Breaking down the priest sex abuse crisis


I’m kind of tired of hearing about priests who abuse children.  Not that it shouldn’t be reported and investigated and dealt with.  Not at all.

Any priest or clergy member should be dealt with.  They had power over the children they abused and the abused the power and the child.  Am I clear on that?

It is also easy to marginalize the problem when you resort to statistics, but this is the only way we can appreciate the magnitude and scope of the issue.  Just like unemployment statistics, or any statistics, the numbers don’t mean anything if you’re one of the victims.  If your unemployed, you’re 100% unemployed, even if the statistics say that unemployment is 10%.  So that said, this is not to undermine or marginalize the victims.  They should be helped, and their abusers dealt with.

I’m also not going to talk about how they’re dealt with.  Some think that the state would be harsher on the abusers than the institution of the Catholic Church would be.  These very same people also cite the cruelty of the Inquisition and the Crusades as marks against the Catholic Church.  However, I’ve seen some movies that seem to indicate that life inside a monastery is no cakewalk, and that a priest confined to a monastery with no faculties to perform would be in as bad or worse straits as a criminal in the penal system.  The prisoner would probably die in prison as opposed to a monastery, but I believe personally that monastic life for those not suited to it would be harsher than prison.

Anyway, on to statistics…

A research study was conducted  in 2002 by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, paid for by the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), covering 98% of all diocesan priests, 80% of religious priest, and 60% of religious communities.

The mandate for the study was to:

1. Examine the number and nature of allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18 by Catholic priests between 1950 and 2002.

2. Collect information about the alleged abusers, including official status in the church, age, number of victims, responses by the church and legal authorities to the allegations of abuse, and other characteristics of the alleged abusers.

3. Collect information about the characteristics of the alleged victims, the nature of their relationship to the alleged abusers, the nature of the abuse, and the time frame within which the allegations are reported.

4. Accumulate information about the financial impact of the abuse on the Church.

Three surveys were conducted, one to profile each diocese, to collect physical stats on the diocese, total allegations against it, and total expenditures occasioned by allegations of abuse; a survey of church records relating to individual priests against whom allegations of abuse had been made, and a survey of church records relating to the alleged victims and the nature of said abuse.

The surveys covered the period of time between 1950 and 2002.  During this time period, there were 109,694 (estimated) priests.  4,392 individual priests had allegations of sexual abuse, resulting in a percentage of incidences of about 4%.  Some regions were slightly higher than others.

The total number of allegations in the 52 years represented by the study were 10,667. 17% of victims stated that their siblings had also been abused.  This scopes out to about 240 cases per year across the US, but ranged from 50 at the beginning of this timeperiod to a high of about 775 in 1979, dropping again to below 50 in 2002.

The majority of priests (56%) were alleged to have abused one victim, nearly 27% were alleged to have abused two or three victims, nearly 14% were alleged to have abused four to nine victims and 3.4% were alleged to have abused more than ten victims. The 149 priests (3.5%) who had more than ten allegations of abuse were allegedly responsible for abusing 2,960 victims, thus accounting for 26% of allegations. Therefore, a very small percentage of accused priests are responsible for a substantial percentage of the allegations.

71% were under age 14, with most of those being between 11 and 14. 81% were male.

Let’s compare this to secular society. (My thanks to Phil Vaz’s website for these…

  • The American Medical Association found in 1986 that one in four girls, and one in eight boys, are sexually abused in or out of school before the age of 18. Two years later, a study included in The Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children, reported that one in four girls, and one in six boys, is sexually abused by age 18. (source: Michael Dobie, “Violation of Trust,” Newsday, June 9, 2002, p. C25). That’s literally millions of cases of abuse.
  • It was reported in 1991 that 17.7 percent of males who graduated from high school, and 82.2 percent of females, reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their years in school. Fully 13.5 percent said they had sexual intercourse with their teacher. (source: Daniel Wishnietsky, “Reported and Unreported Teacher-Student Sexual Harassment,” Journal of Ed Research, Vol 3, 1991, pages 164-69)
  • In New York City alone, at least one child is sexually abused by a school employee every day. One study concluded that more than 60 percent of employees accused of sexual abuse in the New York City schools were transferred to desk jobs at district offices located inside the schools. Most of these teachers are tenured and 40 percent of those transferred are repeat offenders. They call it “passing the garbage” in the schools. One reason why this exists is due to efforts by the United Federation of Teachers to protect teachers at the expense of children. (source: Douglas Montero, “Secret Shame of Our Schools: Sexual Abuse of Students Runs Rampant,” New York Post, July 30, 2001, p. 1). Another is the fact that teachers accused of sexual misconduct cannot be fired under New York State law. (source: “Schools Chancellor: Four Teachers Barred from Classroom,” Associated Press, June 12, 2003).
  • One of the nation’s foremost authorities on the subject of the sexual abuse of minors in public schools is Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft. In 1994, Shakeshaft and Audrey Cohan did a study of 225 cases of educator sexual abuse in New York City. All of the accused admitted sexual abuse of a student, but none of the abusers was reported to the authorities, and only 1 percent lost their license to teach. Only 35 percent suffered negative consequences of any kind, and 39 percent chose to leave their school district, most with positive recommendations. Some were even given an early retirement package. (source: Charol Shakeshaft and Audrey Cohan, In loco parentis: Sexual abuse of students in schools, What administrators should know. Report to the U.S. Department of Education, Field Initiated Grants).
  • Moving molesting teachers from school district to school district is a common phenomenon. In only 1 percent of the cases do superintendents notify the new school district. (ibid) According to Diana Jean Schemo, the term “passing the trash” is the preferred jargon among educators. (Diana Jean Schemo, “Silently Shifting Teachers in Sex Abuse Cases,” New York Times, June 18, 2002, p. A19)
  • Shakeshaft has also determined that 15 percent of all students have experienced some kind of sexual misconduct by a teacher between kindergarten and 12th grade; the behaviors range from touching to forced penetration. (source: Elizabeth Cohen, “Sex Abuse of Students Common; Research Suggests 15% of All Children Harassed,” Press & Sun-Bulletin, February 10, 2002, p. 1A). She and Cohan also found that up to 5 percent of teachers sexually abuse children. (source: Berta Delgado and Sarah Talalay, “Sex Cases Increase in Schools; Many Acts of Teacher Misconduct Not Being Reported,” Sun-Sentinel, June 4, 1995, p. 1A).

What to take from all of this?  I’m certainly not saying that child abuse is ok or acceptible.  I’m also not saying that child abusers shouldn’t be removed from their position of authority and investigated.  What I am saying, though, is that the gun does not just smoke for the institution of the Catholic Church.

The point is that, amidst high incidences of child abuse in other institutions, the Catholic Church as an institution is doing it’s part to protect children.  And that the reports coming out in the media today do not reflect the Catholic Church of today.

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