Full question by Anonymous:
Why haven’t you addressed the epidemic of pedophilia inside the Catholic Church? Including the cover up at the highest levels. Many priests are pedophiles, how can you be a member of such an organization?
This question comes as one of the many anonymous comments and emails I receive from people with an axe to grind with the Catholic Church. What I posted above is a sanitized paraphrasing of the most recent one (the actual comment was far too vulgar and inflammatory to republish), but this charge of rampant pedophilia against the church is so common, and at the same time so blatantly false, that I felt compelled to take a moment and address it.As is obvious from the name of this site and my Facebook page, I am not a “cradle Catholic.” I am a convert to the faith from Protestantism. As a prospective convert, I actually had several people say to me, some overtly and some subtly, that Catholicism promotes pedophilia, all priests are pedophiles, it’s an “open secret,” so why would I chose to join such a group. The most shocking thing about many of these statements is that some of the people making them were cradle Catholics themselves. It’s a sad testimony to the poor catechesis of the faithful in the later half of the 20th century, to the failure of the Church to address these issues for so long, and to the ability of the media to shape perceptions to such a degree that outlandish allegations and inflated statistics are quoted as Gospel truth, more often than the Gospel itself.
As I said, I’m a convert to the Church, and a convert more than a decade after this scandal first rocked the Church and media in America. So I grappled with these issues and gave them lots of consideration before I considered Rcia. While abuse did happen, and any abuse of a child is inexcusable from any adult, much less a “man of God” like the abusive priests, the facts do not support the allegations made by my anonymous email writer. The charge that this is still prevalent and covered up to this day, and that all priests are abusers is flat out false. Don’t take my word for it though, you can read a report issued by a respected law school in New York City. ( Full Report Here )
It is a very long and detailed report, so I’ll give you the cliff notes version:
- From 1950 to 2002 there were 6,700 reports of abuse made against 4,392 individual Catholic clergy members
- That adds up to about 4% of the 104,000 Catholic clergy members in the United States in that period
- Of those only 252 were convicted of a crime, or 0.1% of all Catholic clergy
- Even if you account for cover ups, and scared witnesses not taking cases to trial, and just go with the 4% figure, it still is far less than the media would lead you to believe
- The abuses increased in the 60s, peaked in the 70s, decreased in the 80s, and had returned to 1950s levels by the 90s
When I look at the raw numbers it brings me to tears to think of so many young lives changed in such a monstrous way. But when put into perspective, the rate of abuse among Catholic clergy, even at the heights of the 1970s, was equal to, or lower than, that of Protestant ministers and church workers, rabbis, other religious clerics, and even public school teachers. Many say that sexual abuse by public school teachers, and the cover up by school administrators, is the next big scandal that is waiting to break. Some studies even say that abuse by public school teachers is 100 times worse than the abuse in the Church (2004 Study by US Department of Education).
Does this mean all teachers are abusers, and that schools are a breeding ground for sexual abuse and the higher ups from principals to the US Secretary of Education, are complicit in this abuse? Of course not! You don’t automatically lay the blame for corruption of a city councilman at the feet of the governor, or of the president, without any evidence of collusion, only because they all happen to serve in government at the same time. In large and complex systems, like the education system, the US Govt, and the Catholic Church, there are layers of bureaucracy that are unaware of day to day decisions made at the ground level. (I’m not a fan of bloated bureaucracies but that’s a matter for a political philosophy discussion and not charging the Pope, or the Cardinals, with criminal negligence just because they “should’ve known” in your opinion)
The reason we hear about the abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy and not Protestant clergy, or clerics of other religions like Jewish rabbis, Mormon elders, or Muslim clerics, is because these people make up a proportionately smaller part of all clergy in America. America is primarily a Christian country with 70% of people reporting they belong to one of the many Christian sects in America. Catholics make up approximately 21%, and the other 50% belong to Protestant denominations, but since this block is made up of thousands of denominations it means that each individual ecclesial faith community makes up a smaller percentage of the population than Catholics, with souther Baptists being the next closest at 16%. All these stats just tells us that there are far more Catholic priests than ministers of any other single denomination, so while 4,000 cases of abuse sounds astronomical, it’s proportionally less than abuse committed by these others Christian clergy members.
The idea of sinful men, behaving in a such a way, is not new. It’s a result of our fallen nature, and even though washed free of original sin in the sacrament of baptism, we retain concupiscence(the desire of our lower appetites. Or an attachment to sin). This causes mankind, especially when we ignore the urging of our conscience and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, to behave in immoral and depraved ways. In fact, throughout history it’s been the rule, rather than the exception, for those with power to abuse those without it. It was common, and accepted for ancient kings to sexually and physically abuse young men in their court, and to murder women that declined to be their concubine. Slavery was the norm throughout history, and slaves were treated no better than cattle, but Saint Paul instructed masters to treat slaves with dignity. He knew, as did the Holy Spirit writing through him, that society wouldn’t change overnight, but by requiring humane treatment of slaves (as much as it is possible to treat someone humanely and still deny them their freedom) he showed that we are to treat everyone with dignity. All of history is replete with violations of basic human rights, in fact it was the advent of Christianity that ushered in an age of respect for the human person, with Jesus telling us to love our neighbor, and that everyone is our neighbor, even though this ideal took almost 2000 years to reach its full potential it was set in motion by the parables of Christ (Luke 10).
This is why I was not turned away by these past abuses, because if I judged an organization by the sinful behavior of its members then I wouldn’t be a Christian at all. After all, Jesus started His Church with 12 apostles, and one committed the most grievous sin of betraying the Son of God. Judas was a member of Jesus’ inner circle of apostles and yet he was capable of such treacherous deeds because of his fallen nature. Yes there was abuse, yes some higher ups covered it up and moved abusers to new parishes to hide their crimes, and yes the Church was decades late in addressing these things, but that doesn’t negate the divine founding of the Church and make it any less Holy. The Church is Holy because Christ is Holy, not because it’s members are Holy, because its members are sinners just like all mankind. (See this post on the four marks of the church; Holiness )
But what about the charge that this is abuse still takes place?
After the scandal broke in the early 2000s, and after the results of the John Jay Report was published, the USCCB (The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) took a hard look at the issue and set into action a plan to protect all the children entrusted to the care of the Church. They published this commitment for all to read, and for dioceses to adhere to its requirements on training and reporting, with some dioceses going beyond what the USCCB recommends and implementing even stricter standards. (The full report and standards can be read Here)
The Catholic Church in America is such a safe place for children now that other organizations and denominations are looking to the Church as the model for child protection in the 21st century. So as you can see, not all priests are pedophiles, not a majority, and not even a large minority. The vast majority of priests are good men that have dedicated their lives to serving God and His people through the ministry of the Church. They have given up the prospect of a natural family to serve their supernatural family, and be a servant for Christ. They should be commended for this, and not subjected to scorn and suspicion for crimes that they themselves did not commit.
There was a small group of sinful men that took advantage of the trust placed in them by the Church and it’s people, and they abused these children. As terrible as the physical and mental toll of this abuse was, the spiritual toll was much worse. Many of the victims have left the Church, along with many of their family members, and the damage caused to the Church as a whole is immeasurable. I truly believe that this is why priests come under extra attack by demonic forces, because if they fall it makes people question their own faith. Just look at how hard the Japanese inquisitors tried to break the martyr priests of Japan, because they knew it would lead to them being able to easily break the people. This is why I pray for my priest, and all the priests of the Church, everyday with my morning prayers.
So, Anonymous, when viewed in its entirety and truthfully, this is why I can be a member of this Church in good conscience. And before you say “that’s just Catholic spin on this scandal” I would remind you that I done all this research, and came to these exact conclusions, long before my conversion. You could say that this is the defense of the Catholic priesthood put on by my formerly devout Protestant self.
I won’t leave Peter for the sins of Judas. If we judged the teachings of the Church by those that egregiously violate those teaching, then Christianity itself would fail because Judas was handpicked by Jesus to be an apostle and yet betrayed the Son of God.
(If anyone reading this has a question of their own, they can submit it here: Questions about Catholicism)
An interesting fact pointed out to me by several readers, that I checked on myself, is that churches buy a liability rider to their insurance coverage that covers them in the event of a staff member sexually assaulting a member of the church. (That such a rider exists, or is being purchased by churches is a very sad thing) All the insurance companies charge the same premium amount for Catholic Churches as they do for Protestant Churches, showing the same level of risk for the underwriters.