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Myths and Facts about the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis

12 comments

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.

For example:

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.

12 Comments

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  1. Sylvia Blayse says:
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    I wish you would come to Australia. Nobody here has been able to get justice for this survivor of Anglican abuse, trying for 15 years now.

  2. JohnPRoco says:
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    That the John Jay Report (2004) found that 81% of victims were male prompted the Catholic Church to present a bar there disallowing practicing homosexuals from studying to be priests. I argue, in a parallel process, for more apt screening of foster parents and adoptive parents in this video advocating a “foster child bill of rights:”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAFfNMbVW7s

  3. Mike Bryant says:
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    They have failed because they don’t practice zero tolerance. Very interesting piece.

  4. sam entile says:
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    In the paragraph comparing % of pedophilia in the Church and in the general population, you incorrectly compared % of “allegations” in the Church against % of the general public who were known to commit “pedophilia” making it seem as if the Church and the general population were on par. This was an apples-to-oranges error in comparison as far as I can tell. You also did not seem to take into account professions which involve frequent contact with many children versus most of the general population’s jobs which do not. There have been studies and confessions by pedophiles who admitted they were drawn to professions that allowed access to children. In other words–they had the sexual disorder “prior” to pursuing the priesthood, a teaching job, boy scout leadership, etc….

  5. bioman says:
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    The Catholic Church has lost all credibility. The corruption is endless. Then the Church spends the peoples money on high powered lawyers and PR people to attempt to project an image of respectability.

    I don’t believe any official statements made by the RCC, and haven’t given them a dime in years.

  6. tom liny says:
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    Excellent analysis. Pinning the tail on the policies of the Catholic clerics is correct. These policies will not change because of the clerical culture that rules the organization. The Pope protects Bishops. The Bishops protect priests. A priest is more important to the Bishop than the abused child. Priests protect other priests, their “brothers.” Catholics don’t understand this dynamic and actually expect the Bishop or their parish pastor to turn the priest over to the police for trial. It is like going to the ‘godfather’ and expecting him to call the police on one of his “soldiers” It doesn’t happen. It will never happen. That is why children can never be entrusted to the custody of clerics. Nor will Catholics of abused children ever find justice by going to a clerical organization. Report all clerical abuse to civil authorities. Never call the diocese hotline. Call your lawyer. Catholic clerics are incapable of reforming the corrupt culture they are members of because their brother priests are more important than any abused child. There are always exceptional priests but don’t count on finding one.

  7. Andy tracy says:
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    Let me educate CRISIS about child molesting priests. It doesn’t matter what you call them…pedophiles or ephebophiles. The only difference is the age of the victim. The consequences are the same…a life destroyed. So the suggestiion that true peophilia among Catholic priests is rare is of no consequence. Both pedophiles and ephebophiles are not curable as Catholic treatment centers declared, whether they molest teens or young children. And it is a world-wide epidemic of offending priests. Also, look to the numbers of victims, not just the numbers of priests.

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    The article only proves that Catholics are the biggest liars in the world, and their congregation is stupid enough to believe them.

    Just one example of proof:

    FACT: The Catholic church has a larger percentage of pedophiles than any group other than prison. Read their own John Jay report of 2002, which says that the number of accused pedophile priests is only 4%, but they are intentionally misleading you.

    The truth is that when they calculated the total number of priests, they added in ones that had only been a priest for a year or two in the 50 year study. The honest (non-Catholic) way to do the analysis would have been to only include priests that were there for the entire time. If those were the only ones that were included, the number jumps to a whopping 9-10%. See http://bit.ly/nZpjjT

    But it gets worse than that, when you consider a bunch of other things, like:

    1) this was not an investigation. All of the information from the report was voluntary, and depended on the honesty of Catholic bishops, who are now known to be completely dishonest.

    2) three percent (3%) of diocese refused to report. This obviously included the some of the worst. One that refused to report was Roger Mahony in Los Angeles, who then had to pay a landmark settlement to over 500 victims four years after the report

    3) most victims don’t come forward. This is the most sinister part, and Catholics know it. Children that were raped by priests grow up in shame, and don’t want people to know, especially since they know they will be accused of lying by the Catholic congregation. Child abuse psychologists estimate fewer than one in three will come forward.

    The only place with a larger umber of pedophiles is prison, but prison has a code against child molesters. In prison, they get beaten. In the Catholic church, they get hidden.

    The Catholic church has convinced the congregation that raping children was no big deal, lying about it is ok, and ignoring the victims is ok. This is exactly what satan or “false idols” would do.

    Think about this – on your judgment day, what are the chances that God doesn’t ask you about what you did when children were raped by satan in His church? Take your time – you have eternity to answer.

  9. bill says:
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    1. Mckiggin admits at the end that priest abuse is no more prevelant than any other group of men. In fact, the 9% in general population is much higher than the highest estimate of abussive priest.

    Mckiggin states that the Catholic article does not address allegations. The Catholic article says of over 80 priests accused of abuse in Boston, only 8 were found guilty. Allegations are just that, not proof. Unless priests don’t have the right of innocent until proven guilty.

    2. Mckiggin admits at the end of the article that celibacy isn’t the problem.

    3. no evidence female priests would cut down on abuse.

  10. Tancred says:
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    Actually, in so far as the Catholic Church has adopted various non-moral assumptions with respect to recidivism and mental health, it has done so largely under the auspices of faulty interpretations of the Second Vatican Council and prevailing attitudes toward more humanistic approaches to palliative mental health.

    In short, was “being open to the modern world” really such a good thing after all?

    It’s high time that perpetrators stop being treated as victims.

    Morally indifferent approaches to the punishment and treatment of pederastic homosexuals need to be abandoned in favor of what worked in the past.

  11. JuneAnnette says:
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    tom liny has it right . . “The Pope protects Bishops. The Bishops protect priests. A priest is more important to the Bishop than the abused child. Priests protect other priests, their “brothers.”
    A Case in Point. .
    An example of how the self-serving policies of the Roman Catholic “church” protect clerics at the expense of children!***Article: ‘Cardinal hailed bishop for hiding predator priest: report’ / Source: Reuters / Date: April 15, 2010

    EXCERPT: A Vatican cardinal in charge of clergy around the world congratulated a French bishop in a 2001 letter for not denouncing a sexually abusive priest to the police . .. .In the letter dated Sept 8, 2001, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos backed French Bishop Pierre Pican’s decision not to denounce a priest who was later sentenced to 18 years in jail for repeated rape of a boy and sexual assaults on 10 others. Pican, who received a suspended three-month jail sentence for not denouncing sexual abuse of minors, admitted in court he had kept Rev. Rene Bissey in parish work despite the fact the priest had privately admitted committing pedophile acts.

    The case shocked France and prompted its bishops to declare that all abuse cases must be reported to civil authorities.”I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillon Hoyos said. “You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

    BISHOPS NOT REQUIRED TO INFORM POLICE . . the cardinal said relations between bishops and priests were not simply professional but had “very special links of spiritual paternity.” Bishops therefore had no obligation to testify against “a direct relative,” he stated.

  12. Ed Carroll says:
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    Just a question to any current Catholics:

    Are you sure the abuse is over? How do you know? What has the church done to convince you it’s over?