But we still have a fight ahead: the media are out to get us

Last week, I suggested that having comprehensively and repeatedly apologised for the small number of priests who have in some way sexually abused children and young people, it was time we moved on to the offensive against those who (often with an undeclared anti-Catholic agenda) continually assert that the Church is in some way particularly prone to this disgusting crime. I referred to a Newsweek article which said that “priests seem to abuse children at the same rate as everyone else”.

The fact is, however, that not only is the Catholic Church NOT an endemically paedophile organisation, the evidence is now emerging that, in fact, even Newsweek is exaggerating: it’s not that “priests… abuse children at the same rate as everyone else”: actually, according to Dr Thomas Plante of Stanford University and Santa Clara University, “available research suggests that approximately two to five per cent of priests have had a sexual experience with a minor” which “is lower than the general adult male population” – in which the percentage of those who have interfered with minors “is best estimated to be closer to eight per cent”. In other words, children who have anything to do with priests are between 1.6 and four times LESS likely to be abused by them than by anyone else.

“When,” asks the blog La Salette Journey, giving these and other details, “will the media acknowledge that the sexual abuse of children is not a ‘Catholic problem’?” The fact is, suggests the writer, Paul Anthony Melanson, that “the media are not so much concerned with the welfare of children as they are with unfairly portraying the abuse of children as a ‘crisis in the Church’ ”.  For example, the state school system in the US has a considerably higher rate of sexual abuse than the Catholic Church: according to a report prepared for the US Department of Education entitled Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, “9.6 per cent of all students in grades 8 to 11 report… educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted.”  This report has been virtually ignored by the media.

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But the penny is just beginning to drop. An article by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times reported (April 27) that the New York State legislature is now addressing the fact that child abuse is not only a problem for the Church, but for the whole of society. “Should it be possible,” asks Dwyer  “… to sue the city of New York for sexual abuse by public school teachers that happened decades ago? How about doctors or hospital attendants? Police officers? Welfare workers? Playground attendants? … To date, New York City has been publicly silent…. but sees the possibility of enormous expenses.”

Well, join the club, New York City. As Dwyer’s article points out: “Since 2004, Catholic dioceses nationwide have paid $1.4bn to settle claims of abuse, many from acts from the 1970s or earlier… Yet [he continues] there is little evidence to show there is more sexual abuse among Catholic priests than among clergy from other denominations, or, for that matter, among people from other walks of life.”

That’s the bottom line. This is a problem we share with everyone, though actually we are less guilty of it than society as a whole and are doing a lot better in acknowledging such child abuse as does exist. We need to get that, and the evidence for it, firmly into our heads. We have a battle ahead: we all need to be prepared for it.

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