Recent in-depth US government
studies on the maltreatment of children through sexual and other forms
of abuse make no direct reference to priests or the Catholic Church
as problematic. They do, however, highlight serious flaws in schools
nationwide both in terms of the incidence of sexual misconduct and ingrained
practices of cover-up and transferring perpetrators to other schools. 

The most recent “Child Maltreatment”
report
compiled
by the Department of Health and Human Services indentified 60,253 different
perpetrators of sexual abuse of minors in the U.S. during 2008. Statistics
from all 50 states show 56% were parents or other relatives and 8.8%
were a parent’s unmarried partner. The category “other professionals”,
which includes “clergy, sports coach, camp counselor, etc.”, accounts
for 349 perpetrators (0.6%). This group, being relatively tiny, is given
no further attention. (For further perspective, an average of 18 Catholic
priests a year were accused of paedofilia between 1950 and 2002, according
to a study
by John Jay College of Criminal Justice

commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. That would put
priests’ portion of the US paedofile ranks at less than 0.03%.) 

The Fourth National
Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4) Report
, which the Department of Health and
Human Services submitted to Congress this year, notes that only about
a fifth of the child maltreatment cases recognized at schools were reported
to civil authorities and investigated. A full 20% of the “school
sentinels” who contributed to the study indicated that their schools,
as a matter of policy, do not even permit them to report to child protection
services. The authors lament that desipite similar findings of analogous
studies in 1980, 1986, 1988 and 1993, no real progress has been made
in gettings schools to stop protecting perpetrators and start protecting
victims. 

This echoes a 2004 Department
of Education report on “Educator Sexual Misconduct”
, which estimated that 9.6 % of pupils
are targets of sexual misconduct by teachers or other school staff sometime
during their school career: 

Few students, families,
or school districts report incidents to the police or other law enforcement
agencies. When criminal justice officials are alerted, it is almost
always because parents have made the contact. […]As one consequence,
abusers are subject only to informal personnel actions within the relative
privacy of school employee records. 

The Department of Education
report cites a 1994 investigation which identified 225 teachers in New
York who had admitted to sexually abusing a student: 

None of the abusers was
reported to authorities and only 1 percent lost their license to teach.
[…] 15 percent were terminated or, if not tenured, they were not rehired;
and 20 percent received a formal reprimand or suspension. Another 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. Of those who left, superintendents
reported that 16 percent were teaching in other schools and that they
had no idea what the other 84 percent were doing. 

In reaction, a special commission
in New York City recommended 35 specific policy changes to reduce educator
sexual misconduct, including requiring schools to report and to do
background checks before hiring teachers. But as of 2004, these had not
been implemented, the Department of Education report noted. 

I wonder when we will see headlines
about the abuse cases that top US government officials have known about
for decades but kept quiet, and how many will resign for their inaction
on the issue…  

The Department of Education
report rightly pointed out that: 

The overwhelming majority
of America’s educators are true professionals doing what might be
called the “essential” work of democracy. The vast majority of schools
in America are safe places. Nevertheless, we must be willing to confront
the issues that are explored in this study. 

I wonder when similar comments
regarding the clean-up that is well underway in the Catholic Church
will be taken at face-value.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.