Burch: When image preservation interferes with reporting child abuse

Friday, November 11, 2011 at 11:21am
By Mike Burch

Question: What do some Nashville-area churches have in common with Penn State University, the Boy Scouts of America and the Vatican?

Answer: Senior administrators failing to report cases of child abuse to the proper authorities, thus allowing alleged serial child abusers to continue preying on innocents.

The rapidly emerging scandal at PSU is currently grabbing headlines because it involves legendary football coach Joe Paterno. It seems Paterno — ironically known as “Joe Pa” — may have put the image of his cherished football program above the lives of children.

The Vatican’s problems with pedophilia also grabbed headlines because popes, cardinals and bishops were involved. The BSA has recently been exposed by similar revelations involving its administrators.

And all too often cases of child abuse go unreported here in Middle Tennessee. Tony Alamo was once based in Nashville and his cultish “Christian Ministries” turned out to be a vehicle for pedophilia. It turned out that Alamo had married an 8-year-old girl and was transporting children across state lines for sex.

But is child abuse headline news only when celebrities are involved? The people who love and care about the children certainly don’t think so.

The Nashville Children’s Alliance, formerly the Nashville Child Advocacy Center, reports on its website that one in five Davidson County children were abused last year. That is a truly horrifying statistic, made even worse by the fact that the administrators of schools and churches sometimes aid and abet child abusers by failing to report them to the police.

I once visited a Nashville-area church that gave me very “bad vibes.” I later learned that girls who attended the church had been raped by one of its elders. The girls’ stark revelations, made years after the fact, as adults, were front-page news here, in 2008. According to WTVF-Channel 5 News, one of the rape victims said, “His words to me were: ‘God will condemn your soul if you ever speak a word of this to anyone.’ ” Another victim said in the story, “I told my mother and I told my pastor and nobody did anything.” According to four victims who filed lawsuits against the church, child abuse was rampant and none of the adults bothered to notify the police. So it seems that at least one local church may have fostered a culture similar to those of witchdoctors who sacrificed children to the “gods” while their parents stood by and watched.

A report on the subject by Mark Clayton, a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, reveals that although “every state has laws requiring child sexual abuse to be reported, few cases involving members of the clergy are ever turned over to police by church officials and fewer still result in anyone going to jail.” Clayton concludes, “Religious authorities rarely end up passing on suspicions to law enforcement. The reasons vary, from a desire by churches to handle such cases internally, to ignorance about mandatory-reporting laws, to a culture of forgiveness.”

And I believe there is another major factor involved: self-image. It seems likely that the higher-ups at PSU, the BSA and the Vatican put the images of their organizations above the welfare of children. Why? All three profit, as do local churches, as long as they maintain positive images. But reporting child abuse is likely to result in tarnished images and fewer "paying customers." So perhaps in the end, the bottom line is that root of all evil — money.

Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.

12 Comments on this post:

By: yogiman on 11/11/11 at 2:51

I, being me, wouldn't bother to notify the "officials" if my child or grandchild was a rape victim. With absolutely positive evidence, they would not rape another child.

By: Captain Nemo on 11/11/11 at 3:32

You just go for the livestock don't you Dung Beetle.

By: Captain Nemo on 11/11/11 at 3:36

They take care of their own don’t they Mike and the hell with the children.

By: dargent7 on 11/11/11 at 3:58

This Penn State sex abuse scandal is a head scratcher.
The assisstant coach waltzes thru the locker room showers and sees Sandusky at full throttle attention, sodomizing a 10 year old boy.
He waits a day and has to talk with his daddy before he reports it.
How pathetically weak of moral character can one be?
The Catholic preists are just as sick.
All gay men:....go to a gay bar and fondle anyone you want over the age of 21.
Setting up Foundations who cater to 8-10 year olds to then troll for sex is beyond absurd and criminal.
What's next? The Make a Wish Foundation is a 'front" for diviants?
The Boy's and Girls Club? Boy Scouts? Girl Scouts?
What's become of our collective DNA? Bad genes or just bad brains?

By: Captain Nemo on 11/11/11 at 4:07

It just goes to show that so call Christian are evil.

By: pswindle on 11/11/11 at 5:48

I'm a chrisitan, so I can do no wrong. This is what they want you to believe. Since it is preached everyday somewhere or someplace. I can hardly sit through a sermon anymore. If you want the worse kind of person, go to a church and have your pick.

By: yogiman on 11/11/11 at 6:28

I consider myself a Christian also, and I went through an experience in my childhood that I doubt if it has changed any over almost three quarters of a century since then.

I used to go to Sunday school learning the bible and every Sunday during church service the preacher would make the remark; "if you wanna be baptized, come on down".

Well..., one Sunday I decided to be baptized so I went down and he said to me; "you don't know enough about 'it', go sit down" (some things in life you never forget).

Within the next two weeks that man got caught with a 15 year old girl. He was married, but not to her. And that little incidence was taking place in the church.

After that episode, I quit going to church and have been "observing" preachers ever since, and I have found there to be almost as many like him as there has been good preachers. I feel many of them are in it because its an easy job.

Like all other aspects of life, you have a few good people.

By: Loner on 11/12/11 at 9:52

Once again, Mike Burch has authored an articulate, timely and thoughtful article. Mike presented the ugly facts; his conclusion is sad, but true "...reporting child abuse is likely to result in tarnished images and fewer "paying customers." So perhaps in the end, the bottom line is that root of all evil — money."

Let's hope that PSU quickly settles with the victims and let's hope that the victims in this case are not somehow portrayed as the perpetrators in a court of law.

As for Penn State's obsession with providing the NFL with fresh players, that needs to be addressed by its board of governors. It may be time for de-emphasis of football at Penn State...looks to me like this institution of higher learning needs to get back to basics and re-examine its mission.

By: bfra on 11/12/11 at 1:45

yogi - Your spills are about as believable as Bud's or that a snoball lasted thru 105* weather in Dec.

By: yogiman on 11/12/11 at 5:13

Speak for yourself, bfra. By this time next year I believe your ignorance will be shown to you..., and your fellow believers... or mine to me.

Your mental attitude is; if you don't know it, it ain't so. Let's see what happens in the next twelve months. Let's see which one of us is most ignorant, OK? It won't hurt my feelings because you and your fellow posters have made all of these current comments, plus the others to come.

Let's put it this way, either you and your cohorts on the issue are right and I'm wrong, or I'm right, and y'all are wrong. Its going to be interest.

I might add, bfra, there is offers on Amazon (books written by Barack) you might be interested in. They're cheap enough to learn a little bit about him... maybe.

By: govskeptic on 11/12/11 at 6:08

"Just goes to show so called Christians are evil"! So says, Capt Dimbo when there's nothing in this particular story has anything to do with Christianity. There's
certain a lack of it, but just another story and excuse to blast a subject which one
likes to haze on any occasion, relevant or not. Sad mission for many in this world!

By: pepawjoe on 11/12/11 at 6:43

Public "FLOGGIN". an experience that will be with the abusers for-ever and then some. Absolutely "NO" exceptions. Well known, wealthy, doesn't matter who a person is or has been. an outcast legend forever for "Child Abuse"