That fact carries no comfort for survivors such as David Clohessy, a St. Louis political and public-relations consultant and national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "It doesn't matter whether just as many priests [abuse] as plumbers do," he says. "You can't take solace in that."

Myth #3: Clergy misconduct involves only men abusing women and children.
According to social worker Melissa Steinmetz of the Holy Cross Counseling Group in South Bend, Indiana, sex abuse is not a males-only transgression. Because the feminist movement was largely responsible for awareness of sexual abuse, the original focus was solely on male perpetrators. But, says Steinmetz, experience has shown that women, too, are guilty of abuse, especially of preadolescent and adolescent boys.

Myth #4: The Catholic Church is alone in covering up instances of sexual misconduct of its clergy.
Institutions, with very few exceptions, tend to circle the wagons to protect its own. Take the case of Swami Rama, an Indian yogi who came to this country in 1969. In 1974, yoga students accused the swami of inappropriate sexual behavior, falsification of his background, and financial improprieties.

But it wasn't until legal action was taken 20 years later--two civil lawsuits were filed against the swami, against the Himalayan Institute (an organization he founded), and against three institute officials--that his organization was forced to seriously deal with complaints of his sexual misconduct.

Testimony from depositions indicates that one of the defendants, Rudolph Ballentine, M.D.--a member of the institute's board of directors in the 1970s and institute president from 1987 to 1993--received verbal reports and letters describing instances of sexual contact between the swami and female disciples for years. In case after case, he discounted the allegations based on the swami's denials and his own judgments about the character and motivations of those reporting the abuse.

When Swami Rama died before the case came to trial, the prosecution dropped charges against him and the officials, but won a judgement against the Institute, which was forced to pay almost $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The problem of clergy sexual misconduct itself is not new, but in the not-too-distant past a kind of embargo existed against publicizing what might at the time have been called the "sexual shenanigans" of those in positions of leadership.

Sex scandals were seen as reflecting poorly on hallowed institutions--the presidency, in the case of John F. Kennedy's affairs, or the Catholic Church, in the case of priests who might have been caught in flagrante delicto. Incidents were winked at or dealt with quietly.

Recalls Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University and author of "Pedophiles and Priests": "I had a police friend in New York who would--pardon the expression--talk about all the times he had 'cut loose a faggot brother,' by which he meant he had arrested a priest or brother for a homosexual act and had let him go with a warning."

"Think what that must have done to people in the priesthood and in the seminaries," says Jenkins. "For a tiny minority who did have tendencies to any kind of sexual misconduct, it must have given them a sense of invulnerability."

That shield of immunity was shattered in the mid-1980s with the Gilbert Gauthe case. Gauthe was the pastor of St. John's Parish in Henry, Louisiana. According to journalist Jason Berry, who broke the story in a local weekly newspaper and who detailed Catholic priests' abuse of children in articles and a book, "Lead Us Not into Temptation," church officials were aware of Gauthe's sexual propensities as early as 1974.

Almost 10 years passed, however, before he was finally relieved of his priestly duties. Soon after, in October 1984, Gauthe was indicted on charges relating to sexual abuse of minors and child pornography; a year later the judge in his case agreed to a plea bargain. Gauthe pleaded guilty to 33 charges and was sentenced to 20 years without parole. He also lost a subsequent civil suit, which awarded $1.25 million to a boy who claimed to have been molested and to the boy's parents. Twenty years and probably a billion dollars later, the Catholic Church is still embroiled in scandals--as are a variety of synagogues, ashrams, Protestant parishes, and congregations.

Why are spiritual authorities--rabbis and roshis, priests and pastoral counselors, ministers and swamis--able to take advantage so often? For one, they hold a special position in their spiritual communities.