Recently the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed for the grand jury investigation report into child sex abuse inside the Catholic church to be released. In Pennsylvania the Catholic church is in a crisis. Its important to remember that Neo-Calvinism also deals with child sexual abuse. And the similarities between what took place in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania and C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries are striking.
“Today, the most comprehensive report on child sexual abuse within the church ever produced in our country was released,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Pennsylvanians can finally learn the extent of sexual abuse in these dioceses. For the first time, we can all begin to understand the systematic cover up by church leaders that followed. The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro
“Dever, Duncan and Mohler have proved themselves to be modern-day Pharisees (hypocrites). They claim: “[Christians] must act immediately to inform legal authorities of any charge or claim of sexual abuse, and do so without delay.” And Dever, Duncan and Mohler say “We have stood beside our friend, C. J. Mahaney, and we can speak to his personal integrity.” By their own words, they have proved themselves men of defective integrity, standing beside a man who totally lacked integrity when he and his fellow leaders of SGM told the complaints not to go to the police.”
Commenter to T4G Statement on CJ Mahaney on T4G’s Facebook May 24, 2013.
Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.
Psalm 119:165 NLT
Interior of a Catholic church in California.
Bill Maher on the Catholic sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania
Hemant Mehta on the Catholic sex abuse scandal.
There is a lot going on inside the Catholic church in Pennsylvania. As the child sex abuse crisis continues to unfold its important to remember that the Neo-Calvinist movement is also struggling with this issue. Before we look into C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace and the role The Gospel Coalition played lets look at what is unfolding in Pennsylvania.
The Catholic Church in Crisis in Pennsylvania
On August 14, 2018 the state of Pennsylvania released a comprehensive and detailed grand jury report that looked at the child sex abuse issue inside the Roman Catholic church. Six Pennsylvania dioceses were under investigation. They were Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. The report was quite disturbing and far worse than what was revealed in Boston in the 2001 time-frame. The Pennsylvania grand jury report goes from 1940’s until 2010’s and spans over 70 years. The report was compiled from internal church documents and witnesses testifying about the topic of sexual abuse. While the report said that there were at least a thousand victims, the reality is that it is likely to be far higher. According to the National Catholic Reporter these are some of the situations in Pennsylvania.
Almost all the instances of abuse occurred too long ago for prosecution, save for two priests: John Sweeney of Greensburg pleaded guilty and charges are pending against David Poulson of Erie.
“We all wish more charges could be filed,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a press conference Aug. 14, “but due to the church’s manipulation of our weak laws in Pennsylvania too many were out of reach.”
Among the abusers detailed included Fr. Chester Gawronski of Erie, who told young boys he abused he was giving them cancer checks. In Allentown, Fr. Michael Lawrence confessed his sexual abuse of a boy to a monsignor, who through the diocese ruled the experience wouldn’t be a “trauma” for the victim. A priest in Greensburg impregnated a 17-year-old, married her and divorced her. Rather than being turned into authorities, he was transferred to a parish in another state.
Harrisburg priest Augustine Giella was found to have abused five daughters from a family of nine children that was active in the church community. Memorandums between church leaders showed knowledge of his abuse, but he didn’t face legal issues until the family later reported him to police. Later, former Bishop Nicholas Dattilo wrote the family apologizing and promising full cooperation in a civil matter. The diocese ended up fighting to get what became a million dollar settlement down to $225,000.
The report also raised questions about current Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubrick and current Washington, D.C. Archbishop Donald Wuerl. The Pennsylvania Attorney General accused both men of being involved in a cover up. There was only one bishop who appeared before the grand jury and testified and who also apologized to the victims. That was Lawrence Persico from Erie. It was learned that the Roman Catholic leadership in Pennsylvania moved around abusive priests, exported them to other parts of the United States, discouraged people from going to law enforcement and more. In the end 300 sexual abusive priests were identified. Six Pennsylvania dioceses were given the report in May and several people went to court to prevent its release. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cleared the report to be made available to the public. I spent about half an hour scanning and skimming part of the report. It was deeply graphic and hard to comprehend. I learned more about child pornography in reading part of that report than I previously knew. If you want to read more about the situation I have a number of articles you can read below.
- National Catholic Reporter, “Pennsylvania grand jury accuses over 300 priests of abuse, bishops of cover-up.”
- Washington Post, “Catholic bishops and priests, I need to know how you’ll fix the church you broke.”
- Religion News Service, “Catholics and lawmakers respond to sex abuse report.”
- Washington Post Editorial, “The scale of the Catholic Church’s criminality still shocks.”
- National Catholic Reporter, “Theologians, lay leaders call for mass resignations of US bishops.”
- National Catholic Reporter Editorial, “Editorial: The body of Christ must reclaim our church.”
- National Catholic Reporter, “How can you, bishops?”
- National Catholic Reporter, “Amid McCarrick, Pennsylvania abuse scandals, what can US bishops do?”
Culture of Unhealthy Organizations Allows for Sexual Abuse
As the Catholic scandal unfolded in Pennsylvania the Los Angeles Times had an interesting article about how these scandals occur in unhealthy organizations. You can read that article in, “Sex scandals fester at unhealthy organizations, experts say.” In that article it discusses the reasons why institutions go out of their way to cover up sexual abuse and assault. From the US Gymnastics to Penn State to the Catholic Church its about “protecting” the institution and the community attached to it. Its about preserving and protecting the money that is at stake. That is why many organizations neglect to protect their most vulnerable. What occurs is that many of these organizations that struggle with sexual abuse and assault are committed to protecting the organization at any and all costs.
Denny Burks’ Response to the Pennsylvania Catholic Scandal
As we look at the issue of the Catholic church in Pennsylvania let’s look at how the Neo-Calvinists are responding to the situation. I poked around and did some research and there really wasn’t much published at The Gospel Coalition about the situation in the Catholic church in Pennsylvania. I did find an article by Joe Carter called, “The FAQs: The Pennsylvania Report on Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy.” But Joe Carter does those write ups from time to time.
However, while researching I did discover an article by Denny Burk and his take on the situation in Pennsylvania. The article I read is called, “Why get rid of priests who experience same-sex attraction?” Denny Burk is an elder at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He also is the professor of biblical studies and ethics at Boyce College. In addition he is also the president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Denny looks at and questions did gays help bring about the situation in Pennsylvania inside the Catholic church? Denny discusses how when he read the New York Times on the situation he noticed that the newspaper wasn’t discussing the issues of having gay priests or networks of gay priests inside the Catholic Church. The abuse is the issue but the homosexuality is not as Burk writes. He looks at other sources “outside the mainstream” and he discovers Father Dominic Legge’s piece at First Things. Dominic Legge O.P is a Dominican priest and a professor of theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. In “Cleansing The Church of Clerical Sacrilege” the Dominican priest says the following:
It is time for clergy and laity to begin a movement for the purification of the Church. The shameful sexual sins and crimes of clergy—including cardinals, bishops, and priests—can no longer be tolerated. Tolerance is precisely what has allowed these problems to multiply for decades and persist up to today…
The issue is sexually active priests and bishops. In the main, the persistent problem is with homosexually active priests. Fr. Roger Landry argues—rightly, I think—that most priests who persist in infidelity with women eventually leave the priesthood, but priests who cheat on their vocation with men often continue to live a double life. Most of the issues stem from this kind of duplicity. Networks of active homosexual priests have developed: They protect and promote their own and others who will tolerate them. They become a major problem when they insinuate themselves into positions of power (in a seminary, in a chancery or diocese, in a religious order, in the Roman curia)—as occurred in the case of Theodore McCarrick.
In the article he goes on to look at reforms that are needed and Burk focuses on one of them. It deals with finding ways to screen out gay people and keep them out of the priesthood. Here is what Legge says:
Every diocese and religious order needs to implement an affirmative program to screen out vocations applicants with a history of deep-seated same-sex attraction—and certainly those who have engaged in homosexual activity. Applicants should not be allowed to apply for the seminary unless they are already able to live as habitually chaste single men, without recurring falls into unchastity. Candidates in seminaries who act out sexually should be dismissed. This policy is not homophobic in any way. It is simply non-hypocritical: The Church has to cultivate vocations of men who live and practice what the Church professes.
Burk goes on to call this a good idea and says that he is stunned that they are not already doing this. He focuses on the idea that same sex thought or attraction is deeply sinful. Its as sinful as if they are acting on their gay thoughts. Here is what Burk says.
If same-sex attractions are not sinful, on what basis would such attractions be a reason for excluding someone from the priesthood? What makes the homosexual’s orientation any more disqualifying than a heterosexual’s lust? If the point is to “purify” the church of sacrilege, why purge that which the Catechism does not recognize as sinful?
I am not a Roman Catholic, and the differences between me and Roman Catholics are chasmal. Having said that, I think anyone can see the inconsistency I’m talking about. If same-sex behavior is sinful, then so is the desire to act out that behavior. That is the biblical position, but it is not the position of Roman Catholicism. While I appreciate Legge’s strong appeal for reform, this inconsistency within official Roman Catholic teaching diminishes his argument.
To be honest with you I was deeply disappointed to read this article. I will go into the reasons below. But the Denny Burk article is the only one that I found that was controversial and looked at the situation in Pennsylvania with the Roman Catholic church.
Let’s Remember the Child Sex Abuse Scandal in C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries
There are many similarities between what happened in Pennsylvania’s Catholic church and what happened in C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries. The one difference that I do see is the perpetrators. While many of the perpetrators in the Catholic church were priests in Sovereign Grace many of the perpetrators were members of the congregations who had engaged in sexual abuse or more. Now here is where they are similar. When the ministry leaders of Sovereign Grace were notified of what happened they worked at concealing the sex abuse. They did not notify law enforcement at all. When Sovereign Grace did church planting they took sex abusers and sent them off to church plants and kept that information from the members of these congregations. In the Catholic church some of the priests told the victims they would go to hell if they spoke out about what happened. In Sovereign Grace some of the pastors were angry when victims disregarded their advice and went to law enforcement. Talking about the rape of your child was gossip. It was slander to discuss it. People who pursued justice were “sinfully craving answers” and more. In the Nathan Morales trial Grant Layman who under oath testified that he didn’t report Nathan Morales to the police and strategically withheld crucial information from law enforcement. You can read more about that in detail right here.
The grand jury report in Pennsylvania is horrific. Equally disturbing is some of the stories pouring out at SGM Survivors. These are but some examples that I am reciting from memory. These come from Sovereign Grace Fairfax alone. In one story you had a pastor who would publicly confess for failing to “care for a family of sex abuse” who then did not notify or confess to the victims themselves. You had the story of Taylor whose husband sexually abused his own 10 year old daughter. What did the Sovereign Grace pastor tell Taylor to do in time? Put a lock on the door of the ten year old and have more sex with her husband. After all when your husband sexually abuses your child in a heavy complementarian culture you are guilty of the sexual assault of your daughter because you don’t have sex with him enough. Then you have Noel, in that case the rape of your daughter by a teenage boy is an opportunity to forgive. You also are discouraged from going to law enforcement and reporting it. These are some of the many stories that took place in one Sovereign Grace church alone. If you want to read them in detail you can do so in, “What Matt Larson, Anthem Thousand Oaks, Anthem Ventura, and Anthem Camarillo can Learn from Taylor, Noel and Sovereign Grace Fairfax/SGM “Family of Churches”
The Statute of Limitation Issues for Sovereign Grace Victims
In Pennsylvania as of this writing there are only two priests who can be prosecuted by the legal system. The issue that exists is the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania. Many of the crimes are too old and the legal system can’t take them. In Sovereign Grace you had the same challenge. The statute of limitations had also expired for many people and they could not do anything. The legal lawsuit against Sovereign Grace was mostly dismissed in May of 2013 because of the statute of limitations. Pam Palmer from Covenant Life Church went before the legislature of Maryland to lobby to change the statute of limitations. You can read about that in detail in, “An Overview of the Situation at Covenant Life Church (CLC) Involving Larry Caffery, Efforts to Change Maryland Statute of Limitations Law, and Terry Mayo and Charlotte Ennis as CLC Tools.” The statute of limitations needs to be changed. Also another similarity is that both the Roman Catholic Church and churches like Covenant Life Church have both lobbied against the statute of limitations being changed in the state of Maryland.
Plus you Had the Circle the Wagons Mentality by The Gospel Coalition to Include: D.A. Carson, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Kevin DeYoung Among Others
One other aspect that is deeply disturbing is the behavior of The Gospel Coalition and the way a number of Neo-Calvinist pastors have acted toward the child sex abuse situation. What they have done is rally around C.J. Mahaney and circle the wagons. When the SGM lawsuit was dismissed due to statute of limitation reasons many key players for The Gospel Coalition and T4G rallied around C.J. Mahaney. On the T4G Facebook page on May 24, 2013 Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan put out a statement defending Mahaney. This is what they posted.
“A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. No such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C. J. Mahaney. Instead, he was charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals. For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way. We do not regret that decision. We are profoundly thankful for C. J. as friend, and we are equally thankful for the vast influence for good he has been among so many Gospel-minded people.”
The outcry and the rage was immediate and T4G was deleting people’s comments as they engaged in damage control and took down that statement. You can read more in, “Has God Foreordained an Alleged Child Sex Abuse Cover up in Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches? Is that why CJ Mahaney is so Sacred?” Then you also had the statement by Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung and D.A. Carson that was issued by The Gospel Coalition. In that statement D.A. Carson tears into someone who was raped inside SGM at the tender age of 13 , all to defend C.J. Mahaney. It has stood proudly on the internet and the EFCA has been silent. Carson has taught at theology conferences such as EFCA One. And yet Carson can’t practice one of the most basic aspects of Christianity. The ability to own your mistake and seek out forgiveness. If he can’t do that this blog asks the question, why is he teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School? One of the posts I want to do in the near future is look at Carson in depth and ask if he is the EFCA’s Paige Patterson. The #MeToo movement will hit the EFCA in time, just as its going through the Southern Baptist Convention now. The EFCA can mitigate the #MeToo movement if it is proactive and does the right thing in advance. But if you want to read that statement by Carson where he attacks someone who was raped at 13 you can do so in, “Why We Have Been Silent about the SGM Lawsuit.”
But then the problems continue. Some of the following posts I have written look at the role that people such as Kevin DeYoung and Thabiti Anyabwile have acted and defended Mahaney. In 2015 Thabiti went after Bill Cosby through his blog, but he still defended Mahaney as he was sinking in allegations of covering up child sex abuse. You can read more in, “Is CJ Mahaney the “Bill Cosby of Neo-Calvinism?” The Mahaney Conversation that Thabiti Anyabwile Needs to Have.” In April of 2016 at Todd Pruitt’s Mortification of Spin he wrote about the deep damage the SGM scandal was doing to the Christian faith. Pruitt implored for Mahaney to be canceled from T4G. The one aspect of his statement that stood out is when Pruitt said the following. “I repeat my motive in all of this: The reputation of our Lord, his church, the Doctrines of Grace, complementarianism, and biblical church discipline are taking a beating over this scandal. The damage being done is significant.” In response Kevin DeYoung answers Todd Pruitt and claims that C.J. Mahaney is above reproach. DeYoung actually twists the topic to defend Mahaney. You can read about Todd Pruitt and Kevin DeYoung in, “Kevin DeYoung Claims C.J. Mahaney is Above Reproach, Jenn’s Comment from SGM Survivors, and a Dark Anniversary”
Some Closing Thoughts…The Gospel Coalition and Sovereign Grace Need to Repent Also
What happened in Pennsylvania is horrific and beyond words. What has happened inside Sovereign Grace Ministries for years is also deeply troubling. The Christian faith has taken a major hit. The more people like Kevin DeYoung, D.A. Carson and more defend Mahaney the more the Christian faith is torpedoed. What does it say to have well established and known seminary professor and pastors go on a limb for a man who has been forced to withdraw from T4G twice? It doesn’t speak much about their discernment. If you want to read about that you can do so in, “The Run Away Pastor: The Embattled C.J. Mahaney Withdraws from T4G a Second Time.” It might be tempting for some Neo-Calvinists to speak about the problems inside the Catholic church. But they need to remember that their movement is also struggling with child sex abuse. They need to face those issues and deal with C.J. Mahaney appropriately.
Then there is what Denny Burk said about the Catholic church scandal in Pennsylvania and being gay. That article up above really highlighted Burk’s ignorance. Yes there were pedophile priests who targeted you children who were also male. But if Burk also took a look at the Pennsylvania grand jury report there were also stories of priests raping young females and also impregnating at least one. Burk misses that completely and that alone, in my view, is a major issue with his article. Yes there will be some gays who will commit sex crimes. But remember there will also be straights who also commit sex crimes. The best thing to do is approach this situation and deal with the facts. As I look at it, this was a hatchet job by Burk to use a tragedy to try and score some points. In that effort I believe he failed miserably and showed his fundamentalist hand to be exposed.
But as I close this post what Sovereign Grace and The Gospel Coalition need to do is own their mistake and do the right thing. They need to publicly admit their error. The only way this will change is if those inside the Neo-Calvinist movement challenge this issue with Sovereign Grace. They can make decisions by not using their material, raising in at conferences and also by writing about it. And if they actually love and care for “The Gospel” then they would do that as a means to save it. Many evangelicals need to take child sex abuse seriously. Its lacking and its time that they address this issue. That is it for the day guys, know that you are loved.