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.


Blogger Francis Beckwith said...

Well done, colleague

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 2:31:00 PM  
Blogger Athanasis Contra Mundum said...

Its a real shame that such a skewed and outrageous perception of our priests seems for so many people to become a reality.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 3:10:00 PM  
Blogger Keith DeRose said...

I have no horse in this race, but a seemingly quite reasonable reply to the Newsweek article is here:


Tuesday, May 25, 2010 8:58:00 AM  
Blogger Keith DeRose said...

As Jim Naureckas points out in the FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) blog, the Newsweek article by Wingert is kinda weird. (Well, those are my words for it, not Naurecnas's, but I'm following N's points.) Wingert himself points out that two-thirds of the complaints against priests have been made since 1992. But he also trumpets a study, done by John Jay College, but that "was authorized and is being paid for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops," and that covers the period of 1950-1992 -- a period that ends just before the complaints start really picking up! ("That end date is convenient," as N points out) -- as showing that priests commit no more abuse than other males.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Trent Dougherty said...

Re: Fair.org reply 1: the nature of the report

Keith, I think the Fair.org guy has misread the report, or rather the Newsweek article, since it seems he couldn’t have read the report an made the mistake.

The explosion of accusations was in the late 90’s reaching a national level of attention in 2000, leading to the commissioning of the report in 2002. From the report:

“In December 2002, Dr. Kathleen McChesney, Director of the OCYP, approached the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Gerald Lynch, Ph.D., to discuss the feasibility of the college conducting the first of the two mandated studies, as established by the Charter. The college was selected because it is a secular institution, with a national reputation in the fields of criminal justice, criminology, and forensic psychology.”

Because of the resources they were provided with by the Bishops, they were able to conduct their investigation in 2003 and release the report Feb. 27, 2004. This explains the 2003 spike. Furthermore, consider this from the report:

“The overall purpose of the study was to provide the first-ever, complete accounting, or census, of the number of priests against whom allegations of child sexual abuse were made and of the incidents alleged to have occurred between 1950 and 2002.”

So the report is *not* limited to *allegations made* between those years, but, rather, to events alleged to have *occurred* between those years, including allegations made *during* the 2003 investigation, which, unsurprisingly brought a lot of new allegations to light.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 1:19:00 PM  
Blogger Trent Dougherty said...

Re: Fair.org reply 2: John Jay bought off?

I think it was Keith himself who coined the phrase “warranted assertability maneuver” for the use of principles of conversational cooperation to explain certain odd linguistic phenomena. I’ve made a small career out of this maneuver, so it’s kind of funny to be doing something similar here.

Keith notes that the Fair.org guys notes that the study was “being paid for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.“ Why is that relevant? Who *else* is supposed to pay for it? Criminal investigators from law enforcement can follow up on specific allegations as they pertain to law, but they could never carry out this kind of study--both factually and normatively--for a variety of reasons (including that it wouldn’t be legal and they couldn't afford it).

So then mentioning it seems gratuitous. What’s the most common reason for mentioning who’s paying for something? It’s that the person is alleging that the body writing the check is getting what they pay for, i.e. buying off the other entity, paying them to lie.

The last post mentions the reasons for picking JJCJC: “because it is a secular institution, with a national reputation in the fields of criminal justice, criminology, and forensic psychology.” It is absurd to think that JJCJC could be bought off like this. It is a reckless implication as well as a groundless charge against the USCCB.

As reported above, many of the abusing priests *did* receive standard treatment for their problems. Also, and I’ll update the main text to reflect this point, people over here often didn’t realize that people over there were having the same problem. This is a major reason for mandatory reporting reform, which has been enacted. But hind sight is 20/20. In many of these cases, a Bishop’s Priest-brother either convincingly denied the accusations or convincingly represented themselves as having repented and reformed.

You must keep in mind that these people were often friends who worked closely together in ministry. Imagine one of your close co-workers being accused of something like this and either vehemently denying it or repenting in tears and vowing to change. Who among us would do under these circumstances what we would afterward wish we would have done? Not many I expect. Let him who is without sins cast the first stone?

Does this mean that the reforms now in place shouldn’t have been enacted sooner? No, there was probably a time prior to the massive explosion at which the heirarchy could have realized the need for the structural changes. However, no one saw this coming. (People who reflexivly oppose celibacy will *say* they did, but they have no data. In fact, the study didn’t so much as suggest a connection.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 1:35:00 PM  
Blogger Trent Dougherty said...

Re: Fair.org reply 3: Are they really fair?

Fair.org isn’t. It is a known far-left propaganda machine whose claim to being fair makes Fox News’s look sheepish in comparison (for the record, I never ever watch TV news, I’m an NPR addict with two apps on the front page of my iPhone).

Here’s a bit of their typical hate-speech, this one coming from a story on the election of Benedict XVI:

“For right-wing religious activists, Ratzinger has been a Godsend. And now that he’s running a church with 1.l billion members, the odds are excellent that he will proceed to gladden the hearts of misogynists, homophobes, and anti-left crusaders around the world....everything we know about Ratzinger’s extensive record during the last quarter-century tells us that he is a reactionary zealot who is determined to shove much of the world’s history of progressive social change into reverse. He is a true believer whose ideological theology accepts scant diversity and no dissent.” http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2497

Bluntly, that’s stupid, inaccurate, and unkind. But it seems to be typical of their style and competence, at least when reporting on the Catholic Church, from the stories I’ve read with references to “murderously anti-Semitic clerical fascist movements, which were often led by Catholic priests.“ (no reference given) http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1486

It’s a bit beside the point, but in replying to the Catholic League’s criticism (http://www.catholicleague.org/release.php?id=1432) they offer citations of a document where the references make it look like their citing a part of the document which proves their point, but when you actually click on the link the section doesn’t have anything like the import they say, and, the very first section seems to go against their reading (http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3366). I have no need to defend the Catholic League, but there’s no question Fair.org represents the finest tradition of tradition bashing.

Fair.org has ZERO credibility with respect to reporting on the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 2:19:00 PM  
Blogger Alexander R Pruss said...

I really like the juxtaposition of answers 1 and 2.

For me, the insurance company point (which I hadn't heard) is the most persuasive.

Thursday, May 27, 2010 8:28:00 AM  
Blogger Keith DeRose said...

Trent: I (like you, I take it) find this kind of statistical defense *very* important. If RCC priests don't engage in the kind of abuse in question more often than do those various relevant comparison groups (e.g. all (U.S.) males, clergy in other churches, etc.), that would be extremely important information--info that should be included as vital background to every media report of abuse by priests. True, it doesn't answer all the problems people have: Those very bothered by how higher-ups in the RCC handled cases of abuse (many around these parts are especially sickened by Law's handling of matters, and then the subsequent handling of Law himself) won't have that worry addressed by this. But, yes, heavy media reporting of cases of abuse give the definite impression that this is a special problem for RCC priests, and if that's just not so, or if our best information seems to indicate that that's just not so, any such reports should clearly warn viewers/listeners/readers about this. So: extremely important.

It's a bit puzzling--to me, anyway--then that more isn't made out of this in the reports of major media outlets. Even the Newsweek story, so far as I can see, was not in the magazine itself, but only some on-line add-on. I see these claims frequently made by RCC defenders (mostly on-line), but they don't seem to have been directly discussed much in the msm. There are explanations for this which would reflect *very* badly on the msm [e.g. the msm hates the RCC and is spinning things against it as much as they can], more benign explanations [there isn't really good reason to believe the comparative claims made in defense of the RCC] and in-between explanations: evaluating the comparative claims is messy, and the media is just being quite irresponsible.

Now that I've at least looked at the JJC report itself, as far as I can see [I haven't read the entire JJC report, only reading the Executive Summary and then looking at what seemed to be important parts], the '1992' part of this bit from Naureckas is just wrong:

So a study funded by the Catholic bishops found that there had been "plausible accusations" against 4 percent of priests active between 1950 and 1992.

The study goes through 2002. And that changes the situation a lot. The end date then isn't "convenient" in the sense of being chosen to give a pro-defense result: it was the time the report was commissioned: the study covered 1950 (a very reasonable, round choice for a starting date) to the (then) present.

So, I'm no expert here, but to my thinking, these would seem to be the two main issues on the question of how well this study supports various (v. important) comparative conclusions:
First, a question the answer to which is probably quite widely known (you can likely just inform me here), but that I happen not to know: Have a very heavy proportion of allegations of abuse by priests been made after this study was completed?
Second: How reliable is a study that ultimately depends on survey answers provided by the parishes (interested parties, on any account), etc.? JJC, of course, has a great deal of credibility, and are to be trusted to have used, within reason, the best methodology available to them. But how reliable is that methodology? Perhaps the investigators themselves have experience with such a method being used in previous studies, or anyway have some reasons for thinking it provides reasonably good information. Are such questions addressed somewhere in the report?

Thursday, May 27, 2010 1:49:00 PM  
Blogger Keith DeRose said...

Keith notes that the Fair.org guys notes that the study was "being paid for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops." Why is that relevant? Who *else* is supposed to pay for it?

It's almost always relevant to point out who is paying for a study, esp. when it is an interested party. This even when the study is being done by a very reputable organization--as is the case here--since the sponsor of the study is largely responsible for the mandate-exactly what is being studied. It's not just the FAIR guy, but also the Newsweek guy (whom Trent seems to like) who tell readers this--as well they should! In fact, the FAIR guy is simply following the Newsweek guy in this. Who else might be funding the study (so far as readers can tell)?: victims groups or think tanks, media outlets, or government agencies studying the issue.

And hold the presses! Regarding my previous comment. Setting the end date of the study might be a mistake, but the FAIR guy seems to be just following the Newsweek guy on this matter, too. It's the Newsweek report that says:

Limiting their study to plausible accusations made between 1950 and 1992, John Jay researchers reported that ...

And the FAIR report quotes the Newsweek piece on this, and then bases its criticism on it. What's going on?

Thursday, May 27, 2010 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger Keith DeRose said...

I too find the insurance company material very convincing.

Thursday, May 27, 2010 2:05:00 PM  
Blogger Trent Dougherty said...

Keith, I have to say that I think the explanation of the non-reporting of the report range from the very bad to the very very bad. It's not as though they're not aware of it, for there was a spate of stories citing the report as going against the thesis that homosexuality is a major cause of the abuse.

So I think it's a combination of reflexive "sounds right to me" thinking by those who have a fixed view of the Church and simple wickedness in withholding information.

The USCCB website has annual reports on post-study abuse allegations. They have continued to decline precipitously. Last year there were *six* (6) credible allegations (not aware if there were any prosecutions or verdicts).

I don't recall whether the study directly addresses meta-methodological issues in detail (that's usually reserved for X-phi and Contextualists!), but I've never heard anyone allege that the study is terribly flawed. There is so very much data that it seems unlikely to me that their numbers are far off.

I will add that I would not have been the least bit surprised if the incidence of abuse *were* higher in the priesthood during the 1975-1979 spike in instances of allegations for two reasons.

First, the sexual revolution and Vat II combined to cause a serious crisis in the priesthood at that time. I've met several priests who were virtually guaranteed in seminary that they'd soon be able to marry.

Second, all experts on child sexual abuse agree that the central feature which most correlates with abuse is *access*. They also *always* point out that the vast majority of abuse comes from within the "circle of trust". And, traditionally, who's more trusted than a priest.

The uncle, the step-dad, the gym teacher all are commonly referred to in the literature on child sexual abuse. We now understand the phenomenon better and can make structural changes--as the Church has--to combat this sad aspect of human sin. Thanks be to God for grace and forgiveness, the sacraments to convey them, and the priesthood to administer them!

Thursday, May 27, 2010 2:58:00 PM  
Blogger Keith DeRose said...

I have to say that I think the explanation of the non-reporting of the report range from the very bad to the very very bad.

I don't know. From my outsider's view, there's plenty of room to be quite suspicious of results ultimately based on surveys filled out by very interested parties, esp. when measures (rightly) taken to preserve confidentiality seem, at least on the face of it, to reduce accountability for their answers for those filling out the surveys. I don't know how I'd treat this if I were a reporter, but I can easily understand being hesitant to run with something like this.

Of course, the credibility of the institution doing the investigation helps here. Presumably they would refuse to do the investigation if they saw that the methodology they'd be using was badly unreliable.

--Which is what makes me suspect there probably are good things we can be told to make us (or at least me) feel more confident about results obtained in this way. That's something that could help me a lot. (Whether it might also inspire reporters to include these results as important background info for various stories is hard to say.)

Friday, May 28, 2010 1:40:00 PM  
Blogger Trent Dougherty said...


I don't just think the credibility of JJCJC "helps" I think it effectively puts to rest any relevant doubts. The methodology section of the report is pretty informative and it is actually debatable how interested (as opposed to disintrested not as opposed to uninterested) the respondents are. As I understand it, this is a standard kind of study and there is no reason to suspect substantial misreporting. The church kept records of this and they were warned to be completely forthcoming and cooperative with the investigation.

I have very little doubt that if I had and took the time to find out, I'd find that plenty of relevantly similar studies have been reported without reservation.

In fact, I can just see if it were on the other side some Catholic questioning a study and Big Press saying "How dare you question the professionalism and competence of JJCJC."

Everybody has an angle on everything and it doesn't stop reporting from happening. Surely it is or should be standard journalistic practice to at least report such a study as prima facie valid and then at most express reservations and let the reader decide.

To not even do that is little more than de facto censorship. The results do not fit the worldview of Big Press, so they are consigned to the shadows.

Friday, May 28, 2010 7:42:00 PM  
Blogger Francis Beckwith said...

"It's a bit puzzling--to me, anyway--then that more isn't made out of this in the reports of major media outlets. "

It's because they hate the Catholic Church. I strongly encourage you to read the well-argued, and fair-minded, book by Penn State historian, Phil Jenkins: The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (Oxford U. Press, 2003).

On a personal note, my brother, a high school principal in Virginia City, caught an Episcopalian deacon on his faculty molesting teenage boys. This "man"--William Beeson ( http://www.teachercrime.com//nevada.html )--is now in prison. For years he served as a counselor at the Nevada Episcopal Camp Galilee while he Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori (now presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church) was bishop of Nevada. In fact, here a picture of Beeson with Schori saying mass: http://homepage.mac.com/francis.beckwith/02.JPG (Beeson's to the left of Schori).

Here's my point: you never heard about this, did you? Why? Because the Episcopal Church is moving in the correct direction on matters sexual and the Catholic Church is still committed to Scripture and sacred tradition. The media and the academy like the former and hate the latter. So, the Catholic Church must be destroyed. The Episcopal Church must be coddled. It's as simple as that.

Having said that, I have no sympathy for these priestly predators. When it comes to them, I would love to bring back the Inquisition. People who hurt children are the scum of the Earth, as far as I am concerned.

Friday, May 28, 2010 9:07:00 PM  
Blogger Trent Dougherty said...

Keith, I'm just unsure what the worry is supposed to be here. Trusting credible organizations is a standard epistemic practice. I'm a fallibilist and a Bayesian, so I don't invest 100% confidence in anything. But there seems no concrete reason to doubt the study.

It can't just be that the data came from anonymous individuals, it's not like that's non-standard. It can't just be that the data came from people who had *some* kind of interest, for that's not that unusual either (think of stories reporting satisfaction with same-sex relationships, they have an interest in over-reporting, but, I take it, we typically assume that anonymity and other factors reduce that).

And I'd think that the fact that the report is easily accessible on the web at either USCCB or JJCJC where anyone can read about the study in some detail including accounts of the methodology would *increase* rational acceptability, few stories I read are such that I have such direct access to so much information about the study.

So I just don't see what premise is supposed to raise credible doubt here. And, again, the study has *prima facie* credibility and journalistic ethics require at least mentioning that it *exists*. If they want to through in some disclaimer, fine, but people don't even have a chance to *think* about it or investigate the investigation if it's just ignored by Big Press.

Saturday, May 29, 2010 2:18:00 PM  
Blogger Leila@LittleCatholicBubble said...

Thanks for this! Here is my take on it:


(I'm an "X Catholic", too.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010 3:32:00 PM  

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