Catherine McCall MS, LMFT

Overcoming Child Abuse

How to Prevent Sexual Abuse by Clergy

Keep your congregation's children safe.

Posted Oct 05, 2010

It seems that every time I turn on the news lately there’s another report about sexual abuse by clergy. The latest is a third alleged abuse of a teenage boy by Bishop Eddie Long of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia. Though the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has predominated cyndicated news coverage over the last several years, perpetrators of sexual abuse exist in every denomination, so it behooves all of us to be aware of what can be done to prevent this tragedy. Last October I attended the Southern Regional American Academy of Pastoral Counselors Conference where Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of PERVERSION OF POWER (a book that I highly recommend) was the main speaker.

Dr. Frawley-O’Dea gave us the following recommendations:

  • Enhance seminary training.
  • Provide annual quality child protection training for clergy, including role plays and case presentations.
  • Preach every quarter on every aspect of the responsibility each adult in the congregation has for protecting the children from abuse.
  • Develop congregational lay committees whose mission is to develop guidelines and events for the congregation, which address all aspects of protecting children at various stages of development.
  • Preach about the importance of reporting suspected child abuse, and how to do it. (In NC every adult has a mandated responsibility to report.)
  • Inform the congregation about any past, present, or future complaints  or reporting,
  • … and then develop healing rituals for the congregation.
  • If any clergy has sexually abused a child, insure that he or she is reported to authorities, removed from work with children, receives appropriate mental health care, and apologizes to the violated child, family, and church community.
  • Incorporate term limits for Bishops and other policies that inhibit hierarchical rigidity

Today’s blog is short and to the point. Take Dr.Frawley- O’Dea’s advice. Do everything you can to see that these policies are implemented in your church, synagogue, temple, mosque or other house of worship. You’ll be saving the innocence and perhaps even the faith of a child. And if you have any further recommendations, or want to share programs that have helped to maintain safety for children and teens in your faith community, please post them in the comments section here; share the good news.