Taking Exception: ‘We are not holier than thou’


By Marlene Reid Published in the Pioneer Press on September 9, 2013

A few years back, I read, and saved, a column printed in the Tampa Tribune, written by Rev. Dr. David S. Cole, senior pastor emeritus of Dallas’ Disciples of Christ Church, and public relations chairman for the National Day of Prayer. The article was captioned, “We Are Not Holier Than Thou.”

It addressed the issue of sexual misconduct among Protestant clergy, quoted some valuable statistics and questioned why “Catholic priests and bishops have been singled out for a media feeding frenzy.”

After an exceedingly lengthy article exposing a scandal within the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis was printed in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this summer, I decided it was time to share Rev. Cole’s message with the Pioneer Press’ readership. Rev. Cole referred to research carried out in 1983 by Richard Blackmon, Ph.D., who surveyed 300 Protestant ministers as part of his doctorate at Fuller Seminary in California. Blackmon found that 12 percent of the clergy questioned admitted to sexual intercourse with a parishioner, and 38 percent admitted to other sexual contact with a parishioner.

Other studies and statistics show evidence that sexual misconduct is by no means concentrated among Catholic clergy.

— In 2007, in response to questions from the Associated Press, three companies that insure the majority of Protestant churches said they typically receive upward of 260 reports each year of young people, less than 18 years of age, being sexually abused by clergy, church staff, volunteers or congregation members. Church Mutual, the largest of the three companies, reported an average of about 100 sex abuse reports involving minors, per year, over the previous 10 years; GuideOne said it had received an average of 160 reports of sex abuse against minors, per year, for the previous 20 years; and Brotherhood Mutual reported it had received an average of 73 reports of child sex abuse and other sexual misconduct every year for the previous 15 years (it did not specify which victims are younger than 18).

Philip Jenkins, a Penn State historian and Episcopalian, argued in his 1996 book Pedophiles and Priests, that both the secular and Catholic media exaggerate the extent of Catholic cases involving minors while downplaying abuse among Protestant institutions. Jenkins puts stock in a 1992 survey conducted by the Archdiocese of Chicago, and believes the result is more representative of a true picture. The survey was conducted among 2,252 priests over four decades. Of this number, 39 priests (1.7 percent) apparently abused minors.

No one excuses this 1.7 percent — even one victim is too many! But a truer picture does present a different view of the problem. The public perception has been rather one-sided, with the blame and “guilt” being heaped on Catholics. Rev. Cole’s question needs to be answered: Why does the media’s “feeding frenzy” single out the Catholic clergy?

Rev. Cole offered some answers to his own question. He explained that, while anti-Catholicism has taken a new form since the days of JFK, “The tragedy that has befallen the Catholic Church is an opportune moment for us to manifest the more sophisticated version of our bigotry. Bigotry can take the form of simple preconceived ideas and assumptions. For example, we presume that because Catholic clergy are celibate, this somehow predisposes them to a greater degree of sexual misconduct than our married Protestant clergy.”

The explanation, in Rev. Cole’s words, continued: “Most (Protestant churches) are organized at the local level …This limits the vulnerability of Protestant denominations to large monetary settlements. A local congregation simply does not have the deep pockets that allow liability lawsuits to strike gold. In contrast, the Catholic Church has no such limitation. The local parish is tied inextricably to the diocese, the diocese to the national structure and so forth … leaving the entire denomination’s pooled resources open to windfall lawsuits. If litigation against Protestant churches were as lucrative, the lines of litigants filing suit would be just as long … Our division and disorganization actually serve as our protection.”

Rev. Cole concluded with some words of wisdom, “Though the guilty should be prosecuted, the innocent should not be persecuted!” To make his point, he parodied a remark by Winston Churchill: “Never in the field of human religion has so much suspicion been cast on so many by so few.”

I conclude this column with a quote from our late Pontiff John Paul II, who was deeply saddened that the public’s drumbeat of “broad-brush” guilt had cast “a dark shadow of suspicion over all the fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty.”

May truth, honesty, and chastity prevail.

Marlene Reid of White Bear Township is a board member of the Catholic Defense League

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