Articles defending the Catholic Church in
the middle of the paedophilia scandal attract hundreds of comments. Many of
them contain statements of dumbfounding ignorance such as most priests are
paedophiles. How can statements like this be refuted?

The hard facts about the situation in the
United States are available in a comprehensive study commissioned by the
Catholic bishops from the John Jay College
of Criminal Justice
at the City University of New York. The full report is available on
the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Published in 2004, it deals with the number
and nature of allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18 by
Catholic priests between 1950 and 2002. The College, an independent
professional body, aimed to “describe the dimensions of the abuse problem as
accurately and completely as possible, to be scrupulously objective in carrying
out the study, and to report the facts in an honest, forthright manner.”

The figures are not at all comforting, but
at least they quantify the problem. Of the roughly 109,700 Catholic priests in
service in those five decades, 4.0% — 4,392 priests — had allegations of
abuse. More abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade, peaking in 1980.
At the time of the report, the Catholic Church had already paid more than
US$500 million in compensation to victims. Priests ordained after 1979
accounted for 10.7% of allegations.

More than half of these priests were
alleged to have abused only one victim. The “monsters” who had more than ten
allegations of abuse were allegedly responsible for abusing 2,960 victims– 26%
of all allegations. There were 149 of these priests, or 3.5% of the total. 

The report stresses that these were
allegations of abuse. The number of incidents may easily have been understated,
as many victims never step forward or do not report incidents until they are
adults. It seems to have been very difficult to prove the allegations in a
court of law. The report states:

To date, the
police have been contacted about 1,021 priests with allegations of abuse, or
24% of our total. Nearly all of these reports have led to investigations, and
384 instances have led to criminal charges. Of those priests for whom
information about dispositions is available, 252 were convicted and at least
100 of those served time in prison. Thus, 6% of all priests against whom
allegations were made were convicted and about 2% received prison sentences to

This is essential background for anyone who
wants hard facts about the sexual abuse crisis.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.