Basic theological differences aside, turns out that the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have a lot in common.
When the long-awaited investigative report on clergy sexual abuse within the SBC was released in May, 2022, it included a previously secret list of more than 700 immoral, unprincipled and compromised pastors and other church-affiliated personnel. Prepared by the independent investigative group Guidepost Solutions, this document revealed that for more than ten years, SBC leaders had maintained a private list of abusive ministers, while failing to ensure that those same accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.
A close reading of this explosive-yet-very-sad report makes clear that the SBC has joined the Catholic Church as an indelibly stained enterprise, each with lengthy and well-documented histories of countenancing and protecting sexual predators masquerading as clergy in their midst. In short, both of these groups failed, miserably, with regard to what should have been one of their core responsibilities … the protection of our young and most vulnerable.
The Catholic Church, in particular, has a long and sordid record of working to keep the lid on their clergy abuse scandal by transferring problem priests from parish to parish. In other words, church leaders were more concerned with keeping things quiet than with bringing this outrage to an end, and so it continued for decades.
One particularly outrageous example of failure in the Archdiocese of New York is that of former priest Gennaro “Father Jerry” Gentile. Before being outed in the New York media in 2002, with the headline “Twisted Journey of a Problem Priest,” Gentile had, for years, raised suspicions among fellow clergy about his interactions with young men and boys … but nothing was ever done. He was laicized in 2005. And though he may have been the worst, Gentile was but one of many clerics who, when accused of scandalous behavior, were moved to other unsuspecting communities. And while the Archdiocese ultimately paid $60 million in damages to those victimized, it could never recover the trust of the multitude of families and individuals affected, forever, by the actions of these evil men.
Writing in the blog Patheos, John Beckett observes:
Never forget that values are more important than the institution. This is the most disappointing thing about both the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist scandals: people in positions of responsibility put protecting the reputation of their church ahead of caring for victims and stopping predators.
And in the end, they did even more damage to the reputation of their church. Now both denominations are known not just as a place where bad things happened, but where supposedly spiritual leaders covered them up.
To that I can only add: