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The Roman Catholic Church, IFB Churches, and Southern Baptist Convention: Who’s Next?

mandatory reporting

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

The Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals have been centuries in the making. They were first reported in the US media in 1985 but didn’t garner widespread attention until 2002, with the Boston Globe exposé. Since then, media coverage and public awareness of the church’s “dirty little secret” has snowballed, turning into an avalanche with the “Me-too” movement.

It doesn’t surprise me that it took so long for the problem to come to light. After all, decades would pass between the abuse I suffered and the day I finally talked about it. Many other people have similar stories. Also, as we have seen from the church’s own reports, individual parishes, not to mention dioceses and the Vatican itself, did everything they could to keep knowledge of wrongdoing “in the family,” if you will.

In this matter, church officials were like the proverbial Dutch boys with their fingers in a crumbling dike: They could hold back the tide of truth, but only for so long. Now the dam is breaking and the revelations are flooding in, not only from the Roman Catholic Church, but from other religious organizations.

The only thing that surprises me about recent reports of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and other sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is that it took so long for them to come out, even though they’ve come just months after the Pennsylvania grand jury report. As a matter of fact, I am surprised that there haven’t yet been revelations of sexual abuse in other churches or religions.

Then again, it probably won’t be long before we learn about such things, because nearly all religions are built on hierarchical power structures. The most orthodox or fundamentalist, or the most institutionalized, have the most rigid hierarchies. All such power structures present ample opportunities for the powerful—who are usually, but not always, male and of at least some degree of privilege—to use sex as a means of controlling the less senior or more vulnerable members.

Naturally, such things can be said about a corporation or university, or the military or a gang, as well as a church. There are, however, two things that make religious institutions particularly fertile ground for sexual exploitation. One is that clergy members’ and other officials’ authority is amplified by their putative relationship with God, or whatever they call their supernatural authority. The other is that everyday worshipers, volunteers and other members of the church, synagogue or other house of worship tend to bring their vulnerabilities to the forefront to a greater degree than they would in a workplace, classroom or platoon. In other words, they are looking for acceptance they might not find in their communities or stability that might not exist in their families. Members of the clergy, whether by inclination or training, are very good at finding those vulnerabilities.

I am, of course, talking about my own experience. One of the reasons I became an altar boy (how odd it is for me to say that as a transgender woman!) is that I was looking for (and found) a circle of friends, or at least peers, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Also, I was frankly looking for something that would keep me out of the house, away from an emotionally and mentally unsupportive family. I spent more time with the Fathers in black collars than with my biological male parent. That gave one of the Fathers his opportunities.

And those opportunities for a predatory cleric or authority figure to prey on a vulnerable child or lay person come, not only in the context of in-church activities such as being an altar boy or acolyte, but also in camps, retreats and other off-site gatherings. Even more exposed are those who are sequestered in a convent, seminary or other place where they are preparing for what they believe to be a life of service to God and humanity but which, too often, turns out to be a life of servitude to an institution. While such people may genuinely want to give of themselves to their fellow humans and give themselves over to God, they also see being or becoming a priest, nun, minister or even a deacon as their purpose, even their raison d’etre, to an even greater degree than people who are, or are training to be, accountants or lawyers or other professionals or tradespeople.

That is why, in the weeks and months ahead, I fully expect to hear more revelations of sexual abuse from other churches, and from religious entities outside of Christianity. I can’t say that such revelations will make me happy, but I can at least be satisfied that some victims will find some measure of justice, if not peace. Still, I can only wish that others could have had the opportunity I’ve had to name my abuse and abuser. It is for them, as much as for anyone else, that the truth about sexual exploitation in religious entities—wherever, whenever and however it was perpetrated, and by whom—must, and will, continue to come out. The only question is: Which church or religion will be exposed next?


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    I wouldn’t be surprised if more religious groups are exposed for sexual abuse, and it’s probably just a matter of time. When religions teach that women and children are lesser, that give “men of God exalted status, it’s inevitable. I watched a documentary about people leaving Hasidic Judaism and there was talk about sexual abuse in that documentary as well.

    • Avatar
      Hugh Young

      What amazes me, well……..really it doesn’t, but whatever…….Is this idea that our biological impulses, needs, desires, or however one would care to refer to them as can be controlled via commands and threats of eternal punishment. Likely looking at a lifetime of singleness? Oh well, as far as sexual intimacy is concerned, guess it suxxx to be you, eh?


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    I certainly see that the hierarchical, patriarchal structure contributes to a structure of abuse. It seems to me in these latter years that the very structure of organized Christianity has this built-in to itself and is on the road to sel-destruct in time. The damaged self imposes sexual feelings on youngsters and the structure allows the acting out. Those interested in the labyrinth of the human mind, talk about impulses being stunted or interrupted at early stages and therefore opening up the possibilities for the normally absurd idea of sex with a kid. How is it so many, particularly men are damaged like this at a young enough age to skew their brains so that they find children sexy? It’s an ongoing question but it is absolutely obvious that the structure of religion contributes to the perpetuation of child abuse. It isn’t only church of course but they are definintely a prime player. Thank-you, MJ Lisbeth. I am happy to know you named the one who harmed you.

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    mary g

    maybe we are seeing the downfall beginning. the internet has exposed their trash and there is no going back. I meet more people who are through w/the church and organized religion. looking forward to the death of these organizations soon.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Thank you for your encouraging comments and to you, Bruce, for publishing my articles. It has indeed been helpful for me to name the priest who sexually abused me. His name is on the list of accused priests the Brooklyn Diocese recently posted to its site.

    I plan to write more about this topic and, with love and respect to Bruce, am envisioning a bigger writing project with a wider audience.

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