A Snapshot of Religion Related Child Abuse From June 2007 to June 2011
Somewhere right now children are suffering because of religious superstition, tradition and dogma
by Perry Bulwer
The first news article in this archive is dated June 6, 2007, the last one June 10, 2011. Those coincidental dates encompassing four years almost to the day were not planned by me. I had no end date or goal in mind when I began this archive, and when I recently decided to stop updating it I had no idea the dates of the first and last article would coincide in that way. But they do, providing a sort of symmetry or framework for this snapshot of child abuse in religious environments.
Not only were there other relevant articles during that four years that are not included in this archive, I did not add articles published prior to that period except in a few cases where those articles easily came to my attention. For example, Rolling Stone republished online an older article on Scientology in the wake of recent scandals. Also not in this archive are the numerous, individual stories of religion related child abuse occurring daily around the world that never get reported. See the list below for ways in which millions of children every year are denied their human rights, cruelly mistreated, harmed or killed for religious reasons (for example: every year 3 million girls in Africa alone have their genitals mutilated). As Carl Sagan wrote, it is a demon-haunted world we live in and somewhere right now children are suffering because of religious superstitions, traditions and dogmas.
Such child abuse is as old as religion itself (it is one of the main ways religion is propagated) and will be a problem as long as believers and their institutions are afforded privileges and exemptions to indoctrinate and otherwise abuse children. Although a few of the articles here do discuss that ancient history of religious child abuse, and some consider the problem of how to end such abuse in the future, most deal with specific abuses and court cases that occurred during that four year period. So, as I said, this archive is a snapshot, but no less informative for being so. It contains a representative sample of child abuse in all the major religions and some smaller ones, some Judaic, Islamic and Christian denominations and sects, many cults and quasi-religious groups, as well as semi-secular institutions such as the Boy Scouts and some delinquent teen boot-camps that are not as overtly religious as most, but contain religious elements.
Although I won't be updating this archive, at least for the foreseeable future, the site will remain open. There is much valuable information here that can be useful in a variety of ways. You can find, for example, specific information on perpetrators and the groups they belong to, tactics and characteristics common to abusive individuals or groups, personal stories about and by abuse survivors and their recovery, information on court cases, contact information for advocacy groups and lawyers, and much more. That is one of the reasons I archived entire news articles rather than just excerpts and links. When I first started I discovered other bloggers and news aggregators focusing on religion, but very often links they provided were dead soon after they were posted, the excerpts they published left out crucial details or the articles quickly disappeared behind firewalls. So, I have archived articles in their entirety and include the link to where I found the article so that all of the information remains available to anyone.
Keeping this archive updated has not been easy. It can be quite depressing reading daily about innocent children who are indoctrinated, mistreated, exploited, assaulted, molested, raped, tortured or murdered, or are denied their human rights, either directly or indirectly because of religion. However, contrary to the popular misconception held by many believers, it is religiously motivated child abuse that depresses me, not the atheistic worldview I now hold, which provides more morality, meaning and purpose to my life than Christianity ever did because it is based on reality. So, that is one reason I'm ending this archive. I cry inside every time I read another story of children suffering because of the religious beliefs of adults. Sometimes I just can't bear to read another one. It's getting too hard on my heart.
Another reason is that it is time consuming. I did not simply skim read each article, I dwelt on them in detail to understand the underlying issues and make connections to similar stories of religious child abuse. But time is the most precious thing anyone has since this life is all we know. There is no second life. I have other projects I need to devote my time to now, but that does not mean I am turning my back on this issue. I will continue to expose religion related child abuse in my own writings on my blog Chain the Dogma when I have some insights or personal experience and knowledge in relation to particular news. It will be sporadic though, not on a daily or weekly basis, at least until I have finished some of those others projects I mentioned. The story of religion and child abuse is a never-ending one, so there will always be more articles that could be added to this archive. In fact, as I was writing the previous paragraph I received a news update on a Hindu Guru from Texas who fled to Mexico after being found guilty of sexually assaulting girls. I was tempted to add this latest article to the others here on that same story, but I need to stop somewhere, which means that some of the stories related in these articles have not yet been concluded.
Some stories archived here have concluded and you can find articles covering them from beginning to end. For example, the Elizabeth Smart case concluded with guilty verdicts for her abductors. But no one expects the Catholic clergy crimes scandals to end any time soon. While much abuse has been exposed in North America and Europe, and there are many different legal actions taking place, it is likely just the tip of the iceberg as clergy abuse in Africa and Latin America has received little attention yet. So that is an obvious on-going story.
Other court cases are still continuing as well. Some notable ones are the Canadian constitutional case considering the validity of the law prohibiting polygamy, which will likely take years to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. Related to that is the Warren Jeffs case and other Mormon fundamentalist members of the FLDS (evidence from Jeffs' case in Texas was submitted to the Canadian court hearing the constitutional case). Like wise, I just read another update on the Tony Alamo case indicating that although he is now in prison and survivors have won civil suits against him, he has successfully hidden much of his ministries assets, which means those survivors will be fighting legal battles for years to come to get their court-ordered compensation.
Other recent news that just missed my cut-off date for this archive includes reports that a cult leader from Australia, Agape Ministries pastor Rocco Leo Agape, was arrested in Fiji. Articles in this archive report that when he fled Australia several children went missing. I have not found any reports indicating whether or not those children have been found, but the articles archived here do provide basic information for anyone interested in doing follow-up research on this continuing story. And just as I was about to publish this article, news arrived that cult leader, Wayne Bent, imprisoned for sex abuse of girls has had his conviction overturned on a technicality and will be released from jail. So while this archive will not contain the ending to those and similar stories, it will provide much of the background and make it easier to find follow-up articles.
One way to find articles, besides the search tool, is to use the labels listed at the end of the side-bar. Unfortunately, there are still several hundred articles in the middle of this archive that do not yet have any label associated with them. Still, the labels can be useful for finding specific groups or specific issues, just use the search tool to find any additional unlabelled articles. Also, for the last year and a half or so I added a Related Articles section at the end of each article. It contains links to other articles in the archive that are either earlier stories on the same subject or similar in some way, making your search much easier. I'll list here those labels dealing with the different ways children are abused and then set out some of the main themes you will find throughout this archive.
These are some of the ways children are abused as reported in the news articles here:
abandonment, abduction, assault, bigotry, child brides, child labour, child sacrifice, child soldiers, child trafficking, circumcision, confinement, corporal punishment, cruelty, discrimination, endangerment, exorcism, exploitation, extremism, forced fasting, forced marriage, hate, honour killing, incest, indoctrination, infanticide, institutional abuse, intellectual abuse, intimidation, isolation, lying, manipulation, manslaughter, medical neglect, molestation, murder, neglect, pedophilia, physical abuse, pornography, prostitution, psychological abuse, racism, rape, ritual abuse, seclusion, secrecy, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, shunning, sorcery, spiritual abuse, suicide, terrorism, torture, totalitarian, vaccination, witchcraft.
Here are a few of the general themes you will find in this archive, with links to a few examples. I'm sure you can find many others. Note that these categories are not exclusive. Much of the abuse reported in this archive fits into two or more of these themes, sometimes all of them.
Education, indoctrination and intellectual abuse:
One of the primary ways in which children's rights are violated in religious environments is by indoctrination. Instead of granting their children the same right to religious freedom that they want for themselves, many parents indoctrinate them before they are able to make their own informed decision on whether to believe or not. Young children are also targeted for indoctrination by religious institutions, especially by fundamentalists, evangelicals, Catholics and Anglicans, but also by cults like Scientology. The beliefs and doctrines of those groups are so irrational that the best way to get new recruits is to manipulate the minds of children and teens who are unable to defend themselves from lies and superstitions with reason. In my opinion, that is immoral spiritual abuse. The educational rights of children are also undermined when they are intellectually abused with biblical literalism, anti-science creationism or denied the right to attend university.
Of course, there is an awful lot of physical child abuse that is not related to religion. Children are easy targets. But it is more than just sad when religion is used to justify assaulting children, it is immoral and criminal. Corporal punishment takes many forms ranging from slaps to torture. In my opinion, even a slap is an affront to the dignity of a child, or any human for that matter. Spanking children is not necessary. There are better ways to train children than hitting them, so why do believers who claim to have superior morals to those of unbelievers think it is okay to assault vulnerable children? If a slap is ok, why not a punch, or a beating, or a whipping, or water torture, or other tortures? Some believers don't know where to draw the line and children suffer or die. I also include medical neglect under this theme because it often leads to immense physical suffering and many times death. Medical neglect includes the failure of parents to protect their children, and consequently other children, from deadly diseases by refusing to vaccinate them.
Sadly, the majority of articles here deal with the sexual abuse of children and teenagers. It will surprise no one that Catholic clergy figure prominently here. Some of the vilest sex abuse you will read in these articles was committed by Catholic priests and nuns. A few examples: the priest who molested or raped around 200 deaf boys; the founder of the influential Legionaires order, Marcel Macial, who sexually assaulted young seminarians and fathered several children who he also sexually abused; Mother Teresa's failure to recognize despite many obvious warning signs that her spiritual adviser, an esteemed Jesuit priest, was a notorious pedophile abusing teen boys in her retreats and nunneries; the priest who raped children in their own homes while their parents were in another room; the priest who molested girls in the confessional booth and raped hypnotized boys; priests and nuns who sexually terrorized aboriginal children in North American residential schools that were designed to assimilate them; the Belgian bishop who molested his two nephews and then went on TV to justify his actions; and much much more.
Of course, Catholic clergy are not the only ones who sexually abuse children. There are reports here on sexual crimes by clergy of various Protestant denominations and sects, particularly Baptists, but also by Anglicans, Amish, Assemblies of God, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and others. There also numerous, smaller Christian sects and cults represented here where the leaders committed various sexual crimes against children and teens. Some examples of those include The Family International previously known as the Children of God; Tony Alamo Ministries; Wayne Bent's cult; and the House of Yahweh. Hindu gurus and Buddhist monks are also among the clergy abusers reported here, though not to the extent of other groups. That may be partly because I did not scan newspapers from Asia as often as from other areas.
Much of the sex abuse that occurs in the various groups listed above takes the form of direct assaults in which an offender molests or rapes children. In some, however, the sexual crimes take the form of institutionalized abuse, such as the forced 'marriages' of child brides in groups practising polygamy like the Mormon fundamentalist group FLDS and Tony Alamo Ministries , or the sexualization of children in The Family International. Those three Christian sects practise polygamy and engaged, or still do, in child trafficking for sexual purposes, not unlike what happens in some Muslim and Hindu communities. Sometimes those communities are entire nations, which can lead to the bizarre situation in Saudi Arabia where adult women do not have the freedom to marry who they want, but adult males can 'marry' 10 year old girls. Child sex abusers, whether individuals or institutions, often turn to religion for justification. However, dogmas and rituals intended to provide religious respectability do not make forced marriages of children, or any other kind of child abuse, any less a crime.
Psychological and spiritual abuse:
The intellectual, physical and sexual abuses I've discussed so far can also fit into this theme of psychological and spiritual abuse. For example, when a priest or other religious leader rapes or molests a child, it is not just sexually abusive, it is also spiritually abusive because of their religious relationship with the child. And it is psychologically abusive because of the emotional pain and confusion a sexual assault by a trusted authority figure causes. Here is how one woman who was raised in a Mormon fundamentalist community describes it:
In addition to being physically abused, Jensen told the court that she had also been sexually abused as a child in Bountiful. But, voice thick with tears, Jensen said the emotional abuse was worse.
"The unworthiness, the never being good enough, the not having a parent who was accessible to talk to when things happened to you that you couldn't explain it. Even if you had the courage to bring it up, it was disclaimed as God's will. You must have done something wrong.
"It was the self-loathing. The hopelessness of thinking that you're never going to get out and it's never going to get any better so you might as well give up and let them do whatever they wanted to you."
Spiritual abuse also occurs when religious leaders neglect to protect children from abusers and then use denial, deceit and secrecy to cover-up their failures in order to protect their position and institution. Catholic leaders have shuffled known pedophile priests around the globe, lied to or concealed information from congregations about reassigned priests, used the doctrine of mental reservation to lie about abuse, blamed children for causing their own abuse, asked survivors to swear oaths of secrecy or sign confidentiality agreements, refused to compensate survivors unless forced to by courts, used bankruptcies to hide assets from survivors, and continue to fight legal reforms that would end or extend time limits, which would allow many more survivors of clergy abuse to seek justice and compensation through the legal system. Here is a Catholic describing how she was betrayed by the Catholic hierarchy's neglect and cover-ups:
It is a true test of faith, to try to remain in the Catholic Church knowing all that has happened, not only in Philadelphia but throughout the world, with clergy sex-abuse scandals. It is like everything I once believed, has been turned upside down, inside out.
The trust that has been broken is almost too great, the betrayal runs so deep. As a child, I was taught to look toward the clergy as an example of what is good and holy, and now I find I have had to tell my children to look away.
I was taught from a young age that as a Catholic, I needed to be careful to not fall prey to the corruption and evil that exists in the secular world around us. But this time the threat comes from within the church. The problems of the outside world have never shaken my beliefs the way the church itself has done in recent years.
I was also taught to speak out against injustice and all that is wrong, and so I do; however it is against all that I have ever known and believed. So for now, I remain, wanting to walk away, but in doing so feeling like I would be abandoning all that the Catholic Church has destroyed.
I recently used the term “Catholic orphan” to describe my status in the church. I feel I have no leadership, no trust, the hierarchy continues to mislead and tries to put a spin on a vile situation.
It is not just the Catholic hierarchy that has spiritually abused their congregation by failing to protect children from abusers in their midst. Mormons, Baptists, Orthodox Jewish groups, Lutherans, and many other religious groups have inadequate child protection policies and practices. And it is not just groups, but sometimes entire nations that are unable to protect children from religiously motivated child abuse. Indonesia is one example, as are several countries in Africa.
There are other kinds of psychological and spiritual abuses that do not involve sexual assaults. For example, many fundamentalist and orthodox beliefs are highly detrimental to children's minds. Creationism, which also falls under intellectual abuse, can cause cognitive dissonance in children once they are confronted with scientific facts. Apocalypticism can cause children to needlessly fear and make irrational decisions. Biblical bigotry can cause children to hate others with different beliefs or no beliefs, the colour of their skin, or their sexual orientation. Or it can teach them to hate themselves if they were born homosexual but taught it is a sin or that they have a demon that must be exorcised. Child custody disputes involving religion can cause emotional turmoil for children caught up in the conflicts of their parents. Religious exclusivity can isolate children from society. The practice of shunning leads to the abandonment of children and separation of family members. In fact, all of the abuse covered in this archive has some element of psychological or spiritual abuse.
I apply a very broad definition to the term ritual abuse. Certainly, there are many secular rituals, but they rarely become abusive. One obvious example is the hazing that occurs in college fraternities, military units, sports teams and other groups that initiate new recruits in that manner. Hazing is an inherently abusive ritual, just like some religious rituals, but it is harder to find examples of benign secular rituals used in abusive ways. On the other hand, I can think of many examples of religious ritual abuse. Some religious rituals are inherently abusive, such as circumcision, while others can be both benign and abusive depending on how they are practiced.
Circumcision is one of the earliest forms of ritual abuse, and one of the most common. It is similar to baptism in that it spiritually abuses little children who have it forced upon them, but unlike baptism it is also physically abusive. The ritual abuse of circumcision is an infringement of children's rights, both the rights they hold as children, and their future rights as adults. Children have a right to religious freedom as set out in international human rights law. Religious freedom necessarily includes the right to be free from religion, otherwise it is an empty right, but when children are baptized or circumcised they are denied that right. Children also have an inherent right to an open future so that when they reach the appropriate age they are still free to make their own decisions regarding religion. Circumcision denies that right even more than baptism, because a baptism can later be renounced whereas circumcision is a permanent mutilation of children's genitals for the sake of their parents' religious beliefs. Where circumcision is not performed as a religious ritual, it is still physically abusive since it is not medically necessary. In that case, it might be seen as another example of an abusive secular ritual. Unlike hazing, however, secular circumcision has deep religious roots.
Praying is a good example of a religious ritual that can be either benign or abusive. Even a seemingly benign ritual like praying can turn extremely abusive when it is used, for example, as a replacement for medical care. Picture a scenario where adults huddle around a child who is suffering immense pain from an obvious medical problem. They pray fervently for days as the child's condition worsens, yet no one considers getting any kind of medical assistance. They just keep praying until the child dies or suffers irreparable harm. That is a clear case of ritual abuse.
Praying also becomes ritual abuse when it is used to promote hatred and violence. Here is an example of that as expressed by the leader of the bigoted family cult, Westboro Baptist Church, referring to the murder of an abortion provider. (This article is not in the archive)
Fred Phelps praised the shooter and said that he was doing God’s work. Phelps, who ran for political office several times as a Democrat in the 1990s, said, “Congresswoman Giffords, an avid supporter of sin and baby killing, was shot for that mischief…Westboro Baptist Church prays for more shooters...and more dead.”
Assassinating a member of Congress is not enough for another Baptist preacher who prays for the president's death:
Tempe, Arizona Independent Baptist preacher Steven Anderson has recently attracted national media attention after one of his parishioners showed up at an Arizona townhall meeting, that was attended by President Barack Obama, carrying a bullhorn and an AR15 semiautomatic assault rifle. One day before the event, Anderson gave a sermon entitled "Why I hate Barack Obama," in which the pastor declared he was praying for Obama's death and called on God to "melt" the president like a "[salted] snail."
It is not just the act of praying that can be abusive, but objecting to the ritual of prayer can be dangerous. Just ask the teenager in this report, who was demeaned by teachers and fellow students, and shunned by his own parents:
Damon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was about to graduate. His public school was planning to have a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony: as they traditionally did, as so many public schools around the country do every year. But Fowler -- knowing that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional and legally forbidden -- contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.
Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.
2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.
Oh, and by the way? They went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.
Praying can also be abusive when it is used in exorcisms, whether they are informal rituals or formalized ceremonies. Either way, exorcism and everything associated with it is ritual abuse. As with other types of abuses discussed here, ritual abuse can also be categorized under spiritual or physical abuse, both of which occur in faith healings and exorcisms.
Some religious rituals, such as those associated with superstitions like demon possession, Satanism and witchcraft, can harm children either directly or indirectly. Some children accused of being witches or possessed are subjected to exorcism rituals and injured or killed in the process, but other children are kidnapped, trafficked, mutilated and killed so their body parts can be used in occult rituals. Child trafficking is also associated with another type of religious ritual abuse in which underage girls, so called child brides, are 'married' to older men for religious reasons. Corporal punishment can also be used in a ritualistic way, such as when religious authorities beat and humiliate children to make them feel worthless.
Not all religious ritual abuse takes the above forms, however. Sometimes religious rituals are used in sacrilegious ways. Here are a few examples of how priests used the religious ritual of confession to sexually abuse children. One of the Jesuit order's most notorious convicted pedophiles, Donald McGuire, used confession to groom his victims.
According to a sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors after McGuire's conviction, one of his primary means of "grooming" young abuse victims was the ritual of confession.
For example, when the primary victim in the case confessed to McGuire at the age of 13 that he masturbated, McGuire "seized on it" and said the boy had an "addiction" that could send him to hell, according to court documents. He then demanded to "inspect" the boy's penis using a magnifying glass and baby oil.
Brian Spillane, a notorious convicted Australian priest who still faces over 100 charges of child abuse, sexually abused girls in their own homes while their parents were there and raped boys at the school where he taught. Many of his victims said the abuse occurred during prayer sessions, and like McGuire, he also used the ritual of confession to groom his victims.
Molesting girls in the confessional box and raping hypnotised boys was part of a pattern of "rampant pedophilia" by a former priest accused of sexually assaulting youngsters, a Sydney court has been told.
During confession he would invite children as young as eight to sit on his lap. "It was my pastoral approach,'' he told the court, "to break down the barrier between the fearful God and the loving God." One former penitent gave evidence of him holding her tightly on his lap as he nuzzled into her neck. "What I felt was some little kisses."
Italian priest, Ruggero Conti, charged with sexual violence and prostitution involving seven boys, also used the ritual of confession in his crimes.
Earlier at the hearing, Marongiu told the court Conti frequently made advances to him when he was 13 years old in all sorts of places, including in a car and during confession. He said it did not happen in the confessional booth, and that Conti would hear confession anywhere at any time.
Residential Schools, boarding schools, teen detention centres:
Much of the religion related abuse of children reported in this archive occurred in residential or boarding schools maintained by religious institutions. Sometimes these abuses occurred as a result of neglectful oversight in boarding schools for children of missionaries, but most often the abuse was intentionally and systematically directed against institutionalized children. Abusive priests, pastors, monks and nuns had captive children that they not only committed all kinds of physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual abuses against with impunity, but also engaged in cultural assimilation and class warfare. These institutions destroyed the cultural identities of Indian and Aborigine children or enslaved orphans or the children of the poor. This institutional abuse of innocent, indigenous or indigent children is a national shame for Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany and any other country where this extremely abusive form of evangelism occurred.
Related to this is the troubled teen industry, where so called delinquent teens are sent to detention centres, boot-camps or other tough love programs that almost always are religious in nature or have some religious elements. As with boarding schools, captive children with no way to escape are hypocritically subjected to cruel abuse in order to indoctrinate them against their will.
This category could be considered a sub-category of spiritual abuse. There is something particularly vile about religious leaders making excuses and justifications for child abuse. Catholic leaders are very good at that, coming up with all kinds of excuses including blaming victims or society, but rarely taking the blame themselves for neglecting to protect children. It is never the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops or Catholic doctrines that are at fault, but just a few bad apples. That is an excuse common to other religious groups , as are the inadequate apologies that are often offered without corresponding action such as compensating survivors or ensuring effective child protection policies are in place to prevent future abuse. Those apologies are often expressed in a passive form such as “mistakes were made”, which deflects accountability away from the abusers and their enablers.
Another despicable type of apologetics is when believers argue for their religious right to discriminate or abuse children. When they are denied that right they are quick to claim religious persecution. A few examples in this archive include: faith healers who claim religious freedom to let children die, fundamentalists who claim religious freedom to sexually and spiritually abuse little girls in so called marriages, parents who claim religious freedom to beat or mutilate their children, fundamentalists who claim religious freedom to intellectually abuse children, evangelicals who claim religious freedom to convert and indoctrinate children, and so on. Believers who make those claims do not understand the concept of religious freedom, which includes the right to be free from religion, otherwise it is an empty right. It means absolute freedom to believe or not believe, but it does not mean absolute freedom to act on those beliefs. Religious freedom does not give anyone the right, including parents, to harm children or deny them their own rights and religious freedom. And when those same believers claim religious persecution they are blind to the fact that they are religiously persecuting children by denying them their own internationally recognized rights (by all countries except the U.S. and Somalia). So, claims of religious persecution should be considered skeptically. When fundamentalist Christians, for example, claim religious persecution it is often self serving because the Bible tells them in 2 Timothy 3:12 that if they live godly they will be persecuted. It is a badge of honour, so when they claim to be religiously persecuted they see it as a sign that they must doing something good. However, often the so-called persecuted are in fact the persecutors.