Media Touts Dutch Study Claiming 20,000 Catholic Sex Abuse Victims; What Are the Facts?

There has been some news about a recent study from the Netherlands claiming that there have been 20,000 Catholic Church sex abuse victims in that country.

However, a closer look at this story reveals that the ‘20,000’ number may be quite shadowy.

Some known facts:

  • The study claims to calculate abuse going back to 1945, 65 years ago.
  • The calculation is based completely on an “online survey” (!) of Dutch residents.
  • The study acknowledges that “roughly” 800 priests have been identified as accused clergy, and about 695 of them are deceased. (That’s about 87% of the accused being deceased.)
  • After very high-profile news reports (and settlements) in 2010 about sex abuse allegations in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, 1,795 reports of sex abuse were calculated – far less than the 20,000 number.

Surely, for numerous reasons there should be questions about the reliability of this study’s results (e.g., an “online survey”?).

By the way, the study also stated: “The scale of sexual abuse of minors in the Roman Catholic Church in the period 1945 to 2010 is relatively small in percentage terms”; and “[T]he impression that sexual abuse of minors occurred primarily within the Roman Catholic Church needs to be qualified. Sexual abuse of minors occurs widely in Dutch society.”

It also added,

"There is no scientific evidence to support the assertion – expressed both in the media and in church circles – that celibacy is the sole explanatory factor for the degree to which sexual abuse occurs within the Roman Catholic Church. This assertion would imply that sexual abuse occurs significantly more often in the Roman Catholic Church than in other similar contexts (non-Roman Catholic institutions). However, that is not the case judging by the results in the survey."

Whoa! Celibacy is not a cause of child abuse! Hmmm. Somehow, this fact was missing in the reporting by the New York Times.