Apologetics by Bob Sullivan
What do you say when you are talking about faith and someone uses the clergy sex abuse crisis to criticize the Catholic Church? They might say, “Why would I listen to a bunch of pedophile priests?”
Given the news coming out of politics and our entertainment industry lately, this type of disparagement (as hypocritical as it might be) may become even more common.
As Catholics, we need to admit to this scandal, offer our love, compassion, and prayers to the victims, and remain diligent with regard to the protection of youth. But we cannot stop there. As difficult as this issue is, people need to know what did and what did not happen in the past.
Due to the sex abuse scandal in the American Catholic Church, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops commissioned two studies from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (a non-Catholic school). I’ll refer to findings from the John Jay studies as well as other sources (as noted) to give you some important facts you should know in order to keep discussions honest and productive.
1. The John Jay studies focused on allegations made between 1950 and 1992. For that time period, researchers reported that about 4% of the 110,000 priests active during those years had been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. In other words, complaints were made against nearly 4,400 priests regarding incidents that took place over the course of 42 years (Pat Wingert, “Priests Commit No More Abuse Than Other Males,” Newsweek, April 7, 2010).
> 96% of priests (more than 105,000) during this 42-year timeframe had no allegations against them.
2. There is a legal, psychological, and logical difference between pedophilia (attraction to pre-pubescent children) and the sexual abuse of older minors that has been recognized for centuries in Western civilization. It is reasonable to continue to make that distinction when discussing this issue.
> Of all the priests in the 42-year time-frame, 1 in every 2,000 priests (.05%) of the incidents involved pedophilia, which means the other 3.95% of the allegations did not involve pedophilia.
> Experts estimate that somewhere between 1% to 4% (10 per 1,000 to 40 per 1,000) of American males are pedophiles.
> While the rate of pedophilia in America has not decreased, within the priesthood, there are now fewer than 6 in every 100,000 who are classified as pedophiles (.0056%).
3. The frequency of sexual abuse in the United States has not been thoroughly studied by researchers. Therefore, the best we can do is to refer to estimates provided by experts and those who work with victims:
> Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says 10% of American males are sex abusers. This estimate includes all forms of sexual abuse from pedophilia to the abuse of post-pubescent youth to the abuse of adults and elderly.
> Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says her review of the numbers indicates nearly 20% of American males are sexual abusers. Again, this is estimate regarding all sex abuse, not specifically pedophiles or those who abuse older minors.
> Dr. John Bradford, an expert on pedophilia, estimates that approximately 4% of the population (males and females) may be pedophiles. (John Cloud, “Pedophilia,” Time, April 29, 2002).
> Philip Jenkins, author of “Pedophiles and Priests,” stated, “The most-quoted survey of sexual problems among Protestant clergy states that some 10% percent are involved in sexual misconduct of some kind, and that about 2-3% are pedophiles.
4. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. By 2002, each diocese within the United States had already begun implementing measures and programs to ensure the best possible protection for youth and young people, and this has continued since. Today, the vast majority of U.S. dioceses are in compliance with these measures.
5. Since 1980, reports of sexual abuse by priests in the United States has declined significantly due to the measures implemented in each diocese, and most of the new reports are related to incidents which happened prior to 1980.
> 80% of all sex abuse allegations relate to incidents that took place prior to 1980.
> 94% of all sex abuse allegations relate to incidents that took place prior to 1990.
6. According to the Annual Report on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, in 2016, there were 35,815 active U.S. priests and two new substantiated cases of abuse of minors, resulting in 0.0056% of priests who committed abuse in 2016. The Annual Report also shows that the Church is averaging fewer than five new reports of sexual abuse of minors being reported within the American Catholic Church each year.
The takeaway is this: there was a serious problem in the American Catholic Church which caused significant damage to individual victims, as well as to the Church itself. This problem was perpetrated by about 4% of priests and deacons. There are many reasons why this problem was overlooked, not the least of which is because the problem was worse in society at-large. But once the Church responded, the occurrence of abuse of minors by officials within the Catholic Church was nearly eliminated. Unfortunately, the abuse of minors remains a serious problem in society at-large, with serious problems of sex-trafficking, including pedophile rings, which are largely ignored by the media and entertainment industries.
We all want children to be protected, but because we are all human, there will always be the risk of harm. The reality is that children are less likely to be harmed in a Catholic Church or Catholic School than any other large institution in the United States. The numbers prove it.