Three groups of clergy have recently risen against and publicly expressed criticism of their respective church hierarchies. In one case, in Steubenville, Ohio, the clerics complained about how a smaller church institution would be merged into a larger neighboring church institution. In another case, in Knoxville, Tennessee, the clerics’ complaints mostly centered on how their supervisor spent lavishly, acted secretively, made unilateral (and sometimes controversial) decisions, and then retaliated against priests who questioned his behavior.
In the third case, involving clergy members all across the US, the clerics’ complaints stemmed from how their church supervisors handled a recent scandal involving a longtime volunteer teacher and mentor with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, the official college ministry of the AG. This scandal involves David Savala, who was recently indicted after being accused of raping or sexually assaulting at least 13 men over two decades at Baylor University in Texas.
One Assemblies of God pastor publicly declared that while “a handful of (complicit church officials) have been removed from the pulpit, the leaders of the districts and national office have remained silent.” Other ministers in the denominations have made similar public statements, sometimes specifically calling on wrongdoers in the church hierarchy to step down, calling their actions and inaction in the Savala scandal “shameful.”
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may not be surprised that the first two situations described above, the ones that do NOT involve clergy child sexual abuse and cover-ups, involve Catholic clerics. The third situation, in which clergy seem to be putting kids’ safety first and demanding concrete consequences for those who haven’t, involves non-Catholic clergy.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the takeaway here seems to be that in those rare circumstances where Catholic clerics blast their bishops, other grievances (not child sexual abuse) often motivate them. But in at least one recent situation, non-Catholic clergy are willing to take on their supervisors over abuse and coverups. Again, this isn’t necessarily shocking. But it is, of course, disturbing. And it does not bode well for the safety of the vulnerable in Catholic settings. In fairness, some of the Knoxville priests went beyond complaining about Knoxville Bishop Richard Stika’s management style. In two alleged clergy abuse cases, some explicitly criticized the bishop for his callous, deceitful, and reckless actions.
In fairness, in rare instances, some Catholic bodies do, in fact, blast their church hierarchy over the continuing abuse and cover-up scandal. (They tend to be lay people, not priests, however.) Just this week, Pope Francis’ handpicked abuse panel issued a statement noting that “Every day seems to bring forth new evidence of abuse, as well as cover-ups and mishandling by Church leadership around the world” and that recent cases “point to tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing.” But no one called for anyone to resign or be forced from office.
So, our point still stands: precious few Catholic priests, nuns, brothers, seminarians, monks, or other church employees manage to summon up sustained outrage over child sex crimes and cover-ups. Tragically, this continues even as church officials and congregants look around and see others in authority – in courts, legislative bodies, social movements (like #MeToo), and even other church groups – speaking up and taking action against those who commit and conceal sex crimes. Tragically, this is one troubling reason why predators and enablers are still found and flourish in Catholic churches, schools, and other institutions.
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