Unique Study Reveals Epidemic

Originally published May 1990 in Freethought Today.

  • Father George Bredemann of Phoenix is asked to counsel children sexually abused by a babysitter. Instead, he molests the brothers himself at, his cabin and during baths. Following his arrest, 250 parishioners attend a support prayer meeting for him. Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien says the support for Bredemann makes him "proud." The priest admits to 20 years of sexually abusing boys. The judge gives him I year in jail and probation following the recommendation of the bishop.
  • A 14-year-old girl in foster care is raped and impregnated by Deacon Stephen Andrews of the Advent Christian Church in Kennebunk, Maine, a trusted figure. She gives birth. Andrews gets 5 years in prison, 3 of them suspended, despite the protests of the prosecutor.
  • Salvation Army Captain William Douglas is convicted of molesting, sodomizing and sexually terrorizing young Indian boys in a village in British Columbia. Douglas was acquitted of similar charges in 1985; the judge said he could not accept that a minister would lie.
  • Supporters of Father Thomas L. McLaughlin say he is "being crucified," following his arrest for pedophilia. He confesses to molesting boys for years. The Columbus Diocese did not report him to police until almost a year after parents first complained to Bishop James A Griffin. "Father Mac" gets 18 months in a plea bargain.
  • Born-again Delaware preacher William J. Keichline, Sr. is commended by the legislature for running Mission of Care ministry for the homeless. As a landlord he assaults and rapes a girl for 3 years starting when she is 7, threatening to evict her family if she tells. He gets eight 20 year prison terms for rape, bondage and child pornography.
  • The tiny province of Newfoundland is rocked by 20 convictions or charges of priests and Catholic brothers for molesting children, which closes Mt Cashel orphanage. Police, social workers and church officials are all implicated in a cover-up.

These are examples of the criminal cases involving clergy sexual abuse of children being reported at the rate of at least two a week.

That statistic comes from a first-of-its-kind study of recent cases of molesting clergy and church staff conducted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The study focuses on criminal cases against 190 North American priests and preachers charged with sexual molestation of children during 1988 and 1989. Also studied were 60 child abuse cases involving nonclergy church staff, such as Sunday School teachers, counselors and parochial school teachers and principals. Additionally, there were 62 civil suits during those years brought against molesting pastors and their churches. See section below for details on related studies.

Of the accused clergy, 75 were Catholic priests (39.5%) and 111 were Protestant ministers (58%). (Also charged were 1 Mormon clergyman, 1 occult minister and 2 cult ministers.) Protestant cases involved equal numbers of mainstream and fundamentalist/evangelical denominations. This study revealed no rabbis charged with child molestation.

"Although we find the numbers of molesting clergy staggering, our figures undoubtedly reflect only a fraction of these cases," notes Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of Freethought Today and author of the 1988 book Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children.

Cases in the study were based on those reported in the daily press which were compiled byFreethought Today, with follow-up through prosecutors' offices.

"It has to be stressed that many criminal cases are not necessarily reported by newspapers, and that most cases of clergy abuse of children never reach the criminal courts in the first place. Nor does the study encompass allegations which did not involve criminal charges, such as the scandal this spring involving Father Bruce Ritter of the Covenant House.

"This study shows that child molestation by clergy involves the priest- or minister-next-door," she said.

"Our study proves that these crimes are by no means confined to the Catholic Church. However, the meaningful statistic is that, although priests make up only about 10% of North American clergy, they are 40% of the accused. The Catholic Church, which always complains that the media are 'priest-bashing,' has absolutely no grounds for this criticism."

The study reveals that Catholic priests were acquitted or dismissed of child molestation charges at a higher rate than Protestant ministers. Similarly, Catholic priests received a higher rate of suspended sentences when convicted, and when sentenced, spent considerably less time in jail or prison. Another striking difference between Catholics and Protestants was the sex of their victims. Slightly more than half of the, Protestant ministers molested girls while 90% of the priests molested boys.

In at least half of the cases, dioceses were exposed as engaging in cover-ups. Cover-ups included superiors knowing about molestation but doing nothing or transferring priests to unsuspecting communities, or official stonewalling. Known coverups also occurred in at least 10% of Protestant churches.

The study shows that 88% of all charged clergy were convicted (81% of priests were convicted). Outcome is unknown in about a fifth of the cases, most of these still in progress.

"Since accusing well-known priests and ministers with sexual abuse of children is highly controversial," said Gaylor, "we think prosecutors tend to charge ministers only when they feel very confident of the outcome. This appears to account for a satisfyingly high conviction rate."

A majority of cases did not go to trial, with 61% of accused reverends pleading guilty (53%) or no contest (8%). Threequarters of all clergy who pleaded innocent were found guilty. About half of the Catholic priests pleading innocent were convicted. Seventy-eight percent of convicted ministers were incarcerated (62% imprisoned, 16% jailed), with sentences as brief as 30 days in jail to as long as 3 lifeterms. About 10% received probation only.

Priests were incarcerated at a lower rate than Protestants, with only 68.5% of convicted priests spending time in jail or prison. The average Protestant clergyman sent to prison for child molestation received 11.5 years, while the average Roman Catholic priest received only 3.6 years. Of the 21 priests sent to prison, none received a sentence higher than 9 years. By contrast, of 58 Protestant clergy, 45% received ten or more years, including 3 life sentences.

Similarly, Protestants averaged sentences of 6.6 months in jail, compared to 4.4 months for Catholics.

Both accused molesters who became fugitives (still at large) are Catholic priests.

Overall, 7.4% of the cases against ministers were dismissed and 4.7% were acquitted. Cases against priests were dropped at a slightly higher rate of 12.5% dismissal, and 6.3% acquittal.

Almost twice as many priests received suspended sentences. Additionally, 1 priest was given treatment-only as a sentence and another was channeled into pretrial intervention with charges dropped upon successful completion.

Half of the clergymen were officially involved in youth functions, where they met their victims. About a third were accused of molestations during camping trips, youth group activities, retreats and crusades. About 20% were accused of molesting children at religious schools, 21% at church homes for children or through foster care. Eleven percent were accused of abusing children during counseling sessions exclusively, although many cases involved a counseling relationship. Three percent were charged with molesting children while working at treatment centers, such as drug rehabilitation or correctional institutes.

Crimes occurred at such church locations as the sacristy, in the rectory, or church van. One convicted priest molested victims just before saying Mass.

Most ministers were charged with molesting at least 4 or 5 victims but were believed to have assaulted many others. The sexual assault charges ranged from indecent touching to rape, sodomy, and child pornography. Much of the abuse was longterm with some children assaulted as many as 1,000 times. A majority of victims, 60% of whom were boys, were molested on church property or during church-sanctioned outings,

Included in the study were prominent clergy and evangelists who had made names for themselves through special ministries or "good works."

The profile of the typical minister charged with molesting children: a 45-year-old man (ages ranged from 24 to 80 at the time of arrest), with 4 to 5 named victims, most often boys in their early teens.

Of all the accused, 37% involved female victims, 58% male victims, and 3.2% children of both sexes. (In 1% of the cases, the sex of the victim was not identified.)

Charges for all 190 cases involved a total of 847 victims. Most ministers, however, were suspected of molesting many other children. Conservatively, the 190 clergy had at least 4,000 other victims, for a low estimate of an average of 21 victims each. These children were not included in charges for pragmatic legal reasons, because they had been molested in other cities and times, or because the statute of limitations had been exceeded. Some estimates were anecdotal based on investigations or confessions by the molester.

Convicted ministers averaged 5 victims each, with 133 ministers molesting at least 651 named victims.

Information on the marital status of Protestants, gleaned from newspaper accounts so therefore incomplete, showed that at least 43% were married. This would dispel the idea that celibacy alone triggers ministerial child molestation. Twelve cases involved clergy charged with molesting their own children, stepchildren, adopted children or foster children.

While many see therapy as a panacea for this crime, only about a third of the convicted ministers and priests had had some kind of counseling or psychiatric evaluation, mandated or otherwise.

 


Studies Show Depth of Scandal in Churches

Church Staff (Nonclergy) Charged In 1988-89 With Molesting Children

Of 60 church staff or employees charged in criminal court with molesting children in 1988-89, 22% were Catholic, 72% were Protestant and 6% were other faiths.

These included nonordained youth ministers, Sunday School teachers, church volunteers, religious daycare staff, parochial school staff (teachers, principals and deans), music personnel, nonpastoral staff, camp counselors, YMCA or YWCA staff and leaders of church-sponsored Boy Scouts.

A quarter of the cases were still in progress, or of unknown disposition.

Of the 45 settled cases, 38 ended in conviction (84.4%), 6 were dismissed (13.3%) including 1 dismissed on the condition of treatment, and 1 was acquitted (2.2%).

Of convictions, 54% were sentenced to prison terms, 17% got jail sentences, 20% received probation, and 9% got suspended sentences.

Catholics received generally lighter sentences: only 20% received prison sentences with 30% given probation and 40% getting jailtime (a Catholic principal became a fugitive prior to sentencing).

The average church staff sentenced to prison for child molestation got 14.5 years (excluding 1 sentence of 2,000 years from the average).

The average jail sentence was 9.3 months.

These sentences are heavier than the average prison and jail sentences given to convicted ministers for the same type of crime over the same time period.

Ministers Accused Of Sexually Abusing Adults In 1988-89

Statistics on ministers criminally accused of sexually abusing adults in 1988-89 were based on a small number of reports: 14 cases, most of them involving Protestant ministers and 3 of them involving ministers in the position of chaplain.

"We know there were many other such cases we simply did not have documentation on," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of Freethought Today.

There was a 71% conviction rate, with 70% given prison sentences, 20% given jailtime, and 10% given conditions. The average prison sentence was 18 years, with the range from 2 years to life.

Jail sentences averaged 2 months.

The average age of the defendant was 40. Convicted ministers had an average of 8 victims each named in the charges. In 88% of the cases, the victims were female.

Almost all the crimes included rape or sodomy. Two of the ministers broke into homes, and one was considered a serial rapist.

These cases were computed separately from the cases involving clergy sexual abuse of children.

1988-89 Civil Suit

Fifty-three percent of the 62 civil suits against ministers and their churches for sexual abuse of children or adults involved the Catholic Church. Of the remainder, 35% involved Protestants, 5% Mormon, 3% Christian daycares, 2% Hare Krishna and 2% cult.

Reasons for Suit

Fifty-four suits were brought by families of children molested by ministers or church staff. The victims were as young as 6, and included a disabled boy, a child patient, and children sent for church counseling, in some cases, for previous sexual abuse.

The remaining eight cases involved adult women sexually exploited during counseling situations by ministers and priests.

Most of the ministers named were accused of having victimized many other women and children.

Most litigants were suing not only the minister but the specific church where the abuse took place, and denominations.

Criminal Record Of Ministers In Civil Cases:

Almost a third of the defendants had been convicted in criminal court. An additional 11% had ongoing criminal charges. Almost half of the ministers named in civil suits were never charged with a crime, and in another 10% of the cases, criminal charges had been dropped.

The suits allege active cover-ups, such as the Catholic Church knowingly assigning a molester to different parishes, not heeding reports that a minister or church employee had molested a congregation member, intimidating victims' families not to call police, failing to check backgrounds or provide adequate monitoring, not warning a congregation that a minister had a previous criminal record, knowingly hiring someone with a history of sexual misconduct, or promising to put a molester in treatment but instead transferring him to a new parish.

Outcomes of 65 Total Civil Cases

10 Secret Settlements (8-Roman Catholic, 1-Mormon, I -Assembly of God)

12 Known Settlements (6-Roman Catholic) totaling $5,500,000+

1 lost

3 dismissed (2-Roman Catholic)

39 in progress

Where Molestations By Accused Priests* Took Place

Alfred, ME; Altoona-Johnstown, PA; Allentown, PA; Apple Valley, CA; Asheville, NC; Atlanta, GA; Baker Lake, Northwest Territory; Baltimore, MD; Barrington, NJ; Barton, VT; Bothell, WA; Bozeman, MT; Bronx, NY; Calgary, Alberta; Camden, NJ; Chicago, IL; Davenport, IA; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; District of Columbia; Dubuque, IA; Escambia, FL; Ft. Collins, CO; Gainesville, FL; Hollywood, FL; Honolulu, HI; Houston, TX; Ignacio, CO; Keene, NH; Kingsville, MD; Lena, WI; Lone Tree, IA; Los Angeles, CA; Louisville, KY; Miami, FL; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Nelson, British Columbia; New Albany, OH; New York City, NY; Newark, NJ; North Bay, Ontario; Oklahoma City, OK; Overland Park, KS; Orange Co., CA; Ottawa, Ontario; Paterson, NJ; Perryburg, OH; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Pittsburgh, PA; Point Pleasant, NJ; Port Angeles, WA; Portland, OR; Providence, RI; Quebec, Quebec; Rockford, IL; San Antonio, TX; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; St. Paul, MN; Vineland, NJ; Worchester, MA.

* A few locations named here involved nonpriest Catholic staff, such as Parochial school teachers. This list also includes locations of civil cases, and other alleged crimes. Some dioceses, of course, had more than one priest named over this two-year period.

Useful Survey

A study released in March 1990 by Rev. Ronald Barton and Rev. Karen Lebaczq for the Center for Ethics and Social Policy of the Graduate Theological Union-Berkeley, reports that a quarter of all clergy have engaged in sexual misconduct.

 


What Catholic Bishops & Cohorts Say About Molesting Priests:

"We must not imply that the abuser is not guilty of serious crime, but we could easily give a false impression that any adolescent who becomes sexually involved with an older person does so without any degree of personal responsibility. Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so 'innocent'; some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise."
--Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert
Weakland Catholic Herald, May 1988

"A person at 14 should know better. Some children should know it's wrong. A child would have responsibility but the adult would have more responsibility."
--Desmond Burge
Official at Ottawa Diocese

"If the victims were adolescents, why did they go back to the same situation once there had been one pass or suggestion. Were they cooperating in the matter or were they true victims?"
--Bishop Colin Campbell
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Column, August 1989

"What I'm suggesting is that maybe some--a few, a few of them, many of them, most of them--who knows--had some kind of an inkling that this was wrong and could have said 'No, thank you very much.' I do not want to suggest that homosexual activity between a priest and an adolescent is therefore moral. Rather, it does not have the horrific character of pedophilia."

(Defending his earlier remarks about children molested at an orphanage during a radio interview, reported by Canadian Press)
--Bishop Colin Campbell

"It is not covering up to embrace a man who is suffering." (After placing 2 priests on "sick leave" and not reporting allegations of child abuse until a year later through an attorney)
--Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl, 1988

"We followed the lead of the alleged victims and the families. We had no desire to cause undue pain or anxiety to them, if they are not disposed to take public action themselves." (Rationalizing not reporting above case)
--Rev. Ronald Lengwin
Pittsburgh diocesan spokesman, 1988

"[The allegation by a social worker that a 15-year-old refugee was molested by Father] was so vague it honestly didn't deserve our concern."
--Miami Chancellor Rev. Gerard LaCerra
(Miami Herald, 11/13,25/88)

"The church exists to pardon and heal . . . There may be cases where the child was chasing after the man, looking for affection and whatever happened, happened only once."
--Toronto Archbishop James Hayes
(Toronto Star, 7/2/89)

Special thanks to Sue Ryczek who diligently and conscientiously compiled and tabulated statistics, and to Dan Barker, for his able computer-programming assistance, and patience.

Additional Info

  • deck: Clergy Who Molest

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

FFRF privacy statement

AAI-LOGO

FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.