One of the responsibilities of a columnist is to bell the cat (to borrow a phrase).

But belling some "cats" is unpopular and can get criticism.

One of those "cats" is the church. Even if you aren't a church member, you shy away from criticizing churches, particular Christian churches in all its forms.

A Baptist church pastor in Alabama was arrested recently, just days after after he'd molested at least one young boy from his church.

John Martin, the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church, confessed to four counts of sexual abuse. He was arrested on felony sex abuse charges about a week ago, after members of his church reported him to authorities.

According to local news station WAFF48, the 41-year-old pastor from Florence, Alabama, confessed to his congregation after telling his wife. Before being arrested, he'd checked himself into a psychiatric unit and turned over two guns.

The preacher abused at least one underage boy several times, at his home and on a road trip, court records reveal.

I suspect a significant number of church leaders and elected public officials, from Baptists to Catholic fathers, are gay. No problem if you (1) don't molest kids and (2) you don't decry homosexuality in public while being a homosexual in private.

Occasionally there is a story about a local preacher or church volunteer who is sent to jail for accosting a youngster. Face it. It's a good place to be and a good job to have if you are a pedophile.

All this reminded me of a story I saw about five months ago.

Hundreds of pedophile leaders and volunteers within Southern Baptist churches across the nation have been accused of sexual misconduct against young churchgoers for decades - many of them returning to church roles even after being convicted for sex crimes.

A investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News found that over the last 20 years, about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced credible accusations of sexual misconduct with children.

Of those, roughly 220 were convicted of sex crimes or received plea deals in cases involving more than 700 victims in all, the report found. Many accusers were young men and women who allegedly experienced everything from exposure to pornography to rape and impregnation at the hands of church members.

The newspapers reported that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) largely treats such accusations as isolated issues, and takes on an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality, even amid growing pressures to create a registry so the accusations wouldn't disappear.

The Chronicle and Express-News created a database of convicted sexual abusers with documented connections to the SBC.

The investigation took over six months and involved the cross-examination of hundreds of allegations.

A major problem among these Baptists is that there is no real central committee that approves wannabe preachers. All most Baptist preachers have to do is declare that God wants him to be a preacher and - voila - they are preachers.

My advice to Baptists and Catholics and members of all all other religious groups is be careful and, if you suspect something, say something.

Dave Peyton is on Facebook. His email address is davepeyton@comcast.net.

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