This post may not be popular with some, but I think it is a subject that needs to be aired. It was brought to my attention by a news item concerning a church minister who is actively promoting child cruelty amongst his congregation. The minister has allegedly actively condoned the action of a father who branded his child because he thought the child was a witch and, in other cases he has encouraged parents to send unruly (what he calls “witch-children”) back to africa so he can pray for them to die!
Whilst this may be an extreme case, child cruelty and sex abuse in the church is not a new phenomena. Over the past few decades in the UK there have been a number of cases of child abuse involving the clergy. In those situations, as in this case, there is one significant omission – reaction from the church! I cannot recall the church making any definitive and meaningful statements on the issue. They have not come out in public and set forth a plan to investigate, address and combat the incidence of child sex abuse by the clergy. In addition, they need to publicly and loudly condemn such abuse. I know that someone will correct me if I am wrong, but in the UK I have yet to see one case where the church has instigated an action against a child abuser in their midst and made it public.
In my view there are two issues here. Firstly, the church needs to implement a strategy to limit the potential for acts of child abuse. This could be done by better training of the clergy, including a more detailed psychological appraisal of clergy applicants. Strict regulations and guidelines should also be introduced in respect of the way in which the clergy is allowed to act and interact with children. Why should they be treated any different to other professionals who deal with children?
The second issue is celibacy. A large portion of the Christian church promotes the ideal that their clergy must be celibate. In these cases it is a matter of dictate rather than choice. It is no defence to say that people have the choice not to become clergy. If they have a calling to a become a minister in a particular church, this should not be denied by their need to have a sexual partner or companion. It is blatant discrimination. Furthermore, such a position is not supported by the scriptures. These types of religious sexual restrictions provide the temptation for child abuse.
It would seem that the clergy does not like to air its dirty linen in public, but we are talking here about child abuse, and there is no justification for hiding this behind closed doors. In the UK in 2001, a national vetting body was proposed for the clergy, following 26 criminal cases of clergy child abuse, and that is potentially just the tip of an iceberg. There are two issues here. Firstly, it is not a totally independent body, which is should be. Secondly, it is amazing how little information regarding the findings of that organisation has published in the past five years.
The US Christian churches have also made the issue of prosecution of the clergy in child abuse cases more difficult, as an article in 2002 shows. Laws have been passed, perhaps unwittingly, that allow the church to continue to hide the child abuse actions of their clergy.
The peoples relationship with the church is meant to be built on faith and trust. It is apparent from these issues that there are those within the clergy who abuse that faith and trust in respect of their actions towards children. The Christian church, by its actions and inactions, is condoning that abuse and it is time this was bought to an end. The Church, like all other social, political and commercial organisations, should be subject to independent public scrutiny.
When Jesus said “Suffer the children” he did not intend the word “suffer” to be taken literally.
PS: For those of you interested on the issues of child abuse and what can be done about it, please visit the site “Child protection: serious business” listed on our blogroll.