- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

The evangelical newsmagazine World responded to the sexual-abuse crisis among Catholic clergy with a recent cover story advising "parental discretion" and warning readers of "offensive material."

But Catholic priests were not the subject.

"The Protestant church has a severe problem of its own: some pastoral counselors having sex with counselees," World reported.

Reports suggest that while most Catholic cases involve homosexual priests latching onto young boys, Protestant cases tend to be ministers preying on women.

"What's striking about this is that Catholics are not alone," said the Rev. John Lundin, a Lutheran pastor and chairman of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute. "It's not just children, it's also adults."

The World article detailed the cases of three ministers independent, Nazarene and Baptist who pleaded that their sex with women seeking counseling was "consensual." Ministers serve a range of Protestant churches that lack a male celibate priesthood and hierarchy.

Twenty states make sexual contact by counselors with clients a potential crime. In general, counseling and social-work associations declare that sex with clients is unethical.

Clergy misbehave sexually no more than the general population, and probably less, researchers agree, but receive scrutiny because of their positions of trust and accompanying power.

"The prevalence of the problem is something most denominations have no way of tracking," said Ian Evison of the Alban Institute in Bethesda, which advises mostly Protestant churches.

If statistics on Catholic cases are sketchy, they are nebulous for Protestants and usually come to light only because of church or court hearings.

Mr. Lundin said research on Protestant clergy shows a growing problem with Internet pornography and that Christian leaders reared with "a sinful emphasis" on sex can become more obsessed with its temptations.

"They've not understood that it is God's gift" for marriage, he said.

With a more local and lay-governed system of hiring and dismissing clergy, the exact nature of misbehavior may not come to light because of a "culture of secrecy," he said. "When a boundary has been violated, it is very hard for the next minister," he said.

With the Catholic publicity, the Episcopal Church has seemed most willing to disclose its own problems, mainly to assure churchgoers that strict safeguards are now in place.

"Instances of pedophilia have occurred in the Episcopal Church," the Episcopal News Service reported. A church school in Charleston, S.C., reached a $105 million settlement over abuse by a lay teacher, and in 1991 a woman won a $1.2 million ruling against the bishop of Denver over an errant priest.

Abuse watchdog groups say there are no clergy categories in abuse monitoring, either for lack of data or too few incidents to calculate. But clergy do hold a classic position of trust in society, they say.

"The group having the highest propensity of abuse are parents, people they know, and caregivers," said Bob Cooper, executive director of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

He said sexual exploitation of "vulnerable" women seeking pastoral care is a part of the abuse spectrum. "This negates any sort of age limit," he said.

In all, pedophilia among ministers is rarest of all violations, though they are most reviled and lead to the most damaging lawsuits, especially if church authorities ignored the problem.

The most recent surveys of Protestant clergy show divorce rates nearly on par with the general public. Female ministers divorce more before ordination, and men typically as pastors.

Also, more liberal traditions have higher divorce rates, while they are less in conservative denominations. Divorce is attributed to stress of full-time ministry, but it is assumed to involve some cases of adultery.

Mr. Evison said claims about celibacy creating the Catholic crisis are hard to sustain in light of the Protestant experience with married and female clergy.

"Well, the Protestants are living proof that you can still have serious abuse problems," he said.


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