Clergy Abuse Overwhelmed a Pope: It Ought to Be Exposed

The legacy of clergy abuse: is this what church ministry looks like?
No. This is what betrayal looks like.

By Wendy Murray

I recently watched a Frontline documentary titled “Secrets of the Vatican” highlighting the daunting challenges facing Pope Francis. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, resigned from the office a year ago today (Feb. 28, 2013) under a cloud of corruption and the stench of unresolved rampant sex-abuse cases. The documentary highlights the challenge Pope Francis faces in the unspoken mandate to clean up the Church, most notably the shameful sordid legacy of covering up of rampant sex abuse over many decades that has destroyed lives.

The problem of abuse and cronyism is not exclusive to Catholicism. Evangelical Boz Tchividjian asserts unequivocally that sex abuse among evangelical clergy is ‘worse’ than that within the Catholic church. Tchividijian – a former child-abuse victim; child-abuse prosecutor; founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment); law professor; author and — it’s worth noting — Billy Graham’s grandson; speaks and writes extensively on issues related to sex abuse within the evangelical faith community. “Christian mission field is a ‘magnet’ for sexual abusers,” he says. “The Protestant culture is defined by independence”– the implication being that this independence, when it comes to confronting pathologies in ministry, sets the table for little if any accountability.

A report published by the Baptist General Convention of Texas (2000) noted “the incidence of sexual abuse by clergy has reached ‘horrific proportions.’” Studies revealed that 40 percent had acknowledged “sexually inappropriate behavior.”

Just this week news broke of a  Wheaton College professor sentenced for child pornography; allegations of rampant sex abuse in the community Jesus People, USA. while in early in February Bob Jones University abruptly halted its sex abuse probe undertaken by an independent entity (Tchividijian’s GRACE) on the cusp of  issuing the report of its findings. 

Yet in my research I have found, alarmingly, that when someone confronts this dark side and asks for help, the church often dismisses them or ignores them. Worse, sometimes those in leadership cast aspersions back upon the abused, traumatizing them again. I have written elsewhere about my own struggles in a marriage to a pastor and my futile attempt to get help from the church he served. The church protected him and did not take up my cause or help me nor in any way. This was a betrayal of my humanity. Worse, it was a betrayal of my soul — the part of me that came alive through Christ and lived through Christ and to which I had remitted my life’s allegiance. I believed in the church. I gave my life to it.  Dante’s Inferno reserves the deepest, lowest and most irredeemable circle of hell for those guilty of such betrayal of trust. They are as low in hell as it gets: they gaze up to Hell’s towering walls.” 

Well-known author and speaker Eric Metaxas spoke recently at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) annual convention in Nashville, where — as one writer noted — he “sternly warned against fatalistic voices [within the evangelical community] that counsel passivity.” He was referring to passivity when it comes to addressing broader cultural issues. But I echo the rebuke when it comes to passivity in dealing with clergy abuse. Metaxas says,“Christians are often theologically sloppy. If you care about saving souls . . . we have to care about justice.”

There is plenty of injustice to go around when it comes to the church’s dealings in this fallen world, both near and far. Those who have suffered at the hands of abusive clergy are near–right next door — and their violation ought to be redressed.  The believing community is accountable for defending them — or for not doing so. (I speak here to the mostly-male leadership.) This abdication of responsibility resulted, in the case of the Catholic church, in a level of debasement sufficient to overthrow the Pope. He surrendered Saint Peter’s keys and went away.

The church, Protestant and Catholic, rightly or wrongly, possesses power over human souls.  To ignore the hidden and rampant pathology of abuse gives reign to toxicity and poisons the souls of those who need healing as well as those who give it a pass. It makes a mockery of Jesus, whose holy name the church proclaims.


About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.

  • John Shuster

    No pope has ever been overwhelmed by clergy sex abuse. Each recent pope and his hierarchy have systematically covered-up sex crimes, coddled predators, bullied victims and their families, and engaged PR firms and legal teams to protect their image and money. Church leaders are not the victims. They are accomplices in sex crimes against children and vulnerable adults.

    • Wendy Murray

      Fair enough. Thanks for your comment, and for reading. I agree with you.

    • VictimsAdvocate

      I agree with you John It is truly sad reality Victims are not helped if only with acknowledgement , then compassion Priests minister in jails to perpetrators but do what for victims ? Unfortunately there are plenty of wicked people – Jesus will save us when he returns very soon Praise God Jesus Christ Yahshua

    • neil allen

      Satan is smart, and he has convinced a billion Catholics that letting their leader rape and destroy 100,000 young children, using the power of their god, is ok with the real God. Brilliant, and it was remarkably easy.

  • sTv0

    I find it fascinating beyond description that people *still* believe in this garbage we call religion. Fascinating. Why? Because: the Catholic Church has known about its child rape and abuse issue for many more years than just since the Boston press broke the story in 2002. How many years? “Sexual abuse of minors by clergy is reflected in the early records of the Church. A mention of sexual abuse is found in the canons of the Latin Church for a Synod at Elvira in Spain in year 309, where presbyters and bishops who commit sexual sins (#18) and those who abuse boys are mentioned. Additionally, St. Basil (330-379) stated: “A cleric or monk who seduces youths or young boys … is to be publicly flogged …. For six months he will languish in prison-like confinement … he shall never again associate with youths neither in private conversation nor in counseling them.””

    That’s 18 centuries. Eighteen. Benedict “overwhelmed”? Pah!

    • Fallulah

      It is a big business…hard to walk away from that kind of money and control.

  • mhelbert

    I was unaware of the issues at JPUSA. The church that I used to be associated with had a long relationship with them In fact, in the 80s a woman from our church married a member of JPUSA. A band that I was in played at their wedding. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I guess that there is no institution that is immune to this heinous activity.

  • Censored

    Hierarchy leads to concentrated power. Power leads to abuse. So avoid hierarchical organizations, like churches or HOAs (home owner associations.) Live as egalitarian (opposite of hierarchical) as possible, as Jesus said:

    • Call no man your patre/patron/pastor/boss on the Earth. ~Jesus

    • Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. ~Jesus

  • Rebecca Cusey

    Hear hear!

  • michaelkellogg

    I must have missed the part where you presented any evidence of any pope directly abetting any of the sexual abuse that has gone on. All I am seeing here is a bunch of slanderous comments with no support whatsoever. Seems like just a venting spot for people who hate the Catholic Church.

  • johndt41

    This pope is not overwhelmed nor is the molestation of children by clergy of any church a challenge to him. His PR skills are well up to and in keeping with the Vatican policy of using pretty words to hide dirty deeds.