For years, I’ve reported on the problem of clerical predators abusing people — all too often, children — and be shielded by virtue of their sacred offices. Usually this has involved the Catholic Church, because the Catholic hierarchs have, historically, worked to prevent their clergy from being prosecuted or sued. They’ve even moved personnel around surreptitiously in order to keep them out of the hands of Johnny Law. Catholic apologists love to whine that these kinds of reports hit the media “only” when their precious Church is involved, and abuse by other clergy — or other types of folks, such as public-school teachers — is never reported. (In fact, it is! But they don’t really care to admit it.) They think this is some kind of defense of their Church.
Well, it’s not. Yes, I concede this sort of thing is not solely a Catholic problem. Over the years I’ve repeatedly said this, and have blogged about various cases. That, however, doesn’t appear to stop Catholic apologists from making this whine.
So to be clear, I present another sordid tale, reported by the Hartford Courant, that involves a Baptist church in New Haven, CT (WebCite cached article):
A pastor at a Baptist Church in New Haven was allowed to continue leading his church for five years while on the state sex offender registry after a child-molestation conviction, letters from church officials and state court records show.
It was only after his second arrest — in 2014 on child pornography charges — that Eli Echevarria stepped down from leading El Calvario Baptist Church, according to the letters and court records.
Church leaders, who operate independently of the central Baptist governing authority in Connecticut, have not responded to multiple requests for comment. Echevarria is serving a two-year prison sentence.
The Courant goes on to explain what happened here. Unlike the Catholic Church, which uses its vast size and its pervasive, homogeneous organization to help abusers avoid detection, Echevarria took advantage of Baptists’ decentralized structure and “hands off” approach:
But the case and the way it was handled have sparked criticism of the church’s governing authority.
The fact that American Baptist Churches of Connecticut, the church’s ruling body, never informed other pastors of Echevarria’s history came to the attention of William Keane, pastor at First Baptist Church of Branford, after Echevarria began attending his church.
Keane criticized the statewide church’s handling of Echevarria’s situation, including a policy put in place after Echevarria’s second conviction that requires state church officials to run the names of all pastors through the state’s sex offender registry list at least once every two years.…
ABCConn does not install local pastors. Individual churches hire, and can fire, their pastor. The statewide group only sets overarching policy.
In essence, then, this structure (or lack thereof) allows both the Baptists’ governing council in Connecticut, and the management of the El Calvario church, to endlessly pass blame to each other. It’s rather a convenient setup, isn’t it? Even if, ironically, it’s the opposite of how the Catholic Church gets around things like this.
I’m sure some Catholic apologists will jump up and down for joy at this revelation. “You see? It’s not just us!” they’ll happily announce. And in doing so, they won’t have gotten the point … which is that religions are supposedly bastions of morality, not dens of iniquity. Purposely structuring a religion in such a way as to allow predators to operate freely and without accountability, is no way to run things — unless you’re trying to arrange it so that malcontents can skate. That its clergy sometimes turn out to be criminals does nothing to reinforce the notion that a religion has any moral superiority. In fact, it leans against such a conclusion.
I’ll close by commending Pastor Keane for having worked to bring at least some accountability here. He took on his own organization, in defense of kids. Good for him! Would that there’d been more like-minded folks running El Calvario and managing ABCConn.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.Tags: abconn, american baptist church, american baptist churches of connecticut, baptist church, baptists, child abuse, clerical child abuse, clerical child sex abuse, el calvario baptist church, eli echevarria, it's not just a catholic problem, new haven, new haven CT, sex offender, sex offenders, william keane