How to make the Church safe for Pedophiles.

Yesterday I read this great article from Slate stating the plain reality of those who experience a romantic and/or sexual attraction to children. I recommend reading it, though not all of it is relevant to this discussion.

For me, the subtitle was all I needed to read, but I suppose this is such an entrenched taboo that a lengthy essay is required to help readers realise the plain fact:

A person’s feelings or actions do not negate their humanity.

They are not monsters. They are our friends, relatives, colleagues,

Youth leaders,





Pedophilia is the only evil act left in our society. All other transgressions are handled in the courts or in the PR offices. This one? This calls for a lynch mob. Unless of the course the individual caves in to their despair first and chooses to end their life.

It’s death or death, really.

It’s even easier to direct all that malice to an organisation than to face up to that one trusted man or woman who abused someone. Churches and charities run a legal gauntlet whilst the overwhelming majority of pedophilloic activity occurs in family homes and it buried under the shadow of the mountain of shame we have piled skywards.

And even the shadow of that mountain will crush a person.

The beast becomes a recluse, hiding away from the fear and rage of the townsfolk. He is abandoned to his castle, his prison. And he is terrified to be alone. Afraid of what stares at him through the mirror.

We gather our torches and pitchforks frequently enough to remind all such beasts that they are only good to be skinned and hung as trophies for Daily Mail readers.

Now, this kind of self-righteous public shaming actually wasn’t invented by the Mail, believe it or not. Jesus seemed to know about it.

On one occasion a woman caught in adultery is dragged before Jesus and it is demanded of him that he cast judgement on her. He doesn’t, replying (John 8:7):

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Of course they all leave, and Jesus offers forgiveness to the woman. He sternly warns her to sin no more.

The interpretation implicit for the pedophile ought to be plain. For those who still can’t soften their hearts to see the humanity of another, I shall explain:

The pedophile is rather like the woman caught in adultery. All the rancour of the people is directed at him–though the parents, partners and friends are all strangely absent from the scene. He is all alone before the masses, naked with the thousands of images found on his hard drive.

In this instance, Christ becomes his only friend and defender. Christ is always in solidarity with the lonely scapegoat. I suppose he knows a thing or two about that.

Now, feminist readers might want to claim that the stoning in John 7:53-8:11 is motivated by misogyny.

But what if she was really as guilty as they claimed? What if she was a willing participant in adultery? What if she isn’t merely a pawn in some sick game to catch Jesus out?

What if Jesus really just forgave a guilty woman?

What would that say to the pedophile? The child-molesting scout leader? The abusive Priest?

Would Jesus stand between them and the mob?

The Church claims to be the body of Christ and thus acts as his agent in this world. How then would it interact with pedophiles?

Can guilt be fully acknowledged while grace is extended in love?

If the Church stands amongst the mob, it would be impossible for any person living with this kind of disordered sexuality to step forward and ask for help. They must face the raw terror of the men with rock in their hands without hope of an advocate. And all alone in their darkness the likelihood of acting upon that disorder will only increase.

Churches then will only be safe not when they close the doors to pedophiles, but when it opens them. If pedophiles are found in all groups of people, it is a futile exercise in self-righteousness to exclude one token pervert as if that will make the issue disappear. A renewal of the patient love of God is then the only real resource the Church has to deal with this fact.

Yet do not lose heart, for the One who stood with the naked woman is the One who will never leave us.

If your church or organisation needs some practical resources to think through these issues, check out Safe to Grow. A resource from the Baptist Union of Great Britain for the safety of children.


Add yours →

  1. A church can try to close its doors to pedophiles but what’s to stop someone already within the church from becoming ‘a pedophile’?

    This alone exposes the mentality of keeping ‘them’ out as missing the point. Yes, look out for those only looking to enter the community to tear it apart, but there is a wider picture here, no?

    How does the church be the church that Jesus wants? We are all welcomed in our brokenness, wounded and perverted. Yet we are to be presented as holy and blameless.


    • This is very much part of what I’m trying to say. When I say “close the door” I mean not so much excluding those who have perverse sexual desires, but actually closing doors in terms of cutting of communication about these matters.

      This would then include people who are part of churches.


    • People don’t “Become” pedophiles. It is a hard wired trait, which manifests at some time. Minor quibble, otherwise good point.


  2. Almost surprised there wasn’t more comment on this!
    It’s such a delicate issue, I imagine some would see your stance (which I happen to agree with) as condoning paedophilia.
    I guess the reason it is so emotive is the innocence of a little child being stripped away and the damage that results in. Society still rankles against this (at least in the majority of the west, there are instances of what we would regard as paedophilia which are taken as ‘ritual’ or ‘tradition’ in some places around the world) almost as the last bastion of decency and civility.
    Because we don’t understand the person that can ‘do that to a child’, we instinctively see them as a monster and push them away.
    Unfortunately, we don’t have the same aversion to many other damaging behaviours that are clearly ungodly and in many ways perverse. Just look at how we ignore greed, gossip, pride, the list goes on and on.
    I wish there were an easy answer but as you say, church wasn’t meant to be a sterile, sanctimonious place for all the good people, it’s a place for sinners, people aware and repentent of their short fallings, people willing to admit their humanity and leave the cancelling of debt to Jesus and God as they freely forgive.
    Thought provoking post, thanks.


  3. Well done for discussing the problem unerringly. I also tend to agree that sensitive cases like pedophilia should be treated… sensitively, with the aim of encouraging larger numbers of individuals to admit their crimes. Lighting pitchforks doesn’t help.

    Still, while anger at organisations like the church (sorry for the vague umbrella term, but it’ll do for my purposes) may detract from treating individual abusers sensitively, it demonstrates more widespread dissatisfaction with religious teaching as a whole. There is a kind of hypocrisy which becomes apparent when messages of love are preached while children are abused behind a veil, or when young people, who may come to the church feeling lost and confused, looking for guidance, have their feelings of insecurity and helplessness exploited. Methods like drawing a parallel between abuse and love could be used by any abuser but not every abuser has a role as a public teacher or moral guide. There are religious reasons for the abuse. And there are few other organisations besides the church in which child abuse is so deeply prevalent.

    So, while forming a lynch mob against the abusers won’t help uncover abuse, open and fiery criticism of the reasons why an organisation allows so much abuse to happen is becoming ever more necessary. One may embrace the abusers so they can be helped, but the institutional reasoning behind many cases of abuse is what people are holding to fervid scrutiny.

    Also, on a different note altogether, what do you think is to be done about the abusers who are not scared and show no remorse whatsoever for what they’ve done? There is certainly something wrong with their brains, but how they are to be dealt with and approached is something I’m not sure of, just curious about your opinion here.


  4. I read an article awhile ago about a support group for people who recognize in themselves pedophilic tendencies and which to never act on those urges. This group routinely gets hate-mail and threats of terrorism, but as of last I heard, they were still doing their work, and none of their members had yet committed any crimes. This seems to be like what you are talking about. I think that a religious community would be well suited to that type of work, if they were to turn their attention to it, which is exactly what you are saying, if I read you correctly.

    But there is another issue, related to priestly celibacy (not an issue in all denominations). Some pedophiles are identified when their neighbors wonder why they are never seen to have romantic partners. These neighbors look into it a little bit, and find some evidence sufficient to warrant a warrant, and pass that evidence on to the police. Of course, some adult men do not get romantically involved because they just don’t want to, and the invasion of the privacy of such individuals is not cool. Then there are the men who never get asked why they have no romantic attachment to any known adult: they work in a profession which all their neighbors know about, and that profession includes a vow a celibacy. The point is: priestly celibacy is very good camouflage for someone who is romantically dis-interested in adults of any gender, because their interest is in children. If, on the other hand, most priests got married, then we would scrutinize unmarried priests just like we scrutinize unmarried stock-brokers, and we would discover some who just prefer celibacy, and some who are attracted to children.


    • Most research into abuse shows that child rape is most often perpetrated by relations to the child. Parents, aunts and uncles, siblings. I suspect a better explanation for the tendency to single out singles is because they are a more obvious target. Priests doubly so.

      The point is that paedophillia is found in every community. It’s just easier to blame the Them rather than admit that people who we include within Us could be perpetrators too.


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