Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sexual Abuse: Let there be Light

It seems as if the dark clouds of clerical sexual abuse are now gathering over Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. It is pretty horrendous for innocent clergy, there is a sense of betrayal by the perpetrators and suspicion of the brothers, there is a mistrust too of bishops by the clergy; of both bishops and clergy by the laity.

Outside the Church everyone inside it seems to be either an abuser or somehow implicated in abuse; goodwill turns to coldness or to loathing or downright hatred. For secularists or professional atheists it becomes another stick with which to beat the Church.

Those who know about such things keep saying clergy are less likely to abuse than other members of society, less than social workers, less than teachers and certainly less than other family members, especially step parents.

In New York recently there were claims of a big abuse scandal hovering just under the surface in the Jewish community. There are other claims that there is a serious problem in the Islamic community. Some Anglican dioceses in the States and places like Australia have declared bankruptcy because of abuse claims. Before the revelations from Nova Scotia in 1985 revelations of Catholic clerical sexual abuse of minors appeared very occasionally but didn’t seem to be a Catholic problem. Now it seems to be a specifically Catholic problem.

In this country abuse by people other than Catholic clergy is rarely reported unless it is particular horrendous. It could be that abuse by priests is seen to be particularly offensive because of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, or it could be that clergy abuse is far more common than other group in society. Possibly it is that abuse by others isn’t reported but that there is particular reason to concentrate on the Catholic Church’s failings.

There are those who claim celibacy either becomes a useful mask for abusers or even causes it, others claim that the discipline of celibacy makes celibates less likely to abuse. In the States there are claims that there is a direct correlation between at least the abuse of older boys and homosexual clergy. Again there is a claim that this is primarily a post-Concilliar.

At the moment some German bishops are claiming that it is a societal rather than an ecclesiastical problem. As Catholic clergy tend not to move around that often, they are always in the diocesan directory, it is perhaps easier to track of them down; abusive social workers or scout masters can just move on to another job or even out of the profession altogether and be lost in society.

In Ireland especially almost every childcare facility was run by the Church, so whilst everywhere else abuse might be spread amongst lay teachers, social workers, carers in orphanages, reformatory instructors, youth workers, scout leaders, clergy, all the dirt was laid a the Church’s door.

If the German bishops are right, presumably then their assertion is provable. Is it not time some honest Catholic statistician produced some figures? Child protection or “Safeguarding” is obviously important here and now but what damages the Church now and in the future is the appearance that it is full of abusers. Shouldn’t every Episcopal Conference be commissioning a study into the figures that are available. If the popular conception is right, that Catholic priests are more prone to sexual abuse than others, then this needs to be addressed urgently. If it is incorrect then we need evidence to contradict our detractors. What is needed is clear light not claim and counter claim.


shane said...

This Baptist-abuse victim points to the disparity in record keeping between the denominations:

....“Church records.”

That’s always the trump card for those who make this argument to me.

I point to the data gathered by the Associated Press from the companies that insure the major Protestant groups. It’s data that shows, over a 10 to 20 year period, a consistent average of 260 sex abuse reports per year involving Protestant clergy and staff. Baptists are the largest of the Protestant groups reported in that data.

This 260 per year average for Protestants “is a higher number than the annual average of 228 ‘credible accusations’ brought against Catholic clerics.”

Though this 260 to 228 comparison is far from perfect, it does raise some troubling questions. As a FOX News commentator noted: In the Catholic context, the 228 per year number “includes all ‘credible accusations,’ not just those that have involved insurance companies, and still is less than the number of Protestant cases.”

By the same token, I can’t help but wonder if the 260 per year number would be even greater if the largest Protestant denomination -- the Southern Baptists -- would bother to assess ‘credible accusations’ in the way Catholics do. As it is, the only numbers that get reported for Baptists are cases that are likely on the verge of a lawsuit . . . and yet the Protestant number is still bigger.

The 228 per year Catholic number derives from a study that the Catholic Church commissioned from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It was a study that mined the Catholic Church’s own records and that looked at clergy abuse reports through 2002.

But more current “church records” show that the numbers are even higher, I’m told.

There it is again -- the trump card. Catholics have “church records” because Catholic canon law requires record-keeping.

But “church records” stacked up against “no church records” doesn’t equal bigger numbers.

It means nothing more than that one group kept records and the other didn’t.

Personally, I don’t understand why some people seem so intent on persuading me that Catholic clergy are “the worst.” I don’t believe it, but more importantly, I haven’t seen any data to support that conclusion....

...And make sure to notice . . . Der Spiegel got its numbers by delving into records kept by the dioceses themselves. The dioceses revealed “their own figures.”

Meanwhile, Baptist leaders refuse to even bother with keeping records on Baptist clergy.

For Catholics, “it’s our religion” means Catholic bishops must keep records on priests. Catholic canon law requires it.

For Baptists, “it’s our religion” means Baptist leaders don’t keep any records at all on their clergy. They claim that Baptist belief in local church autonomy precludes denominational record-keeping.

When a German magazine publicizes church records of 94 priests and laity who are “suspected” of abuse, Baptists point their fingers. Meanwhile, in Baptistland, there exists not even the possibility of any records on “suspected” abuse, because Baptist leaders flat-out refuse to assess credible accusations much less to keep track of them.

Here’s the Catholic pattern: keep it quiet, cover it up, transfer the accused cleric to another church, and keep an in-house record.

Here’s the Baptist pattern: keep it quiet, cover it up, allow the accused minister to move to another church, and keep NO record. Is this better?....

shane said...

This is also supported by Philip Jenkins, Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University:

“No evidence indicates that Catholic or celibate clergy are more (or less) involved than their non-celibate counterparts. Some of the worst cases of persistent serial abuse by clergy have involved Baptist or Pentecostal ministers, rather than Catholic priests. Every denomination and faith tradition has had its trail of disasters . . . .

"Sexual misconduct appears to be spread fairly evenly across denominations, though I stress the word appears. Astonishingly, Catholic priests are literally the only profession in the country for whom we have relatively good figures for the incidence of child abuse and molestation. For these other groups, we have to depend on the volume of news stories and largely impressionistic evidence, but based on this, there do not appear to be significant differences in the amount of misconduct. If someone wants to claim that the Catholic priesthood is more prone to abusive behavior than other groups, then the burden of proof is upon that person…. In order to establish a case proving priestly depravity, we would need to compare like samples of clergy from different denominations, with comparable systems of processing complaints and keeping records. No such studies have ever been attempted. As a result, the Catholic connection to abuse or pedophilia remains no more than an unproven assumption . . . .

"As reported cases of priestly abuse proliferated during 2002, the media became increasingly intolerant of protests that the Catholic angle of the affair was being exaggerated. If that’s so, they demanded, why is it we only hear about Catholic molestation stories? Actually, there are several answers to this question, which reflect the intertwined workings of the media and the courts. . . .

"Structural and bureaucratic reasons also help explain the number of Catholic cases that appear in the news. Much of the evidence comes from civil lawsuits involving priests and their dioceses. The proliferation of specifically Catholic lawsuits does not mean that priests are more likely to have offended, but rather that a centralized church with good record keeping and extensive property holdings is a much more valuable legal target than a small decentralized congregation. Catholic clergy lead the list of known abuse cases because they are relatively easy to sue and because civil lawsuits produce a wealth of internal church documents. . . .

"To some extent, the media concentration on Catholic abuse cases represents a kind of self-fulfilling expectation. Because priests are considered likely to offend, any cases that come to light can be fitted into a prepared package of images and issues: the media has a lot of experts handy and know what questions to ask, and those all deal with Catholic themes. If a non-Catholic case comes to light (as it often does), it is usually treated as an isolated case of individual depravity, rather than an institutional problem. . . . Journalists find writing stories much easier when they know from the start exactly what the finished product is going to look like. The more Catholic cases are treated in this way, the more the accumulation of sensational cases confirms the media expectation about the Catholic nature of the problem.”

Pedophiles and Priests at p. 51 (1996), and The New Anti-Catholicism at pp. 142-44 (2003).

nickbris said...

There does appear to be an orchestrated anti-catholic campaign afoot.
The other evening News at Ten on radio 4 seemed to be entirely devoted to the Murphy Report and the hunting down of ex Priest Carney.They were blathering on about unsubstantiated allegations.

This is what happens when you cross swords with the BLACKMAILING Pressure groups who actually do run this country,they are more powerful than any Mafiosi and are out to destroy civilisation which St Patrick and St Augustine brought to these islands.

Most of the constantly repeated accusations & allegations are figments of evil minds and they are making great sums of money from crooked journalists and publishers.

shane said...

The Irish Bishops commissioned the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland to undertake a comprehensive research study on clerical sexual abuse. The study Time to Listen was praised by the Murphy Report: "In this Commission’s view this was a very valuable contribution to the debate on child sexual abuse by clergy".

Bishop O'Mahony, a retired auxiliary bishop, criticized "the acceptance by media and current diocesan policy that a 'cover-up' took place" in his Letter to Members of the Council of Priests. He points to a police investigation, in 2003, which found no sign of interference with evidence and no attempt to obstruct the course of justice. He was also annoyed at certain statements made by Diarmuid Martin because: “You were out of the Diocese for 31 years and had no idea how traumatic it was for those of us who had to deal with allegations without protocols or guidelines or experience in the matter of child sex abuse.”

This was also expressed in Bishop Eamonn Walsh's (who done sterling work in cleaning up the ultra-liberal Chomiskey's mess in Ferns) Letter to the priests of 3 deaneries in Dublin:
In the course of my work with you, if I was approached on a matter of a confidential
nature, or if I had a concern which had been expressed to me, I brought this to the
attention of the Archbishop. Archbishop Connell took a very conscientious line in respecting a person’s reputation, and on any other matter he deemed confidential.
Information given in this way was not shared at meetings with others present. The
result was that discussions were often held where the full facts of the subject under
discussion, were not known to all participants. Sometimes the Archbishop himself
would not have full information. It is very regrettable that clear pathways of
communication were not effected until after the introduction of the Framework
Document in 1996. Poor communication led to long-term disastrous consequences.
This resulted in some offending priests being given appointments on the basis of
medical assessment, and other professional advice, which indicated that they were fit
for ministry and/or fit to remain in existing appointments. All of this was done in
good faith but with appalling consequences.
The Report covers the years 1976 – 2004. Within that period there have been major
advances in the understanding of the nature of paedophilia, and the impact of child
sexual abuse. The absence, particularly during the early years, of the range and
level of expertise now available meant that bad decisions were made. This does not
excuse them, but puts them into the context of a different time.
While there is no mandatory reporting of complaints for child sexual abuse in Irish
law, the Archdiocese committed to mandatory reporting since 1996. I am on record
as advocating this approach since 1990.
When I was appointed Apostolic Administrator in Ferns I piloted, with the Diocesan
Team, the inter-agency meetings whereby the diocese, HSE and Gardai met to share
information so as to inform best practice in dealing with child sexual abuse. The
Ferns Report commended this pilot scheme and recommended that it be replicated
throughout the country. Legislation has yet to be passed to give support to this. It is
the practice at present in the Dublin Archdiocese. My actions as Auxiliary Bishop and
as Apostolic Administrator could not be described as those of ‘cover-up’.

madame evangelista said...

You make some good points here, but I do think it is ALWAYS worse when a catholic priest commits sexual abuse than for any other member of society. No matter how prevalent sexual abuse might be in other institutions or amongst other demographics, including other religious denominations, none of them except the catholic priest is standing in the person of Christ.

Mike said...

Without wishing to diminish the harm which has been inflicted by proven clerical abuse I do think that the media tends to report accusations of clerical abuse as if they were proven cases of clerical abuse. As far as the recent events in Germany are concerned all we have at the moment are allegations. And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, there is a tendency to link the Pope and the Pope’s brother with the allegations by mentioning their names even they are totally irrelevant. It was also interesting to see how the BBC suddenly became very interested in Irish affairs when they normally have little or no interest in Irish affairs (other than violence). Yes, clerical abuse is an evil thing but there also evil forces at work in society who seek to use clerical abuse for their own ends. I also agree with the comment about the media’s relative lack of reporting about accusations of abuse in non-religious situations. For what it’s worth I attended a boys-only Christian Brothers school from 1958 to 1965 and was not aware of any abuse by the Brothers of any of the boys during that time. On the other hand I did get the belt quite frequently for my poor Latin homework from a lay teacher!

Discreet Observer said...

Sometime last year I was getting rather annoyed at the constant jibe that ALL the sexual abuse of children was being perpetrated by the clergy in the Catholic Church. A friend who was a nurse had been to a hospital training course on child abuse and those attending were told that the worst abusers in the country were Catholic clergy.
I was so incensed I did a little research on the internet and quickly came across some very interesting information that never really hits the mainstream newspapers or the BBC/ITV. An article in The Telegraph by Jonathan Wynne-Jones (22/10/2007) had the headline "C of E abuse was ignored for decades." The first sentence reads: "Child abuse has gone unchecked in the Church of England for decades amid a cover up by bishops, secret papers have revealed."
The ref: is

There is much to read that is appalling but one victim said: "The Church has persuaded people in the past that they don't have to take it further. There has been a long-standing tendency to just sweep things under the carpet and cover things up and just move priests on."
The article also states: "Richard Scorer, a solicitor who has specialised in child abuse cases, said that the Church of England's mistakes amounted to an 'appalling, shocking level of negligence' that is likely to leave it open to claims from victims who have been too afraid to speak out in the past.

I then posed the question in my search engine about child abuse in the Methodist Church and my screen was filled with page after page of cases (hundreds), especially in the USA. These reports are useful because they deal with particular cases and include reports from the courts.

The Christian Science Monitor (5 April 2002) states in a report "Despite headlines focusing on the priest paedophile 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. These are the findings from national surveys by Christian Ministry Resources (CMR), a tax and legal advice publisher serving more than 75,000 congregations and 1,000 denominational agencies nationwide." Check out

This not to excuse sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in any way but does indicate that the very selective reporting in the mainstream media concentrates only (mainly) on the Catholic Church so that the general public gets a very biased and distorted picture of this dirty business.

I agree that it is time (perhaps too late) for the Catholic Church to appoint someone with a legal background, and preferably not Catholic, to put forward a balanced and robust response whenever this subject is raised in the press. It is not a matter of deflecting blame elsewhere if a legitimate case has to be answered but vigorously defending the Church from accusations that ALL the abuse in this country, and beyond, is conducted by celibate clergy in the Catholic Church.

Thomas Windsor said...

All the evidence points to the fact that Catholic priests are the least likely to abuse Children.

Top of the list are sadly parents... this is far worse than abuse by a Catholic priest.

This is just another attack on the Catholic Church, as Bp. Fulton Sheen noted, that if he was looking for the one true religion, he would look for the one that is most attacked... These attacks are one further sign we are the One True Church.

Our question to those that accuse us should be is where is the proof that Catholic priests are the worst?

Crouchback said...

ear Fr Blake here is a link to a study on this subject. I'm no academic, I would like comments to check if my reading of these figures is in line with other readers. Thanks.

GOR said...

It would appear Father, that the blame-game process in Europe is following the same path as it did in the US. When ”The Scandal” broke here it put all priests under a cloud of suspicion. It was open season on the Catholic Church and priests in general and many good priests were hurt in the process through false allegations and innuendo. The anti-Catholic mainstream media were only too happy to compound the problem.

While abuse was much more widespread in other areas of American life – schools especially – this was conveniently downplayed or ignored altogether. Any attempt to put the incidences in the Church in the proper perspective of American life in general was shouted down or ridiculed. In addition to the anti-Catholic sentiment there was the money aspect. Lawyers saw in the Church an organization with deep pockets which could be scalped to line their pockets under a cloak of ‘concern for the victims’. Something they could not do with schools where awards are capped by law.

It is only now that the Church is recovering her voice in the public square - as Ab. Dolan’s taking-to-task of the bias of the New York Times in this matter recently demonstrated. The insertion of the Holy Father’s name and that of his brother in the German cases recently is particularly scurrilous, implying guilt by association if not by actual participation.

But this will pass. And if we’re found ‘worthy of persecution’ it is to our ultimate benefit and in line with Our Lord’s example.

Simon said...

On the subject of abuse, it is interesting to find this in the Guardian, of all papers.

Ma Tucker said...

The media promotes child abuse, porn and murder. Frankly we are NOT answerable to porn, murder and abuse pushers. So no I think we need to stop seeing the pervs as some sort of justice court of public opinion. Their will is not for truth they simply hate Christ and His Church. The more you plead the case for truth the more they will distort.

So I'm with Pope Benedict. If the media are not lying and attacking us then we should examine our conscience. We have the media defense of Jonathan King. In Ireland we have a known peodophile funded by the EU writing poetry set on the Leaving cert English course. Over 20 children in care have died in the last 10yrs while under the care of the Irish HSE (health and safety exec who by the way simply love to have regular talks promoting the murder of the elderly and infirm ). Sorry but I cannot see how we could plead for fairness with liars and promoters of murder.

Certainly we should make sure our house is in order. The stats will show what we all know to be true.
1) Religious will have the least prevalence of perversion.
2) Perversion leads to worse perversion
3) The real underlying problem is apostasy and failure of moral formation both of the public and religious.
4) Sexual abuse was not so prevalent in the past because people were not so perverted as they are now. Much thanks goes to the kings of porn, the media themselves.

Crouchback said...

Ma Tucker,

could you please post a link to back up your figures for the children who it is alleged have died in the last 10 years in Ireland.

I don't recall any reports of deaths of children in the care of the Church, however bad the institutions were.

Crouchback said...

A quick google and look what we have....I wonder who's going to pay the millions in damages for these victims of abuse..??