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.” In 2019, an Arkansas teenager sued the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, executive director J. D. “Sonny” Tucker, the Diamond Lakes Baptist Association, and former pastor Teddy Leon Hill Jr., alleging that said pastor had abused him sexually.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entered the spotlight again with the May 22, 2022, release of a third-party investigative report into how denominational leadership worked to cover up instances of sexual abuse and rape that occurred in Southern Baptist churches. According to the report, the men who controlled the Executive Committee of the SBC were aware of the extent of such behavior among pastors, and even possessed a list of more than 700 pastors known to have committed abuse, but instead publicly maligned both victims and reformers, helping known abusers relocate to other churches. Among those singled out in the Guidepost Solutions report was Ronnie Floyd, who had served as the senior pastor of Cross Church, a megachurch in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties), as well as the president of the SBC from 2014 to 2016 and the head of the Executive Committee from 2019 to 2021, when he resigned as the full scope of the sexual abuse scandal within the convention was coming to light. On May 26, 2022, the SBC posted online a list of 585 alleged abusers, identifying by name at least fifteen who had ties of some sort to Arkansas (in addition to three whose identities were redacted); the list did not make public anything previously undisclosed but, instead, only offered an inventory of those known to have been arrested and convicted. On October 25, 2022, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention approved several proposals aimed at responding to sexual abuse within the organization.
In 2021, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 1036, which increases from twenty-one to fifty-five the age at which victims (either minors or the disabled) may file a claim, while also creating a two-year period in which any victim can file suit “against any party who committed sexual abuse against the vulnerable victim or whose tortious conduct caused the vulnerable victim to be a victim of sexual abuse,” regardless of the statute of limitations up to that point, provided that the claim had not already been litigated.
For additional information:
Arkansas Clergy Disclosure List. Diocese of Little Rock. https://dolr.org/clergy-disclosure-list (accessed May 23, 2022).
“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 May 23, 2022).
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 May 23, 2022).
———. “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 May 23, 2022).
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 May 23, 2022).
———. 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 May 23, 2022).
Lockwood, Frank E. “Arkansas Abusers on Southern Baptist List.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 28, 2022, pp. 1A, 5A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/may/28/at-least-15-people-with-arkansas-ties-included-on/ (accessed May 31, 2022).
———. “Baptists OK Changes to Prevent Sex Abuse.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 26, 2022, pp. 1A, 5A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/oct/26/arkansas-state-baptist-convention-adopt-proposals/ (accessed October 27, 2022).
———. “Report Faults State’s Floyd over Clergy Abuse List Secrecy.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 24, 2022, pp. 1A, 5A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/may/24/report-faults-states-floyd-over-clergy-abuse-list/ (accessed May 24, 2022).
———. “Southern Baptists Release Abuse-Claim List; 10 Tied to State.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 27, 2022, pp. 1A, 5A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/may/27/southern-baptist-convention-releases-records/ (accessed May 27, 2022).
———. “State Southern Baptists Want Task Force.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 27, 2021, pp. 1B, 2B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/oct/27/state-baptists-vote-to-form-task-force-to-address/ (accessed May 23, 2022).
Lynch, John. “Judge Weighs Baptist Vulnerability in Sex-Abuse Suit.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 28, 2021, p. 3B.
Neal, Tracy. “Minister’s Sex Crimes Get 60 Years.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 26, 2023, p. 2B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/feb/26/ministers-sex-crimes-get-60-years/ (accessed February 27, 2023).
Pennsylvania Grand Jury. Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report (2018). https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/report/ (accessed May 23, 2022).
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.
Sexual Abuse Task Force, Guidepost Solutions. https://www.sataskforce.net/ (accessed May 23, 2022).
Sexual Abuse Task Force Report Resources, Southern Baptist Convention. https://www.sbc.net/satf/ (accessed May 27, 2022).
“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 May 23, 2022).
William D. Lindsey
Little Rock, Arkansas
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