Catholic Church Covers for the Sins of its Priests

Between 1950 and 2002, 4% of Roman Catholic priests in the US have been accused of sexually abusing children and teenagers.  Victims have received a total of $573 million in compensation.   According to some sources, this number may reach $1 billion.

These were the conclusions of researchers who studied the archives of Catholic churches for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  In June of 2002, the Conference accepted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which requires the Catholic Church to study the history of sexual abuse by priests.  This followed a series of scandals that became public in early 2002 and undermined the reputation and financial condition of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Archives showed that 10,000 people have submitted suits against perverted priests.  Researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice believe that this number does not reflect the actual state of affairs, since it only accounts for victims, who accused high-placed church officials.  Crimes were registered within one year in less than 13% of the cases.  More than a quarter of the victims waited for decades to report abuse by priests.  Many adults simply did not want to admit that they had been abused by their priests.

Most priest pedophiles abused boys (81%).  Over 40% of the victims were between 11 and 14 years old.  Most of the offenders were between 30 and 39, 20% were under 20, 23% over 40 and 17% over 50.

About half of the offenses took place in the priests’ homes, but often the abuse took place in church (16.3%) or the home of the victim (12.4%).  Other locations included summer homes, schools and cars.  Over a third of the victims were abused for the duration of a year, but some remained victims for 5-9 years (10.2%) and others year for over a decade.

Abuse consisted of petting under clothes (57.3%), over clothes (56.8%), undressing the victim (27.5%), oral sex performed the priest (27.1%) and sexual intercourse (27.3%) or attempted sexual intercourse (25.1%).  Most of the priests were accused of more than one offence.  Only 9% limited themselves to questionable touching of the victim’s clothes. 

Researchers sought to not only investigate the incidence of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, but also to determine possible causes.  They determined that 7% of the priests accused of harassing youths had themselves been psychologically or sexually abused in childhood.  19% had problems with alcohol or drugs -- often the Church knew about these problems and tried to help the priests.  23% of the accused had psychological deviations.

Researchers from the College of Criminal Justice provided evidence that only14% of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse were turned in to the police by Church officials.  Of the 4,392 priests accused of sexual abuse, only 217 went to trial.  Of these, 138 were convicted.  The Church covered up the rest of the incidents, which were never investigated.  Furthermore, the records did not show condemnation of questionable activities.  Church officials who were asked, why the offenders were not properly punished replied that this was impossible because of Catholic laws.  It is very difficult to dismiss a priest.  Church officials also feared that scandals in the churchgoing community or within the Church could hurt their careers. 

The results of the investigation are unique.  The Church was previously highly unwilling to open such topics to secular researchers.  Over the past ten years, several studies on sexual abuse of minors by religious officials were published in the US.  Estimates of the statistics of such crimes vary widely.  For example, psychologist Ann Coulter concluded that 0.12% of clerics sexually abuse children; renowned church historian and theologian Philip Jenkins estimate this number at 2% and Richard Sipe, a former priest who became a psychotherapist named a figure of 6%.  Nor have researchers answered the question of whether the errant priests are “typical” pedophiles or homosexuals, who bring to fruition their sexual desires in such an unordinary manner.

Even after all of the public scandals about some of the darkest pages in the history of Catholicism, the American Catholic Church still refuses to disrobe its priests and deprive them of their title.  Albeit, the Church has demoted some high-placed officials and began internal reform seeking to prevent future offences.  Several offenders have committed suicide.  One priest, who had been stripped of his title and sentenced to jail was killed in prison.

Public opinion surveys show that American Catholics does not trust the Church hierarchy.  According to a Gallup poll, 72% of Catholics feel that Church officials do very little to prevent future offences and 74% believe that the Church is interested, above all, in saving its own reputation rather than uncovering the truth.  (VG)

-- 03/16