Myths and Facts about the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis
John McKigganOctober 08, 2011 6:40 PM
A reader sent me a link to an article published by the Catholic Education Resource Center titled 10 Myths about Priestly Pedophilia. The article claims to “debunk” myths perpetrated by the media about Catholic priest sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, the article itself contains a number of misstatements that I think bear correcting.
1. Catholic priests are more likely to be pedophiles than other groups of men.
The article claims there is no evidence that Catholic priests are more likely to abuse children than other groups of men.
What the article doesn't discuss is the number of allegations made against Catholic priests as opposed to members of other faith communities. I have been representing survivors of childhood sexual abuse for 20 years. I have made claims against the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the United Church and the Baptist Church among others.In short, child sexual abuse is not a problem that is limited solely to the Catholic Church.
However, of the hundreds of survivors that I have represented over the past 20 years, the vast majority of victims (over 90%) were abused by Catholic priests. I am not aware of any studies that have compared statistics for criminal charges involving sexual abuse against religious leaders. However, it is obvious to anyone that reads the newspapers that the vast majority of reported cases involve allegations against Catholic priests.
The article claims that:
Pedophilia among priests is extremely rare, affecting only 0.3% of the entire population of clergy.
Less than one half of one percent? This statement is incorrect.
Recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned an in-depth study of allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. The research study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, titled: The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States determined that it was impossible to determine the actual number of priests involved in pedophilia given that the crime is one of secrecy and victims often do not report the crimes.
However, the John Jay study determined that 4% of all priests active between 1950 and 2002 had allegations of abuse made against them. For the time period between 1960 to 2002 the study concluded that 4.3% of priests had been accused of sexual abuse. The study concluded that the rates of alleged abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States ranged from 3% to 6% of priests.
The prevalence of pedophilia in the general population is not known but according to some studies it is estimated to be between 3% and 9%. So according to the limited information that is available it does not appear that sexual abuse by Catholic priests any more prevalent than it is in the general population.
The question is whether there is something about the institutional structure of the Catholic Church that appears to have lead to much higher rates of sexual abuse among Catholic priests as opposed to other faith leaders.
2. Celibacy leads to pedophilia
The article claims that there is no causal connection between celibacy and any kind of sexual deviation. But in an interview with ABC, Eugene Kennedy a former priest who left the priesthood 25 years ago says that celibacy provides cover to pedophilia. Kennedy claims that:
Many young men at a very early age were recruited into it before they understood themselves or their own sexual identity. Their psycho-sexual maturation has been put on hold, so to speak, when they go in. So as a result they tend to act out with young people who were more or less the age they were when their maturation process stopped.
3. Allowing priests to marry would reduce pedophilia.
The article claims that allowing priests to marry would not prevent childhood abuse. This is one issue where I think the article is correct. If statistics are correct and the incidence of pedophilia among Catholic priests is similar to the incidence of pedophilia within the general population, allowing priests to marry probably would have no effect on the rate of childhood abuse within the church.
4. Celibacy was a medieval invention.
Not being a student of medieval history I have no comment one way or another about this. Simply put, I do not think celibacy is the problem. I think the prevalence of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has more to do with the policies of the institution itself.
5. Female clergy would solve the problem.
The article claims allowing women to be priests would not reduce the incidents of childhood sexual abuse. The fact is that women are far less likely to engage in childhood sexual abuse. Again, reliable statistics are difficult to come by. In a Health Canada study published in 1996 it was reported that, in the Ontario Incidence study, 10% of sexual abuse investigations involved female perpetrators. In six studies reviewed by Russell and Finkelhor, female perpetrators accounted for 25% or more of abusers.
So pedophilia and childhood sexual abuse is not limited to male offenders. However, from the few published reports it does appear males are the offender at least 75% of the time. So if you increase the number of female priests you decrease, statistically, the chances that a priest will engage in childhood sexual abuse.
6. The Catholic Church has done nothing to address pedophilia.
The article describes the efforts the Catholic Church has made to address the problem of pedophilia within the Catholic Church. Simply put I think that the Catholic Church has failed miserably in efforts to address the problem of childhood sexual abuse by priests.
Vatican Denies Responsibility for Sexually Abusive Priests
The Catholic Church and Sexual Abuse: Is the church’s response real action — or window dressing?
Amnesty International Names Vatican for Failing to Protect Children
Mounting evidence of Catholic conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse by priests?
Simply put, the leadership of the Catholic Church has vigorously opposed efforts to compensate sexual abuse victims and has repeatedly tried to minimize the extent of the problem and has repeatedly tried to direct blame elsewhere.
7. Catholic journalists have ignored the pedophile problem.
There is no question that the problem of childhood sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has been the subject of much media attention. Leaving aside whether the Catholic media has reasonably addressed the issue, the fact remains that the institutional Catholic Church has done little, on a worldwide basis, to acknowledge its responsibility for the sexual abuse of thousands of children around the world.
What do you think?
The Catholic Church is facing a tidal wave of allegations of childhood abuse and cover-ups from countries around the world. It is difficult to understand how child abuse on such a massive scale could continue without it coming to the attention of the leaders of the world wide Catholic Church.
So I think the question is not: “Does celibacy cause pedophilia?”
Rather, a more appropriate question is: "Why has the Catholic Church, as an institution, failed so miserably in taking appropriate steps to protect children around the world from sexual abuse by Catholic priests?"
What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.