May 11, 2019
By David Crary
It has been a wrenching season for three of America’s largest religious denominations, as sex-abuse scandals and a schism over LGBT inclusion fuel anguish and anger within the Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist and United Methodist churches. There’s rising concern that the crises will boost the ranks of young people disillusioned by organized religion.
“Every denomination is tremendously worried about retaining or attracting young people,” said Stephen Schneck, a political science professor at Catholic University. “The sex-abuse scandals will have a spillover effect on attitudes toward religion in general. I don’t think any denomination is going to not take a hit.”
For the U.S. Catholic church, the clergy sex-abuse scandal that has unfolded over two decades expanded dramatically in recent months. Many dioceses have become targets of investigations since a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August detailed hundreds of cases of alleged abuse. In mid-February, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was expelled from the priesthood for sexually abusing minors and seminarians.
The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, confronted its own sex-abuse crisis three weeks ago in the form of an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. The newspapers reported that hundreds of Southern Baptist clergy and staff had been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, including dozens who returned to church duties, while leaving more than 700 victims with little in the way of justice or apologies.