Warning: If this chapter were a movie, it would have an NC-17 rating, because it describes horrible things that have been done to children beneath the cloak of religion in the United States. Children have been raped, beaten, and permitted to die excruciating deaths – at the hands of their priests, rabbis, pastors, and parents.
Young people are at risk from religious believers and institutions in two main ways: (1) through the misuse of religious power to abuse the child; and (2) through their parents’ religiously motivated medical neglect or physical abuse. The suffering is often unimaginable, because the children have been trained to trust and be obedient to their clergy and parents. They lack the ability to protect themselves from those they have been taught are here on earth to love and protect them.
In the first instance, some clergy, day care providers, coaches, and religious schoolteachers use their position to take advantage of children. No person can be trusted to hold power without some check on it, and that is why we have child protection laws. A religious authority figure can be the most outwardly pious individual, but without the law’s ability to make the person accountable, he or she can be capable of physical and spiritual murder. The believer is not just a wolf – but a lion – in sheep’s clothing. Oftentimes this power-based abuse takes the form of sexual abuse, but it can also be physical, emotional, and/or ritualistic abuse. Many children, especially those who are already in difficult family situations, lack the life skills to fend off the clergy member who seduces them with attention and affection and only then turns into a sexual predator.