While newspapers carried headlines about high-profile sexual-coercion lawsuits filed against Atlanta mega-church pastor Eddie Long, a Baptist researcher said the problem of clergy sexual abuse is much larger than a few charismatic leaders who abuse their power.
"What we found is that this problem is so pervasive," Diana Garland, dean of Baylor University's School of Social Work and co-author of a groundbreaking study on sexual malfeasance by ministers, said Oct. 1 on National Public Radio.
Appearing on Michel Martin's "Tell Me More" program, Garland said if the cases of reported abuse were spread evenly across the country, every average-sized congregation with 400 members would include seven women who have experienced clergy sexual misconduct at some time since they turned 18. That includes only women who go to church regularly, not those who stopped attending after their abuse.
Instead of looking at the psychological makeup of abusers, Garland and co-author Mark Chaves of Duke looked for factors that set up a congregation for abuse.
One, she said, is when religious leaders have overlapping and multiple roles, such as religious leader and counselor, or perhaps a close family friend. "Those are conflicting roles," she said.
Another factor, Garland said, is that people refer to their places of worship as "sanctuaries."
"We expect them to be safe places, so we share, we confess personal thoughts and our struggles to religious leaders and they know those things about us, and we believe that they are there to protect us, not to harm us," she said.