Part Nine: Accountability


Part Nine of Thirteen

When Jason Berry of the National Catholic Reporter first reported on the systemic sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church and the coverup by church hierarchy, he anticipated the story would become international news and finally bring an end to the atrocities. He expected public outrage over the abhorrent nature and Watergate-esque scale of the crimes. What he did not expect was the story to die on the vine.

The abuse, in fact, was allowed to continue unabated until the Boston Globe Spotlight investigations finally got the world’s attention 15 years later. It is yet to be seen whether the church can be made to take responsibility for the suicides, pain, and suffering of victims and their families.

Too often we discover that the most egregious sexual criminal activities have been committed by Christian leaders and covered up by their leadership and attorneys. Sadly, these activities often go uninvestigated, unreported, or underreported.

Even when the abuse is acknowledged, the matter is handled internally, and many abusers were simply transferred to a different location. Churches have proven incapable of holding themselves accountable, resulting in a continuing cycle of abuse, all while gaslighting the public with false accusations against the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

One of the more recent examples of widespread sexual abuse in Christian churches involves the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second largest faith group after the Catholic church. Much like the Catholic church, the S.B.C. has a long history of child sexual abuse and cover-up that extends to its top leaders.

The mostly white S.B.C. has long supported far right issues like anti-abortion, anti-L.G.B.T.Q., and alt-right white nationalist causes. As reported in the Guardian, after a third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions came out, the S.B.C. itself released a document listing “hundreds of Baptist leaders and members accused or found guilty of sexual abuse of children, including 700 entries on cases between 2000 and 2019.” Their lawyers had fought for years to shield the S.B.C. from liability.

A confidential settlement was reached at the end of 2023 in a high-profile lawsuit against Paul Pressler, a leader in the S.B.C. for over 50 years. A 2017 lawsuit brought by Duane Rollins against Pressler led to the “Abuse of Faith” investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

The lawsuit showed that former Harris County Republican Party Chair, Jared Woodfill, was aware of allegations that Paul Pressler was a sexual predator, a fact he recently admitted under oath. Woodfill nonetheless continued to provide Pressler with young, male personal assistants, three of whom have also come forward to accuse Pressler of sexual abuse or misconduct. Woodfill is currently running for a Texas House seat and received an endorsement by Attorney General Ken Paxton, both of whom are vocal anti-L.G.B.T.Q. critics.

One of the most sobering realizations of both the victims and journalists investigating sexual abuse in churches was that the institutions may never truly be held accountable. And that lack of accountability means the abuses are likely to continue unabated into the future.

If we claim to be committed to social justice, then each of us must take responsibility to scrutinize the churches we endorse and to hold them accountable; not only for internal offenses like sexual abuse, but also for supporting causes deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and bigotry. While some organizations are transparent, others may downplay or even hide their views and doctrine. The last thing we need to do is unwittingly support the very causes we are rebelling against.

This is especially true if our support is financial in nature, like tithing. We must recognize that our donations are largely going to support the organization itself, not the community.

Does your church operate a private school? If so, you’re helping their school teach young people that abortion is murder and L.G.B.T.Q. identities are the devil’s work. Does your church operate a hospital system? If so, you’re financially supporting their hospital’s decision to deny certain life-saving procedures for pregnancy complications and essential gender-affirming healthcare, based solely on the church’s belief system.

Every year we lose too many people to hate crimes, especially trans women of color. And every year, we lose too many children who give up hope that there is a place for them in this world. Kids who are not supported in their gender identity have a very high rate of depression, self-harm, and suicide. They struggle to live in a world that denies their very existence. A world that actively tries to erase them. The more our kids are forced to hide who they are, the more dehumanizing and life threatening the effects will be.

In contrast, youth who are affirmed in their gender identity experience mental health similar to the rest of the population. We owe it to our kids to be more responsible in the churches, congregations, and causes we support.

It’s not enough to hold churches and other organizations accountable. We have to hold ourselves accountable. If you suspect your church or denomination is party to this kind of abuse and continue to support them with donations or tithes, you may as well be writing checks to the abusers themselves.

Peter Tchoryk

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