Agency Sees 70 Church Abuse Cases Per Week (May 2002)

Seventy cases a week of child-abuse allegations against American churches come to the attention of the Christian Ministry Resources, a tax and legal-advice publisher serving about 75,000 congregations and 1,000 denominational agencies. CMR’s annual surveys of about 1,000 churches nationwide have sought information on sexual abuse since 1993. Surveys for the last decade have averaged 70 cases a week. “The Catholics have gotten all the attention from the media, but this problem is even greater with the Protestant churches simply because of their far larger numbers,” said James Cobble, executive director of CMR.

“I think the CMR numbers are striking, yet quite reasonable,” commented Anson Shupe, an Indiana University professor and author of books on church abuse. “To me it says Protestants are less reluctant to come forward because they don’t put their clergy on as high a pedestal as Catholics do with their priests.” Shupes believes the 70-cases-a-week number is likely low. In a door-to-door survey in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area in 1998, he found that 4% of 1,607 families reported sexual abuse by clergy. The CMR statistics show most abuse is at Protestant churches, 42% of abusers are church volunteers, and 25% of perpetrators are minors accused of molesting other children at church. About 21% of allegations reported in the 2000 survey resulted in lawsuits or out-of-court settlements. Church reforms have been largely at the behest of insurance companies, which began dropping coverage of churches without screening policies.

“What drove leaders to begin to respond to this issue was not the welfare of children. It was fear of large, costly lawsuits,” said Cobble. Source: Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002 It’s OK to Molest Teens? Church officials and apologists have come out of the woodwork insisting the image of “pedophile priests” is a “myth.” Leading academic proponent of this notion is Philip Jenkins, an Episcopalian, professor and author of Pedophiles and Priests (Oxford University Press, 1996), who writes: “having sex with a 16 or 17 year old boy or girl may be phenomenally stupid and wrong in many ways–immoral, sinful, an abuse of authority–but it’s very different from pedophilia, which is the exploitation of prepubescent children. In most of these cases with older teenagers, there’s some degree of consent, and in most jurisdictions, they’re legal.” Catholic writer Garry Wills lambasts Jenkins’ book as a “handy guide to evasion,” dignifying Catholic rationalization of a corrupt hierarchy. The church, and Jenkins, promote the term “ephebophile,” someone with an interest in “post-pubescent boys or girls.”

This distinction was lost on All-Star Pro-Baseball player Tom Paciorek, now 55 and silver-haired, who made a tearful public statement in March about being molested in his teens for 4 years by Rev. Gerald Shirilla. Shirilla was removed by the Archdiocese of Detroit only in March. Paciorek and his three brothers, unbeknownst to each other, were all molested one by one during the 1960s by Shirilla, who taught at St. Ladislaus Catholic school. “When you’re a kid and you’re not able to articulate, who’s going to believe you? The church back then was so powerful, there’s nothing that a kid could do,” recalled Tom’s brother, John.

Tom’s lowest point, at age 16, was when the priest asked his parents if the boy could spend the weekend at his home. “When I heard my parents say yes, I thought, ‘Oh, my god, what is going to happen to me?’ ” He told the Free-Press that at one point during those 72 hours, he wanted to die: “It was relentless. I mean, I felt like I was a prisoner at his house. . . . I remember saying . . . ‘God, is this ever doing to end?’ ” Brother Mike “first became a victim of his when I was 8, 9 or 10 years old.” Shirilla would lock the door, remove Mike’s clothes and say “Your brothers used to love this.” Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee, infamously declared in the Catholic Herald, May 1988: “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.” In an interview with WTMJ-TV in late March, Weakland said that sexual activity with a prepubescent child is very serious and the perpetrator “incurable.”

But once again he distinguished between children and older minors. Rebutted Peter Isley, a Milwaukee man abused as a child by a priest: “Each act of sexual abuse–whether forced upon a child or a minor–creates devastating and lifelong consequences. The laws of our society reflect the belief that the sexual abuse of a minor is a crime. The archdiocese needs to fully support this position and remove all men from the priesthood who have committed criminal acts against youngsters, whether that youngster is prepubescent or post-pubescent.” Sources: New York Times, March 22, 2002; Detroit Free Press, March 22, 2002, Boston Globe, March 24, 2002; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 24, 2002

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