While taking it easy as part of recovery from my latest round of chronic bronchitis, I watched the Oscar-winning film Spotlight again Sunday evening.
“Spotlight” is the The Boston Globe’s prize-winning investigating reporting team that uncovered on the ongoing cover-ups by the area’s Catholic archdiocese of rampant sexual abuse children.
The series originally identified 87 priests who abused children and then simply transferred to other parishes where they abused others. Attempts to uncover information about the incidents ran into roadblocks over the years from Cardinal Bernard F. Law but the Globe investigation uncovered actions that later identified more than 200 priests in the Boston area alone and sparked probes that found the practice widespread throughout the world among the Catholic Church.
When it comes to sexual abuse by religious leaders, however, the practice is not limited to Catholic priests. Youth minister Jeffrey Bondi in Virginia Beach began sexually molesting a 15-year-old female church member when he was 28. He walked because of jurisdictional problems in the case but left that church and sought to become the youth member at Galilee, an Episcopal Church, also in the Tidewater Area.
The father of the girl molested at Virginia Beach says he went to the pastor at Galilee, John Burnley, and told what happened.
“I told him what happened to my daughter, and he said it was all just hearsay,” the father said. “He acted like she was just some loose girl. I said, ‘I’m just trying to warn you because it’s going to be your responsibility if it happens again.’”
The church hired Bondi anyway and it did happen again. The Circuit Court sent him to prison for 10 years for molesting a the babysitter of his children. The Virginian-Pilot reports Burnley, the pastor, moved on to another religious job as assistant to the rector at St. Andrew’s Church in Charleston, S.C
Kim James, a 13-year-old girl in Indiana, told her Baptist minister that Donn Ketchem, son of the co-founder of the Association of Baptist for World Evangelicalism (ABWE), had touched her seuxal parts “man, many times” and raped her. Ketchem served as chief doctor of the missionary hospital in Bangladesh.
His dad’s group was founded to create “a militant, missionary-minded, Biblically desparate haven of Fundamentalism.” Donn Ketchem became the medical and spiritual authority for the missionaries in the compound, including Kim’s parents, who served there for a while.
Recalls ABWE official Richard Staggs:
He was the ideal missionary. He was a good surgeon. If your car broke down, he could fix it. If the generator broke, he could fix that. He was also my favorite preacher. He was smooth as silk. He had everybody fooled.
Ketham had several affairs with missionary women. He also was a sexual predator. He showed his erect penis to young Kim, conducting regular breast and pelvic exams. At 13, he raped her. She remembered lying there, terrified, “like a corpse, waiting for him to get off.” ABWE went to extraordinary lengths to try and cover up the act.
For a while, they got away with it but the truth finally caught up with them and GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) investigated and found more than two decades of cover ups within the Evangelical community.
A study by three insurance companies who handle such issues for churches, say an average of 260 cases of child abuse are reported in a year — a higher rate than the 228 coming out the Catholic Church.
“Protestants have responded much worse than the Catholics to this issue,” Boz Tchividjian, a former child sex-abuse prosecutor and grandson of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, told The New Republic. “One of the reasons is that, like it or not, the Catholics have been forced, through three decades of lawsuits, to address this issue. We’ve never been forced to deal with it on a Protestant-wide basis.”
Kim James is now 43 and is trying to put her life back together after years of struggle and attempts of AWBE to silence and continue to abuse her. Her parents once found her in a homeless shelter after AWBE claimed they were caring for her. She attempted suicide many times. Our information on Kim comes from Kathryn Joyce’s story in the New Republic on June 20, 2017.
Sexual child abuse is not something that happens “elsewhere.” it is all around us. Floyd County courts deal with sexual assault cases several times a year. Circuit Judge Marc Long last week sent 35-year-old Derek Todd Yates to prison for 14 years for sexual assault of a 14-year-old Floyd County girl. The assault led to her pregnancy, which her family aborted legally under Virginia law.
Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom told the court that Yates has a history of sexual assault of underage girls and getting them pregnant. Same thing happened in Wythe County with a 12-year-old in 2013.
A Floyd County High School teacher and coach awaits trial on two charges involving sexual abuse — an underage student athlete and another at age 19. Other alleged victims have come forward.
In 2005, a Floyd grandfather admitted sexually assaulting his pre-teen granddaughter, telling circuit judge Ray Grubbs that “your honor, I loved my granddaughter. I guess I loved her too much.”
While no minister has yet come before a judge locally, Floyd County is also the home of legendary minister Robert Childress, immortalized in the book The Man Who Moved a Mountain. My grandparents were among the founding members of Slate Mountain Presbyterian Church, his best known “rock church.” My mother went to church there as a child and teenager.
They told stories about Pastor Childress took time from moving a mountain to move in on wives of parishioners. His adulterous actions became a poorly-kept secret around the county.
In the 1960s, Childress’ son, also a pastor, publicly stepped down from the pulpit of Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church (another of the “rock” edifices) after telling his parishioners that he has also committed adultery.
I sat in the congregation on that Sunday morning. My grandfather, Walter McPeak, put his hand on Bryan Childress’ shoulder after the service and said: “Like father, like son.”
Today, if my grandfather were alive, he’d probably say something like: “Well, at least it wasn’t children.”
Are we sure? In the last few years, here in Floyd County, we’ve had a Farm Credit manager and his military veteran son go to prison for child pornograhy, an assistant softball coach bought down for sex with one of his underage athletes, an Indian Valley man insisting his multiple sexual encounters with a stepdaughter was “love, not rape,” a mother admitting sex with a step son while telling her daughter that “this is what mothers do with boys” and a father whose years of sexual abuse of his daughter included lunchtime trips to the local athletic park for sex while she was in high school.
One called himself “a good Christian” and “role model” for his children. Another said he was “putting his life in Christ’s hands.”
In this age of social media where participants exaggerate and lie, where companies who investigate “resume padding” are a growing industry and where “fact-checking” services must uncover the lies by our elected officials, how much do we really know about the people around us, particularly those who are there to protect, educate or provide spirituality to our kids?
Here in Floyd County, we know and have many good ministers, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders who serve their flocks. We are blessed with good, hardworking teachers and elected officials.
But a member of our election board routinely accessed child pornography on a county computer, a company manager who volunteered as an announcer for Floyd County High School athletic events went to prison for child pornography and a coach engaged in sexual activity with a student athlete and another awaits trial.
Floyd County Director of Social Services Tracee Brewster told the Floyd County Board of Supervisors last week that cases needing protection for children by her agency is increasing. Children have to be taken from homes to live with relatives or, sometimes, strangers because the parents are not up to the task. Some cook crystal meth in front of their children.
Too much is wrong and it will take a lot to fix it…if we even can.