Clergy Abuse Problem Plaguing Many Denominations
Victims Can't Forget: Issue Not Confined to Catholic Church

By Kelley Quinn
The Herald News
April 28, 2002

The abuse began when Jeff was in his early teens.

What started as a seemingly normal relationship between the young teen and a music director at a Protestant church in Aurora quickly spiraled into a secretive association between pedophile and victim.

The well-respected man, also a music teacher at an Aurora school, was trusted and liked by Jeff's parents. They allowed the unmarried man to spend the night at their home and permitted Jeff to go with him on day trips to Chicago and even stay overnight at his home in the suburbs.

Jeff (not his real name) alleges he was abused by an Aurora church music director 14 years ago and since has suffered from depression, alcoholism and anxiety.

What Jeff's parents didn't know was that, during their time together, the teacher not only was getting Jeff stoned and drunk but making sexual advances at him.

The abuse lasted three years before the man abruptly resigned his post at the church. Jeff, who did not want his real name used for this story, thought the nightmare would finally be over. He was wrong. Now nearing 30, Jeff has suffered from depression, alcoholism and confusion over his sexual identity. Not a day goes by that he doesn't think about what happened.

Since the scandal within the Catholic church has broken, Jeff's problems have intensified.

"I want people to know that it does not only happen at Catholic churches and schools," said Jeff, who still lives in Aurora. "It happens within other denominations. The abuse has ruined my life . . . my faith in God is marginal at most, and the Christian schools and the church make me sick."

The issue of sexual misconduct by clergy or volunteers has centered around the Catholic church over the last few months. Priests are being suspended or reassigned. Bishops are under fire for decisions they made years ago.

Yet, the problem is deeper than many realize, church officials and experts agree. Abuse has taken place in Protestant as well as Catholic churches. The abusers aren't always pastors, but oftentimes church volunteers.

"The Catholic Church's problems — and there's no denying we have problems — are in the spotlight now not because, as some charge, we are being secretive," said Owen Phelps, spokesman for the Rockford Diocese, which encompasses the majority of Aurora's Catholic churches.

"The story has had legs because dioceses have been removing clergy charged with sexual abuse years and decades ago who were permitted to enter or return to parish ministry."

Philip Jenkins is a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University. In 1996, he wrote Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis.

Jenkins, who is not Catholic, agrees the problem is not confined to the Catholic Church.

"You name me a denomination, and I'll give you a case," said Jenkins, who objects to the term "pedophile priest" because many accused of misconduct are other members of the clergy.

According to studies conducted by Christian Ministry Resources, a publishing firm that offers legal advice to more than 75,000 congregations, those most likely to be accused of sexual misconduct are church volunteers. Using data collected since 1993, the organization found that church volunteers account for 42 percent of those accused in misconduct cases.

One of the most prominent cases of such abuse in the Aurora area occurred in 1998 when John Bedell, a 39-year-old youth director at Wayside Cross Ministries, was charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. Through his position at Wayside, Bedell had worked with hundreds of youths in Aurora, including the victim.

He later was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to register as a sex offender and to pay court costs.

A local case involving a priest surfaced in 1999 when the Rev. Edward Ball, a priest at Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Monastery in Aurora, was charged with 26 counts of sexual assault for allegedly molesting two young boys between 1982 and 1988 while he worked in California.

Ball, who returned to California to face the charges, also had a 1992 conviction involving sexual misconduct with a child. He served nine months in prison and spent time in a treatment center in Silver Springs, Md.

Locally, few people knew about Ball's past until he was arrested on a warrant out of California. Now, though, the Catholic Church is acting openly to address such problems, Phelps said.

"That's good news, however belated," Phelps said, "but it does carry with it a risk . . . The church's openness in dealing with the problem is being framed by some as a problem that's unique to the Catholic Church's celibate clergy, and the tragedy of this falsehood is that it can blind parents and other responsible adults to the real dangers of sexual abuse of minors."

It took Jeff 14 years to tell his parents that the church music director sexually abused him. Their reaction to his announcement last week was one of anger and support, Jeff said.

Jeff never planned to tell his family. He thought he eventually would get over what happened.

"But it's like a movie that keeps playing over and over in my mind," Jeff said.

Now, he's working with a local lawyer and says he intends to press charges against the former music director to ensure that no one else is hurt. Jeff believes that, by taking such action, he will be one step closer to healing.

"I've questioned myself for so long. I always thought that I was to blame," Jeff said. "But now, I know I'm not."


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