April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is crucial that we call on our government officials to do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable citizens: children. As an advocate for over twenty years for those who were sexually abused as children by clergymen it is long overdue that the Mississippi Attorney General follow the lead of over 20 other State Attorneys General, both Republican and Democrat, and open a public investigation of abuse and cover-up in our faith based institutions. The evidence for this is overwhelming: decades of documented abuse and cover-up of crimes against children in churches, schools and ministries. No institution, especially a faith based one, is above the law.
It may be true that the individuals who commit these crimes suffer from some kind of psycho-sexual disorder, but these are felony crimes against the innocent and they must be investigated and prosecuted. The record shows an appalling history of church leaders transferring and concealing known or suspected child molesters and moving them into new ministerial assignments. Yes, we must provide treatment, even to those offenders who are deemed incurable, but only after a criminal justice intervention that safely removes them from harming more children.
Some good people of faith want to forgive and forget, especially if they or their families are not the victims of these crimes. But to forgive and forget without accountability and ensuring the safety of children is dangerous, irresponsible and not biblically sound.
There is no good reason as a civil society for our governmental and elected officials to ignore this issue. I wish I could share the hundreds of calls I have received over the last twenty years from survivors. The calls are not diminishing. These crimes committed by ‘men of the cloth’ carry an extra burden for those who suffer. Not only do they suffer from the direct abuse but when they approach church officials most of them are manipulated, marginalized and ignored. Child rape and assault has been rightly called a crime very much like murder – but it is also a kind of soul murder.
Please join survivors and our allies this month and every month following in requesting our Attorney General to announce a public inquiry into this most troubling of crimes. Write, email or call her. Let her know that children, including children being raised in our churches, matter.
Mark Belenchia, Survivor/Advocate