Monday, September 3, 2018

Defending the Indefensible: The Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse of Minors

My family is Catholic. I occasionally receive pro-catholic messages in my family whatsapp groups. The other day, I got the one below.

Well, a Jewish businessman from Cleveland, Sam Miller was defending the Catholic Church. The sex abuse crisis was being blamed on the press.

The forward goes on to cite some stats. One of those piqued my interest. This one:
1.7% of the Catholic clergy has been found guilty of pedophilia.

Clearly, Sam had not heard of the John Jay Report. Sam's number is quite lower than the numbers I had seen cited before.

But first, why are Catholics citing a businessman to make the case? And not a research paper or a study?

Let's ignore Sam Miller the messenger and his years old note (from 2010?) and focus on the stats. I tried to hunt down the sources with some success.

So, let's break it down.

12% of the 300 Protestant clergy surveyed admitted to sexual intercourse with a parishioner; 38% acknowledged other inappropriate sexual contact in a study by the United Methodist Church

This seems to be a reference to Richard Blackmon's 1983 doctoral thesis and is reference to sex between consenting adults. How is that being cited in the same breath as sex abuse of minors? One is a crime. Another is not.

41.8% of clergy women reported unwanted sexual behavior; 17% of laywomen have been sexually harassed.

I could not find the source for this. But I found others what higher and lower than this. Harassment is not consensual behavior. But still not sex abuse of minors.

10% of the Protestant ministers have been found guilty of pedophilia

This is indeed a reference to sex abuse of minors. But the statistic is something a Sojourners article cites Penn. State Prof. Philip Jenkins as saying this in his 1996 book Pedophiles and Priests. Sojourners got it all wrong and provided a correction for this. Prof. Jenkins also clarified the same.[1][2]

1.7% of the Catholic clergy has been found guilty of pedophilia.

As best as I can tell, this seems to be a reference to a 1992 survey from the Chicago Archdiocese which was cited by Prof. Jenkins in his book.

This study has been superseded by better ones now. The landmark John Jay Report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, based on surveys completed by the catholic dioceses in the US found that 4% of all priests active between 1950 and 2002 had credible allegations of abuse.[3], which has been collecting data released by the U.S. Bishops says the rate is 5.8% for 1950-2016.[4]

The recent Australian commission found the abuse rate to be 7%.[5]

There are about 37,000 catholic priests today[6] in the US. At the rate of 5.8%, 2146 of them are child abusers.

Closer home, the Syro-Malabar Church Internet Mission lists over 9000 priests in Kerala today.[7] At this rate, only 529 of them are child abusers. If you still prefer the rate quoted by Sam Miller, only 155 are child abusers.

What we have here are incorrect statistics being cited to defend the indefensible.

Let's not mince words here. This is church of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, who resisted defrocking Rev. Kiesle, accused of abusing at least 15 children and wrote, "This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner."[8]

This is the church of Saint John Paul II, who reacted to the crisis with denial and inaction.[9][10] This is the church of Cardinal Bernard Law[11][12] and Cardinal George Pell.[13]

This is the church that has sided time with the abuser priests and fought the victims tooth and nail. It has tried to silence the victims, called them greedy, called them liars. It re-victimized the victims.[14]

Catholics have a choice here. They can either lie to themselves, stay in their echo chamber and stay Catholic. Or deal with reality. They can either side with the church and support it financially and otherwise. Or side with the abuse victims.


1. Jenkins, P. (2015, May 11). Perpetuating an Urban Legend. Retrieved from

2. 'Be Proud You Are Catholic' Speech Contains Error. (n.d.). Retrieved from

3. The Nature And Scope Of Sexual Abuse Of Minors By Catholic Priests And Deacons In The United States 1950-2002. (2004, February). Retrieved from

4. Number of Priests Accused of Sexually Abusing Children As Reported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Compiled by from reports commissioned by the USCCB, Updated April 11, 2011. (n.d.). Retrieved September 2, 2018, from

5. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: Report released. (2017, December 15). Retrieved from

6. Frequently Requested Church Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved September 3, 2018, from

7. Syro Malabar Church Priest. (n.d.). Retrieved from

8. BBC News - Text of Pope 'letter'. (n.d.). Retrieved from

9. The Shame of John Paul II: How the Sex Abuse Scandal Stained His Papacy. (2015, June 29). Retrieved from

10. Records show that John Paul II could have intervened in abuse crisis - but didn't. (2014, April 25). Retrieved from

11. Cardinal Law's complex role in the contemporary history of clergy sexual abuse. (2017, December 28). Retrieved from

12. Drawing lessons from the life of Cardinal Bernard Law. (Dec 27, 2017) Retrieved from

13. Vatican silence on Cardinal Pell's trial is a turn from a long history. (May 7, 2018) Retrieved from

14. Bishop Robert Finn: the rest of the story. (May 5, 2015) Retrieved from