Sex Abuse Doesn't Just Happen to Catholics
Asheville -- The child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for more than two years has prompted soul searching and a re-examination of policies that stretch across denominational lines.
Methodist and Presbyterian churches have worked to educate their leadership and to put in place measures such as background checks for those who work with children.
"We're more alert, and it's appropriate that we should be," said the Rev. Pete Peery, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Asheville. "As sad as it has been, the scandal has been a wake-up call for all of us that we need to be more vigilant."
It's also important to keep in mind that the sexual abuse of children isn't confined to Catholic clergy, said Kathy Meacham, chair of the department of religion and philosophy at Mars Hill College.
"It's a problem with people being in positions of power and abusing that," she said. "This applies across the professions."
A study released Friday by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel set up by Catholic bishops, concluded that allegations of molestation were made against 4 percent of the church's clerics from 1950 to 2002.
The findings are based on information provided by most of the 195 American dioceses. Victims say any study by the church is bound to underestimate the number of abuse cases and many of those who were hurt have not come forward.
"Some people are taking solace in what (the church) is saying, but nothing has changed," said Joseph Manley, who says he was sexually molested as a child while attending St. Joan of Arc in West Asheville. "We're finding pedophiles that they harbored and kept secret all the time. They have said good words but I have not seen any action, and the cover up has become more sophisticated."
Bishop William G. Curlin of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte acknowledged in March 1995 that Manley had been abused. Curlin told St. Joan of Arc members that the Rev. William Kuder also had sexually abused other parish children in the 1950s.
Another of Kuder's victims, Neal Evans, said Kuder did all the typical nourishing and spending of time to gain the trust of his victim. He made Evans feel good about himself and then proceeded to rape him repeatedly. Evans was too ashamed to tell his parents.
But the church's solution at that time was to send the boy to confession outside the parish. In 1960, Kuder took the answer to the question of why with him to the grave, having faced no reprimand whatsoever.
"No priest ever suggested that I tell anyone," Evans said. "All they did was send me to another church -- to confess and atone for the sin of having sex with a priest."
[Photo Caption: Standing in a gravel parking lot at the former site of the rectory of St. Joan of Arc in West Asheville, Neal Evans remembers the pedophile priest who would send for him from a nearby classroom. "I knew what the summons was for," Evans says. "It was my turn in the barrel. ...The last words Rev. (William) Kuder said to me were, 'You've broken the seal of confession. For that you're condemned to hell." Steve Dixon/Staff Photographer.]
Father Frank Cancrow of St. Eugene Catholic Church in Asheville called the study released Friday an important first step.
"This is an opportunity for us to learn something about ourselves that might have an effect in the way we shape leadership and take responsibility for these kinds of issues in the future," he said. "We've learned there have been some very imprudent ways the leadership has dealt with that."
The study makes clear that the church's bishops face a challenge in changing how they respond to the needs of victims, Cancrow said.
"This is an opportunity to grow from this," he said. "In our diocese, we have hooked into training programs for clergy, for lay employees and for volunteers that create an opportunity to think more professionally about our relationships with children and with others."
The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church has adopted a statement proclaiming a commitment to address sexual misconduct promptly.
"Clergy and other persons within our communion who abuse children or who are sexual predators will not be knowingly shielded or protected," the statement said.
At First Presbyterian, a task force is developing a new policy designed to prevent child sex abuse. Peery said some provisions have already been implemented, including never having a single church leader be alone with a child and doing vigilant background checks.
"The scandal in the Catholic Church has made us review our commitment to making the church a safe place for children and youth, and made us more intentional in developing policies and procedures," he said. "We're taking it much more seriously. We all need to."
Meacham said the revelations about sexual abuse by religious leaders have the effect of turning some people away from the church.
"Another response is that it could provide people with an opportunity to re-examine our assumptions and attitudes about what we expect of our religious leaders," she said. "We need more institutional honesty in the church as a whole about things having to do with sexual abuse and other abuses of power."
The Rev. Dennis McGowan, a priest at St. John the Evangelist Church in Weaverville, said he hopes the report brings some closure to the issue.
"This is probably the biggest study and examination that has been done in any one kind of walk of life," he said. "Hopefully, it will give us some insight into the problem and make sure this doesn't happen again."
Evans said his abuse has stolen his faith.
"At this point, I'm a nonbeliever," said Evans, who has five grandchildren. "I call myself an agnostic because I can't accept the concept of God's mercy. When I see so-called people of faith, I wonder what's going on with them. That such a thing can continue to happen to so many innocent young souls -- it used to be inconceivable. Not anymore."
Staff writers Jennifer Brevorka and Rebekkah Melchor Logan contributed to this article.
Contact Morrison at 232-5849 or CMorrison@CITIZEN-TIMES.com.
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