Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kresta Commentary: Why 64% of Americans Believe Catholic Priests are Perverts

The Catholic Church and Sexual Abuse: Part One: Why 64% of Americans Believe Catholic Priests are Perverts.

April 20, 2010
Al Kresta

A new round of reporting on Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Europe has generated a new climate of revulsion toward the Catholic Church. In spite of, I suppose some would say, because of, all the media attention, however, the public has a grossly distorted picture of clergy sexual misconduct. No one denies that great evil has been done by the likes of John Geoghan, Paul Shanley, John Birmingham, and Marciel Maciel Dellgado and a thousand others. Not to mention the shocking neglect of authorities like now Bishop John B. McCormack and Cardinal Law.

The Dallas Morning News claimed that two thirds of sitting U.S. bishops were alleged in 2002 to have kept accused priests in ministry or moved accused priests to new assignments. [The article is presently under critical review by bishopsaccountability.org.] However, of the 109 bishops identified in the Dallas Morning News survey, only 39 are still managing the same diocese. Of the others, eleven have retired or resigned. That means nearly two-thirds have been moved. Seven U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy and others are in financial crisis. Nevertheless, the evil is not as widespread, as current, or as threatening as imagined in a 2002 Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll which found that 64 percent of those queried thought Catholic priests "frequently'' abused children.

First of all, hardly anyone seems to have noticed that clerical sexual abuse is not growing in the Catholic Church. The sheer volume of press reports mislead us into thinking that the scandal is widening while the reality is that it has been shrinking for a quarter of a century.

I just went to my homepage. There I read a headline: "Catholic priest arrested in molestation case". I'm ready to run to the parish, protect my child, and reduce the bodily integrity of the perpetrator. But I'd win no thanks for vigilante justice because I'm thirty years too late. Yes, the crime and the headline are all too terrible and typical. Here's the lead: "A retired Roman Catholic priest has been charged with first-degree sex offense and crime against nature after allegations were made that he sexually assaulted a boy from his Kingsport parish more than 30 years ago."

Old cases still make sensational headlines. E.g., "Norway's Catholic Church Reveals New Abuse Cases" But Norway doesn't have new cases. The church disclosed 4 old cases that had previously been overlooked. Two from the 1950s; one from the 1980s and another which remains based on rumors. What was new was that the press finally learned of these cases at all.

Delayed reporting by the victims has compounded this lag time between the criminal acts and the public awareness. Indeed, some bishops ignored accusations and failed to report them in a timely manner, no doubt fearing lawsuits and scandal. They neglected the pastoral care of victims and the public's right to know the danger represented by certain priests.

But delayed media reporting wasn't generally due to episcopal foot-dragging. The victims, themselves, postponed reporting their abuse! Less than thirteen percent of victims abused between 1960 and 1980, for example, lodged a complaint in the same year as the assault. Two thirds filed their complaints after 1992, and half of those were made between 2002 and 2003 alone! This means that the media has been covering old news and, understandably but unfortunately, creating a climate of suspicion years after the abuse had been perpetrated. Thanks to reforms instituted by the USCCB, the Catholic Church in America today is the safest private or public institution for children.

This is beyond dispute. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice has shown repeatedly that the vast majority of the abuse cases took place from the mid-60s to the mid-80s. And the reports over the last five years show a rapid decline. The latest report, covering 2008-2009, shows exactly six credible allegations.

How many Catholic clergy serve in the United States? Forty thousand priests, twenty one thousand permanent deacons and religious brothers and tens of thousands of other Catholic Church workers. Amidst all these eighty or ninety thousand American clergy and lay workers only six credible allegations were lodged in 2008-2009. Once again, note the historical flow. The known number of cases increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s, declined in the 1980s and by the 1990s had returned to the levels of the 1950s. One case of abuse is one too many and worth a millstone or worse but it is time to say that the American clerical sex abuse crisis is over.

So why don't people know this? Last month the USCCB posted the new figures on its website but the press had caught the scent of sin and crime in Europe. Old wounds got re-opened and, it is a general rule of journalism that bad news always displaces good news. Further, how many people bother to plod through the tedium of a sociologist's analysis?

By the way, how many priests have engaged in sexual misconduct with minors? The John Jay College of Criminal Justice estimated that about 4% of priests were involved-- about the same as in other institutions although no other institution has been so rigorously studied or has such kept such thorough records over generations. An article in the Journal of Pastoral Psychology by Thomas Plante and Courtney Daniels doesn't see any greater problem among Catholic clergy. Newsweek quotes Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: "We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else," Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi in September 2009 stated on behalf of the Holy See: "We know now that in the last 50 years somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the Catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases." There are other surveys and studies with similar conclusions: See here and here.

According to a recent Newsweek article, "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."

Catholic activist scholar Leon Podles, author of Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church places the figure at 7-10% on the grounds that most abuse goes unreported and thus many priest-perpetrators go undiscovered. Perhaps, but this reporting flaw would apply to all institutions. Abuse would be under-reported everywhere. We also know that some priests were more profligate than others.. Overall, the John Jay study found that 149 priests were responsible for more than 2,900 cases of abuse over the 52-year period studied. Roughly, three percent of the accused were responsible for about 36% of the accusations.

Another misconception: Strictly speaking there are almost no pedophile priests. Only 1% of the cases involve pre-pubescent children. The majority of cases involve adults engaging in criminal sexual contact with adolescent boys. This is more accurately described as either hebephilia (younger adolescents) or ephebophilia (older adolescents). Criminal and immoral behavior yes but pederasty doesn't carry quite the disgust associated with pedophilia.

Second, priest sex abuse is treated not as an individual but as an institutional problem. For instance, CBS News.com reported: "The FBI says it expects to arrest at least fifty more people by week's end as it busts up an Internet child-pornography ring that allegedly included two Catholic priests, six other members of the clergy, a school bus driver, and at least one police officer." I am not interested in bringing discredit on Presbyterians or Baptists or Lutherans but why among the eight clergy only Catholic priests are identified by their ecclesiastical affiliation?

The same day that the Associated Press reported that the archbishop of Santiago, Chile had launched an investigation of a few cases of priestly sexual abuse, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights tipped the AP off about other cases of sexual abuse. For instance,
• A Milford, Connecticut teacher's aide pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting a high school student
• A Brookville High School teacher in Pennsylvania was charged with aggravated indecent assault, indecent exposure, corruption of minor, possession of obscene material, sexual abuse of children, and unlawful conduct with minors.
• A middle school gym teacher in Athens , New Your was arrested on charges of sex abuse and forcible touching
• A Morrisville-Easton Central School District teacher outside Utica, New York Was arrested for forcibly touching a girl over a three year period, beginning at the age of 11, and for endangering her welfare.....
• A former Teacher of the Year in Bullitt County, Kentucky was indicted by a grand jury on sexual abuse charges.
• A teacher at Olin High School in Iowa was charged with sexually exploiting a freshman. This same teacher faced similar charges two years ago when he taught in another school, and was simply moved from one school district to another.

The AP choose only to cover the archdiocese of Santiago because it fit the hot storyline of a corrupt institution getting its comeuppance while all the teacher examples are simply individual teachers bound together by their jobs and perversions but not embedded in a large, universal, mysterious institution that by refusing to ordain women, relax celibacy and applaud homosexuality defies the flow of modern life. The Catholic church is "other" to most Americans; public school teachers, on the other hand, are familiar and friendly to all of us.

Still, we can't take much pride that the church's personnel appear no worse than boy scout leaders or public school teachers. Shouldn't we expect more? Shouldn't the Catholic Church be held to a higher standard? Yes, certainly, by the faithful who believe but not by the press which doesn't. I don't expect the New York Times and the Associated Press to do apologetics for the Catholic Church. I do expect them to compare institutions and to evenhandedly handle the data. A reporter may not like the Church's teaching on artificial contraception but that doesn't give him a license to spawn misconceptions and distort the truth. Heaping inaccuracy upon the flames of moral indignation only sears the conscience of all involved.

Coming Later This Week
The Catholic Church and Sex Abuse: Part II - The Vatican, Public Relations, and Sheer Incompetence


  1. I am glad that you posted this commentary. I heard the interview couple weeks ago with Leon Podels on Kresta in the Afternoon. I was upset after that interview. 2/3 of bishops pushed bad priests to new diocease and 7-10 percent of priests were guilty of scandel. To now know that those stats may be exagerated, is good news. 1 priest is to many, but that it's not as bad as some would like us to believe is good. I am ashamed to say I passed on some of those things I heard in the interview to a fellow Catholic friend when we were talking a few days after the interview. I'll make sure to pass this along and not be so quick to pass on information in the future.

  2. Stereotyping is wrong.... unless, in the mind's of some, it is a priest being stereotyped as a pervert because of what some other priests did.

    I went to high school in the 70's. Back in those days, I can recall at least 2 teachers were rumored to be having sex with students, and a third ended up dumping his wife and marrying a senior after she graduated (just about a 15 year difference in age).

    There's a story in the local news now about a teacher who was having sex with a young student.

    People aren't exactly pulling their children away from teachers in the grocery store, or forbidding them to play sports, or go on canoe trips with the school.

    But, those same people will say that they don't want their kid to be an altar server because he might get molested.

    Statistically, sexual abuse at the hands of teachers, coaches and school administrators is far greater than abuse by priests.

    I'll bet a number of those perverts are married, which goes to show - marriage is not a cure for disordered tendencies of adults who prey on children.

  3. Al, I have not heard anyone comment on the spiritual component associated with the power of the priesthood in which one holy priest can convert a whole community and, conversely, one sinful priest can harm a whole community. When we compare the priesthood with the secular we are not considering the spiritual influence of the sacrament of the priesthood. It is much more influential than any secular or lay person's personal power.
    JPII talked about this aspect with the Communion of Saints and the law of ascent and the communion of sin with the law of descent.

  4. Dear Ron,
    The ripple effect of the ordained for good or ill is significant. Tracing or charting or measuring spiritual influence is a tricky thing. That what you say is true, I don't doubt. Exactly how to demonstrate it, that's another problem.

  5. Al, I think we begin with a discussion about this and bring those who have knowledge and experience in this area for this discussion. I remember Elisha raising someone from the dead and then calling on shewolves or something like that to kill 40 young men who were making fun of his bald head.
    I believe the huge attack against the church is based on the spiritual harm that has been done and those who have never believed in the church before are even more harmed by this spiritual darkness as it moves them further away from hope for love.

  6. Excellent, informative article which should be given even wider readership. Well done.

  7. I don't know about the 7-10% vs. 1-4% of abusive priests.

    However, the 2/3 of Bishops as reported in the Jay study is pretty well substantiated. That they've been "moved" means..what? Anything? Herring anyone?

    Now, let's take a moment to recall all the times we've heard even one American Bishop admit that the scandal was NOT about abusive priests, but was rather about the vast majority of Bishops who were willing to sacrifice your children as long as they didn't have to display any moral courage whatsoever. There, that didn't take any time at all, now did it?

  8. I would like to see some digging by Al and team on the Lavender Mafia. A term kept somewhat secret. As one who was abused from 6- 8 years of age (not by a priest though) this issue is near and dear to me and I understand the affects well, at least I think most of them. This does not seem to be pedophilia in the Church but...okay, here it comes, get ready, a gay crisis in the church. The abuse cases, as stated, are on post-pubescent. That's teens. Just because in our American culture we consider teens, based on American law, sex abuse, does not necessarily mean it is. Looking back through salvation history, it was normative to see young men and women marrying and living in sacramental relationships. These scandals were/ are older men preying on younger men. Let me rephrase, older gay men, praying on younger, fragile, yet-to-be formed men who look to these older men in positions of power, as shepherds, that we depend on to guide us. That, unfortunately, because of a lack of male role models and fatherhood, we almost put god-like status on priests and older men that show interest and affection toward us and then they lead us astray and we are too weak and malformed to see and run away. And then scream from the mountains what this person tried to do. This lavender mafia and all the terms and consorted efforts to infiltrate our seminaries has worked. It was brilliant and it was no accident vocations dropped. The crisis can be solved by a return to being fully and truly Roman Catholic. A return to obedience to Mother Church. From the little things such as following the simple rubrics at mass, that are not followed, to the greater things of chastity and proper use of the sacraments. So, look up Lavender Mafia and Al, as a 3-5 hour a week listener to your show, I greatly appreciate what you are doing. Your shows often help with my formation, as I work on a masters in Theology. So how about it, some research and a few guests on the lavender mafia that have some insight into what is going on in our seminaries. They seem to be cleaning up now, but I think, in order to defeat our enemy, we must know and understand his strategies. Anthony from Ohio.

  9. NinoV correctly analyses the cause of the fall. We do not give importance to daily family prayer, sunday Mass, frequent confessions, attending good sermons especially by charismatic preachers, daily reading of the Bible etc When these things are not given importance our children grow in dangerous secular thoughts and ideas. Some of them may land in seminaries and if they do not get correct formation, they will prove a liability to the Church So let us be catholic daily faithful and attached to Jesus Only good families can change the people

  10. The Roman Rite, among the 23 rites of the universal Catholic church, is the only one that insists on the unnatural, unscriptural requirement of priestly celibacy. As a result, its priesthood is attractive only to homosexuals, and now it reaps the consequences.