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Vol. II, No. 3

The issue of clergy misconduct has dominated the news recently. Unfortunately, accounts of specific incidents capture the attention of the press and the public without addressing exactly how frequent these incidents occur throughout the ranks of clergy. Very little research has been done in this area to give researchers and journalists any background information on the topic. 

This past week a research team at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary, released information from a 1999 study that sheds light on the prevalence of these incidents. Professor Nancy Ammerman and the Rev. Dr. Terry Schmitt, gathered 11 focus groups in 4 cities to talk about a subject most people don’t like to talk about – the times when clergy abuse the trust that their parishioners place in them. They interviewed 76 clergypersons who had served as interim ministers in 532 different congregations in 14 different denominations over the last 40 years. These interim ministers, who pastor  churches after one leader has left and before another has been chosen, reported knowledge of 271 cases of "breach of trust" in the churches where they served as interim's.

In these cases, non-sex-related incidents outnumbered sex-related ones 149 to 122. In 60 cases, they reported that clergy had been perceived as abusing their power. In 18 cases, the problem was the failure to handle money responsibly. In 25 cases, the minister was seen as untrustworthy because of the way he or she failed to protect the confidentiality of what parishioners told them.  But in 122 cases (23% of all the congregations these ministers had served) some sort of sexual indiscretion caused a rupture between pastor and congregation. The vast majority involved affairs between consenting – but not married – adults. Almost all of the sex-related cases were between opposite-sex adults, in 3 cases, the relationship in question was a homosexual one, and the congregation in question was not prepared to accept a gay or lesbian pastor. The problem in only 2 cases was pedophilia.

Although this is a small and non-random study of clergy, it does offer a broader glimpse at the phenomenon of clergy misconduct than isolated accounts. Read more about this 
study on our web site. 

Suggested Links

The Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute web site of Saint John's University contains excellent resources on the subject of clergy Sexual abuse including the following sections:

Exploitation by Clergy - From Advocate Web, an excellent collection of articles from around the web about clergy abuse. 

What's New on our site

We have been cleaning up our links – believe it or not we have over 4000 links to external sites and have spent the last month updating – if you find one broken let us know. 

Our March 2002 Quick Question - Read our latest quick question that talks about clergy sexual misconduct.

New church web review - Read our latest review of the dynamic and entertaining Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.




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