High-profile cases such as the child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and “faith healing” child deaths in certain fundamentalist Christian congregations have made the public aware that religion can sometimes mask deviant and harmful behavior. But the extent of the problem is far greater than most people realize. In this revealing, disturbing, and thoroughly researched book, award-winning journalist Janet Heimlich exposes a dark side of faith that most Americans do not know exists or have ignored for a long time—religious child maltreatment.
After speaking with dozens of victims, perpetrators, and experts, and reviewing a myriad of court cases and studies, Ms. Heimlich explains how religious child maltreatment happens. She then takes an in-depth look at the many forms of child maltreatment found in religious contexts, including biblically-prescribed corporal punishment and beliefs about the necessity of “breaking the wills” of children; scaring kids into faith and other types of emotional maltreatment such as spurning, isolating, and withholding love; pedophilic abuse by religious authorities and the failure of religious organizations to support the victims and punish the perpetrators; and religiously-motivated medical neglect in cases of serious health problems. In a concluding chapter, Ms. Heimlich proposes changes in societal attitudes and improved legislation to protect children from harm and pushes for more people to recognize and acknowledge children rights.
While fully acknowledging that religion can be a source of comfort, strength, and inspiration to many young people, Ms. Heimlich makes a compelling case that, regardless of one’s religious or secular orientation, maltreatment of children under the cloak of religion can never be justified and should not be tolerated.