An unusually good Newsweek piece about clerical sexual abuse – be sure to read

It is unusual to find something good in Newsweek but this is good.

People have been charging that sexual abuse of children is somehow more prevalent among Catholics and that this is due to priestly celibacy and its all male hierarchy, which protects it. 

Those charges (prevalence and those causes) are wrong.

My emphases and comments.

Mean Men

The priesthood is being cast as the refuge of pederasts. In fact, priests seem to abuse children at the same rate as everyone else.

By Pat Wingert | Newsweek Web Exclusive [Why won’t this be in the print edition?]
Apr 8, 2010

The Catholic sex-abuse stories emerging every day suggest that Catholics have a much bigger problem with child molestation than other denominations and the general population. Many point to peculiarities of the Catholic Church [NOTA BENE:] (its celibacy rules for priests, its insular hierarchy, its exclusion of women) to infer that there’s something particularly pernicious about Catholic clerics that predisposes them to these horrific acts. [Sounding familiar?] It’s no wonder that, back in 2002—when the last Catholic sex-abuse scandal was making headlines—a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent of those queried thought Catholic priests "frequently” abused children.

[Read carefully:] Yet experts say there’s simply no data to support the claim at all. No formal comparative study has ever broken down child sexual abuse by denomination, and only the Catholic Church has released detailed data about its own. But based on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. "We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others." [We are going to have to come back to this on WDTPRS.]

[This section is very good and it includes a good point for your own discussions.] Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations. Insurance companies that cover all denominations, such as Guide One Center for Risk Management, which has more than 40,000 church clients, does not charge Catholic churches higher premiums. [Get that?] "We don’t see vast difference in the incidence rate between one denomination and another," says Sarah Buckley, assistant vice president of corporate communications. "It’s pretty even across the denominations." It’s been that way for decades. [DECADES] While the company saw an uptick in these claims by all types of churches around the time of the 2002 U.S. Catholic sex-abuse scandal, Eric Spacick, Guide One’s senior church-risk manager, says "it’s been pretty steady since." On average, the company says 80 percent of the sexual misconduct claims they get from all denominations involve sexual abuse of children. As a result, the more children’s programs a church has, the more expensive its insurance, officials at Guide One said.

The only hard data that has been made public by any denomination comes from John Jay College’s study of Catholic priests, which was authorized and is being paid for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops following the public outcry over the 2002 scandals. Limiting their study to plausible accusations made between 1950 and 1992, John Jay researchers reported that about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests active during those years had been accused of sexual misconduct involving children. Specifically, 4,392 complaints (ranging from "sexual talk" to rape) were made against priests by 10,667 victims. (Reports made after 2002, including those of incidents that occurred years earlier, are released as part of the church’s annual audits.)

Experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population, but Allen says a conservative estimate is one in 10. [Oh Lord, parceparce….] Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says her review of the numbers indicates it’s closer to one in 5. But in either case, the rate of abuse by Catholic priests is not higher than these national estimates. The public also doesn’t realize how "profoundly prevalent" child sexual abuse is, adds Smith. Even those numbers may be low; research suggests that only a third of abuse cases are ever reported (making it the most underreported crime). "However you slice it, it’s a very common experience," Smith says.

Most child abusers have one thing in common, and it’s not piety—it’s preexisting relationships with their victims. That includes priests and ministers and rabbis, of course, but also family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, youth-group volunteers, and doctors. According to federal studies, three quarters of abuse occurs at the hands of family members or others in the victim’s "circle of trust." "The fundamental premise here is that those who abuse children overwhelmingly seek out situations where they have easy and legitimate access to children," he said. "These kinds of positions offer a kind of cover for these offenders."  [And they will use even marriage as a cover.]

Priests may also appear [appear] more likely to molest children because cases of abuse come to light in huge waves. One reason is delayed reporting: less than 13 percent of victims abused between 1960 and 1980, for example, lodged a complaint in the same year as the assault. Two thirds filed their complaints after 1992, and half of those were made between 2002 and 2003 alone. "Offenders tend to be manipulative, often persuading children to believe that this is their fault," said Allen. "As a result, the children tend to keep it to themselves. There are countless victims who thought they were the only one." So what looks like [looks like] high concentrations of abuse may simply reflect long and diffuse patterns of abuse that mirror those among all males.

Another reason is that the church has historically been bad at punishing (or preventing) molesters, so that many cases might come to light when just one priest is finally exposed. A single predator priest with ongoing access to children might be responsible for an immense raft of abuse cases. (Marie Fortune of the Faith Trust Institute, which focuses on clerical-abuse issues, says Roman Catholics tend "to have many more schools and other programs that involve children." "Plenty of other congregations have these problems, for instance, if they have a youth ministry.") That helps explain the 200 children who were abused at a school for the deaf. It didn’t happen because the school was full of rapists; it happened because one man was never stopped. Overall, the John Jay study found that 149 priests were responsible for more than 25,000 cases of abuse over the 52-year period studied[Get that? 149 over 52 years].

Allen suggests a final reason we hear so much more about Catholic abuse than transgressions in other religions: its sheer size. It’s the second largest single denomination in the world (behind Islam) and the biggest in the United States. (Fifty-one percent of all American adults are Protestant, but they belong to hundreds of different denominations.) "When you consider the per capita data," says Allen, "I don’t think they have a larger incidence than other faiths."


There are very good points here.  Remember them.

WDTPRS will have to return to some of these in the near future.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Biased Media Coverage, Clerical Sexual Abuse, SESSIUNCULA, The Last Acceptable Prejudice and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Scott W. says:

    Good link. And this points to a glaring problem: thinking your child is safe around any authority figure as long as it is not a priest. I went through the VIRTUS program and while I had some problems with some of the stuff in it, it does a good job of explaining how predators work. They are incredibly good at hiding and getting into positions of trust and then testing the system and institution for any cracks or blind spots which every system and institution has. Just look at all the shenanigans prisoners are able to pull off in a tightly-regulated prison. Now imagine a predator working in a much looser environment like a school or church and you see how vigilant one has to be.

  2. catholicmidwest says:

    This is really a good article. It’s too bad it’s not going to be in the print edition, all right.

    For hundreds of years, the Catholic church was the provider of hospital and orphanage services–most of the time, the only provider. There’s a reason why many big city hospitals around the world have saints’ names or names taken from religious orders.

    If it weren’t for the problems of the late 20th century in the Church, it’s entirely conceivable that we could claim LOWER rates than anyone else because of the help of God and the clarity of mission that we’ve historically had. Our hospitals have been top-notch, the best in the world, for centuries.

  3. Karen Russell says:

    “The public also doesn’t realize how “profoundly prevalent” child sexual abuse is, adds Smith. Even those numbers may be low; research suggests that only a third of abuse cases are ever reported (making it the most underreported crime). “However you slice it, it’s a very common experience,” Smith says.”

    In other words, it is still being covered up–by much of society, not just some bishops.

    I was a young adult in the late 60’s. I was not raised in a Catholic environment–yet child sexual abuse was something one did NOT talk about, except rarely and in whispers. The bishops who “covered up” at the time were reflecting the society they lived in. Yes, we know now that was wrong–but why does the media expect them to have known that 25+ years ago?

    And why is a cover-up only wrong when the Church does it?

  4. terryprest says:

    One case involving the sexual abuse of children is one case too many no matter who perpetrates the abuse or under what circumstances.

    It is about the abuse of power and the abuse of trust. Children are the easiest victims and targets for weak, corrupt and scurrilous individuals.

    It occurs everywhere.

    In February 2006, the United Nations came clean about the Sexual Abuse by UN Peacekeepers.


    The US representative said that “it was absolutely unacceptable that horrific crimes of sexual abuse and exploitation had been committed by United Nations peacekeepers against individuals they had been assigned to protect. ”

    At that time more than 221 peacekeepers had been investigated, 10 civilians had been fired, and more than 88 uniformed personnel had been repatriated.

    Perhaps we could have a comment on this by Mr Geoffrey Robertson QC as he is part of the UN organisation ? See your post entitled “UN Judge Says Pope Should be Prosecuted at International Criminal Court ”

    Especially in view of the fact that Aid workers, peacekeepers, and other local and foreign staff associated with the official international community commit significant levels of sexual violence and abuse against children, with much of the abuse going unreported according to Save the Children UK, in a 2008 report based on fieldwork visits to towns, villages, and rural areas in Southern Sudan, the Ivory Coast, and Haiti entitled: No One To Turn To.


    Since 2001 because of the reforms by Pope John Paul II and the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the Catholic Church has made a determined effort at the Curia level to deal with it.

  5. Austin says:

    In my view, the reason Catholic pedophilia has been given such undue publicity is because the Church was such a tempting trophy for trial lawyers.

    Protestant denominations are not structured as corporations sole, and consequently do not have a huge pot of assets concentrated in one legal place that can be raided by attorneys seeking damages. It’s far harder, and less rewarding, to sue individual parishes/congregations/pastors or smallish diocesan/regional structures. One is likely to get little more than the insurance companies can offer.

    This will-to-cash also lies behind the current push to hold the Vatican and the Pope responsible for every instance of child abuse. How much could the Church raise on the sale of the Vatican Library? The lawyers want it all.

    There have been good institutional reasons for the way the Church holds its assets in the past; it may be time for some decentralization, with firewalls inserted to thwart the boundless greed of the legal profession.

  6. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Thank you for the link to this excellent article. I will send it along to friends.

    Too bad Newsweek also had to run Lisa Miller’s miserable article on celibacy which ends with the dreadful:

    “One wonders at the priorities of a man who failed to defrock a priest in Wisconsin who molested hundreds of children but acted so decisively in the case of one who married a consenting adult.”

    If I hear the word “defrock” one more time, I’m going to be sick.

  7. “…priests seem to abuse children at the same rate as everyone else.”

    Are we supposed to be proud of that? Well, the liberal and Modernists wanted the Church to be more like the world. They got what they wanted.

    At any rate, it’s nice to see an even handed job by a major media outlet.

  8. Henry Edwards says:

    [Why won’t this be in the print edition?]

    Fair and balanced treatment of Catholics is not considered fit to print?

  9. Actually, someone just pointed out to me that this still isn’t fair or balanced. He pointed out that priests are less likely to abuse children than other males.

  10. Traductora says:

    David Werling, I too have read that priests have a lower rate of actual pedophilia than other males; IIRC, the source where I read it sniffed that this was because they were less likely to have acess to small children, although I’m not sure that’s true.

    I have a family member who is a police detective assigned to a unit that pursues these crimes and she tole me that a really large percentage of actual pedophiles (not gay ephebophiles) are married men or at any rate men who are in a supposedly “stable” relationship with a woman (usually the mother of the unfortunate victim). But of course, then one must remember that the interest of the press in this topic has nothing to do with a genuine interest in preventing child sexual abuse.

  11. Daniel says:

    One in five mails is an abuser? That’s 20%. I find that number hard to believe. One of 50 maybe for 2%? There 4% translates to 1 out of 25 priests have been accused, which likely means about 2% actually guilty of some form of abuse; and depends largely on how the study defines “abuse” and “chidren”.

  12. Henry Edwards says:

    The Catholic difference by George Weigel: Scandal time again

    In this article George Weigel reports that in 2009 there were exactly six (6) credible cases of sexual abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church (with 68 million members). Whereas in a recent period the U.S. public schools averaged about 29 thousand (29,000) cases annually.

    Aside from questioning the relative numbers of newspaper articles about abuse in the schools versus abuse in the Church, I wonder whether the Catholic Church might well be (and by far) the country’s safest institution or place for children to be. If so, shouldn’t the Church aggressively publicize this fact?

  13. Mario Bird says:

    “Why won’t this be in the print edition?”

    To ask the question answers it. More to the point, we would do well to remember Belloc’s analysis of newspapers in “Survivals and New Arrivals” (

    “There are, molding a popular newspaper, three forces: the advertisement subsidy by which it lives, the particular desires of its owner, and the appetite of the public for that particular sheet… The effect of the proprietor lies chiefly in his power of private blackmail (especially, in parliamentary countries, of blackmail exercised against politicians) and in his power (when he acts in combination with his few fellows) to suppress a truth of public interest. But the owner of a widely read newspaper, even when, by some accident, he happens to be a man of intelligence, hardly ever imposes an idea.”

    Belloc was himself a publisher, and I daresay that Fr. Z himself knows that the influence a publisher holds over his readership – once established – is largely a veto power, or what DOES NOT appear in print. Perhaps it is true that the global media recently churned up this story in reaction to the Holy Father’s growing moral authority; I say that the powers-that-be sat on this story until that moral authority became a threat.

    “The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.”

    — Sun Tzu (

    This be a war for souls.

  14. catholicmidwest says:


    I don’t find that hard to believe. That’s the outrageous part about all this. American society is finger-pointing like made and it should be owning up to its own problems.

    Virtually every woman knows at least one other woman who was raped and many of us know women who were molested as little girls by family. Molestation isn’t at all uncommon. Most of it happens in families or at the hands of schoolteachers, neighbors or boyfriends of babysitters and such.

    High schools very commonly house at least one scary male teacher, and only in recent years have security checks been done at hiring for schools. Before that, people just went from school to school when their antics were found out, and no one was the wiser. Sometimes that still happens.

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    Sexual violence is grossly under-reported, but among the reported cases, see these statistics from the CDC:

  16. Sam Urfer says:

    “One in five mails is an abuser? That’s 20%. I find that number hard to believe. One of 50 maybe for 2%? There 4% translates to 1 out of 25 priests have been accused, which likely means about 2% actually guilty of some form of abuse; and depends largely on how the study defines “abuse” and “chidren”.”

    I see no reason to believe that the experts are wrong about this. The argument against such a high rate of sexual abusers seems to be “I don’t want that to be the case” rather than any factual basis.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    One of the reasons that sexual violence is so grossly under-reported is fear. Victims are often threatened with consequences if they tell, and if they live with the perpetrator, they fear being found out if they tell. This is really important for young victims and victims of wife-beating etc.

    There’s also the matter of shame. And ignorance and the belief that they won’t be believed (if contradicted by an authority figure like the male perpetrator) are important.

    Many of the cases that end up in the emergency room are those that also involve being brutalized, which may require additional medical care.

  18. Joshua08 says:

    Sam, Sam, Sam. Doesn’t it make you wonder what they mean by sexual abuse? Does it include only consummated acts or also solicitation, harassment, etc? Does it include acts that were only forceful or under threat, or does it include acts that were more subtle abuse? I would be curious. As far as forceful rape, let alone paedaphilia goes, that would be too high…for one thing it does not match the claim for the amount of victims (unless multiple perpetrators hit the same victim in many cases)…

  19. catholicmidwest says:

    Go to the link and read the CDC fact sheet. It’s very specific.

  20. The reality of all of this is our “hyper-sexualized” society; billboards with all kinds of filth; children as sexual objects; porno at the click of a button on a computer.
    This is not the exclusive problem of the Catholic Church; hearing confessions, I can tell you, without revealing anything other than, internet porn is prevalent.
    It’s endemic.
    The “masturbatory” sexual lives of many people, including Catholics, is a plague.
    And it goes even further when it involves the innocent, the minors, the vulnerable, those who are “clueless”.
    Sexual abuse comes in many forms; and it is a silent, shameful, and hidden secret.
    We have much to do reparation for; in this life, and I fear, in the next.

  21. Sam Urfer says:

    They were quite explicit as to what they were tracking, though the article separates them by a couple paragraphs. The John Jay study covered complaints regarding priests “ranging from ‘sexual talk’ to rape”. The same John Jay experts are the ones giving the numbers about the general population. While verbal sexual abuse is not exactly on the same level as out-and-out rape, I would presume that having a priest talk dirty to them might mess kids up. By that standard, I am quite willing to believe upwards of 1 in 5 men is at least tempted towards this sort of behavior, esp. once we factor in both genders, and the sexualization of girls in our society (ever see “Little Miss Sunshine”?).

    Nazareth priest is right, the sexualization of our culture in endemic (if not pandemic!). Lord, have mercy on our souls…

  22. kal says:

    I heard this yesterday on ESPN news:

    A story about swim coaches involved in abuse.

  23. RuariJM says:

    Fr Z: “149 priests were responsible for more than 25,000 cases of abuse over the 52-year period studied. [Get that? 149 over 52 years].”

    Just to make sure we’re clear: as I read it, the report did not say that 149 was the total number of priests involved in sexual abuse over a 52-year period, not that 25,000 was the upper limit of cases. It said that a relatively small number of priests (149) were responsible for a high proportion of all the incidents.

    Other priests, religious and nuns were also responsible for other incidents. As you make clear, Murphy in Wisconsin alone was responsible for the abuse of over 200 deaf children – he was a prolific and serial predator. But his were not the only offences over the period in the Mid-West. Other offenders may not have been as prolific but, to their victims, they were an overwhelming number.

Comments are closed.