- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2019

BALTIMORE — Holding signs, a small group of sexual abuse survivors convened Tuesday outside a hotel at the Inner Harbor where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was holding its annual meeting.

It mirrored a scene in Birmingham, Alabama, where abuse victims protested on sidewalks outside the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention — and the Baltimore activists noted the similarities.

“We have somebody on our board down in Birmingham right now,” said Becky Ianni, the director of the Washington, D.C., and Virginia chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “We’ve got Mennonites coming forward, Latter-day Saints. We have a large group of people from other churches when I answer the phone line. It’s not just a Catholic problem anymore. It never was.”

The nation’s two largest Christian denominations are meeting this week under clouds of abuse.

Pope Francis last month issued the first rules for the worldwide church for clergy to report abuse to higher-ups, but not to local law enforcement. In February, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published a series chronicling abuse by nearly 400 male Southern Baptist Convention leaders or volunteers against more than 700 people.

“I refuse to accept doom, gloom and despair,” said Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee. “We need to create a new culture within our convention family, the kind of culture that will help us flourish and be fruitful in every way, especially in our relationships together.”

But critics question whether either denomination will uproot systemic problems leading to sexual abuse of minors, noting that Baptist churches operate with autonomy while Catholic churches follow orders from Rome.

“Whether it’s a centralized hierarchy or local control, it’s perpetuating criminal behavior,” said Michele Galietta, associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Ms. Galietta helped author the seminal 2004 Church-sponsored John Jay Report on widespread clergy sex abuse against minors. She said she “used to believe that these people really believed in forgiveness,” but 10 years later she’s not so sure.

“There is no seriousness in either group,” she said. “There’s more attention [paid] to the priests, not the victims.”

Catholics bishops are prepared to debate and vote this week on a number of protocols stemming from the pope’s rule, while Baptist delegates will vote on an amendment to the SBC constitution clarifying that an individual church could be expelled from the convention for mishandling or covering up sex-abuse cases.

Many victims say secular law enforcement should play a leading role. Protesters outside the Birmingham meeting asked SBC leaders to create an independent database of credibly accused pastors.

“I was told by SBC leadership that they’re afraid they’ll be sued as a convention if they miss someone from that list,” said Dee Parsons, who started a blog 10 years ago to combat sexual abuse after the failure of her North Carolina church to take action against an alleged abuser.

“I’ve become quite discouraged,” Ms. Parsons told The Washington Times.

Pressed at a Tuesday news conference in Baltimore on afternoon about why the bishops don’t move to involve laypersons in oversight, Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, referred to the terms outlined in Francis’ rules.

“Because we are publishing directives for of how a particular document is to be implemented and the document gives flexibility to how it’s going to be applied and you can’t put into legislation what is not already in the governing document,” Bishop Deeley said.

Calling this answer “canonical,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the bishops conference, spoke more bluntly: “You go as far as you can,” he said.

“What they’re fighting is what a lot of institutions are fighting,” said Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). “This is something that happens everywhere in society.”

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