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Philip Jenkins on the Pervasiveness
of Sex Abuse Cases in All Churches

Taken from the Catholic News Service

Although Catholic priests may be getting the most publicity about allegations of sexual abuse of minors, they are far from the only clergy guilty of such misconduct, according to a professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University.

"You name me a denomination and I'll give you a case," Philip Jenkins told The Catholic Standard & Times, Philadelphia archdiocesan newspaper. "Some (denominations) with huge problems include Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhists, Jews, Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians -- you name them."

One of the most extreme cases of clergy sex abuse in U.S. history involved a Pentecostal minister named Tony Leyva, who molested several hundred boys in the 1980s, Jenkins said. But few Americans have heard of Leyva, he added, while some molesters who are former Catholic priests have become household names.

Jenkins attributes that not to anti-Catholicism, but to various groups within the Catholic Church who have agendas unrelated to the sexual abuse scandal.

"In the 1980s, as cases came to light, it was very often Catholic factions themselves who made this out to be a Catholic issue," he said. "Liberals within the church said, 'See, this is a dreadful problem. It shows what happens when you don't have women priests.' Conservatives said, 'This shows what happens when you have gay priests.' This was adopted by the secular press."

Jenkins said that although the term "pedophile priests" came into usage in the mid-1980s, the problem should have more properly been called "pedophile pastors."

The "pedophile priests" phrase "defines the issue and makes it far more limited than it really is," he added. "In fact, most of the clergy who misbehave are not priests.

"My view is there is no evidence that Catholic clergy offend at a higher or lower rate than other clergy or than nonclergy that deal with children," Jenkins said. "There's no evidence either way. If somebody says, 'Well, it's obvious, they do,' I say, 'Fine, give me the evidence,' and the evidence isn't there."

Patricia Kelly of Kelly Counseling and Consulting in Glen Mills, Pa., agrees that other denominations have at least as high an incidence of sexual misconduct problems as the Catholic Church.

A number of years ago, Kelly said, she participated in a treatment program for clergy with sex abuse problems. "Most of the clergy that were there were not Catholic clergy," she said. "They were Protestant clergy. Most clergy that abuse are ministers, but the (Catholic) Church is sexy. It sells papers."

Writing in the March 3 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jenkins cited an unnamed Anglican diocese in Canada that "is currently on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of massive lawsuits caused by decades of systematic abuse."

That case refutes the argument that the sex abuse problem stems from the practice of celibacy, he said, since "the Anglican Church does not demand celibacy of its clergy."

In the United States, a $1.2 million judgment in 1991 against the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado in a sexual misconduct case brought by a woman led the Church Insurance Co., which insures Episcopal dioceses, to mandate certain safeguards that are considered among the strictest in the country.

In addition to publishing a sexual misconduct policy and procedures manual and requiring background checks for all clergy, employees and volunteers who regularly supervise youth activities, the Episcopal policy mandates four hours of child sexual abuse awareness training and four hours of training on issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual exploitation in pastoral relationships.

"Church Insurance gave us that extra nudge and said we had to do something because they wouldn't be able to sustain (these awards)," Beverly Factor, sexual misconduct officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, told The Los Angeles Times.

Jenkins said "a bold and thorough self-study" of clergy misconduct was done by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago in the early 1990s. It looked at every priest who had served in the archdiocese for the past 40 years -- some 2,200 individuals -- and "reopened every internal complaint ever made against these men."

"The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law, but just the consensus that a particular charge was probably justified," he wrote. "By this low standard, the survey found that about 40 priests -- about 1.8 percent of the whole -- were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers.

"Put another way, no evidence existed against about 98 percent of parish clergy, the overwhelming majority of the group," he added.

In the Post-Gazette article, Jenkins said he is "in no sense soft on the issue of child abuse" and "cannot be called a Catholic apologist, since I am not even a Catholic."

"But I am worried that justified anger over a few awful cases might be turned into ill-focused attacks against innocent clergy," he wrote. "The story of clerical misconduct is bad enough without it turning into an unjustifiable outbreak of religious bigotry against the Catholic Church."