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  Home :: 2007 September :: Protestant clergy abuse difficult to document
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Protestant clergy abuse difficult to document

Allegations and confirmed cases of priestly sex abuse againstchildren in the Catholic church have been well documented sincewidespread reports of abuse first surfaced in the Boston area in theearly 2000s.

But tracking allegations and confirmed cases ofmisconduct by Protestant clergy is an elusive task becauseChristianity's other ecclesiastical division is wildly diverse,congregational and sometimes staunchly independent compared toCatholicism's centralized hierarchy.

Ed Hart of the Central NewYork Baptist Association said all 42 churches in his jurisdictionoutlined by Broome, Tioga, Delaware, Herkimer, Steuben and Oswegocounties are autonomous. Local church leaders would handle complaintsagainst pastors at the congregational level but would not be requiredto report anything to Hart or any other denominational officials.

Inthe Southern Tier's largest Protestant denomination, all allegationsare investigated by the bishop and four district superintendents, saidDonald Perry, communications director for the Wyoming Conference of theUnited Methodist Church, headquartered in Endicott. But denominationalpolity does not require either the regional or national church to trackallegations and confirmed cases.

Still, some statistics can begleamed from three insurance companies that provide liability coveragefor 165,500 Protestant churches in the United States:

* Thelargest company, Church Mutual of Merrill, Wis., with 96,000 clientsincluding the Wyoming Conference, reported an annual average of 100child sex abuse cases during the past decade.

* GuideOne,headquartered in West Des Moines, Iowa, reported an average of 160reports every year for the past two decades among its 45,000 clients.

*About 75 claims have been investigated by Brotherhood Mutual in FortWayne, Ind., each year for the past 15 years, but the company did notspecify if all complaints involved minors.

Officials from allthree insurance companies said the number of cases has remained steadyduring the past two decades. The data released to The Associated Pressdid not include information about whether the accused was found guiltyby church or legal jurisdictions.

Hart said he knew of nocredible child sex abuse allegations against Central NY Baptist clergyin the past decade. "It's their business; it's a totally voluntaryaffiliation," said Hart, who's headquartered in Lacona. "If it were abig issue and the church didn't do anything about it, the associationmight disassociate itself from the church."

No pastor among localclergy in the United Methodist Church is currently under investigation,said Binghamton District Superintendent the Rev. David Masland. He saidhe knew of no credible child sex abuse complaints against theconference's roughly 180-200 active clergy in the past 15 years.

Amongthe 50 churches in the Central New York District of the WesleyanChurch, no allegations are currently under investigation,Superintendent Wayne G. Wager said.

Episcopal Church officials inCentral New York have handled several allegations of alleged clergy sexabuse cases in recent years.

In late July, a retired priest wassuspended for 20 years after a church investigation and four affidavitsshowed that Edward Putnam engaged in sexual activities with minorswhile rector at a church in Skaneateles from 1986 to 1993. Putnam, 66,was chaplain to the New York State Assembly in the 1990s.

In May2006, Ralph E. Johnson voluntarily resigned without admitting guiltamid a diocesan investigation into sexual allegations involving a boywhile Johnson was rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Owego in the1970s.

Elsewhere, a salacious case that drew national attentioninvolved Lewis Lee, pastor of the Christian Baptist Church inSherburne, who abducted the teenage daughter of parishioners in March2006 before being nabbed in Maryland and eventually sentenced to 11years in federal prison for crossing state lines to engage in sex witha minor, as well as a maximum of 28 years for felony rape.

TheAssociation of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies estimates atleast 224,000 churches across the country could be listed as Protestant.

Manyare aligned into similarly governed denominations, including UnitedMethodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Others carry anational name, such as Baptists, but govern themselves at the locallevel without regard to stringent national policies. Countless othersare independent, with no affiliation with any unit beyond their localchurch.

All those different organizational structures, which mayor may not include a centralized hierarchy, make it impossible toaccumulate all-inclusive data about sex abuse allegations. No singleorganization or executive has oversight over all Protestantdenominations.

By contract, Catholic bishops commissioned theCenter for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown Universityto track and publish an annual report on credible allegations of sexualmisconduct among priests and deacons. For 2006, CARA's showed 635 newand "credible allegations" were lodged against 394 priests or deaconsfrom Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. That compares to 695 in 2005 and 898 in 2004.

Duringthe past two years, no "credible allegations" have been filed againstpriests or deacons in the Syracuse Diocese, which includes Broome andChenango counties. In the Rochester Diocese, which covers Tioga County,two allegations were lodged in 2006; four had been reported in 2005.

Sincechild sex abuse by Catholic clergy began making headlines, bothCatholics and Protestants have taken steps to protect children frompredators.

Syracuse and Rochester dioceses have victim-assistancecoordinators who handle complaints of suspected abuse involving a minorand clergy, church employee or volunteer. Syracuse has a SafeEnvironment Program that requires all priests, paid employees,child-care providers, cheerleading coaches and other volunteers tocomplete a training session, as well as be screened and sign a code ofconduct.

At its annual June meeting, Wyoming Conferenceestablished a Safe Sanctuary program that requires clergy and anestimated 2,000 to 3,000 local church volunteers who related tochildren to complete training by December 2008.

In reply to areporter's inquiry, United Methodist Bishop Susan W. Hassinger of theWyoming Conference issued a statement saying allegations are taken"very seriously" and credible complaints would likely result intemporarily or permanently removing a pastor from a church assignmentand possibly asking the clergy to surrender ministerial credentials. Atthat point, the accused would be identified through an announcement tothe church and the complaint would be inserted into the pastor'spersonnel file and likely available for review by potential church orprivate-sector employers, Hassinger added.

In the WesleyanChurch, allegations would be investigated by the local church andreported to the district, said Wager. "The Wesleyan Church has zerotolerance for clergy abusing children and if a pastor was determined tobe guilty the person would be immediately dismissed as a pastor and beforbidden from ever pastoring again," he said.

Episcopalians in Central New York who work with children must participate in safe-church training and undergo background checks.

"Wemay ask why this happened in our church and in our community," saidAdams about the recent Putnam case. "I have faith that we will see theeffect of God's reconciling grace in and through one another."



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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia