Medical and Sexual Child Abuse In Christianity
Faith Healing and Priestly Paedophilia

1. Sexual Abuse

1.1. Widespread Sexual Child Abuse by Christian Priests

Christian clergy have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they keep coming. Recently, an Australian fundamentalist pastor was jailed for incest and child abuse after spending the 1990s sleeping with his own two children in order to 'educate' them. Many cases have been settled out of court, some priests have quit, and some have committed suicide. Police and Western authorities have despaired, because they thought that the Christian churches were good place for children (hence governmental support for faith schools, etc). The situation is so bad that the police have called for routine checks of all priests. No other employer or community has such massive problems with sexual immorality than do Christian organisations; and it seems the stricter they are in their beliefs, the worse their transgressions are.

Christian Churches are often defensive about their views and effect on society, and they have often claimed that claims of sexual abuse (despite the evidence of abuse uncovered by police investigations) are actually attempts to discredit the church, rather than victims finally finding the courage to speak out. Many of the scandals have centered around the way that the Church shuffles accused priests around and hides allegations, even of priests that have been previously convicted in a court of law, often putting them back into supervisory contact with children. The Economist writes in 2002 after Catholic Cardinals and the Pope convened a meeting to discuss the issue, that "dismaying to Catholics is the fact that the hierarchy, in protecting such priests, plainly cared more for the institution of the church than for the souls of its children"1.

The abuse has occurred in communities large and small, in private homes and in church. In 2008, the Pope was apologizing again, this time in person to President Bush, about the extent of the child sex abuse in the Catholic Church2 in the USA, and the Canadian prime minister made an official apology to his indigenous population, because "between 1870 and 1996, an estimated 150,000 indigenous children were wrenched from their homes and sent to Christian boarding schools, where many were sexually and physically abused"3. Not even schools have been safe from the secret violence. The worst frequency of abuse has been when Christians themselves live with other Christians, as we see in a later section.

1.2. The Financial Cost to the Church

The financial cost for Christians Churches has been great. Ongoing claims in Ireland continue to receive news coverage:

Faith-based welfare was the norm in Ireland up until only a few short years ago. The Catholic Church, in all its compassion, ran schools, orphanages, children's homes, hospitals - just about everything. The result? A catalogue of cruelty and abuse that has left the state with a compensation bill that could run into billions of euros - not to mention thousands of damaged and traumatised individuals who will never properly recover from the physical, mental and sexual torture they suffered at the hands of priests and nuns. In 2002, the Catholic Church agreed to pay over €128m in cash and property to the State as part of a deal to prevent bankruptcy - the actual total is more likely to be between €1bn and €1.3bn. [...]

To date, the average award has been €66,845. Some 23 victims received the maximum award of €300,000. More than 14,500 compensation applications for sexual, emotional or physical abuse were received by the board by the 2005 deadline.

National Secular Society, Newsline (2008)11

And, earlier:

In January, the Catholic Church in Ireland agreed to a $110m payment to children abused by the clergy over decades. More than 20 priests, brothers and nuns have been convicted of molesting children.

The US archdiocese of Boston has agreed to pay between $15m and $30m to scores of people to settle claims that a priest sexually abused them when they were children.

"Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests" (BBC News 2002)5

In the USA there have been massive costs resulting from legal cases. The USA LA Catholic Church has paid five hundred victims a total of $660m to settle cases dating from the 1940s. In 2008 alone, the Catholic Church in the USA paid $436 million in costs resulting from sexual abuse by clergy12. In the USA at least, such massive criminal abuse has led to some Churches contemplating bankruptcy, as long ago as 1993:

Book CoverIn 1993, two archdioceses, Chicago and Santa Fe, declared themselves in danger of bankruptcy due, at least in part, to compensation paid to victims of clergy abuse. Dioceses and religious orders have also paid for legal expenses involved in defending priests and themselves in civil and criminal suits in connection with child abuse, as well as treatment costs for the psychiatric care of priest perpetrators. Compensation, treatment, and legal costs are estimated to have passed the half-billion mark between 1984 and 1994 (Wojcik, 1994).

"Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis" by Richard Sipe (1995)13

And LA's Catholic Church in 2003:

The accounts for the last fiscal year, which ended in June 2003, showed a deficit not of $4.3m, as had been predicted, but of $13.4m. Critics of the new cathedral, which cost $190m, were quick to place blame, but [...] about half of the deficit, $7.7m, was a one-off settlement of claims of sexual abuse by priests. [...] Some 300 claims of abuse in Los Angeles are under investigation. Ten priests already face charges.

The Economist (2003)14

1.3. The Long Shadow: Ancient Christian Sexual Abuse

Although the legal cases of the past few decades have raised public awareness about paedophile priests, the problem is ancient. The oldest existing commentary on the Christian gospels, the Didaché of the early second century, found it necessary to command that "thou shalt not seduce young boys". Richard Sipe continues by highlighting a trend that has been reflected in church texts since the second century:

The earliest church council for which we have any records, that of Elvira in 309, has 81 Canons, of which 38 deal with sex. [...] Among those who are threatened with irrevocable exclusion - that is, they could not receive communion even at the time of death (nec in finem) are "bishops [...] committing a sexual sin" (Canon 18), "those who sexually abuse boys" (Canon 71).

"Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis" by Richard Sipe (1995)15

The problems of the ancient church and its grasp of practical sexual morality mirrors shortcomings that Christian churches have today. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries it was noted that sexual offenders moved from one Christian province to another even after they had been excommunicated for their abuse16. This was sometimes the cause of scandals; the same movement of abusive priests has caused outrage in the press in recent decades17.

Breaking into the second millennium of Christianity, the same problems continue. One record I stumbled across in the accounts of the historian Will Durant concerned sex crime cases from 1499. "Clerical offenders numbered 23 per cent of the total, though the clergy were probably less than 2 per cent of the population"18. Attempts at reform have been useless. The Council of Trent (1545-63) was held in order to curb abuses in the Church. Pope Julius III presided over this council for three years from 1550. The same pope entered a sexual liaison with a 15-year-old boy he had picked up on the streets of Parma15. The omens were clearly not good for the success of that council. That such abuse has been endemic within Christian institutions for so long points to something fundamentally wrong with Christian teachings on sexuality.

Unfortunately, we should follow these historical abstractions with solid examples from our present time, in order to make it clear what types of behaviour we are talking about:

1.4. Around the World

1.4.1. United States of America (USA)

The Archdiocese of Boston in the USA became infamous for the scale of paedophile abuse (and other criminal behaviour) of its Christian clergy. There was an organized and determined extended cover-up over a long period of time involving many of the clergy, all of whom acted to protect each other rather than protect future and past victims. One of the factors that has caused most outrage is the standard procedure where paedophile priests were simply moved to a different location after victims came to light. The news articles linked on the right provide a seemingly endless stream of stubborn offence, re-offence and acts of looking-the-other-way. At the height of the revelations in the first half of 2002, the number of priests who left their post or were removed, numbered 200 out of a total of 46 000 priests in the USA19. That's half a percent of all priests, in just half a year. Sipe, who wrote a book on the issue, found in 1995 that a full 2% of all priests are paedophiles6, with the additional data uncovered in 2002, that looks more likely to be an astounding 3%.

Over 800 complaints of sexual abuse had been lodged against priests in 2008. However, only 10 of those complaints involved recent activity; most of the complaints involved alleged offenses in the 1960s and 1970s, and nearly all of the priests accused are deceased, retired, or otherwise inactive. Several dioceses declined to participate fully in the audits and child-protection programs suggested by the staff of the bishops' conference. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, has consistently refused to allow audits.

National Secular Society (2009)12

Seven years earlier:

Thousands of newly released personnel files show that the Archdiocese of Boston went to great lengths to hide priests accused of abuse, including clergy who allegedly snorted cocaine and had sex with girls aspiring to be nuns. The first round of the documents roughly 3,000 pages on eight Roman Catholic priests were made public Tuesday on a Superior Court order. They [...] included allegations that clergy sexually abused teenage girls and used cocaine and other drugs, and that one led a "double life" by carrying on an affair with a female parishioner.

Many of the priests whose files were released are not among the 400 clergy members targeted in the dozens of lawsuits against the archdiocese. But attorneys for plaintiffs hope the documents show the archdiocese had a habit of transferring priests to other parishes even after accusations of child abuse.

"Archdiocese of Boston hid accused priests" (Fox News 2002)

Another seven years earlier:

Book CoverSeveral accounts already record the extent, history and struggles of the sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States (Berry, 1992; Burkett & Bruni, 1993; Rossetti, 1990; Sipe, 1990a). [...] A quick review of the alleged priest abusers who have come to legal attention demonstrates the trend: 10 priests of a total of 97 in a Southwestern diocese; 9 of 110 in a Midwestern diocese; 7 of 91 in a Southern diocese; 15 of 220, and 40 in a diocese of 279 in the Eastern United States. [...] Sixty Catholic priests and brothers were in prison on sexual abuse charges as of September 1994.

"Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis" by Richard Sipe (1995)6

One of the latest summaries is that of the famous liberal, Bishop John Selby Spong, in 2009, who admits that despite the horrific events that have been uncovered so far, there is more to come:

There was a history of bishops and archbishops moving offending clergy to another jurisdiction rather than confronting the issue. [... If] the abuse and the cover-up were quite systemic, [...] it must have involved people in high places, including bishops, archbishops and cardinals. [...] I do not [...] believe that thus far there has been anything like a full disclosure, so the issue will not end yet.

Retired Bishop John Selby Spong (2009)20

1.4.2. Ireland

Ireland has seen a long line of child abuse scandals from within the Catholic Church, but, the particular twist taken in this country is the leaking of government documents by Edward Snowden, revealing the political battle that Catholic Church has been involved in with its attempts to stall and prevent investigations from taking place, including a long history of its staff hiding paedophiles, moving them around, and no matter what, not reporting them to the police. The Murphy Commission and the Cloyne Report finally revealed most of these antics to the public in the early 2010s. This has occurred at the local level, and, worse of all, centrally from within the Vatican. Any "moral" ground the church once had has evaporated, and it is clear to all that its sole concern is its own power and influence. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of non-religious, atheist and agnostic folk quadrupled, and the percent of Catholics in the population dropped to its lowest figure ever, although this is still a pretty high number at 84% of the population21.

1.4.3. United Kingdom (UK)

The United Kingdom has seen many cases of paedophile priests, including many cases where Bishops and other senior Christians have protected paedophiles, moving them from post to post when accusations surface.

1.4.4. France

I only have one file on record for France, but it reveals that in 2001 there were "19 priests under investigation for rape or sexual assault on minors". 30 had been convicted "in recent years" of those offences. It is astounding how such practices and abuses can continue within the Church. The first French Bishop to ever appear in the dock was Monsignor Pican, who admitted lying to conceal the activity of a paedophile priest, Father Rene Bissey, who had raped and abused at least 11 young boys. The Bishop sent the priest for psychiatric help and moved him to a different nearby parish. It is hard to imagine why Priests and Bishops protect each other even when it means that innocent young children suffer from serious sexual abuse. The climate of sexual repression that stems from Christian beliefs is to blame both the resulting deviancy of priests, and the astounding ineptitude of Christian authorities in dealing with sexual abusers in its ranks. It seems that the teachings of Christian Churches on sexuality are rooted more in delusion than in truth, and this leads both to deviancy and the inability to manage deviants.

1.4.5. Germany

I haven't been collecting any statistics on abuse of children by priests in Germany, but, this year (2010) a BBC News article mentioned that there are 170 child abuse cases there by Catholic priests alone4, for which German Bishop Robert Zollitsch apologised, and Catholic Pope discussed these cases at a meeting in Germany. Cases in 18 of 27 dioceses in Germany are being investigated at the moment in 2010.

Norbert Denef was suffered sexual abuse by a priest for five years, starting at the age of just 10 years old, while attending a boys choir in the late 1950s to the 1960s. Denef says "I felt I was in a dark place, in solitary confinement". And in a shocking and unfortunate twist, he was then abused for a further three years by a Church organist. It is either naivety or sexual blindness that allows this behaviour to continue for so long undetected - or at least unchallenged - and until the Catholic Church massively changes its attitude towards sexuality, sexual education, and priestly celibacy, we should not assume Christian organisations to be safe places for minors or the vulnerable of society.

Germany's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, has criticized the Catholic Church for its "wall of silence" over child abuse, saying that the Vatican's rule on secrecy was impeding investigation of these cases.

In recent weeks [...] around 300 more [victims have come forward] in Germany. [...] While archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, his [The Pope's] diocese accepted a paedophile cleric who was supposedly intended to undergo therapy. But the priest (who for legal reasons may not be identified in media that can be read in Germany) was assigned to a parish where he taught at a school and abused at least one more child. [...] After being convicted in 1986, the Bavarian priest was banned from working with children but not unfrocked. Two years ago he was sent to yet another parish where by last summer he was saying mass at a camp site for young people. It was only on March 15th, three days after the archdiocese released details of his case, that he was suspended for breaking the ban. His boss, the parish priest in Bad Tölz, in deeply Catholic rural Bavaria, said he had never been told of the offending cleric's past. The previous day brought dramatic scenes at the parish church, as members of the congregation barracked a replacement priest taking the mass. Some walked out.

The Economist (2010) article "Evil orders: Paedophilia and the Catholic church"25

1.4.6. Austria

A head of Austria's Catholic Church, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, was accused of sexually molesting boys and monks. He resigned in 1995 over it (after being in his post for 9 years), and died, disgraced, in 2003, still unrepentant. The Vatican itself investigated the claims and found them "in essence" to be true. In 1998 Feb, a bishop apologised for everything Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer "and other church dignitaries" had done.

Hubertus Czernin, who published a book on the case, Das Buch Groer, in 1998, said he believed that Groer had abused more than 2,000 young men. "His sexual harassment began in the 1950s, continued in the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties and even in the Nineties," Czernin said later. "The last case I know of was in 1996, when he was an old man and had already been kicked out as Archbishop of Vienna but had returned to his monastery in Lower Austria."

"Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer: Disgraced Archbishop of Vienna"
The Independent newspaper (2003)

500,000 Catholics in Austria signed a petition against the Catholic Church's stance on sexuality, women and homosexuality, all of which are intolerant and repressive (two things that also lead to sexual deviancy). Whatever lessons the public learnt from this, the Church itself continued in its unfortunate ways and within a few years, another scandal came to light. In yet another case of unlikely naivety, Bishop Kurt Krenn says that the 40,000 sexual images were 'a prank'.

Several pressure groups have called on Bishop Kurt Krenn to quit, after child pornography was allegedly found at a Catholic priests' training college. [...] As many as 40,000 sexual images were allegedly found, but Bishop Krenn has dismissed them as a "schoolboy prank". Officers confiscated computer hard drives from the seminary at St Poelten, about 80km (50 miles) west of [...Vienna]. The news magazine Profil said photographs showed senior clerics kissing and fondling trainees. Pictures of children were also allegedly found. [...] The director of the seminary, Ulrich Kuechl, has already resigned, as has his deputy Wolfgang Rothe. The Austrian Church has not forgotten a previous sex scandal, when Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was replaced in 1995 amid allegations that he had molested young boys.

"Bishop defiant over sex scandal" (BBC News 2004)

1.4.7. Hong Kong

The Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong says two more priests have been accused of sexually abusing children, days after three clergymen were accused of a similar offence. [...] Reverend Lee told the Post the alleged abuses took place over the past 11 years. The Church had previously said they happened over three decades.

"More HK priests accused of abuse" (BBC News, 2002)

After these initial complaints, the police's special hotline resulted in the recording of many more historical cases that had not previously been investigated. "Superintendent Shirley Chu told reporters the three new cases allegedly took place in the 1960s and 1970s and involved boys studying at secondary schools".

Since the Hong Kong allegations broke, Church officials there have referred serious cases to the police, saying they are adopting a "zero tolerance" policy toward sexual abuse of children.

"HK investigates new child abuse claims" (BBC News, 2002 May 15)

It seems that the Church in all quarters of the world has a policy of covering for their abusive fellows rather than reporting them to the police in order to protect children. In Hong Kong, a public outcry followed revelations that the church had not reported cases of abuse that it had itself known about the abuse much earlier. The priest Michael Lau was found by a Church investigation to have molested a boy on two occasions in 1994 (eight years earlier). This institution which looks after itself and its own rather than protect children in its care, the Catholic Church, runs 300 schools and nurseries in Hong Kong.

1.4.8. Australia

There has been a lot of historical abuse of children by individual Christian clergy over previous decades, but also, systematic abuse of children by Christian institutions in Australia. Well after the revelations of the Catholic Church's horrendous activities in Australia in the 1930s to 1960s, continued cases have come to light. So many that in 2008 July, Pope Benedict XVI has himself gone to Australia to apologize for the behaviour of his priesthood there. The Christian Brothers institute saw multiple complaints between 1919 and the 1960s, and a report finds that one of the boys who reported the abuse was physically beaten for it - "the physical abuse at the institutions contributed to a culture where boys were reluctant to report abuse for fear of consequences" and the institution moved 'Brothers' from one place to another when accusations surfaced, but did not attempt to deal with the abuse and then when it all went to concern, they were mostly concerned with avoiding financial costs26.

More cases have emerged amongst Priests from various denominations. Australian Catholic Priest Brian Joseph Spillane finds himself accused of seemingly endless abuses of teens and pre-teens in various circumstances (i.e., in the confessional box and at a Catholic boarding school), between 1971 and 1990. The Salvation Army in Australia is another Christian organisation that has fostered sexual abusers - "boys who attempted to report abuse were punished or accused of lying" according to the Royal Commission27. In another case, a Pastor from a (non-Catholic) Protestant church was caught out in the 1990s. The RCC in Australia, in order to limit further damage, has drawn up guidelines to prevent further abuse. "Roman Catholic bishops have sought to ban their priests from having any private contact with children. Guidelines drawn up with the approval of the Vatican mean that confessionals have to be fitted with glass viewing panels. Priests are also banned from seeing any child alone with the door closed"28.

[ + More on Cases in Australia + ]

1.4.9. Other Locations

1.5. Internal Abuse of Priests - Abuse Leads to Abuse

Much of the sexual abuse within Christian churches is internal, for example between priests and student priests, including seniors ignoring and reprimanding juniors when they complained of sexual abuse, and widespread admittance that the seniors themselves had such experiences as juniors. "After reviewing 473 priests or histories of priests who have [abused children] seventy to eighty percent of [them] have themselves been abused as children, some by priests. Furthermore, a high percentage of those who later abused youngsters - whether or not they themselves were abused as children - were in effect given permission for such activity by a priest or religious superior who himself crossed the sexual boundary with the priest abuser during the time he was studying for ordination. Ten percent of priests report that they were approached sexually by a priest during the time of their theological studies"29. Many have theorized that Christianity's teachings result in a dysfunctional idea of sexuality.

1.6. Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi's Response at the Human Rights Council 2009

The Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations met in Geneva on 2009 Sep 22, where the Catholic Church was challenged over its response to its child abuse horrors. The Vatican's official UN observer was present, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi. This religious body's presence at the UN HRC is nowadays matched by the non-religious secular representative of atheism and suchlike, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), who in this instance was Mr Keith Porteous Wood, who is also the director of the UK's National Secular Society, a body that lobbies for politics and religion to be kept separate.30

Keith Porteous Wood set the context by recalling that in 1990 "the Holy See acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It submitted its first and only report in 1994 - about which CRC expressed several areas of concern. But since then - nothing". The RCC has breached five of its Articles. Some of the most serious complaints which he then iterated were that the Church had not taken claims of child abuse seriously, had not acted on cases that were clearly within its power to act upon, had accused many victims of making up stories and has moved offenders to one place to another instead of reporting them to authorities as instructed to do.30

Bishop Silvano Maria Tomasi's reply contained some quite odd reasoning. Some of his arguments were that actually, homosexuals were to blame, that abuse has occurred in other institutions too, not just in the Catholic Church, and that the church has acted on at least two occasions by issuing statements to its priests. Probably as a result of continued revelations of cover-ups and scandals, the Archbishop also mentions that the Catholic Church, in its second report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, will devote an entire paragraph to the problem of child abuse by the clergy. I hope it is a truly efficiently-written paragraph, as I do know how busy the Church is tackling other problems, such as the evils of contraception. The Vatican's defence of child abuse by its staff rests on a few further points that Archbishop Tomasi raises:

This appalling and dismissive response misses the point - the Archbishop was called to defend the Vatican against claims it had breached 5 Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but instead spent most his time pointing out that Catholic priests were not the only ones at it. Not only that, but his comparison was misleading as, as the IHEU pointed out, there are far more Protestants in the USA than there are Catholics. When I first estimated that 3% of Christian priests were involved in recurring cases of child abuse, I thought that this number might be too horrible to be true. The Archbishop, however, actually agreed:

From available research we now know that in the last fifty years somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases.

Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi (2009)30

I am quite sure that the Archbishop, given his other dismissive defences, is himself repeating a conservative claim of the numbers of clergy involved, and I suspect with horror that the number might therefore be over five percent.

1.7. Warren Steed Jeffs (One of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted)

Warren Steed Jeffs is a Christian who was once the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ('FLDS') from 2002 until his arrest in 2007. This is a Mormon denomination - a branch of Christianity devoted entirely to the written word of the Bible. Through his own sexual conduct and that of his church, Warren Steed Jeffs managed to accomplish the feat of getting himself on to the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List" on account of the scale of his sex crimes within his congregation, including sex with minors and incest, and, arranging (lots) of illegal marriages between males in the FLDS and underage girls.

Many consider this to be the result of the overbearing immorality of one man. But, the entire community went along with it - some 7,000 residents in one area. Religion should never trump human rights for this very reason - it allows despots, madmen and barbarians to reign free, simply because they think they are doing god's will. And, of course, thousands of others agree that it makes sense that they could be doing god's will. Despite the lessons of history, people refuse to ask deep questions when it comes to religious dogma and religious leadership. Out of a selfish desire to get to heaven, they let themselves be led astray by crazy people, into cultures that en masse descend into madness.

1.8. Aren't Satanists Supposed to be the Child Abusers?

Book CoverThe Christian church talks about doing good but now its dirty secrets are out. There is one diabolical organisation that has suffered an opposite fate: frequently accused (falsely, so far) of ritual child abuse, the Church of Satan has watched the truth emerge about Christian priests with a jaded feeling of I knew it! Its high priest, Peter Gilmore, wrote "who can ignore the continuing media-touted scandal of child molestation perpetrated by Christian clergymen?" in his essay The Tide Turns in 199431.

1.9. Christian Teachings on Sexuality Cause Sexual Dysfunction

Dr Frederick Berlin, an expert on sexual disorders who has acted as a consultant for the US church, has found there is no particular trend for people who are already paedophiles to join the Christian priesthood32. In other words, it is their development within the Church that leads priests into acts of (sometimes violent) sexual indecency against children. The situation is so bad that the police have called for routine checks of all priests. No other employer or community has such massive problems with sexual immorality than do Christian organisations. The problem is correlated with strictness; the most liberal churches have seen far fewer cases in proportion to their size than have fundamentalist or even mainstream churches33. In other words, as Christian ideas of sexuality are taken more seriously, the incidence of sexual dysfunction increases. These are not new problems - Church councils since the very first centuries have discovered that Christianity goes hand in hand with sexual panic, and in the records of some of the earliest Church convenes, we find an extensive and almost all-consuming focus upon matters of sexuality and of transgressions by practitioners. There is something fundamentally wrong with what the Bible teaches on sexuality - their (often violent) intolerance of homosexuality is only the tip of the iceberg. My page on religion and sexuality highlights this problem for religion in general:

Psychologists and sociologists have noted the association between extreme religious fervour and psycho-sexual problems (the former causing the latter), and the highly negative stance that many monotheistic religions take towards sexuality in general have contributed to a general malaise amongst their lay adherents, and a serious pandemic of abuse amongst professional religionists. The religious attitude towards religion is to behave like an ostrich and stick its head in the sand, hoping that theology can override biological truth, but merely making its victims unable to cope with adult sexuality. Witness the hateful and confusing statements that Christians and Muslims make about homosexuals, the anti-contraception stance that the Catholic church has in an over-crowded world ridden with disease, the harmful and simplistic rejection of abortion and the patriarchal dominance over women that has gone hand-in-hand with traditional religion on every continent.

"The Peacock vs. the Ostrich - Religious Behaviour and Sexuality: 6. Conclusions: Be a Peacock (Secular Society and New Religious Movements" by Vexen Crabtree (2008)

Some within Christian academia have come to some similar conclusions:

Catholic piety has required the repression of healthy sexuality for service in this institution. Unfortunately, when healthy sexuality is repressed, unhealthy sexuality always rises. Repressed sexuality comes back as pornography and child abuse. Perhaps the place where Rome ought to begin is to ask why sexual abstinence or celibacy is a prerequisite for leadership. I think that is where sickness enters the tradition.

Retired Bishop John Selby Spong (2009)20

And in 2010 Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, voiced a similar-sounding opinion in a diocese magazine, suggesting that the Catholic Church should examine its policy of celibacy and that resolution of these problems "requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the Church and of society as a whole"4 although I am not sure it is the honesty of society as a whole that is in question, given the scale of sexual abuse cover-ups by Christian churches. Speaking of honesty, after the Cardinal's comments were noted by the outside world, including the Pope, the Cardinal issued a follow-up statement saying that priestly celibacy wasn't the "prime" cause of Christian child sexual abuse. He may be right; the prime cause might be Christian teachings on sexuality in general.

2. Medical Child Abuse

2.1. Neglect and Murder Should Not Be Excused By Religion

Informed adults are allowed to engage in behaviour that might harm themselves. Examples include drinking alcohol and sports. Sometimes, the dangers are more prevalent, such as in extreme sports. We accept that those concerned have a right to do those things because they are consenting adults. We do not accept that you can force people to risk their own lives against their will. If you kill someone through such coercion, you have committed murder. In some countries and states, however, it is legal to force your own children into risky behaviour if you happen to do so out of a religious conviction. I am talking about parents who refuse medical treatment for their children because of the beliefs that the parent is forcing upon their child. Clearly, this should always be considered murder, even when it is done for religious reasons.

Examples include cases where children died from everyday illnesses such as diabetes and bee stings because parents prayed even while their neighbours emplored them to take their children to hospital. There are many cases where Christian Science practitioners and Faith Healers were called in to a house when a child needed a doctor, not religion, to help them. There are many horrific cases of murder where parents engaged in barbaric medieval exorcisms (often with the help of local priests and other Christian staff) resulting in the death of their own children. The Bible itself contains many of the examples that these believers rely on and believe in, but the results are deadly and shocking. Thankfully in most developed countries such behaviour is illegal, but that does not deter strict religious believers. One major exception in the USA, where in many states religious freedom has a greater legal priority than child welfare.


2.2. Hundreds of Cases in the USA

I had no idea how frequently these cases occur across America - or how bizarre and horrifying the details can be - until I read about literally hundreds of them in a newly published history of this collective national disaster, When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law (Oxford 2008), written by Shawn Francis Peter, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. [...]

In April of 1998, pediatrician Seth Asser and children's advocate Rita Swan published an alarming study [... of] 172 child deaths in American faith-healing churches during a twenty-year period. [...] One hundred forty deaths were caused by conditions for which medical science provided a 90 percent survival rate. [...]

Parents are seldom persecuted, because thirty-nine of our fifty states provide religious exemptions to child abuse or neglect charges, and nineteen states permit religion-based defenses to felony crimes against children.

Kenneth W. Krause in Skeptical Inquirer (2008)34

Children should not be so endangered by parental religious fundamentalism.

2.3. Seven Example Cases of Children Who Died When Their Parents Employed Faith Healing Rather Than Medicine

Harrison Johnson Amy Hermanson Ian Lundman 4 month old Caleb

In September of 1998 [Harrison Johnson] was stung by over 430 yellow-jackets. His parents are Christians who believe in "faith-healing" so they prayed for him for seven hours before calling for medical help. Harrison died. His parent's actions are perfectly legal in the state of Florida where this tragedy took place. This murderous behavior is also legal in 45 other states in the 50 United States. The only states that are progressive enough to not permit the killing of innocent children for religious "reasons" are Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and South Dakota.

The second child pictured above is Amy Hermanson from Sarasota, Florida. She had diabetes. She also had Christian Science parents. The two don't mix and Amy lost. Amy was visibly sick for a period of four weeks. As many people do who believe in the hocus pocus of faith-healing, Amy's mother was pretending everything was alright. She took Amy to visit a neighbor who encouraged her to take Amy to a doctor. She refused. A few minutes later Amy crawled into the room begging her mother to take her home. Amy died a few days later.

The third picture is of Ian Lundman from Minnesota. He also suffered from both diabetes and Christian Science parents. [...] Ian exhibited all the signs and warnings of diabetes [but] his custodial mother did nothing but hire a Christian Science practitioner and Christian Science nurse. Since they believe in the deadly superstition of faith-healing they offered no medical help. Ian became yet another victim of "revealed" religion.

The fourth child pictured in his casket is Caleb Tribble who was [...] only four months old when faith healing took his priceless life. [...] It's estimated that every month between 1 and 5 children die in the US alone due to the religious superstition of their parents or guardians.

World Union of Deists article (~2001)35

Here are a few cases from Krause (2008)34:

It was not just conduct that was the problem, however, it was the underlying beliefs that caused their conduct. Their religious beliefs made these Christians unsuitable for parenthood. The loss of poor Clayton Nixon was not the end of their story:

A final example also from Krause (2008)34:

2.4. Faith Healing and The Christian Bible

Such incredible stubbornness, of course, could originate from only one source, beginning with the Old Testament. In Exodus 15:22-27, God purportedly advised the Israelites that it is 'the Lord who heals you.' 2 Chronicles 16 warned that Asa was gravely mistaken in seeking assistance from a physician instead of God. In the New Testament, the author(s) of both Mark and Luke characterized doctors as inept buffoons [... and] in the Epistle of James, Jesus was said to have prescribed prayer and anointment with oil as the ultimate remedy for all bodily afflictions.

Krause in Skeptical Inquirer (2008)34

3. More Harmful and Crazy Beliefs: Exorcisms

The belief in exorcism, and its description and practice in the Bible, has led to the suffering of countless children. Rather than seek medical or psychological help, parents in the modern world, because of their religion, severely risk their children's lives by trying to expel demons using potions, fasting and other forms of what-is-otherwise-torture.

Bizarre Magazine ran a feature on seven famous, lethal, exorcism attempts in 2004 Feb. I only present four here. These abusive and ignorant parents should never have been allowed kids and in most cases the abuse was fostered by the extended family, and sometimes endorsed by entire communities.

3.1. She Took the Medicine, and Then She Started to Growl (Bronx, NY, USA)

The Devil goes round like a roaring lion looking for souls to devour", warns the Exorcisms, the Catholic Church's official doctrine on exorcisms. This year, the Vatican updated the document to warn that demonic signs might actually be signs of mental or physical illnesses, rather than an invasion by Old Nick.

In 1997, AMY Burney, a five-year-old girl from the Bronx, was fed a lethal poison by her mother and grandmother to rid her of demons. Angelic Burney (her real name, honest) forced her daughter to drink what she called "the blue bottle medicine" - a lethal mixture of ammonia, vinegar, pepper and olive oil. As Amy's grandmother, Rosa Wilerson, explained to the police, "After she took the medicine, she started to growl and fight with us. We tied her hands with tape behind her back and we tied her feet together. We put a pair of underpants in her mouth and we taped her mouth."

Amy stayed bound for several hours until calmed down. Her mother and grandmother cut the tape from her mouth, legs and hands. At first, she had no pulse, but they were able to revive her. They bathed Amy and then put her to bed in Angie's room. "For about five days, she stayed on the bed in Angie's room", said Wilkerson, "and then we decided to get plastic bags because she started to smell. Amy was wrapped up and dumped in a trash bin.

A police source described old Ma Wilkerson as possessing 'extreme religious fervor'. Prior to Amy's death, she had attempted to have her granddaughter baptised at the New Jerusalem Holy Church in Harlem, but the ministers had refused on the grounds that Amy was too young. "She was always saying her kids were possessed", Church minister Frances Lopez said, "but she had a personal thing against that little girl." When Amy appeared in church with scratches and bruises on her face, Wilkerson explained that she scratched herself because demons were inside her.

It is the last paragraph of that story that struck me. The horror of the story is bad enough, but one cannot blame religion for the crazy behaviour of this family, can we?

As with all these stories, it wasn't just one mad person, but (in this case) two, both of whom apparently thought she was possessed. You could say that one of them crazy, but two? Crazy religious teachings infiltrate some sects of society so deeply that this type of behaviour is encouraged, increasing the chances of any less-than-sane believer from acting out their fantasies.

Where is the loving, Christian community that they constantly say they uphold?

But no-one called social security, etc, no-one seemed shocked or scared beforehand. In a secular community, if a mother associates "evil" with their child then people know something is wrong. It seems that where religious sentiment is strong (be it an individual, family or society), we see increasingly dramatic bad psychology.

There are too many people who find religion as a source for craziness and justification for all kinds of horrendous acts. Personal beliefs are fine, but no-one should ever assume their theology is correct to the extent that it justifies antihuman action.

3.2. The Demon was Consuming Her (Santeria)

Cheerleader Charity Miranda cried out in pain as her family engaged in her two-hour exorcism. Her sisters, 15-year-old Elizabeth and 20-year-old Serena, assisted their mother Vivian in holding the 17-year-old Long Islander down. The mother, who had recently embraced the Santeria religion, believed that her daughter had become possessed by demons.

In a four-page handwritten statement, Elizabeth wrote, "Charity knew the demon was consuming her and that it had to leave her body." Elizabeth claimed that the demon screamed and fought them. Once Charity stopped screaming, they let her go. Elizabeth described the exorcism: "My mom asked her if the demon was gone and if it was her in there, meaning Charity. Charity shook her head no and very faintly said 'no' ... Mom put her mouth to Charity's mouth and told her to blow the demon into her and she would try to kill it" When this failed, Vivian tried to smother her daughter with couch pillows. When that didn't work, she placed a plastic bag over Charity's head.

After the 'ceremony', Vivian and Serena periodically chanted, napped and read aloud passages from the Bible. They were listening to Frank Sinatra when the police entered the home. Attempting to make the death appear accidental, mother and daughter had removed the plastic bag and placed Charity's body at the bottom of the stairs. Detectives surmised that tensions had been created when Charity did not fully embrace her mother's new found religion, and this ultimately led her mother to perform the fatal 'exorcism'.

3.3. The Devil is inside her! (A Family in Rhode Island, USA)

ON 31 MARCH 1996, Mario Garcia from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, gathered his family to perform an exorcism on his brother-in-law, who was depressed because his mother was acting strangely. Garcia burned leaves and spoke to demons only he could see while his wife, father-in-law, brother-in-law and three small children all prayed. Garcia claimed that the devil flew out of his brother-in-law and into his mother-in-law. He then jammed two 8" steel crucifixes down his mother-in-law's throat, puncturing her oesophagus. When police arrived they found the women on the front porch with blood pouring from her mouth, and Garcia screaming, "The devil is inside her!"

3.4. Get me away from here! (A murder by the Entire Jesus-Amen Ministries community, SanFrancisco, USA

TWENTY FIVE YEAR-old Kyong A Ha travelled with her family from South Korea to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they were taken in by Jean Park, a self-proclaimed Reverend of the 15-member-strong Jesus-Amen Ministries. After a few days, members of Park's flock began to suspect that Ha was possessed by demons, an opinion shared by her mother. Aware that something bad was going down, the frightened Ha made a desperate call to relatives saying: "get me away from these people". Her plea was in vain. A few days later she found herself the focus of a bizarre pre-dawn ritual.

The group fasted for two days before then grabbed Ha and wrapped her in an electric blanket and comforter. Park and Ha's mother hit her over 100 times while three other women held her down. A towel was stuffed in Ha's mouth to prevent her from swallowing her tongue and to muffle her screams. She suffered ten broken ribs and defecated on herself before dying. After she was dead, the group continued to hold prayer meetings over her body. Park eventually phoned Ha's relatives and informed them that Ha 'was in a deep sleep' and should be seen immediately. The family phoned the police. Park's defence? "The damage to Ha was done by demons."

3.5. Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith, Milwaukee, USA

An autistic eight-year-old boy has died during a prayer service held to supposedly cure him of the evil spirits blamed for causing his condition. Torrance Cantrell was wrapped in sheets and held by his hands and feet while members of the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith in the city of Milwaukee prayed over him.

This procedure had been taking place three times a week. However, on Friday those involved in the ceremony - including his mother - noticed the boy had stopped breathing.

Paramedics were called to the scene but were unable to revive him.

The brother of the church's pastor, Ray Hemphill, who was also present at the ceremony, was arrested shortly after the incident on suspicion of physically abusing a child, local police said.

"[We] didn't do nothing wrong," the pastor, David Hemphill, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper.

"We did what the Book of Matthew said... all we did is ask God to deliver him." [...]

David Hemphill started the independent church in 1997. It has a small congregation of six families.

"US boy dies during 'exorcism'" BBC News (2003 Aug)

It is the same story of religious literalism trumping all common sense; people pour scorn against perceived Islamic extremists saying that they proclaim the ways of violence, but, Christian doctrine is just as bad. It seems that entire communities are led astray; they need to be asked critical, serious questions - they need to be taught to question the wisdom of anyone who claims to be doing what God wants. And they need to learn that Bible is simply terrible and dangerous when it comes to medicine and psychology.

4. Conclusions

Child abuse and paedophilia has been a particular problem for Christian institutions. Christian clergy have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of immoral scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they keep coming. It seems that the Church's teachings on sexuality lead to a development of sexual dysfunction amongst its priests. Christian Churches, the biggest example being the Catholic Church, have fought to conceal paedophile priests and move them from place to place when allegations arise. They have tried to deal with paedophilia by sending priests on sick leave or to rehabilitation centres ran by other Christians, but, it appears that Christian hierarchies are the last places you should trust when it comes to dealing with sexual abnormality. The scale of the scandals has led to various Churches declaring themselves bankrupt as they attempt to pay some of the court costs and settlement fees demanded of them. No other industry - even those closely associated with children such as boarding schools - has a rate of abuse anywhere near the rate found amongst Christian clergy. Counting is difficult, but, around 3% of all priests appear to be prone to recurring sexual indecency with children. Catholic Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi represented the Vatican before the United Nations Human Rights Council, and stated that Jews and Protestants have worse rates of child abuse, but still admitted that in the last 50 years "somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases". Police have called for routine checks of all priests, and a growing distrust of Christian religious professionals is finally beginning to become apparent amongst the general public.

My main recommendations are:

  1. That Christian institutions cease running organisations that deal with children such as schools and orphanages. Secular managers should be appointment to oversee any institutions that are mostly staffed by Christians.

  2. That Christian teachings on sexuality are viewed as a historical form of idealism, like communism or fascism, which has unfortunately proven itself to have failed on moral and pragmatic grounds.

  3. Failure to seek medical help for children should be illegal and religious exemptions from medical laws should be removed.

Read / Write LJ Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2009 Sep 13
(Last Modified: 2015 Mar 24)
Originally published 1998
Parent page: Christianity

Social Media


References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Skeptical Inquirer. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, New York, USA.

The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]

BBC News. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a UK mainstream public-service mass media broadcaster, known to be reasonably accurate and responsible with its journalism.

Durant, Will (1885-1981)
"The Story of Civilization - Volume Six - The Reformation - A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin 1300-1564" (1957). Excerpt accessed on, 2009 Sep 14.

Furedi, Frank. Professor of sociology at the University of Kent, UK.
(2002) Paranoid Parenting: Why ignoring the experts may be best for your child. Chicago Review Press, Chicago, USA. This edition is "substantially different" from the 2001 UK version.

Gilmore, Peter. High Priest of the Church of Satan (as of 2001+).
(2007) The Satanic Scriptures. Hardback. Compendium of texts. Published by Scapegoat Publishing, USA. Many essays are new editions of older texts by Gilmore.

NSS. The National Secular Society, London, UK.
Newsline. Weekly news letter. See: "Secularism" by Vexen Crabtree (2011).

Rubenstein, Richard E.
(1999) When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome. First Harvest edition, 2000. Published by Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, USA.

Sipe, Richard
(1995) Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis. Hardback. Published by BunnerMazel Inc., New York, USA. A.W. Richard Sipe is a retired Roman Catholic Priest. Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Chair of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institution, Minnesota, USA. (Biblio detail correct as of 1995). The Amazon link points to a modern book by Sipe on the same topic as the one referenced here.

Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.


  1. The Economist (2002 Apr 25) article "When in Rome".^
  2. The Economist (2008 Apr 19) news p7.^
  3. The Economist (2008 Jun 14) article "Aboriginals in Canada: Finding their voice" p66.^
  4. BBC News (2010 Mar 12) "Pope defends celibacy rule amid sex abuse scandals ". Added to this page on 2010 Mar 13. I posted the text about German child abuse cases by Catholic priests on LiveJournal.^^^
  5. BBC News (2002 Mar 21) "Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests". Accessed 2009 Sep 11.^^
  6. Sipe (1995) p26-31.^^
  7. Sipe (1995) p16.^
  8. Sipe (1995) p19.^
  9. National Secular Society, Newsline (2012 Jan 20) . Added to this page on 2015 Mar 19.^
  10. IHEU newsletter, 2011 Oct.^
  11. National Secular Society, Newsline (2008 Apr 18) abusive priesthood in N. Ireland.^
  12. National Secular Society Newsline (2009 Mar 20).^^
  13. Sipe (1995) p8.^
  14. The Economist (2003 Jul 31) article "America's troubled Catholics".^
  15. Sipe (1995) p10-11.^
  16. Rubenstein (1999) p85.^
  17. BBC News (2002 Mar 24) states that the movement of abusive priests from one parish to another is a feature of many reports. Paedophile priests in US face crackdown on accessed 2008 Jul 10.^
  18. Durant (1957).^
  19. The Economist (2002 Jun 06) article "Erring priests".^
  20. Retired Bishop John Selby Spong in "Child and youth sexual abuse by clergy" by the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.^^
  21. Added to this page on 2015 Mar 08. The Journal (2011) article "Number of Catholics at record high, despite lowest percentage ever - CSO".^
  22. The Economist (2009 May 23) article "The world this week".^
  23. The Guardian (2010) article "WikiLeaks cables: Vatican refused to engage with child sex abuse inquiry" (2010 Dec 11. Accessed 2015 Mar 08^
  24. National Secular Society, Newsline (2011 Dec 23).^
  25. The Economist (2010 Mar 20) article "Evil orders: Paedophilia and the Catholic church" p65-66. Added to this page on 2010 Dec 29.^^
  26. Added to this page on 2015 Mar 04. ABC News article "Royal commission finds WA Christian Brothers failed to prevent child sexual abuse" (2014 Dec 19).^
  27. BBC News (2015 Mar 18) article "Australian Salvation Army 'exposed boys to sexual abuse'". Added to this page on 2015 Mar 18.^
  28. Added to this page on 2015 Mar 04. See the Telegraph (1997 Sep 26), reported in Frank Furedi (2002) p38.^
  29. Sipe (1995) p12.^
  30. "INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION CRITICISM OF THE HOLY SEE OVER CHILD ABUSE AT THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL (UNHRC) MEETING IN GENEVA 22 SEPTEMBER 2009" articled published by the National Secular Society's Keith Porteous Wood. Added to this page on 2009 Oct 17.^
  31. Peter Gilmore (2007 version) "The Tide Turns". Gilmore is the High Priest of the Church of Satan. Published in the compendium of essays The Satanic Scriptures, originally written in 1994.^
  32. BBC News (2002 Apr 09) "Catholic church shaken by sex scandals". A relevant quotation from the article reads: "Dr Frederick Berlin, an expert on sexual disorders who has acted as a consultant for the US church, has found no evidence that paedophiles are particularly drawn to the priesthood". Accessed 2009 Sep 11.^
  33. Stenger (2007) p194-5. Added to this page on 2011 May 17.^
  34. Kenneth W. Krause article "When Faith Kills: Christian Healing at the Expense of Rational Medicine" in Skeptical Inquirer (2008 Jul/Aug) p15-16,22. Krause is science columnist for The Humanist. Added to this page on 2011 Feb 23.^^^
  35. Robert L. Johnson World Union of Deists article "The Unacceptable Cost of "Revealed" Religion . Article not dated. Page accessed in 2001, 2009.^

© 2015 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.