A Web-based campaign started last month to organize Christian Democratic voters on Monday issued an open letter of moral outrage over reports that GOP leaders knew former Rep. Mark Foley (F-Fla.) sent sexually explicit e-mails to underage House pages but did nothing to stop him.
"Evidence is mounting that House leaders and others knew of Foley's behavior for months, some more than a year, yet let him continue his tenure in Congress--including his hypocritical chairmanship of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children," said the letter issued by FaithfulDemocrats.com.
The letter, addressed to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, noted "the bitter irony" that "the political party that presents itself as having a monopoly on family values may have deliberately betrayed those values for political gain."
"This is a moral failure--and a symptom of a Congress that has lost its moral compass," the letter said.
Robert Parham of the Baptists Center for Ethics was among 18 religious leaders enlisted to sign the letter issued Monday.
"Playing politics with a pedophile to ensure political power is plainly wrong and morally reprehensible," Parham said. "The Bible warns us that if a blind man leads a blind man both fall in a pit. Moral blindness about a cover-up results in political blindness that harms a nation and places children at greater risk."
The open letter said, "No matter how much the House leadership likes to talk about moral values, protecting sexual predators at the expense of children is nothing short of sinful."
It called for "repentance and resignation" by members of Congress who knew about Foley's misdeeds but refused to act and for an immediate and bipartisan investigation both into allegations against Foley and any cover-up.
"In this time of moral crisis, we pray that the entire faith community unites in demanding accountability from anyone who has helped cover up these despicable acts," the letter said. "After all, to fail to speak out against sexual predators and the people who enable them would be sin in itself."
Foley resigned abruptly Friday amid reports that he sent sexually explicit Internet messages to at least one underage male former page.
"I thank the people of Florida's 16th Congressional District for giving me the opportunity to serve them for the last 12 years; it has been an honor," Foley said in a statement announcing his resignation. "I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent."
The six-term Congressman, who was expected to win re-election next month, could now face investigation under laws he helped enact. ''We track library books better than we do sexual predators,'' Foley said after the House passed the Children's Safety Act in September 2005.
The FBI announced an "assessment" of whether federal laws were broken. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also considering a criminal investigation.
According to news reports on Monday, Foley checked in a rehabilitation facility for treatment of alcoholism over the weekend.
FaithfulDemocrats.com is a non-profit Web venture started in September. Tennessee state Sen. Roy Herron, a former minister, and Romal Tune, founder of the Washington D.C.-based Clergy Strategic Alliances, are co-chairmen.
Baptist signers in addition to Parham included Major Jemison, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Robert Maddox, executive director of Briggs Center for Faith and Action in Bethesda, Md., and Stephen Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America
Christa Brown, a Texas attorney who is asking the Southern Baptist Convention to develop a national strategy combating pedophilia in Baptist churches, found parallels between House leaders' response to allegations about Foley and her own experience when she tried recently to alert Baptist officials that a Baptist minister, who years earlier had sexually abused her as a teenager, was still in the ministry.
Brown said on a Web site she contacted at least 18 Southern Baptist leaders about the abuse, but nothing was done until she filed a lawsuit that became public in a news story in the Orlando Sentinel.
Brown, who last week was part of a delegation delivering a formal request to SBC leaders to develop a denomination-wide strategy to root out sexual predators, criticized "unwillingness on the part of Southern Baptist leaders and a dangerous blindness to the widespread prevalence and horrific harm of clergy sex abuse."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.