of the Wabash Valley Association of Southern Baptist churches.

"If there is a charge of impropriety, a board of deacons or elders at the church will look into the charge," he said.

"Each church is autonomous. We can be as dependent as we want to be."

Skidmore said the clergy is "under a microscope."

"But we are human," he said. "A lot of people would like to point the finger at churches for not having a structure in place.

"But I worked at a factory that had sexual conduct rules that weren't always followed."

Skidmore said people live in a "fallen world."

"These problems are societal. No one is exempt," he said. "Each one of us at the right time and situation has the potential to fall."

Pastor Fred Seidler of Lafayette First Southern Baptist Church said his church has safeguards for children's classes and activities.

"It's all about education," he said. "People here who work with children go through training sessions.

"Kids need a hug. But an adult will never hug a kid unless a parent or another adult is present."

The Rev. Pamela Thiede, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Otterbein, said religions must truthfully face sexual misconduct issues.

"Don't brush it under the rug. That perpetuates the problem," she said. "Denominations are confronting it now, and that is good.

"It is not the majority of clergy who do this, but because of a few, it has become a focus."

Thiede said she's been out of the seminary for 21/2 years.

"In the seminary, you are made aware of the red flags of the situations where somebody might be trying to entrap you," she said. "You learn ways to protect yourself.

"Boundaries also are discussed in most seminaries."

She said that when charges are levied, the reports go to the bishop's office.

"Every allegation is investigated," she said. "If it is found to have validity, the pastor is removed. There is no tolerance for this."

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