Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
Some critical things to know about the nature of acts of sexual abuse committed by priests, its prevalence among Catholic clergy compared to its incidence among other groups, and the response of the Church to the sexual abuse crisis:
• While many speak of child abuse, i.e. pedophilia, it would be more correct to speak of ephebophilia, being a homosexual attraction to adolescent males. Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80% to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the age of 11 and 17 years old.
• From available research we now know that in the last 50 years somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the Catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases. The Christian Science Monitor reported on the results of a national survey by Christian Ministry Resources in 2002 and concluded: “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”. Sexual abuses within the Jewish communities approximate that found among the Protestant clergy.
• About 85% of the offenders of child sexual abuse are family members, babysitters, neighbors, family friends or relatives. About one in six child molesters are other children, while most of the offenders are male.
• According to a major 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 10% of U.S. public school students have been targeted with unwanted sexual attention by school employees. The author of the study concluded that the scope of the school-sex problem appears to far exceed the clergy abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and concluded in an interview with Education Week “the physical abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests”.
• The Church is very conscious of the seriousness of the problem. The Code of Canon Law stipulates that priests involved in sexual abuse cases must be “punished with just punishments, not excluding expulsion from clerical state”. The American Bishops Conference issued in 2002 “essential norms for diocesan/eparchial policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests or deacons”. The guidelines mention among others that “in case of sufficient evidence the bishop will withdraw the accused from exercising the ministry, impose or prohibit residence in a given place or territory ... pending the outcome of the process.” Other national bishops’ conferences have taken similar measures.
As the Catholic Church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it.
1 Mark Clayton, “Sex Abuse Spans Spectrum of Churches”, Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002, p.1.
2 Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, “Rabbi Sexual Misconduct: Crying Out for a Communal Response”, www.rrc.edu/journal, November 24, 2003.
3 Dr. Grath A. Rattray, “Child Month and Paedophilia”, The Gleaner, May 14, 2002
4 Caroline Hendrie, “Sexual Abuse by Educators Scrutinized”, in: Education Week, March 10, 2004
5 CIC C. 1395 § 2.
The above facts were presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council Sept. 22 by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva. He drew the attention of the international community to these key facts — which, almost without exception, go unreported when secular media publish critical articles about sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and the response of the Church — in response to criticism of the Church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations made earlier to the Human Rights Council by the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
(The text of Archbishop Tomasi’s comments is available here, at the IHEU website.)
It needs to be stressed that Archbishop Tomasi’s comments do not represent, in any way, an effort by the Church to shirk its responsibility for the actions of priest-molesters.
His presentation of these facts is a necessary action taken to correct the public record on the matter, to repair the damage caused by media misrepresentations of the true nature of clergy sexual abuse, and of the reality that this egregious and criminal misconduct is not more common among priests than among other clergy or among other groups that oversee the care and welfare of minor children.