Shocking number of Episcopal child sex abuse cases reported in Boy Scouts litigation

#churchtoo

Many Episcopalians like to live in their little slice of stained glass paradise, immune to the vagaries and issues of real life. This particularly is the case when it comes to child sex abuse (CSA), where Episcopalians like to lean back, clutch the pearls, take a dainty sip of Chardonnay and murmer nervously, “Well, it can’t happen here. Everyone knows everyone, and we have policies to prevent these things.”

Unfortunately, an analysis of the recent Boy Scouts of America (BSA) sex abuse claims/litigation makes clear that these assumptions are, at best, wishful thinking. They’re also dangerously wrong.

Context

For starters, only a small portion of child sex incidents are reported, with just 12 percent being reported to legal authorities. That number soars when boys are involved, many of whom may feel shame or embarassment over their experiences.

Additionally, the data compiled in the litigation, which was exported from digital records maintained by the BSA, is far from error free. Specifically, our analysis of the data reveals:

  • Multiple spelling errors that make identifying the exact parish or entity involved difficult.
  • Opaque entries that suggest that various Episcopal parishes may have co-sponsored or taken over BSA troops from other denominations. This includes data like “Ft. Worth Episcopal Presbyterian Church.” (Fictious example, but consistent with the data.)
  • A large number of suspiciously named churches in which a saint is referenced in the name, but there are multiple Catholic or Episcopal parishes that could fit the bill. In those cases, we omitted the data.
  • More than 46,000 reports of abuse in which no related identity was reported.
  • Difficult internal dynamics, including several cases in which we were able to back into the details of the case, only to discover that multiple unsuccessful attempts were made to report the allegations to church officials. In these cases, complainants were consistently stonewalled or brushed off, typically via fictitious Title IV reporting requirements. The latter include the false requirement that reports be made in writing or in person, or that the complainant provide witnesses or overcome other fake procedural or evidentiary requirements at intake.

Thus, assuming the 12 percent reporting figure is accurate, we may conclude that the actual number of cases is likely much higher, possibly more than 8 times higher. This number correlates with our own experience with abuse, in which we know of literally dozens of cases in which the victim is still fighting to bring light to the darkness.

Additionally, the cases involved in the BSA litigation are, themselves, a subset of overall complaints. Many fell by the wayside due to the death or one or more parties, a lack of evidence, or just an unwillingness by victims to experience further trauma.

We also note, in fairness, that many churchs’ sponsorship of BSA troops extends to little more than providing meeting space. So while we believe that the church has a moral obligation to prevent abusers from using its resources, the reality is that individual parishes may have little insight as to the inner workings of a specific BSA troop.

Results

So, those disclaimers aside, what did we find when we analyzed the data? The answer is scary.

  • We identified 547 cases of child sexual abuse connected with Episcopal parishes and organizations.
  • Some places, including the now-defunct St. John’s Military Academy, reflect low numbers of reported abuse, despite the fact that they are now famous as epicenters of abuse. Thus, we can conclude that cases connected with the BSA are a small subset of overall incidents of abuse.
  • Reported cases peaked in 1970 and have dropped dramatically since then. Yet cases continue to occur across all denominations and swathes of society.
  • Despite BSA assurances that it had adequate insurance to protect sponsoring organizations, the sheer volume of claims — more than 85,000 — means that BSA has nowhere near adequate coverage.
  • As we have reported previously, the bankruptcy code, which was amended in the early 1990’s to tilt the playing field in favor of creditors, versus consumers, is doing grave harm to victims of CSA and gives unwarranted protection to churches and other non-profits. In short, filing for bankruptcy removes one of the great incentives to acting with intergrity, which is that punitive damages may wipe out an organization. Meanwhile, the BSA shelters assets, while providing a paltry settlement of $3,400 to claimants who have been hurt. This is farcical and inconsistent with the message of the Gospels, in which Jesus repeatedly gave preference to those hurt by organized religion, versus deferring to the Scribes and Pharisees.
  • While the Episcopal church accounts for less than one percent of cases, the denomination historically has had limited interest in sponsoring troops. Moreover, some faith traditions, like the Society of Friends aka Quakers, have a much lower incidence of cases per 1,000 members. Thus, we conjecture that the layers of redundancy and hierarchy in the Episcopal church, together with clericalism and a lack of accountability, have led to a much higher incidence of CSA in the denomination than would otherwise be expected given the church’s miniscule size.

In closing

The bottom line?

Anglican Watch believes the BSA bankruptcy is unethical on multiple fronts. Indeed, it does next to nothing for victims, while giving a pass to a corrupt organization. And while sponsoring churches may have had no role in local BSA troops beyond providing space, there are many in which church members took active roles in the troop. Indeed, many dioceses continue to cover-up, obfuscate, and ignore claims.

Thus, the Episcopal church is getting off way too easy and is trading social justice for organizational protection — the very antithesis of what it claims to stand for.

Anglican Watch also believes that churches and dioceses that hinder the reporting of CSA, whether via obstructionism, silence, fake Title IV investigations, or made-up Title IV requirements, need to be held accountable by members, including the withholding of financial support.

In closing, the Episcopal church once was a leader in preventing CSA. But it’s fallen woefully behind the times, and has come to rest on its laurels.

It’s time for the Episcopal church to clean up its act.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Exit mobile version