Clergy sexual abuse raised as issue at UN meeting

Clergy sexual abuse raised as issue at UN meeting

At a time of widespread scandals over clergy sex abuse, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) have called for professional standards of clergy accountability at an international forum on violence against women.

In a lively event with more than 50 participants in New York City last week, the issue of abuse of women by members of the clergy was highlighted at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 57th session on the elimination of violence against women. The current session of the CSW will conclude on March 15.

Presentations centred on a new WCC and WSCF book titled When Pastors Prey, edited by Valli Boobal Batchelor. It is among the few books currently on the market to examine the issue in its personal, ecclesial, legal and theological dimensions and to offer specific guidelines for dealing with clergy “sextortion.”

Dr Fulata Mbano-Moyo, WCC program executive for Women in Church and Society, and WSCF general secretary Christine Housel joined Batchelor to express hope of ending such violence, especially through joint projects and advocacy.

The book launch also featured a presentation from the Rev. Dr Marie Fortune, founder of FaithTrust Institute, Seattle, who has done pioneering work in the field.

While clergy abuse of children has received worldwide attention from media and legal authorities, little has been written about the more widespread phenomenon of clergy abuse of adult women, said Batchelor. “This prophetic project breaks the silence and gathers the resources to address a problem that undermines the very foundations of pastoral work and institutional Christianity,” she said.

Calling it “a problem that undermines the gospel itself,” the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit welcomed the project, noting that “Christian community and witness hinge hugely on the personal integrity of professionals in ministry. Yet that bond is severed by sexual exploitation and abuse, a phenomenon sadly present in the Christian churches around the world.”

The volume features a prologue by former United States President Jimmy Carter, who situates the publication in the light of a history of religious mistreatment and devaluation of women and their gifts.

When Pastors Prey relates the stories of women whose trust has been abused by their pastors. It also offers a helpful procedural and legal framework in which to understand and address the problem.

“Ultimately, clergy sexual abuse of women is but the most horrific expression of longstanding Christian misunderstanding and mistreatment of women,” said Batchelor. “This volume illuminates not only the phenomenon but its roots and — in brave hope — its cures.”

Although media attention to the problem is encouraging, said Fortune, “We cannot guarantee that leaders will not abuse power. But we can guarantee that when that happens, the faith communities and institutions will be there to support the abused and accompany them to healing, including justice for the perpetrator.”

When Pastors Prey: Overcoming Clergy Sexual Abuse of Women is available from April 1 and can be ordered from WCC Publications distributors: in North America and in the United Kingdom and Europe, as well as online retailers.

Preview of book’s cover and front matter (pdf)

Website of World Student Christian Federation

WCC program on Women in Church and Society


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