Two Clergy Busted Per Week for Sex Crimes Against Children (April 1990)

One clergyman or church leader every three days was charged last year with criminal sexual abuse of children or young teenagers.

“Even though there’s been a little more media attention to this largely hidden abuse, there’s no end in sight for these black collar crimes,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of Freethought Today. Freethought Today is the only national clearinghouse for information about this betrayal of public trust by clergy.

Freethought Today studied 106 such criminal cases brought to its attention in 1990. These include cases in the United States as well as Canada, which has suffered so many recent Catholic scandals that one Alberta parent asked: “Is it safe for my son to be an altar boy?”

Two-thirds of the 1990 perpetrators were ministers and priests, the rest church leaders or religious instructors. So far almost all–98%–of the accused have been convicted.

Only one out of 46 “closed” cases ended in a not-guilty verdict. That particular case involved an adult victim.

“Our statistics show that clergy charged with sexual abuse of minors almost invariably plead guilty or are found guilty,” noted Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“We conclude that prosecutors only dare to charge ministers–those most respected pillars of the community–when the evidence is very strong.”

The study of cases prosecuted in 1990 is an update of a larger study of 250 criminal suits against clergy and church workers in 1988-1989, published by Freethought Today last May.

The 1990 update confirms many of the basic findings of the previous two-year study.

Catholic Vs. Protestant Double Standard

Catholic priests convicted of sexual abuse received lighter sentences than Protestant ministers.

The average priest sentenced in 1990 for sexual abuse received nine and a half years, with a range of 1 year suspended to 45 years in prison. A typical instance of a light sentence involved Father James Arimond, of Milwaukee, who pleaded no contest to abusing a teenage boy. He received a 45 day sentence and 18 months probation and community work. Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba said, “The Archdiocese is deeply concerned for each of the parties involved in this case and we pray for healing and forgiveness.”

The average Protestant minister got 25 years, with a range of 2 years probation to 180 years in prison.

Typical of these cases was the 4 -year sentence received by youth pastor Douglas Boudinot, of Seattle, who was found guilty of molesting teenage girls on camping trips. King Co. Superior Court judge Susan Agid said: “I can’t imagine a much more predatory offense than using his position as a youth minister to sexually abuse the children in the church.”

Nonordained church workers tended to get heavier sentences than clericals. The toughest sentence of the 1990 cases went to a lay Protestant, a church nursery school custodian who got 2 lifetime sentences.

Typical Profile

The average age of priests charged last year with sexual abuse of children was 50 years. The range was 35 to 73 years.

The average Protestant minister was 46 years, with a similar range.

Lay Catholics and Protestants charged with sexual abuse were typically caught while in their 30’s.

Many Previous Records

Shockingly, 11 out of 46 Protestant ministers charged in 1990 with criminal sexual abuse had prior convictions–almost a quarter of the cases:

All prior convictions were since 1985. Most of the men received light sentences enabling them to return to the pulpit–and continued sexual abuse of children–quickly. Churches are not only failing to check ministers’ records, but in some instances are knowingly hiring convicted child molesters.

Five of the 23 nonordained Protestant church workers charged last year had had run-ins with authorities, including one discharged from the Navy for molesting boys.

But none of the 22 priests charged with sexual abuse last year had a criminal record. None of the Catholic lay had records either.

This data suggests that the law and communities tend to regard Catholic religious leaders as “above suspicion.” The lack of records for priests may also be due to the Catholic Church’s traditional method of dealing with molesting priests suppressing accusations and transferring them to new communities.


Most Catholic priests, as the earlier study found, were prosecuted for molesting boys. In 1990, three-quarters (77%) of their victims were boys.

By contrast, half (51%) of the Protestant ministers were charged in cases involving female victims.

Slightly more than half the overall victims were male.

The typical victim was in his or her early mid-teens. The range of minor victims was 6 weeks (in the case of one chaplain’s assistant convicted of raping a baby girl) to 18 years. Ten victims were adult when the alleged abuse occurred.

Almost all of the victims were abused at official church functions, on church property and at rectories, retreats, and camps.


Catholic – Virtually no priest or Catholic lay worker was turned in by the church.

In 38% of the cases, a coverup by Catholic officials or the community was specifically noted in newspaper reports, including church officials refusing to cooperate with the law, pleading for leniency and judges making excuses for priests.

Protestant – In 22% of the cases, cover-ups shielding Protestant ministers were reported, in a variety of denominations. These included out-of-court settlements, defrocking a suspected child abuser but not notifying authorities about the abuse, “spiritual support,” complicity, congregations applauding accused abusers, and telling reporters “The whole church knows he’s not guilty,” and “We’re solidly behind him.” “Satan can get his claws into anyone,” said the friend of an Episcopalian rector accused of 73 counts of sodomizing and abusing mentally and emotionally handicapped boys before church functions.

The most blatant cover-up involved a Salvation Army minister who was permitted to keep his job and given continuing access to children after back-to-back arrests for sexually abusing children at the church.

Using Religion

Defendants often unabashedly used their piety and positions to ask for (and sometimes get) court leniency. Baptist youth minister George E. Baker of Decatur, Illinois, who confessed to molesting 13 year old twins, asked for probation because, “Being a religious person I know I can depend upon God.” The judge gave him 3 years in prison. Catholic parish counselor Edmond J. Brown of Rhode Island was found guilty at a trial of raping a girl 3-4 times a week from the time she was 7 to 14 years. He cited his church activities at his trial.

Denomination Breakdown

One-third of the perpetrators were Catholic priests (20.7%) or Catholic lay workers (14.1%). Two-thirds were Protestant ministers (43.3%) and nonordained clerical workers (21.6%).

The 1990 study involved fewer priests than the 1988-89 study, but criminal sexual activity suspected by priests was still disproportionate. Priests make up about 10% of the clergy population in North America, but were 20% of the accused last year, and 40% of the accused in 1988-89.

Of the accused (clergy and nonclergy), 34% were Catholics, the highest in any one denomination, and 18% were Baptist. One perpetrator was a 71 year old Indian medicine man, convicted of raping a woman after a religious ceremony.

This is a not a complete survey of clergy sexual abuse cases from 1990–merely a study of 106 criminal cases coming to the attention of Freethought Today from reports in the daily press.

Freedom From Religion Foundation