Clergy Sexual Abuse

Since 2002, when the public became widely aware of sexual abuse of minors by clergy members, an international movement has developed to address such abuse. In January 2002, the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team published a ground-breaking series about abuse in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts, and its extensive cover-up for years. This exposé brought international attention to the problem and led to criminal investigation of Catholic officials in Boston. When the files of the Boston archdiocese were opened due to legal actions following the “Spotlight” report, it was found that abuse by priests was documented in many dioceses other than Boston, leading more cases to come to light. Individual clergy of various denominations have been exposed as abusers in Arkansas over the years, but only in the twenty-first century has the systemic extent of such abuse started to come to light thanks, in large part, to ongoing monitoring of such abuse. However, the exact scope of sexual abuse by clergy in the state remains poorly documented, with documentation currently limited to Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist denominations.

As a precursor to the “Spotlight” reports, journalist Jason Berry published an investigation of abuse in the Catholic diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, titled Lead Us Not Into Temptation (1992). This book provided one of the first glimpses of the problem of sexual abuse by clergy and how it was being treated by Catholic officials. In response to the Boston Globe series, when the U.S. Catholic bishops met in Dallas in 2002, they adopted the “Dallas Charter,” which promised a zero-tolerance policy regarding abuse of minors in Catholic institutions. As the bishops met, journalists Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin published an article in the Dallas Morning News reporting that two-thirds of bishops had allowed priests accused of abuse of minors to work in their dioceses.

The initial response by the Vatican to the abuse crisis was to claim that it was confined to the United States. Major studies in other parts of the world, however, notably Ireland and Australia, quickly proved this claim incorrect. In Ireland, the Murphy Report (2009) and Cloyne Report (2011) demonstrated that abuse of minors was a widespread problem in Catholic institutions. In addition, following the discovery of a mass grave in Dublin in 1993 where the Sisters of Charity had operated a so-called Magdalene laundry to which unwed mothers and other women were sent, inquiries developed regarding the abuse of such women and their children in institutions operated by nuns—a story that received international attention in 2002 with the film The Magdalene Sisters.

Australia established a royal commission in 2012 to investigate abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, and in 2017, the commission issued an in-depth study revealing extensive, longstanding abuse of minors in Catholic institutions in that country. Reports in other nations, including Belgium (2010) and Germany (2018), showed that the problem of abuse of minors by Catholic clergy is global.

In 2018, the U.S. Catholic church was once again roiled by abuse revelations when a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, presenting evidence from several years of investigation. A significant result of this report was that concerned citizens called for attorneys general to mount similar investigations in other states across the nation. In response to this call, many dioceses and some religious communities began to release lists of names of priests “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of minors. In 2019, two additional significant stories broke in the Catholic abuse saga. In Australia, Cardinal George Pell, the senior cleric of that nation, who held a powerful position in the Vatican, was found guilty of abusing minors and sentenced to prison. In France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was tried by the courts, found guilty of covering up cases of abuse of minors by priests, and given a suspended jail sentence for the crime.

Because the Catholic population of Arkansas is small, news reports about abuse of minors by Catholic clergy have not been as prominent as in states with more Catholics. Even so, organizations that monitor abuse cases and offer support to abuse survivors have collected data on cases in which priests with ties to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock have been accused of abuse of minors either within or outside Arkansas. A database of these priests is maintained by the group Bishop Accountability, which compiles information about Catholic abuse cases throughout the United States and maintains the Abuse Tracker website, which publishes links to commentary from around the world about abuse of minors by clergy.

The advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), founded in 1989 by survivors of abuse by Catholic clergy to offer support to abuse survivors and to press for action to protect minors, also monitors abuse cases in Arkansas. In September 2018, Bishop Anthony Taylor of Arkansas released a list of priests credibly accused of abuse during the previous seventy years; in February 2019, two more names were added to this list. Following this, SNAP responded by holding a media event noting that three names of priests publicly accused of abuse with Arkansas ties had been left off Bishop Taylor’s list. In May 2019, an investigation into alleged abuse in the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, revealed that a former dean of Subiaco Academy in Arkansas had allegedly molested a boy in both Texas and Arkansas. The following month, news broke that the Diocese of Little Rock had reached a $790,000 settlement with five individuals who had been victims of sexual abuse in the 1970s at the hands of Father John McDaniel of Our Lady of Holy Souls Catholic Church in Little Rock.

Also in February 2019, a team of reporters at the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published a three-part series documenting a widespread problem of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable church members in Southern Baptist churches. The series (which has since been expanded) tracked the persistent cover-up of these cases by Southern Baptist church officials and included an extensive database of Southern Baptist church workers with proven histories of abuse. The database, which can be searched by states, lists men in Arkansas. In the view of Christa Brown—a retired appellate attorney and author of This Little Light, a book that chronicles her own childhood sexual abuse in a Southern Baptist context—insurance company data demonstrate that “clergy sexual abuse among Protestants, including Baptists, [is] likely as widespread as abuses in the Catholic Church.”

For additional information:
Arkansas Clergy Disclosure List. Diocese of Little Rock. https://dolr.org/clergy-disclosure-list (accessed October 1, 2019).

“Baptist Unit Seeks Victims of Ex-Leader.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 19, 2019, p. 2B.

Berry, Jason. Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Bishop Accountability. http://www.bishop-accountability.org (accessed October 1, 2019).

Boston Globe Spotlight Team. “Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for Years.” Boston Globe, January 6, 2002. https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/special-reports/2002/01/06/church-allowed-abuse-priest-for-years/cSHfGkTIrAT25qKGvBuDNM/story.html (accessed October 1, 2019).

———. “Scores of Priests Involved in Sex Abuse Cases.” Boston Globe, January 31, 2002. https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/special-reports/2002/01/31/scores-priests-involved-sex-abuse-cases/kmRm7JtqBdEZ8UF0ucR16L/story.html (accessed October 1, 2019).

Brown, Christa. “Another Alarm Sounds on Clergy Sex Abuse: Will Southern Baptist Leaders Just Hit Snooze Again?” Baptist News Global, January. 17, 2019. https://baptistnews.com/article/another-alarm-sounds-on-clergy-sex-abuse-will-southern-baptist-leaders-just-hit-snooze-again/ (accessed October 1, 2019).

———. This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang. Cedarburg, WI: Foremost Press, 2009.

Downen, Robert, Lise Olsen, John Tedesco, and Jon Shapley. “Abuse of Faith.” Houston Chronicle, February, 10, 12, 13, 2019. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/investigations/abuse-of-faith/ (accessed October 1, 2019).

Pennsylvania Grand Jury. Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report (2018). https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/report/ (accessed October 1, 2019).

Rddad, Youssef. “Diocese Pays $790,000 to Settle Priest-Abuse Claim of 5 Ex-Students.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 28, 2019, pp. 1A, 5A.

Rddad, Youssef, and Kat Stromquist. “Affidavit Alleges Abuse by Priest.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 17, 2019, pp. 1B, 5B.

“Statement by Bill Lindsey, SNAP Arkansas Leader.” Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. http://www.snapnetwork.org/statement_by_bill_lindsey_snap_arkansas_leader (accessed October 1, 2019).

William D. Lindsey
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 10/10/2019