Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Catholic Sex Abuse: Blunt Q & A

Catholic Sex Abuse: Blunt Q & A

Blunt Question 1: Why do we keep hearing about so much sex abuse in the Catholic Church?

Blunt Answer 1: Because the Catholic Church is the most hated entity that has ever existed.

Blunt Answer 2: Because, as the visible body of Christ on Earth, founded by Jesus himself, the Church is and ought to be held to a higher standard.

Blunt Question 2: Doesn’t all this show that the Catholic priesthood is a refuge for pedophiles?

Blunt Answer 3: No. The rates of abuse are at or below the average for relevant contrast classes, based on current information.

Blunt Question 3: But then why don’t we hear about sex abuse in other groups like the Scouts, public schools, Protestant clergy, etc.?

Blunt Answer 4: Because none of these entities is hated to nearly the same degree as is the Catholic Church, the most hated entity that has ever existed.

Blunt Answer 5: Because none of these other organizations has anything like the number of adherents, broad geographical distribution, or detailed record keeping as the Catholic Church. [For example, Western Europe is going to have many more Catholics than the US, so we must expect similar figures there, whereas there are relatively few--to say the least--Baptists or Rabbis.]

Blunt Answer 6: Because none of these other organizations have voluntarily and at their own expense paid investigatory bodies to conduct massive investigations of themselves for the sake of accountability.

Below, I’ll give some relevant information gleaned from the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice report (available on their website here or the US Council of Catholic Bishops’ website here).

Top 10 Points of Interest from the Study, mostly gleaned from the Executive Summary

1. The study ranged over the period from 1950-2002, that’s 52 years, over half a century.

2. It covered 195 dioceses and there territories across the country, and 142 religious communities. (For example, my home state of Missouri would have the following deoceses: Saint Louis, Jefferson City, Kansas-City/Saint Joseph, Springfield-Cape. Smaller towns surrounding these cities are in their diocese. For example, the small town where I began high school, Savannah, MO is in the diocese of KC/St. Jo. So we are talking about a network that covers the country, coast to coast.)

3. There are currently about 80,000,000 (eighty million) Catholics in the US. How many there have been in the US over the last 50 years I don’t know, but it is surely over 100,000,000 (a hundred million people). This *dwarfs* the size of other bodies where the same kind of conditions that led to the crises occur.

4. There were 4,392 credible allegations in the more than half-century. This is not the number which proved to be actual cases of abuse. We don’t have that number. It is only the number of credible alegations. And the allegations ranged from “sexual talk” to rape.

5. That comes to about .43 (less than half) credible allegations per year per diocese. And recall, one state might be divided into only a few dioceses. Per my example above, the State of Missouri, which has about 6 million people, is divided up into only four dioceses. So that’s 1.6 million people per diocese. (Of course not everyone in the diocese is actually a formal member of the Church. In my home diocese of Kansas City/St. Jo, actual membership is about 10%, which is typical in the state, so they have about 150,000 registered Catholics.)

6. 25% of allegations were made more that 30 years after the alleged incident.

7. The decade of the 70’s was the major spike in allegations. It declined rapidly in the 80’s and 90’s and very few allegations occur today even in the presence of constant reporting.

8. The majority of the accused were ordained before John Paul II was even elected Pope.
They were mostly younger, associate pastors.

9. BAD APPLE SYNDROME This fact is not to be missed. 149 priests were responsible for 2,960 allegations, that’s more than 25% of the total allegations reported in the more than half century of the study!!

10. Nearly 40% of the alleged participated in treatment programs, so this was not going completely ignored as is often reported.

Now ask yourself, in all the constant reporting of the subject, how many of these facts have been mentioned...

This is especially egregious in light of a Wall Street Journal-NBC news poll in which 64% of respondents reported believing that priests commit acts of abuse "frequently"!

UPDATE: The USCCB 2009 annual report (here, reproted by Newsweek here) contains allegations of six (6) incidences of sexual misconduct toward people under 18.

One thing all child abuse stat orgs agree upon: Abusers are most likely to be a family member or close family friend (not including priest).

Further ReadingThis report is by the Catholic League, which is roughly the Catholic equivalent to the Jewish Anti-defamation league. So they are partisan, but you can read the footnotes.
It reports that the incidence of sexual misconduct allegations among Catholic clergy is well below that for non-Catholics and school teachers. Weigel is a traditional Catholic and famous biographer of Pope John Paul the Great. He is quite politically coservative and is hated very much for both these things. I’ve only met him once, for lunch, and he was very nice and extremely informed and connected. This is the Catholic side of the story, the OTHER side, the side you almost never here in the press.This is a Newsweek article written by a noted child justice journalist.
Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations.

UPDATE: My colleague Frank Beckwith sent me this article which also has a very frank assessment of media mishandling of sex abuse in America from Catholic World Report.