FACT: Catholic priests abuse at a rate far lower than that of other males in the general population. Read more
Notwithstanding the media hysteria over sex abuse in the Catholic Church, priests abuse at a rate far lower than that of other males. While even one case of abuse is too many, approximately only 4% of all active priests between 1950 and 2002 were even accused of abuse – a rate far lower than that of other males in the general population.
"[B]ased on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. 'We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else,' said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children …
"Experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population, but Allen says a conservative estimate is one in 10. Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says her review of the numbers indicates it’s closer to one in 5 …
"Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations … It's been that way for decades."
"If anyone believes that priests offend at a higher rate than teachers or non-celibate clergy, then they should produce the evidence on which they are basing that conclusion. I know of none. Saying 'everybody knows' does not constitute scientific methodology."
– Dr. Philip Jenkins, Pennsylvania State University.
THE GRAND CONSPIRACY THAT WASN'T
FACT: You would never know it from the media's lurid coverage, but the vast bulk of reported cases of abuse stem only from a historical anomaly, as most allegations occurred during only a small sliver of time during the Sexual Revolution from the 1960s to the early 1980s. And despite media suggestions of dark conspiracies and cover-ups, the Church – like every other institution at the time – simply followed the then-prevailing view of experts in the field that offenders could be successfully rehabilitated and sent accused priests off for treatment, rather than reporting them to police, which resulted in a temporary spike in recidivism. Read more
Catholic Church Abuse Graph 1970-2009
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the Catholic Church, following the then-prevailing societal practice, sent suspected abusers to psychologists rather than calling the police.
In this respect, the Church was far from alone.
When the Church was sending accused priests to psychological treatment, "the criminal justice system was doing the very same thing with convicted offenders – sending them to treatment instead of prison."
"From the 1950's to the 1980's, these treatment-based interventions for sexual criminals were not only enormously prevalent in the United States, but surveys of ordinary citizens showed that they were enormously popular …
"[T]he science of human sexuality and sexual offending is extraordinarily young. Virtually all of the information we utilize today regarding the treatment and supervision of sexual offenders has been discovered since 1985."
– Dr. Monica Applewhite, Ph.D.
Yet in almost every media account, the media has failed to provide this important historical context that the Church was following the then-reigning advice of experts in the field to send accused priests to treatment.
"No one would hold a brain surgeon to today's standard of care for professional decisions he made in 1970. Yet the decisions made in 1970 by Catholic bishops, who routinely consulted with mental health professionals about sick priests, are being judged by today's standards. Today, the confidence of the mental health community about the likelihood of curing sexual disorders is far less than it was in 1970."
– L. Martin Nussbaum, "Changing the Rules" (America magazine, 2006)
Tragically, sending accused priests to treatment rather than reporting them to the police resulted in a high rate of recidivism among those priests. According to the 2004 John Jay College report, 149 priests were "serial abusers" (10+ victims) and accounted for an alarming 26% of all of the abuse that took place between 1950 and 2002.
Yet these 149 men represent only one-tenth of one percent of all priests who served in the Catholic Church in the United States between 1950 and 2002. Most accused priests (56%) have been the subject of only one allegation.
THE REAL NEWS: CURRENT ACCUSATIONS AGAINST CATHOLIC PRIESTS ARE EXTREMELY RARE
FACT: Almost all accusations against Catholic priests date from many decades ago, and indeed nearly half of all abuse accusations concern priests who are already long dead. In a body of 77 million people, contemporaneous accusations of abuse against Catholic clergy in the United States are very rare, recently averaging only 8 allegations deemed "credible" by review boards each year. Read more
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the independent research organization out of Georgetown University, has been tracking abuse data regarding United States Catholic clergy for several years. CARA issues annual reports through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
According to CARA, here are the numbers of accusations involving a current minor that were even deemed "credible" each year from 2005 to 2011:
THE STORY THE MEDIA WON'T REPORT: THE EPIDEMIC OF ABUSE AND COVER-UPS GOING ON TODAY IN OUR OWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
FACT: The incidence of sexual abuse by teachers in public schools today has been estimated to be "more than 100 times" that by Catholic priests, and there is alarming evidence of school officials covering up abuse and failing to report suspected cases to authorities. Yet the mainstream media has largely ignored this shocking story while still rehashing decades-old allegations of abuse by Catholic priests. Read more
A 2004 U.S. Department of Education report reported that "the most accurate data available" reveals that "nearly 9.6 percent of [public school] students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career."
This result prompted Hofstra University's Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, the author of the study, to opine in 2006, "[T]hink the Catholic Church has a problem? The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests."
A Meanwhile, that same 2004 report cited an important study from the mid-1990s:
"In an early  study of 225 cases of educator sexual abuse in New York, all of the accused had admitted to sexual abuse of a student but none of the abusers was reported to authorities."
That is an important and alarming fact:
Number of abusive educators: 225
Number reported by school officials to police: 0
So, in other words, as recently as just 1994, it was the universal practice in New York among school administrators not to call police to report abusers.
The 1994 study also reported that only 1 percent of those abusive educators lost their license. In addition, most alarmingly, "25 percent received no consequence or were reprimanded informally and off-the-record. Nearly 39 percent chose to leave the district, most with positive recommendations or even retirement packages intact."
Rarely seen Associated Press teacher abuse graphic from 2007
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TODAY: A MODEL FOR THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN
FACT: The Catholic Church is likely the safest environment for children today. Read more
has instituted in all dioceses abuse review boards – often composed of child welfare experts, child psychologists, and abuse experts – to examine any claims of abuse against priests.
No other organization even comes close to implementing the measures the Catholic Church has taken to protect children in its care. In this regard, the Catholic Church in the 21st century is the model for other institutions to follow in the safeguarding of youth.