Who are these people?

  • David Lloyd Walther
  • Timothy Jason Jeltema
  • Chad Michael Rider
  • David Pettigrew
  • William C. Robinson
  • Brian Pounds
  • Lawrence Hopkins
  • Conner Jesse Penny
  • Jonathan Ryan Ensey
  • Aaron Duane Shipman
  • Conrad Estrada Valdez
  • Rob Shiflet

Hint: they’re all Texans.

Not enough? Another hint: they’re all church leaders.

Now you can probably guess what significant fact unites them: they’re all people who have been charged with child porn, sexual assault on a minor, or child sex trafficking in just the past year. I have to wonder how many atheists have been similarly arrested.

That’s just scratching the surface!

In May, a document released by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) revealed the case of more than 700 Baptist leaders—including pastors, teachers, ministers and volunteers—accused or found guilty of sexual abuse of children.

The 205-page document, which looks at cases dating back to a period between 2000 and 2009, details the arrests and—sometimes—sentencing of Baptist leaders found guilty of sexual assaults, soliciting children, child pornography and more.

I wonder what it is that draws pedophiles and groomers to religion.


  1. Artor says

    While some of those people may wear fancy dresses, not one of them seems to be a drag queen. Seems like the rightwingers are a bit off in their “groomer” fear-mongering.

  2. says

    I live in central Ohio. About a year ago we got a notice from the sheriff that a registered sex offender had moved into the neighborhood, so I looked up the name.

    Turns out he was a pastor from a few towns over. He started “counseling” a girl whose parents were undergoing a divorce and you can guess the rest.

    So, I’m just reinforcing that it’s not a Texas problem; it’s a pastor problem.

  3. HidariMak says

    As much as I loathe making sweeping generalizations, “Texas” and “Southern Baptist” suggests that these people frequently violate the Johnson amendment, to endorse Republicans in order to “save the children from those cannibalistic pedophile Democrats”. It also suggests that they portray anyone who is not a heterosexual who follows strictly vanilla sex practices as being pedophiles. Funny how often the people who keep saying “look over there” are hiding something.

  4. raven says

    Child sexual abuse is very high in fundie xian areas and households.
    It’s built into the patriarchial system.
    There is actually data on this point.

    From “Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches”, by Carolyn Holderread Heggen, Herald Press, Scotdale, PA, 1993 p. 73:

    “A disturbing fact continues to surface in sex abuse research.

    The first best predictor of abuse is alcohol or drug addiction in the father. But the second best predictor is conservative religiosity, accompanied by parental belief in traditional male-female roles.

    This means that if you want to know which children are most likely to be sexually abused by their father, the second most significant clue is *whether or not the parents belong to a conservative religious group with traditional role beliefs and rigid sexual attitudes*. (Brown and Bohn, 1989; Finkelhor, 1986; Fortune, 1983; Goldstein et al, 1973; Van
    Leeuwen, 1990). (emphasis in original)

  5. Larry says

    And that’s just the protestant side. There’s still the kiddie fuckers of the catholic church to consider.

  6. raven says

    The church child sexual abuse problem is mostly a Catholic and fundie xian problem.

    Strangely enough it is a lot lower in Mainline Protestant denominations, including my natal one.
    I won’t say it never happens because I’m sure it does, but it is a lot less common.

    There are several reasons for this although I’m not all that sure if these explain it.
    .1. My natal sect like many Mainlines have women ministers. In fact, half of all church officials are female.
    The former head of the US Episcopal church was named “Katharine”.
    .2. They have also long ago set up a comprehensive system to prevent child sexual abuse.
    Rules like no single adult can be alone with an unrelated child under 18.
    Background checks. Etc.
    There is a lot they can do to prevent child sexual abuse.
    .3. Part of it is/was just the culture of the church.
    It was and is a SJW church and the people tended to be well educated, well off, and “woke”.
    A lot of kids were taught to say no and about bodily autonomy.

  7. euclide says

    I wonder what it is that draws pedophiles and groomers to religion.

    The same that draws them to jobs like teacher or sport coach : access to children while in a position of power.
    The main issue is that in these sectors, it’s the job of the hierarchy to screen applicants and contact the police when there is a problem

    The catholic church has a too long history of being its own state, the fundies have not a lot of hierarchy to begin with.
    In a lot of countries, the school system had the same sort of issues before it exploded in their face

  8. says

    Mixing imposed power inequality — especially when not open to question — and sex never goes wrong.

    Sorry, it’s prior to adequate caffeination, can’t be bothered tagging that as sarcasm.

  9. kayden says

    Yet, these very same churches tell us that it is Drag Queens and transgender women who are the danger for our children.

  10. robro says

    raven @ #4 — Wonder how many of the fundie pedophile preachers are also “recovering” alcoholics or drug users. The switch from one to the other, and back again, seems all too common.

    As for “Mainline Protestant denominations”, I’m not sure you can get more mainline protestant than the Southern Baptist Convention, which was my natal sect. I believe it is nominally the largest protestant denomination in the US. It clearly has a persistent problem with abusive church leaders.

    As they way, “Power corrupts…” even on the relatively small scale of a local church.

  11. Oggie: Mathom says

    I wonder what it is that draws pedophiles and groomers to religion.

    The same thing that attracts sexual predators to other hierarchical, paternalistic, and authoritarian organizations that serve, mentor, educate, and inculcate morals for children.
    Predators are attracted to prey. Lions are drawn to watering holes. Nile crocodiles are drawn to places where wildebeests cross rivers. Tuna are drawn to places where squid congregate.
    Predators are drawn to places in which they can predate the population with a greater chance of survival. Lions stay in the tall grass to avoid detection. Nile crocodiles hunt in the water where their sensory organs work and they can swim fast.
    Sexual predators are drawn to authoritarian religious groups – we have the one and only answer to life, the universe, and everything and if you don’t do as you are told, you will burn in hell forever. Sexual predators are drawn to scouting – I am here to teach you to be a man and if you don’t do as you are told, you will remain a child forever. Sexual predators are drawn to youth groups and programmes for needy or at risk children – do as I tell you or you will be kicked out of the programme and end up in prison or be taken away from your parents.
    Authoritarian religion (and yes, I include most boy and some cub scout groups in that) attracts those who want to prey on people. Whether it is priests pressuring adulterous women (as outed by the confessions of men) into sex in 12th century England, or an evangelical pastor using the stress of a divorce to seduce a teen, or a cub scout leader who used rape to show us why we wanted to be men and not children, some adults view these groups as the waterhole on the savannah, the crossing point for wildebeests, the gathering place of squid.
    And we have an entire political party, a major news network, and almost 1/3 of the American populace, devoted to the idea that authoritarian religion is the only way to save America.
    Were I more cynical, I would posit that many of the leaders of the authoritarian religious movement, and the secular conservatives who have welded themselves to them in a horrible and destructive partnership, are in it to create even more savannah waterholes for the predators.
    Luckily, I am not that cynical.
    Wait. Yes, I am that cynical.

  12. raven says

    As for “Mainline Protestant denominations”, I’m not sure you can get more mainline protestant than the Southern Baptist Convention, which was my natal sect.

    Not any more.

    The SBC call themselves Evangelical.
    They changed that from Fundamentalist because fundie ended up being word with a negative meaning.
    Most people would just call them fundie xians.

    The Mainline Protestants don’t much like the fundies. The fundies really, seriously don’t like the Mainlines. They call them Fake xians a lot of the time.

    To make this even more confusing, not all churches with Evangelical in their name are fundies. One of the Mainline Lutheran churches is the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who are definitely not fundies.

  13. billseymour says

    And it’s not just Christians.  There are fundie Jews in Israel, Brooklyn and Upstate New York; there are fundie Muslims in most parts of the Near East; there are fundie Hindus in India, fundie Buddhists in Myanmar, …  Wasn’t the A+ movement started as pushback against what might be called fundie atheists?

    It has long seemed to me that what they all have in common is a towering pride and self-importance.

    (In the stopped clock department, one thing I think the Roman Catholics get right about immorality:  it all starts with pride.)

  14. says


    Nope. It all starts with individual decisionmaking; it’s too much of a stretch (even for addicted-to-single-explanation-for-everything theologians) between “I want to do x” and “general rules prohibiting x don’t apply to me” to ascribe the latter to accepted theological glosses on “pride.” Consider, for example, currently-common-buzzword “neurodivergence” as it can all too readily be misused as an excuse for — as distinct from explanation of — narcissistic sociopathy, such as was ensconced at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from 20 Jan 2017 to 20 Jan 2021.

    Perhaps “pride” as a partial explanation of a substantial segment of “immorality” makes sense — but “pride” as a shorthand including “mental illness” does not.

  15. unclefrogy says

    I wonder what the effect of repressive sexual rules and attitudes have sexual abuse?
    We are a highly motivated by sex generally as a big part of our being a social species. Looking around there are examples of effects everywhere.

  16. says

    Aw crap, i screwed up the formatting.
    The [any dubgroup] don’t much like the [any other subgrups] . They call them Fake xians a lot of the time.

  17. grandolddeity says

    Complete (outward) submission to a higher power is to surrender personal responsibility and, arguably, transfer consequence. And,

    Prayer corrupts; absolute prayer corrupts absolutely.

  18. outis says

    @17 and @20: yeah, I’d be willing to bet that the more rigid and puritanical a sect is, the more likely it’s going to be a haven for abusers. And the more they try to sell themselves as guardians of morality, the more likely they are going to be some sort of Rape Central. Examples are depressingly abundant, alas.
    @4: excellent source, thanks.

  19. specialffrog says

    Off topic but it looks like PZ’s Twitter account may have been compromised. The most recent tweet appears to be promoting some service.

  20. chrislawson says

    raven@4– “The church child sexual abuse problem is mostly a Catholic and fundie xian problem.” I wish this were true. In Australia, our Governor-General and ex-Archbishop of Brisbane was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had suppressed investigations into child sexual abuse by Anglican clergy.

    Largely because of this controversy, a Royal Commission was empanelled. (Weirdly, when it was only the Catholic Church in the news it was easy for Australians to blame one single church, which was protective to a lot of other institutions.)

    Here are some choice titbits from the findings of that Royal Commission:

    We have examined a broad range of institutions – from schools to Scouts, from the YMCA to sporting and dance clubs, from Defence training establishments to a range of out-of-home care services. We have considered institutions managed by federal, state and territory governments as well as non-government organisations. It is clear that child sexual abuse has occurred in a broad range of institutional contexts across Australia, and over many decades. However, we heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to institutions managed by religious organisations than any other management type.
    More than 4,000 survivors told us in private sessions that they were sexually abused as children in religious institutions. The abuse occurred in religious schools, orphanages and missions, churches, presbyteries and rectories, confessionals, and various other settings. In private sessions we heard about child sexual abuse occurring in 1,691 different religious institutions.
    We heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to the Catholic Church than any other religious organisation, followed by the Anglican Church, The Salvation Army and others.
    Other case studies examined institutions managed by or affiliated with each of the following: the Uniting Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Australian Christian Churches (ACC) and affiliated Pentecostal churches, Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne (religious institutions forming part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Orthodox Judaism) and the Australian Indigenous Ministries (formerly the Aborigines Inland Mission, a non-government and interdenominational faith ministry).

    So, yes, the Catholic Church was responsible for the largest proportion of abuse cases, but it is prevalent in pretty much any hierarchical, authoritarian institution. And, yes, abuse is especially prevalent in religious settings, but secular hierachical, authoritarian institutions are also high risk, e.g. the US gymnastics program.

  21. StevoR says

    FWIW From an fb meme seen at the time of Pell’s death a coloured pie chart graphic headlined “Proportion of alleged perpetrators from religious institutions :

    Catholic 61.4 %
    Anglican 14.8%
    Salvation Army 7.2%
    Protestant 4.4%
    Presbyterian & reformed 2.8%
    Uniting Church 2.8%
    Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.8 %
    Baptists 1.2 %
    Pentecostal 1.0 %
    Other Christian – 1.9%
    Judaism 0.6%
    Other religious organisations 3.9%

    On ared backdrop with the largest Catholic figure inornage and the rest inshades of white & greay if that helps.

    Sadly there’s no source or link provided to cite this to a specific study or source making it a bit dubious but interesting .. Wish I knew where it came from & how reliable it is..

  22. StevoR says

    I expect those figures are for Australia but not sure. Obviously the relative demographics of other nations will make a difference here.

  23. tacitus says

    I wonder what it is that draws pedophiles and groomers to religion.

    It would be interesting to see if there’s any research exploring this question, but I suspect the vast majority aren’t drawn any differently or in any greater numbers than anyone else. There are pedophiles and groomers in every type of job. More likely is that they find their way into religious organizations the same way normal people do — they felt they had a calling, they were raised in the church so church was all they knew, the right job opportunity came along at the right time, etc.

    The problem is that once they are in there, the unquestioning trust and respect automatically bestowed upon religious leaders, especially in insular and heichurches where they have near total control, protects them from suspicion and accusations, and greatly intimidates the abused into remaining silent. Then there’s the fear factor for those responsible supposedly responsible for oversight (if they even exist). They often don’t want to believe the accusations, or seek to downplay them because they know if it all gets out, it could severely damage or even completely destroy their organization. Hence the coverups.

    For the most part, in secular settings, once discovered, abusers are significantly more to dispose of. It doesn’t always happen, but there are typically much more effective controls in place. The cases where that doesn’t happen, like Sandusky and Savile, are ones where the perpetrators have spent a lifetime meticulously cultivating an air of unimpeachable respectability that allowed them to get away with it for so long. Most pedophiles aren’t that clever.

  24. tacitus says

    Baptists 1.2 %
    Pentecostal 1.0 %

    I wouldn’t trust these numbers simply because there’s very little organizational oversight of what individual churches do. While the vast hierarchical Catholic organization allowed systemic abuse to carry on for decades (likely centuries), that same organizational structure (very belatedly) provided a mechanism by which the extent of the past abuses could be discovered.

    That simply doesn’t exist for the loose networks of Baptist and Pentecostal churches, so who the hell knows how many perpetrators got away with it in the last 50 years. Many of the churches where abuse happened probably didn’t even continue to exist once the pastor retired or was forced out on the quiet.

    You can’t really trust any of the numbers without fully understanding the nature of each religion’s/denomination’s structure and safeguards against abuse, and conducting actual independent research into the prevalence of child abuse within each one.

  25. KG says

    The cases where that doesn’t happen, like Sandusky and Savile, are ones where the perpetrators have spent a lifetime meticulously cultivating an air of unimpeachable respectability that allowed them to get away with it for so long. – tacitus@26

    That doesn’t really apply to Savile. I have a biography of him by Dan Davies, entitled In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile. It’s true he cultivated estabishment figures, most notably Charles Windsor, Margaret Thatcher and senior Catholic clerics, and he was awarded a knighthood partly for his “charitable” porterage work in hospitals (where many of his most revolting crimes were pepetrated). But he did not hide his predilection for teenaged girls (one of whom he sexually assaulted on camera while presenting the BBC TV show Top of the Pops), he was the subject of at least two police investigations for child sexual abuse, and there were constant rumours and warnings about him from those who worked close to him. His speech, appearance and manner were bizarre, often inappropriate, and many (including me) who had no knowledge or suspicion of his crimes, nonetheless found him extremely creepy.

  26. StevoR says

    @27. tacitus : Fair point. I was hoping to find out where they’re from but my google fu has failed me there.

    Tangential but tonight’s episode of Aussie current affairs show Four Corners is on the Catholic Opus Dei cult. Unfortunately I’ve missed much of it already though willhopefullybe able to catch a replay and .it may well be on iView (see : ) or youtube later. This article :

    & this one :

    Probly covers some of what the 4C ep discusses I’d guess.

  27. says

    @14: The Lutherans in Germany (where I grew up) were known to me as the “Evangelical Church,” 50 years ago, so if you’re thinking evangelical denotes off the mainstream, I think you might be mistaken. Maybe all American sects are off the mainstream? I’d definitely agree with that, although that also sounds dangerously like “no true Scotsman,” which I’d never say about any religious organization.