Jeanne Phillips, who writes the Dear Abby column founded by her mother, Abigail Van Buren, performed a public service earlier this year. Phillips had received an e-mail plea from a 28-year-old man who admitted his sexual attraction to a 10-year-old girl. After struggling with the issue for several days, one of the best-known advice columnists in America did not just offer one of her "Wake up and smell the coffee" rebukes. She called the police.

From Massachusetts to Florida, and Missouri to California, distressing headlines tell of Roman Catholic priests accused of (or admitting to) molesting children or teenagers. As the issue of sexual abuse by clergy metastasizes into a national scandal reaching back for decades, we believe the faithful members of Christian congregations need to take a cue from Dear Abby.

The temptation for evangelical Protestants is to blame such behavior on the Roman Catholic requirement of priestly celibacy. But such a facile explanation does an injustice to the thousands of priests who honor their vows, and it fails to recognize that some married men also abuse the young. Further, accusations of sexual misconduct involving minors or adults are nearly as common among Protestants as among Roman Catholics. Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse (www.thelinkup.com) compiles a grim archive of "black-collar crimes."

Evangelicals cannot afford to pretend that we are immune to sexual sin by clergy or volunteers. We should instead protect the most vulnerable members of our churches. Our sister publication, Leadership Journal, has published these recommendations:

  • Develop clear policies about standards of conduct, guidelines for screening and training workers, and procedures to follow if a worker is accused of misconduct.
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