Tuesday, February 11, 2014
The Facts About the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church Part I
As the sexual abuse scandal in the clergy of the Catholic Church came to light in the late 1980s, both Catholics and non-Catholics were shocked and horrified. How could men who had taken vows of obedience and chastity take advantage of young people who trusted them? How could anyone do such terrible things to innocent children and young teens, things that would haunt them forever and change their lives? The sex abuse scandals have done more damage to the children, their families, the priesthood and the Church than one can ever imagine. Those who abused children or tried to cover it up will have much to answer to God.
Many articles and books have been written about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Some articles are balanced and informed and yet there are blatantly false and misleading reports which continue to circulate as well. The UN report (February, 2014) damning the Church for inaction and ignoring the positive action that has been taken by the Church seems to have been written with extreme hatred of the Catholic Church. This blog-article will examine some of the official reports and studies that have been done and their findings. Of course, it is impossible to look at all studies but hopefully a wide range of ideas can be presented here and the truth can be investigated fairly.
Was the Abuse Pedophilia?
Pedophilia is defined as ‘a sustained interest in prepubescent children (before the age of puberty)’ but not all pedophiles act on their fantasies and not all child molesters are pedophiles. (The Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders). Most priests who were found guilty of sexual abuse were attracted to post-pubescent boys between the ages of 13 and 17 and so are technically not pedophiles. It is a moot point whether a boy who has been abused is seven or fourteen - he is still a minor and the abuser is still a criminal. (Friscolanti).
The majority of priests who abused children were actually self-declared homosexuals and were in a homosexual relationship at the time. This does not mean that all homosexuals are abusers of minors and there has been no evidence that this is the case. Both gay and straight people are disgusted at the thought of child abuse. (Coren, p. 18,19). One study says that in 3,000 cases of abuse reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 60% involved homosexual activity. (Lifesite news) Coren suggests that priests guilty of abuse “... either used the priesthood as a cover for their sexual desires or gave in to temptations at some point during or after their time at the seminary.” (Coren, p. 19)
Friscolanti writes in a MacLean’s Magazine article that between 30-50% of priests are homosexuals, depending on the study. At that time,the Catholic Church did not stipulate that homosexuals could not be priests. They took a vow of celibacy just as heterosexual priests did and so their sexual orientation was not relevant. In recent years, however, because of the scandals, there has been a change using more caution when accepting known homosexuals for candidates as priests. Because of this change the Church is now criticized and called ‘homophobic’ so it seems no matter what the Church does it cannot win!
Celibacy (i.e. priests must not marry) is often blamed for the sex abuse by Catholic clergy. Is this the source of the problem and should the Church change its ‘ruling’ on married priests? There are some who think so. Others say that since the majority of the offenders in these cases were homosexuals these men would not marry in any case (at the time homosexual marriage was not legal in most countries). It is interesting that The Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders
reports that “about 50% of men arrested for pedophilia are married”.
When and Where Did the Abuse Happen?
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, to study the sexual abuse of minors by their clergy. Karen Terry, John Jay’s principal investigator for this report, said that there was an increase in incidence of sexual abuse until the late 1970s and a sharp decline by 1985. The increased abuse in the 1960s and 1970s is consistent with increased deviance in society in general. An Australian priest, John Denham, was defrocked by Pope Benedict in 2011 but his abuse of boys occurred between 1968 and 1986. In Ireland abuse cases have surfaced that occurred from 1975 to 2004. In Italy a number of deaf men, from the Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf in Verona, have come forward reporting abuse when they were children during the 1950s and 1980s. In Germany abuse was reported that occurred in the 1970s to as late as 1987 and in Belgium both boys and girls reported abuse which occurred as late as 1983. In Canada there were reports of abuse in the 1960s and at the Mount Cashel Orphanage as early as 1974. A few cases are still coming to light but most of these are from the years before 1990.
Is Abuse More Prevalent in the Catholic Church?
In 1996, Sheldon Kennedy came forward with a complaint that he had suffered sexual abuse from his hockey coach, Graham James, between 1984 and 1995. Later Theo Fleury, retired NHL player, alleged that he, too, had been molested by James while in Junior Hockey. Other victims came forward and eventually (after a pardon!) James was finally sentenced to a mere two years in prison and put on a national (Canadian) sex offender registry with a lifetime ban on volunteering in a position of trust to children.
In 2011, a Penn State football coach for 32 years, Jerry Sandusky, was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse of players that he coached. Sandusky was married at the time and had five adopted children.
Carol Shakeshaft, a Hofstra University scholar who prepared a report on abuse cases in the American Educational system, compared priest abuse data collected in a national survey for the American Association of University Women Education Foundation in the year 2000 with data in the public schools. From the figures she estimated that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a school employee from a single decade (1991-2000). The figures led her to say “... the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests”. A draft report by the US Department of Education in 2002, found that between 6% and 10% of public school children in the US have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees and teachers. (Dougherty, Jon, 2004)
Cases of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America and The Boy Scouts of Canada have been uncovered (The Fifth Estate, CBC, October, 2011). Although Richard Turley’s name was on a ‘perversion file’ the information was not passed on by the American group to the Canadian Boy Scouts and Turley was able to volunteer in the Boy Scouts in Canada even though he had been convicted of sexual abuse in California earlier.
In Haiti, Cambodia, West Africa and Kosovo between 2007 and 2010 alone, 75 UN peacekeepers were disciplined for sexual misconduct, but “... it is estimated that the problem is enormous and the action taken trivial.” (Coren, p. 23)
A 1984 a survey done in Protestant churches in the US showed that 38.6% of ministers reported some type of sexual contact with a member of the church (not necessarily with minors and not necessarily without mutual consent). Fuller Seminary, a respected Evangelical seminary in California, conducted a survey and concluded that 20% of ‘conservative’ pastors and 50% of ‘liberal’ church ministers admitted to a sexual relationship outside of marriage with a member of the church. Professor Philip Jenkins, a professor of the History and Religious Studies at Baylor University, estimates that between 2 and 3% of Protestant clergy have abused minors, but he puts the figure for Catholic priests at less than 2%. Jenkins is a former Catholic and now an Anglican and is ‘far from being a Roman Catholic apologist’ (Coren, p. 13). In 2002, the Christian Science Monitor, also not a supporter of the Catholic Church, reported that “...despite headlines focusing on the priest pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church, most American churches being hit with child sexual abuse allegations are Protestant, and most of the alleged abusers are not clergy or staff but church volunteers.” (Clayton, Mark. Christian Science Monitor, April, 2002).
Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Bunson, in their book, Pope Benedict XVI and the Sex Abuse Crisis’ consulted the Insurance Journals of the companies that insure Protestant Churches and discovered that there were more reports of sex abuse per year than there were in the Catholic Church (Lev, E.)
Rabbi Arthur Gross Schafer, professor of law and ethics at Loyola Marymount University, believes that sexual abuse among rabbis in organized Judaism is roughly the same as that within Protestant Churches. (quoted in Coren, p. 14). Cases of abuse by Buddhist priests surfaced in Thailand in early 2000. There is no data for other religions and it seems likely that children who were abused would not report the abuse or, if they did, would not be believed just as women who are rape victims are often not believed. This is much as it was early in the century in the Western world.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice study (commissioned by American bishops) reported that between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 priests and deacons in the US (4%) were accused of child sexual abuse. There were a total of 10,667 victims and the allegations ranged from touching over clothing (52.6%) to penetration (22.4%). Friscolanti concludes that as horrifying as this may be it ‘does offer compelling proof that priests, on average, don’t seem to be any more dangerous than the people sitting in their pews’ (Friscolanti). He continues, “‘according to most reliable figures, 13% of men and 40% of women say they were sexually abused as children. The huge majority of those crimes occur inside the home - and the culprit is usually a relative, not the local priest.” (Friscolanti) Thomas Plante, PhD, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University in California, says “We don’t know what the prevalence rate is for the general population, but it has to be at least double what it is for priests.” (Thomas G. Plante quoted by Friscolanti).
The Washington Post (not an ally of the Catholic Church) wrote that since 1965 less than 1.5% of the more than 60,000 priests working in the United States have ever been accused of any form of sexual abuse and The New York Times estimates that 1.8% of priests ordained between 1950 and 2001 have faced any abuse charges. (Coren, p.15). Note that this does not say ‘convicted’ and that some clergy have been accused of sexual crimes but were not found guilty. Coren goes on to say that it is undoubtedly true that some abusers have never been discovered and that some abuse has never been reported. (Coren, p. 17). Still one feels that an institution like the Catholic Church that claims to stand for moral integrity should have less abusers amongst its clergy than it does. However, in 2011 Michael Coren could write, “Today the Catholic Church is probably the safest place for a young boy or girl because of what the Church has done to make it so.” (Coren, p. 13).
What was the response of the Church and the bishops? Did the Church apologize? And what changes have been made to protect children? These questions will be examined in the next article to come (Part II).
Clayton, Mark. Sex Abuse Spans Spectrum of Churches. Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002
Coren, Michael. Why Catholics Are Right. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart Ltd. 2011.
Dougherty, Jon. E. Sex Abuse By Teachers Said Worse Than Catholic Church. Newsmax. http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2004/4/5/01552.shtml April 5, 2004.
Friscolanti, Michael. The Truth About Priests. MacLean’s Magazine. December, 2009.
Lev, Elizabeth. Abuse Facts- A Review of ‘Pope Benedict XVI and the Sex Abuse Crisis’ by Erlandson, G and Matthew Bunson. Zenit.org Sept 9, 2010.
Lifesite News Website. http://www.lifsitenews.com/news/archive//1dn/2010/mar/10033011
The Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders. Pedophilia. Mind Disorders website http://www.minddisorders.com