The National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People established by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has not had an easy time of determining the extent of the sexual abuse of minors within the American Roman Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, there has been considerable internal opposition. This resistance was so bad that long before its work was finished, its chairman, Frank Keating, was forced to resign after he compared the Church's actions to the Cosa Nostra, which rather proved his point.
Unfortunately, however, these initial numbers are likely to be the only official accounting ever done by the Roman Catholic Church. As soon as the report was published, the UCCB acted swiftly to cut the National Review Board's feet out from under it. For this was to be the preliminary report; the audits were to be completed and a larger report issued. Furthermore, the Board had planned further follow-up reports to follow the implementation of their proposals.
That will not happen now. And so the Church has squandered its last, best chance of ever coming clean.
Certainly the fact that the report was reluctantly commissioned by the bishops who have been responsible for the crisis does not reflect well on its credibility. Nor does the fact that they only reason they ever did so was due to the constant and unrelenting pressure since the early 1990s by victims and advocacy groups, and later, the news media not to mention the drain on their treasuries from huge settlements and dwindling contributions.
Many dioceses with much to hide did not want to co-operate. Religious orders, the report acknowleges, were even worse. The results are still missing from some groups, and the rest are spinning their denials and minimalizations as fast at their highly paid PR firms can turn. And as it's all self-reported, there is no guarantee of any kind of completeness nor accuracy.
The focus was criticized as too narrow, being concerned solely with child sexual abuse. Other situations where clerics have sexually acted out with adult women and men, nuns and seminarians, have not been looked at; nor the effect on any offspring they may have sired in the process. For that matter, the personal cost to victims and their families remains uncounted. How many lives destroyed through alcohol, drugs, unsafe sex or violence have there been? How much abuse has been repeated by its victims? How many suicides and ruined families? How can the total cost ever be calculated?
There has been much complaining by victims, also, that only a handful were asked to testify, that there was too little time and too many restrictions. Many, too, point out that not all victims have yet come forward by any means. Indeed, even if there are no new cases, just the repressed memories alone of the still-unrecognized victims will guarantee that these numbers will only increase over the next twenty years.
And nothing has been said about multiple abusers and rings who swapped victims around like trading cards...
Nonetheless, A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States has generated a fog of figures, which cannot obscure the extent of this massive failure of institutional religion. It is indeed a crisis. Though this is a step forward, it is not the solution by any means, but a half-hearted admission that there is a problem.
Here are a few of the highlights.
- US clerics (priests, deacons, bishops, etc.) accused of abuse from 1950-2002: 4,392.
About 4% of the 109,694 serving during those 52 years.
- Individuals making accusations: 10,667.
- Victims' ages: 5.8% under 7; 16% ages 8-10; 50.9% ages 11-14; 27.3% ages 15-17.
- Victims' gender: 81% male, 19% female
- Duration of abuse: Among victims, 38.4% said all incidents occurred within one year; 21.8% said one to two years; 28%, two to four years; 11.8% longer.
- Victims per priest: 55.7% with one alleged victim; 26.9% with two or three; 13.9% with four to nine; 3.5% with 10 or more (these 149 priests caused 27% of allegations).
- Abuse locations: 40.9% at priest's residence; 16.3% in church; 42.8% elsewhere.
- Known cost to dioceses and religious orders: $572,507,094 (does not include the $85 million Boston settlement and other expenses after research was concluded). (Hartford Courant, 2/27/04)
It should be noted that 30% of all accusations included in these figures were not investigated as they were deemed unsubstantiated (10%) or because the accused priest was dead or inactive (20%). They do not include allegations that were "unfounded" or later recanted.
In any case, all these figures are widely suspected to be grossly underestimated. For example, the late Fr. Tom Economus, former President of the Linkup, a national survivors' advocacy group, said back in the mid-90s that he knew of "1,400 insurance claims on the books and that the Church has paid out over $1 billion in liability with an estimated $500 million pending." (Emphasis added.)
He also said that over 800 priests had been removed from ministry and that there might be as many as 5,000 with allegations against them, which is not that far off. He often claimed that by far the most calls he received from all victims of any kind of clergy abuse were those from males who suffered abuse in their youth in the Catholic Church. Certainly the numbers, which show that the highest number of victims were 12 year old boys and that 80% of the abuse was homosexual in nature, validate that anecodotal evidence, too. In fact, while the numbers of young children and girls did not vary much, the report shows an astounding six-fold increase in the abuse of boys aged 11-17 between the 1950s and 70s. And the figures for males stayed high through the 1980s.
Could it be that once the exits were opened by Vatican II, the good priests who could departed to marry, and the maladjusted ones who remained were left to their own devices?
In any case, Fr. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer with more experience than any in these cases, has raised many questions over the validity and methodology of the study. He has said that he thought many cases were still hidden, pointing out the low numbers for the 1950s.
'"It's not over with," Doyle said. "The heart of the matter is: Why was there this massive betrayal? Why did they move [abusers] around for years, when they knew what they were doing? Why have they continued to re-victimize the victims by stonewalling, and why they have never turned in any of these known pedophiles?"'(Hartford Courant, 2/26/04)
- Four in 10 US Catholic nuns report having experienced sexual abuse, (a rate equivalent to that reported by American women in general), a study by Catholic researchers supported by major religious orders, has found. The study found that sisters have known sexual abuse less in childhood, dispelling what the authors call an "anti-Catholic" canard that girls fled to convents to escape sexual advances. During religious life, close to 30% of the nation's 85,000 nuns experienced "sexual trauma," ranging from rape to exploitation to harassment. A total of 40% reported a least one experience of that kind. NCR, 1/15/99 See The Nuns' Stories for details.
- The Wisconsin Psychological Association's survey found offenders distributed among the following professions: Psychiatrists 34%, Psychologists 19%, Social Workers 13%, Clergy 11%, Physicians 6%, Marriage Counselors 4%, and Others 14%.
- The Center for Domestic Violence found that 12.6% of clergy said they had sex with church members. 47% of clergy women were harassed by clergy colleagues.
- The Presbyterian Church stated that 10-23% of clergy have "inappropriate sexual behavior or contact" with clergy and employees.
- The United Methodist research (1990) showed 38.6% of Ministers had sexual contact with church members and that 77% of church workers experienced some type of sexual harassment.
- The United Church of Christ found that 48% of the women in the work place have been sexually harassed by male clergy.
- The Southern Baptists claim 14.1% of their clergy have sexually abused members.
At least the Roman Catholic Bishops can take heart: they're not alone...