Clergy In a Hypersexualized Culture

From a new study by Baylor University:

In any given congregation with 400 adult members, seven women on average have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct since they turned 18, a new national study reveals.

“… we were surprised it is so prevalent across all denominations, all religions, all faith groups, all across the country,” said lead researcher Diana Garland… “Clergy sexual misconduct is no respecter of denominations.”

The study revealed that more than 3 percent of adult women who had attended a church in the past month reported that a religious leader had made sexual advances to them. Research found that 92 percent of those sexual advances were made in secret, and 67 percent of the offenders were married to someone else.

The full study has not been published yet, but I’m curious how “sexual advance” was  defined for the purposes of the study.  The study also mentions the “culture of niceness” prevalent in churches.  One wonders if a number of the perceived advances were indeed so cut and dry.  Of course, we often don’t know our own motivations.  A scientific study can’t reveal the complexities of such interactions.  How often could a simple compliment be construed as an advance?  It is not difficult to imagine legitimate pastoral concern being (intentionally or otherwise) perverted into a flirtatious encounter.  I don’t mean to be overly apologetic.  This study just makes all clergy, across the board, come off a little too predatory.

Of course, it is fascinating that this holds across all denominations and religions.  I don’t know if this should take wind out of the sails of those who insist that Catholic clergy abuse is due to the celibate lifestyle.  It seems that we’re all sexually out of control.  As persons and clergy, we have been so formed (read: malformed) by a hyper-sexualized culture that we cannot even control ourselves among those whose spiritual care we are to direct.

Just this week I was at a local gas station, and realized that the $.75 machine in the men’s bathroom, in addition to the usual assortment of contraceptives, was also advertising XXX photos for sale.  I know this is not moral, and I’m not even sure it’s legal.  But unfortunately, it is no longer surprising.

The Fathers of the Church would be horrified at our distorted notion of freedom.  What we call freedom, they would rightly call slavery to our basest impulses.

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