Sex Abuse by Clergy Continues to Decline

While allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests continue to surface from decades ago, a new report shows a decrease in accusations by current minors.

WASHINGTON — While allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests continue to surface from decades ago, a new report shows a decrease in accusations by current minors.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released its 2011 annual audit on abuse reports and costs April 10. The “Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” is the USCCB’s ninth consecutive external audit.

In the report’s preface, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, said it “supports the conclusion of both studies done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, that the majority of allegations are way in the past.”

“The Church must do all she can never to let abuse happen again,” said Cardinal Dolan. “And we must all continue to work with full resolve toward the healing and reconciliation of the victims/survivors.”

Dioceses reported receiving 594 credible claims of clergy sexual abuse last year. Over 90% of all abuse accusations last year allege incidents from at least two decades ago — cases in which 75% of the priests who were accused are either deceased, already removed from ministry, laicized or missing.

Three percent of allegations made during the 2011 audit period were made by current minors. Of the allegations made by current minors, seven were considered credible by law enforcement, three were determined to be false, five were determined to be boundary violations, and three are still under investigation.

“The number of credible accusations alleging abuse by a Catholic priest against a current minor went down,” said David Pierre, author of Double Standard: Abuse Scandals and the Attack on the Catholic Church. “In 2010, the number of such allegations was eight. In 2011, the number went down to seven.”
Misrepresentation by Media
In spite of the decrease in reported abuse by current minors, secular reports from outlets such as The Associated Press and Reuters seized on the overall number of claims to say that the number of child abuse cases reported rose in 2011. The total number of credible claims received in 2010 was 505, compared to 594 in 2011.

“To say that the accusation numbers are up doesn’t give an accurate portrayal of what’s really going on today,” said Pierre. “The numbers of current abuse are very low.”

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, added, “I’ve had it. I’ve been fighting this war for years to get the media to report honestly about what the report has said. … When they look at the report, they tease out the worst possible data and highlight it. It’s outrageous, and it’s intentional.”

The Catholic League, in its press statement about the report, said, “The headlines should read, ‘Abuse Problem Near Zero Among Priests.’” Looking at the numbers a different way, the Catholic League stated that “99.98% of priests nationwide had no such accusation made against them last year. Nowhere is this being reported.”

“I’ve never seen an organization that was able to get a positive response for their good work on sexual abuse,” said Monica Applewhite, an expert on the dynamics of sexual abuse in educational and religious environments. “The Church doesn’t hire the media to tell us what the reports say. To learn if we’re doing enough, we should be reading the report ourselves.”

Applewhite noted that a recent study conducted by the Public Health Institute looked at media reporting on child sexual abuse. It found what Applewhite described as “superficial treatment” in news stories about sexual abuse, seldom reporting the nature of the relationship between the accuser and the accused.

“Most of these cases are relationship-based sexual abuse, but the media fails to say what the relationship was,” said Applewhite.

That’s not the only detail often left out of secular media reports.

Other Missing Information
The vast majority of cases are not pedophilia. Few secular media reports cite the preponderance of abuse being perpetrated by adult males on post-pubescent males.

The 2011 audit shows that 82% of alleged diocesan victims and 94% of alleged religious-order victims were male.

“The John Jay study found that four-fifths of victims were post-pubescent males,” said Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, director of the Philadelphia Institute for Marital Healing. “That study showed that adult males with same-sex attraction are the most likely to become involved with adolescent males. Let’s look at the true causes of the crisis. Criminologists lack the professional training and expertise to explain why adult males homosexually abuse adolescent males.”

Not everyone agrees on this explanation, though. Karen Terry, a researcher who conducted the John Jay study, cautioned bishops in 2009 not to link the sexual abuse crisis with homosexuality, explaining that heterosexual men sometimes engage in homosexual acts.
Annual Costs

The audit also summarized the amount spent by dioceses and religious orders on legal settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders, attorneys’ fees and other abuse-related costs.

In 2011, the nearly $74 million spent on settlements represented a 17% decrease from what was spent in 2010, while the amount spent on attorneys’ fees and other costs increased.

In total, settlement-related spending decreased from $150 million in 2010 to $144 million last year.

“There are positives to take out of the report,” added Pierre. “What other organization puts out a report annually? It’s a testament that the Church is working aggressively on the problem in a way that no other organization is doing.”

“The annual audits show that we are clearly continuing in our commitment to educate our families, protect children in our institutions, and receive with compassion those who have been harmed,” said Applewhite. “We’re really moving in the right direction, but we can never say that we are finished in this work.”

Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.