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Lessons from the Brethren

Two instructive items from a world Commonwealers rarely visit, that of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

One is a Chicago Sun-Times article about a Southern Baptist pastor who was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1996 for sexually abusing four girls, ages 15 to 17. He was paroled in 2001, re-married, and a short time later become the pastor at another Baptist Church. The parolee pastor, Jeff Hannah, blamed his exploitation of the girls on "urges" due to his troubled first marriage. The real kicker: The congregation knew of his crimes but liked him so much they kept him on in various capacities. "We believe in forgiveness," says a deacon who pushed for Hannah's hire.

Among the many possible lessons, to my mind: 1) Marriage for priests is not a magic bullet; 2) Neither is banning gay men; 3) Lay people can be every bit as obtuse as the most out-of-touch hierarch. There are too many cases of Catholic parishes who loved their priest even though he was an abuser, and demonstrated to keep him on. All religion is local, too. So transparency, accountability, checks and balances.

The second item, via the excellent blog and news digest of the religion staff at the Dallas Morning News, concerns an SBC leader, Thom Rainer, who has withdrawn his endorsement of a chatroom/blog,, which was set up so Southern Baptists could exchange views. As you can read in his statement, "A plea for a more civil discourse", Rainer says that the Web site has become an arena for conflict and division:

"Whereas most print media have the accountability of boards, bosses and subscribers, much social electronic media does not have clear and explicit accountability - its the communitys responsibility. Words that are hurtful, untrue and even displeasing to our Lord can be written without consequence. The community then becomes collectively accountable."

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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It's helpful to realize the addictive nature of sexual dysfunction. Like any other addict, the sex perp grooms not only victims, but allies. If he or she didn't, the perp would be just another creep.Codependents make all kinds of excuses for alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers. Bishops and congregations are human, too. Unless those in authority recognize the patterns of addiction, they are doomed to repeat the errors of the past.

Blogs, as a friend once opined, are a hot medium.Apparently, Thom Rainer found it too hot in the kitchen --- even though the Christian church has had hot kitchens from Day One.:)

Married priests is not a magic bullet. This is why CITI "Celibacy is the issue" is a off base group. I would like to see the depth of the "support" that parishes give an abuser priest. Do they not deny the charges rather than say let us forgive and keep him on. Perhaps you can refer us to some data on this, David. Is there a distinction to be made here?

Forgiving those who have grossly used a position of trust to harm others is one thing, trusting them is another.

Amen, Mr. Gannon!

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