Friday, September 11, 2009

Putting the sex abuse scandal into perspective

Over the decades there have been many sexual abuse cases brought against priests. Some priests grossly violated their role and their duty to be Christ-like when they abused children. These are crimes against children, and Christ preached against these in the strongest terms. He told the disciples to let the children come to him because unless they were like these little ones, they could not enter heaven. Jesus also said that it would be better to tie a millstone around your neck and drown yourself in the ocean than to lead a child astray. We must pray for the victims of this abuse. But we must pray for all victims of abuse. Some priests have committed great crimes, but do all priests deserve to be punished for the sins of others? Is it right to unfairly discriminate against all priests because of the actions of a few? Is it just to ignore all other sexual abuse cases and only point out sexual abuse by priests? I do not think so.

The idea of a pedophile priest is a common one in today's society. Anyone, including famous comedians, talk show hosts, television personalities, and politicians, can use the term pedophile priest with impunity. There is no immediate follow-up to this statement saying that only a tiny percentage of priests ever abused children, or that this is an unfair stereotype and that most priests are very loving and caring toward children. There is no public outcry at these statements, and no one slaps the people who make them with hate speech charges.

I do not think people are really aware of the magnitude of sexual abuse in the United States. Some people seem to think only priests abuse children, because that's the only thing the media reports. Let's look at the truth.

The official report from the sex abuse scandal in the United States indicates that between 1950 and 2002, there were around 6800 substantiated cases of sexual abuse from Catholic priests. That's approximately 131 cases per year for the entire country. This represents a tiny percentage of priests, and in fact, most cases did not involve actual pedophilia. Most cases involved a priest and a post-pubescent male, not a child in the physical sense. It has been said that this is more a crisis of homosexuality in the priesthood than of pedophilia. In any event, the numbers are exceedingly low. Compare this to the general population. In the United States, for the year 2005, it was reported there were 83,600 substantiated cases of child sexual assault. That's in one year. And this doesn't count cases that were not reported. It is estimated that around 7.2% of males and 14.5% of females are sexually abused during their childhood. In the United States there are currently around 31 million males between the ages of 0 and 14, so that means about 2.2 million of them will be sexually abused. There are around 30 million females in the US, so statistics show about 4.35 million of them will be sexually assualted. Studies show that sexual abuse from teachers is much more prevalent than from priests, by a factor of at least 4.

Even though there are millions of sexual abuse cases in the US and other countries every year, Catholic priests are stigmatized with a reputation of being child molestors, but this is clearly societal and media bias. Why have teachers, who commit these crimes at a rate of at least 4 times more than priests, not received a similar or much worse reputation? When was the last law suit you've heard brought against a school board for the sexual abuse of a child? It hasn't happened. Yet, the Catholic Church in the United States alone has paid out over $1 billion in settlements. If you divide this evenly among all claimants to abuse, each would receive almost $150,000. If all sexual assault victims received a similar pay-out, approximately $982 billion, nearly $1 trillion, would be paid out every year. Sexual abuse cases would probably account for a third of GDP for the country.

So if sexual abuse is committed by people from all professions and walks of life, some at a rate much higher than priests, why do priests get all the bad press? If you have any ideas, please let me know. But I will give you my idea, and let me know what you think. Since the 60s, society at large has tried to push many immoral behaviors, including contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage, greed, excessive wealth, divorce, fornication, adultery, and other ills. The one consistent voice of opposition to these things, and the voice in favour of following Christ's commandments is the Catholic Church. Others speak for Christ's laws, but none with the force of the Universal Church. When Pastor Bob down the road speaks, some people listen, but when the Pope speaks the world listens. But what the Church teaches does not conform to the ideas and messages that the media are interested in promoting (if you doubt this, take a look in your local paper). It's a little like politics. When a party has no good arguments against its opponent, it tries to undermine the opponent's image. The media could not argue against the Truth, so they had to find another tactic. When news of sexual abuse by some priests broke, a smear campaign was hatched. It didn't matter how representative the news was, it was sensationalistic. Even if there were over 100,000 priests in the US since 1950, the actual number of abusers would not matter. Even if 20 priests were convicted, it would seem horrendous, if presented the right way.

You may say this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I would invite you to look at the consequences. If you ever have a debate with someone on a moral issue, and you indicate it is against the Catholic faith or that you're Catholic or that the Pope has spoken out against something, often the other person will automatically bring up the sex abuse scandal, even though it's irrelevant. In an article I read not long ago, a lady was speaking about an issue which I do not recall but I believe it was about same-sex marriage or abortion, and how the Catholic Church opposes it. Instead of offering any reason as to why the Church should not oppose it, she simply spoke about the sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests. She felt this was all that was necessary to justify her opposition to the Church's teaching. But this is a logical fallacy. You'll notice the same thing with people you speak with. You may say you are opposed to abortion and that the Catholic Church teaches it is murder. Their response may well be "Well, what about pedophile priests, isn't that immoral??" The fact is, the Church is against pedophile activities, as well as abortion.

1 comment:

  1. One aspect you don't discuss is the massive cover-up performed by the church on the sexual abuse of children. In the rest of society (including the teachers you mention) once abuse is discovered it is generally exposed and dealt with in the courts. The teachers you mention did not get reassigned to another school and the abuse ignored and unpunished as most people expect (i.e. jail time). Those priests should have been exposed, excommunicated, and paid their due in jail rather than being moved to other parishes to repeat their crimes.