Soul Betrayal

It's not just priests who abuse youngsters. Clergy of all faiths are guilty of sexual misconduct with children and adults.

While the media focuses on pedophile priests, what's being lost is the sad reality that sexual abuse of both children and adults is a serious problem among clergy of all faiths.

A quick survey of research on sexual misconduct reveals:

  • Almost 42 percent of respondents in a 1990 study on sexual harassment in the United Methodist Church reported unwanted sexual behavior by a colleague or pastor; 17 percent of laywomen said that their own pastor had harassed them.
  • A national survey of mainly Protestant pastors conducted the same year by a group at the Center for Ethics and Social Policy, Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, California discovered that about 10 percent of those surveyed had been sexually active with an adult parishioner.
  • A 1991 examination of the personnel files of 2,252 priests, who had served in the Chicago diocese between 1963 and 1991, found that 2.6 percent of the priests had been accused of sexual abuse. After reviewing the 59 cases, the commission studying the issue decided that the complaints were justified in a little more than half of the cases. This study contrasts with findings of A.W. Richard Sipe, a former Roman Catholic priest and a psychotherapist, who suggests that 6 percent of priests have inappropriate sexual contact with minors.
  • Research published in a 1993 pastoral care journal found that only 6.1 percent of Southern Baptist pastor respondents admitted to having sexual contact with a person either currently or formerly affiliated with their church--but 70 percent said they knew pastors who had had sexual contact with a congregant.


    But beyond these few studies, the field is sorely lacking in research that would precisely measure the extent of the abuse or compare the number of abusers across denominations or religions. For this reason, many researchers and professionals in the field try to steer clear of citing statistics.

    According to Roman Paur, executive director of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota, statistics regarding clergy sexual misconduct are "fundamentally guesses"; there is no hard research to back up the numbers, and traditions that might have such statistics are reluctant to disclose such information because it would draw too much attention to the problem within their denomination.

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    Anne A. Simpkinson
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