Catholics are taught that a priest is "called" by God to his vocation. One Catholic missal has a section that reads: "My child: Someone has said it is a sign of salvation to have a great love for Priests. Why is this so? Because the Priest takes the place of our Blessed Lord on earth."

While Catholics are taught that priests are representatives of Jesus, Hindu devotees are often led to believe that their guru is a god, a Realized Self. In his 1971 book, "Guru," Swami Muktananda declares: "The Guru is an actual embodiment of the Absolute. Truly speaking, he is himself the Supreme Being."

The charisma of the pastor or spiritual teacher--what often attracts parishioners and disciples--can be dangerous too. Charisma is evident in the popular pastor whose dynamic sermons and impeccable people skills fill the pews and church coffers every week, as well as in the guru whose presence induces altered states of consciousness. The problem comes in mistaking a spiritual leader's persona and talents for holiness. The leader of a thriving church community or a guru with siddhis (psychic powers) should not be mistaken for a saint.

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Because of the innocence and vulnerability of the victims, perhaps the most heinous crime perpetrated by sexual predators is the abuse of children. David Clohessy of SNAP, himself a survivor of abuse by a priest, describes the abrupt shift in perception this way: "It's like getting up one morning, walking outside, and all of a sudden the law of gravity isn't in effect anymore. It is just a horrible, horrible betrayal."

Of course, the degree of damage to individual youngsters varies, but a survey described in the Journal of Social Issues (volume 51, number 2) reported that, of their sample, almost 20 percent of children abused by religious authorities considered suicide.

Not only is the pain inflicted on each individual child heartbreaking, but the scope of the problem is immense because each perpetrator generally has multiple victims. A 1988 National Institute of Mental Health survey estimated that the typical child sex offender molests an average of 117 children, most of whom do not report the offence.

Father Rossetti in his book "Slayer of the Soul" cites a 1987 study that found that 377 child molesters--whose relations with victims were neither incestuous nor religion-related--victimized 4,435 girls and 22,981 boys. Pentecostal preacher Tony Leyva, for example, pleaded guilty to having abused upwards of 100 boys, although law-enforcement officials placed the number closer to 800. By way of comparison, John Geoghan is said to have molested 130 children.

Although youngsters who have been molested by clergy exhibit the same symptoms as those violated by other trusted adults, there is an added dimension if the abuse is perpetrated by a trusted spiritual authority. Because church is often thought of as a refuge, and God as someone to turn to in troubled times, a child who is molested may turn away altogether from spiritual pursuits even into adulthood.

Clohessy, for instance, says he no longer considers himself a Catholic. Still, he says, "there are times when I am very envious of those people who have been able to separate out what one man with a Roman collar did to them as kids from the rest of the institution and the rest of religion. I am envious of people who still have their faith."