Does Religion (and Not Just Catholicism) Produce More Than Its Fair Share of Child Abusers?

I wanted to headline this post “Child Sexual Abuse: In Defense of the Catholic Church,” but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I suppose the thought of being seen as the atheist version of Bill F. Donohue (I know that F. isn’t his middle initial, but I like to imagine that it is) didn’t exactly sound appealing.

But to my point: Consider this story:

Yeshiva University chancellor Norman Lamm resigned Monday amidst growing pressure over allegations of sexual abuse at Yeshiva University High School stretching back decades, a scandal that was first reported by the Forward in December. In a letter announcing his resignation, Lamm apologized for his failure to go to police with reports of sexual abuse against high school students.

But Kevin Mulhearn, an attorney representing 22 men allegedly abused at YUHS between 1971 and 1989, said that the apology did not go far enough.

“Rabbi Lamm’s mea culpa, in admitting that he responded inappropriately to reports of sexual abuse at YUHS, is a positive first step, but only a first step,” Mulhearn told the Forward. “The conspiracy of silence at Y.U. involves many high-level administrators, not just Rabbi Lamm. It is the institution as a whole, not just one man, which needs to make amends.”

Do you know how many non-Catholic-Church stories there are exactly like that one — self-styled holy men who molest children, and other self-styled holy men who shield the abusers from judicial consequences? Volumes. In the world of Judaism alone, news reports of child abuse are so numerous that the admirably tenacious and prolific writer Shmarya Rosenberg, who runs the Failed Messiah blog, has a hard time keeping up.

There can be no doubt that the Catholic Church is up to its gilded spires in child abuse. I’m halfway through Pulitzer Prize winner Michael D’Antonio‘s Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, and I have to put the book down every five to ten pages pages when I can no longer stomach either the descriptions of abuse, or the hypocrisy (or both). To say that I have no love for the institution that does this and this and this is to say that the Sahara is sometimes sandy.

But for the past six months, I’ve been paying very close attention, every day, to reports of sex crimes by clergy — on account of my blog, Moral Compass, where I chronicle the often mind-blowing misdeeds of the faithful. And sometimes I almost feel sorry for the Catholic Church, because it’s beginning to seem to me that the abuse is widespread throughout the world of religion (and beyond). And I think it isn’t just selective perception or confirmation bias.

I tag my Moral Compass blog posts with the main perpetrators’ religion. Now, when I click the “Protestantism” tag, I get roughly as many sex-abuse-related posts as when I click the “Catholicism” tag.

“Judaism” and “Islam” yield fewer results, but that’s not hard to explain. Judaism doesn’t have nearly as many followers as Christianity (there are about 6.7 million Jews in the United States, versus roughly 245 million Christians).

The number of Muslims in the U.S. — from where I get most of my news — is only around three million. In majority-Muslim countries, sex taboos are so pervasive that I’m willing to bet that most abuse cases, if they come to light at all, are never reported in the media. Plus, remember that we’re talking about a religion whose prophet bedded a nine-year-old girl.

(Then again, when Muslims’ sex crimes against children do come to the fore, they are often characterized by a dizzying viciousness. You may need to steady yourself while reading what Saudi preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi did to his own five-year-old daughter.)

Catholic apologists rightfully don’t get any traction when they protest that the sexual abuse of children is also rife in other quarters. It’s a no-win assertion for them: they get accused of changing the topic, and of deflecting blame, or shouted down with the true-enough response that the other-people-do-it-too defense is juvenile, unserious, and disgusting.

Still, in all fairness, they have a point. I don’t want to give them an inch of forgiveness or a soupçon of absolution, but we shouldn’t blind ourselves to the reality that religion in general is often a child-abuse breeding ground (though, of course, not exclusively so).

It has to do, I think, with a confluence of factors that are wrapped up in the nature of clergydom. Off the top of my head:

  • A patriarchal worldview.
  • A feeling of divine empowerment (“I can do anything; God is with me”).
  • Sexual repression.
  • The belief that forgiveness is but a confession or a prayer away.
  • Access to children who accept authority and expect instruction.
  • The illogical nature of faith, which, to a child, perhaps makes sexual requests no more bizarre or suspect than baptisms or religious circumcisions, or any number of other out-there rituals.
  • The unquestioning trust of the flock in its clergy.
  • Congregants’ aversion to learning the distasteful truth about a religious figurehead.
  • The attendant reluctance to go to the police / press charges / start a scandal (“Our church also does so much good”).

Due to the top-down structure of the Catholic Church, that institution does still take the cake. No other religion has a remotely similar world-wide hierarchy where robed evildoers can be shuffled to different parts of the country or the world with near-impunity. And no other religion has such copious funds, the better to lobby legislatures, pay for a phalanx of slick defense lawyers, and settle abuse cases out of court.

But it should be clear that child rapists come in all kinds of guises, and while we’d do well to keep a weary eye on the Catholic Church, true vigilance doesn’t take a break around morality peddlers of any stripe.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.

  • 3lemenope

    Many of the religions implicated do not have traditions or tenets that give forgiveness so freely. That aside, I suspect this is driven much more by the social role that religion occupies than anything peculiar to religion itself. You place a group of people in charge of children and teach children to trust and obey them, and bad apples will take advantage.

  • Mackinz

    I don’t know about all religions… Only the Abrahamic ones really seem to practice sexual inhibition and the other factors which lead to child molestation. I can’t say much about them, but I’ve never seen a Buddhist get sued for child abuse.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I actually think the media and society as a whole is way too easy on the RCC. Look at the Penn State scandal last year. Joe Paterno and some other higher-ups didn’t report a guy that was caught taking a shower with a boy. Reprehensible but they were all fired almost immediately and the slimebag is in jail for life.

    Now look at a guy like Dolan. I don’t hear anyone freaking out over this thing that came out the other day about him hiding 57 million from victims on the Pope’s authority. Even before that, we knew that he was paying accused priests upwards of $20,000 to leave the church quietly so they could go find a job as a guidance counselor or something. To state that more bluntly…this man was giving out cash bonuses and a monthly pension to priests for raping children. You’d think that would be a huge fucking story. Yet even after we knew that, he gets to schmooze it up with the two men competing to be leader of the free world…

    Paterno has his fucking statue torn down…and this cat is rolling with Obamney. I’m not even going get started on the utter absurdity of the Pope being allowed to hide in the Vatican and granted immunity for it. Incidentally but not at all ironically, guess what country has the lowest age of consent in the world?

  • PrimroseRoad

    The rate of child sexual abuse is probably the same as in the general population, but when you have a large group focused more on “tradition” than anything else, or one who puts religious “tradition” above the rights of children to be safe, then there’s a problem communicating with law enforcement authorities. It’s so disheartening to see people on the Jewish Daily Forward site debating this, discussing whether or not a religious leader has a responsibility to go directly to the authorities (of course he does!). Basically, they’re asking the question, “what’s more important, our children or a “tradition” that protects old men?” and in some cases, sadly, they’re choosing the latter.

  • Lagerbaer

    I don’t know of any such case either, but that doesn’t necessarily mean
    much. In Buddhism you also have hierarchies and monasteries that novices
    enter at very young age, so the possibility for abuse definitely

  • baal

    Anytime there are closed doors and power differentials (though mostly men are the abusers), abuse happens. It’s entirely predictable so organizations should be liable for not preventing this known harm (at least as negligence). About half a year ago there was a story about a Buddhist monk who was ‘teaching women to see of illusion of this world’ via sex abuse.

  • Lagerbaer

    The problem that is unique to religion isn’t the child abuse; this indeed can happen any place children are in the care of others. The somewhat unique problem is the hiding and shielding of the perpetrators.

    Let’s say that I abuse my position as teaching assistant at a university to pressure a pre-med student struggling with Physics 101 into sex with me for a better grade. I’m pretty sure if that came to light the university would not just reassign me to Physics 201.

  • Terry Firma
  • amycas

    In most states in the U.S., the clergy are considered mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters have a legal responsibility to report *any* suspected child abuse. In TX, they have an anonymous hotline you can call.

  • Houndentenor

    Well past 2000 I kept hearing Catholic coworkers say things like “who would ever think a priest would do such a thing” even though for a couple of decades we’d been hearing a steady stream of allegations against priests. I think that faith requires turning off the part of your brain that is skeptical and trusting the people who reaffirm what you want to believe. I find religious people as well as spiritual/new age types falling victim to scams and fraud all the time. My facebook feed provides at least a dozen examples every day. Religion leaves them gullible and that wouldn’t be so bad except that a good many people see them for the easy marks they are and take advantage. That’s why things like child abuse are so common. The signs are there and the adults who should be watching just can’t make themselves accept the reality that their suspicions are true and those that do are easily dismissed. Nothing will get you shunned faster in a religious group than skepticism or doubting those in authority in that tradition.

  • Rich Wilson
  • Houndentenor

    Exactly. Anyone who dares criticize or accuse the RCC, no matter how much evidence there is, will be instantly accused of persecuting the church. I was stunned at the depth of the Boston Globe’s coverage of the child rape scandal in the last decade. There was a LOT of pressure on the paper not to run the stories. Meanwhile every Catholic I know feels that the church is being persecuted and you’ll hear revolting excuses like “It was only 2-3 % of priests. (There are about 440,000 priests worldwide…do the math…it means that, if that number is true, the problem is worse than you probably imagined.) Compare that to Penn State where there was only one pedophile (which is bad on its own) and the public and legal reaction to that. Meanwhile the bishops who presided over the cover-up and basically acted as accomplices (before and after the fact) for the rape of children have faced no punishments and some were even elevated (Ratzinger, in particular).

  • Houndentenor

    Over the last couple of decades, the way in which we train singers has changed to eliminate any touching of the student or the student touching the teacher. There’s too much danger of misunderstanding and accusations and your career is not worth whatever benefit might come from a student feeling your ribcage expand as you breathe.

    Also, I know that many churches (perhaps even most) have very strict rules about adult supervision of children and adults being alone with children. These rules protect everyone: the children as well as the adults. I’m suspicious of anyone who refuses to adopt what are now standard rules for children because the only reason I can think of to avoid such rules is to do things that you know you shouldn’t.

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    Slightly undermined by the fact that “Duty to God” is at the forefront of most, if not all, Scouting organizations’ mission statements, with modern Scouting founded with the express interest of “spiritual growth,” and at the exclusion of atheists or even, until very recently and only in select regions, a simple lack of admission of faith. Even then, Scouting and similar organizations operate on almost ALL of the same parameters mentioned above as any religion – it’s the same unquestioning hierarchy, the same “we do good things, too!” apologism, and the same groundless sexual repression. Why do you suppose the BSA is still under fire for its discrimination against homosexuality?

  • Cyrus Palmer

    Followed! Thanks for writing such an interesting blog Terry! Although the story of the girl who inspired you to write it will disturb me for the rest of my life….

  • Terry Firma

    So you sum up the 1,000 words I wrote, despite my repeated equivocations, as “Just religions.” That’s an interesting way of reading! ;-)

    As for the Boy Scouts, they have traditionally been a religious (Christian) organization — so much so that in order to become one, each scout has to swear “do my duty to God and my country.” No atheists wanted.

  • C Peterson

    Sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children is an illness, so I’d assume that its prevalence is independent of religious view. I assume it ranges in severity from mild to uncontrollable, which raises the interesting question of whether some religious viewpoints, or non-religious viewpoints, more effectively let pedophiles control their urges.

    Whether we find more pedophiles amongst the clergy is an open question, I think. It seems to me that in many cases, the clergy is an avenue attractive to pedophiles because of the opportunities it provides. In addition, some religions (such as Catholicism) place requirements on their clergy that inherently filter normal people out, leaving a higher than average number with various problems, psychological and social.

    Looking at the broader picture of child abuse, however, it’s a different matter. In biblical times (both OT and NT), children were not looked on with much love or respect. The very concept of “childhood” as we understand it today was barely present, with children varying in perception as something between property and little adults. It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the modern view of childhood began to emerge, and our view of how children should be treated continues to evolve, generally in a gentler, more respectful direction.

    It seems clear that the more value religionists place on the bible, the more literally they interpret it, the less likely they are to follow modern thinking about children, and the more likely they are to be abusive as we now see things. And it does seem that many or most of the most egregious cases of non-sexual child abuse we’ve seen in recent years have involved extremely religious parents.

  • Keyra

    It’s truly pathetic when people (New atheists) can’t tell the difference between true Christianity (those who actually apply to Jesus’ teachings), apart from misrepresentation “christianity” (hypocrites, heretics, etc.). Even the victims of the pedophile sickos can see past all this

  • Jack_Ma

    I would say, yes, religions have more than their fair share. The reason being that religions view the offender as having sinned against god, which is much worse than injuring a mere human child, which is trivial by comparison, and which is sometimes actually ordered by god. Once forgiven by god, all is right with the offender. He is now a good man again, with a clean slate, regardless of the devastation caused by the abuse here on earth. This enables the fiend to live with himself until he preys on another innocent, after which, he gets his absolution and the cycle continues.

  • Lagerbaer

    You mean True™ Christianity? That’s the No True Scotsman fallacy right there.

  • Art_Vandelay

    The “true Christians” being the ones who condemn pederasty while continuing to support the church financially even with the knowledge that billions of dollars have been spent by the RCC alone in settlements and providing old, creepy virgins with complete authority over their children upon threats of eternal damnation?

  • Tainda

    I think it’s because, for some reason, most people trust the clergy and that is very appealing to sexual predators. It even spreads into just because someone goes to church they are safe in a lot of people’s minds. I don’t know how many times I hear “He/she is a great person, they go to church regularly!” and this could be someone they don’t even know personally. I have also known people who take their kids to a daycare JUST because it is run by a church.

  • jferris

    Keyra, If you at your pastors door demanding he not give the church offerings to the main church, that they turn over their records to the police, that they continue to support and follow those who have hidden away predators and moved money to keep it from victims, you are part of the problem, and no more a “Christian” than those you claim to be different than.

  • Artor

    It’s truly pathetic when Xians think they can dismiss appalling abuse in their church simply by labeling the perpetrators as “not True Xians™.” You, Keyra, are a huge part of the problem. Until you face up to the fact that all Xians bear responsibility for putting a stop to this shit, True™ or not, then you are enabling more child rape.

  • Artor

    The meme of pedophile priests has been around for at least 1000 years. Chaucer makes mention of it in the Canterbury Tales. It’s been a known problem for all that time, and only now is the Church being held to account

  • 3lemenope

    A small part of it might be the sheer immensity of the problem. People have a hard time when the scope of a thing expands beyond what they are used to coping with. The idea that an ancient and world wide institution they were taught was at least worthy of respect if not veneration is in fact a massive international conspiracy to rape young children and hide the rapists from the law, it strains the mind a bit.

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    Hmm. Considering the question, I expected to see some statistics. Instead, its little more than anecdotal innuendo. You’re making it very hard for me to support these positions, when the due diligence is not being performed. I can’t repeat what I’ve read here, as it has no argumentative value. I thought as atheists/humanists, we were supposed to be evidence based.

  • Michael W Busch

    Stop it with the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    Anyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. That’s the only sensible definition, since nobody can agree on what to include in the set of “Jesus’ teachings”.

    And if you are going to mark much of the Christian clergy (including the majority of the Catholic hierarchy) as “not true Christian”, you should reconsider the organization of all of Christianity.

  • 3lemenope

    It is difficult to procure what is not available. Beyond that, though, exploring a topic doesn’t automatically mean you need numbers and statistics right off the bat. At some point it is useful to get a fuller empirical picture, but it is just as important to discuss the parameters of the hypothesis and think about where and in what form evidence might appear before you design an experiment or survey whose job it is to actually find some.

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    The traits of organized religion that create a pro-abuse environment aren’t being pulled out of the air; there are 8 different citations in the article and another half dozen or so linked in the comments by Terry Firma, and just about any familiarity at all with these religions and the nature of religious hierarchy makes these factors perfectly visible and barely speculative. what else do you need to be able to say “Guys, I think these factors that all of these settings have in common lead to child abuse!”

  • Michael W Busch

    I have heard of cases of sexual assault of children and of adults and of molestation of children in Buddhist groups as others have cited already; in various new religious movements; in Hindu groups (Mohandas Gandhi can be considered guilty of molestation); and in a large number of non-religious organizations.

    The evidence is that all authoritarian social structures are subject to horrific and systematic abuse, unless they are carefully and intelligently designed with oversight mechanisms to prevent that. Religious organizations frequently lack such oversight.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    I’m reminded that a tabletop RPG with a modern horror setting addressed the issue of an international, centuries-old conspiracy of religious, sexual child abuse and coverups in which the RCC hierarchy was involved back around 1992. And it was presented as a darker world than the real one. Catholics can’t even keep up as well with reality as a fictional setting written melodramatically on purpose.

  • jscalvano

    I was just wondering if you also paid attention to sexual abuse in the public school systems. I think that would be a very interesting comparison to make since the two institutions share many similar properties, sans belief in God.

  • sam

    “…Those who actually apply Jesus’ teachings…” Which teachings do you mean, Keyra? The parable in which the protagonist & pedagogical model insists, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here & kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:27)? Or Rev 2:26-27, “To him who overcomes & does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations–He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery”? Maybe the parables in which the endorsed protagonists turn people over to be tortured, bound & cut to pieces (MT 18:34, MT 22:13, MT 24:45-51)? Perhaps Rev 2:18-23, in which “Jesus” threatens to strike dead the children of a woman with different opinions? Or perhaps, since yhwh & jeshua are the same god, PS 137:9, in which yhwh inspires the celebration & joy to be found in dashing childrens’ heads against stones? Or are these not the cherries you are picking today?

  • Terry Firma

    In my piece, I mentioned nine reasons why I think there’s such a strong link between organized religion and child abuse. Seven or eight of those reasons are entirely or almost uniquely religious — that is, they do not apply, or much less so, to the non-religious. It’s true that sexual child abuse “can happen any place children are in the care of others,” but that doesn’t begin to describe why the crime is such a “natural” within the organized-religion context.

  • 3lemenope

    I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with this species of response to the tired “but True Christians…” meme, and so this isn’t directed necessarily at you, MWB, but it’s a good a place as any.

    First off, because it’s technically an incorrect use of the No True Scotsman. A No True Scotsman is very particularly when an interlocutor in a conversation changes their definition of a key term in the midst of an argument after having committed to a broader definition earlier on. Christians, by-and-large, do not accept the definition of a Christian as being simply a person who calls themselves Christian and never have, so they can’t be committing a No True Scotsman by pointing that out. The only time a actual NTS comes up when discussing Christianity is when the Christian wishes to resort to an ad populum (i.e. “there are BILLIONS of Christians on Earth, therefore Jesus”) when with any probing it becomes clear that large swaths of those billions actually don’t meet the definition that the Christian holds to be true.

    The error being made is really rather one of Christians possessing a useless definition, rather than one of them changing their definition. The definition is useless because none of its features aid anyone in actually ascertaining whether any given person is a Christian or not; all the signifiers of being Christian rely upon inaccessible internal states and self-report to be attested to.

    Frankly the non-Christian definition of Christian is also pretty useless; it also relies on self-report, and is not exclusive enough or discriminating enough to actually generate a usable category. If the category of Christian is filled by every single person who claims to be Christian, nothing meaningful could be said that would hold true over that group, because it fails to indicate an objective quality that might separate members from non-members.

    So a better response to the “no True Christian…” might be to demand a usable definition for what a true christian is, such that we on the outside might identify one. Absent such a definition, the claim can be provisionally dismissed on the basis that it is using fatally flawed and unusable categories.

  • C Peterson

    What is “child abuse”? Different kinds of abuse have different causes, some of which may be enabled by religion (or even encouraged), others of which are largely pathological. In the latter case, I imagine Buddhists are as likely to be involved as Catholics.

  • RobMcCune

    I see, so these pedophiles were true christians right until they sexually abused children.

  • Michael W Busch

    Fair point about most Christians not clearly defining what they mean when they say “Christian”. That one is particularly annoying when people use the same word to mean several different things (e.g. “75% of the US is Christian!” and “Protestants aren’t Christian!”).

    But I think No True Scotsman does apply here. It doesn’t require changing a definition in the middle of an argument. It just requires somebody dismissing counterexamples to universal claims. In this case:

    Terry: “Christians and Christian clergy, regardless of sect, can be guilty of child abuse.”

    Keyra: “Those aren’t True Christians ™ “.

  • Stev84

    Buddhism doesn’t have a healthy attitude about sex either. Some sects preach celibacy. Some something in the middle, like sex may not be bad, but it’s something of the body and people should concentrate on the mind instead.

  • benjdm

    Here are some stats correlating religiosity and sex crimes:

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    I had cause to look at this a long time ago, owing to a neocon Christian twit who tried to excuse the RCC by claiming that public schools were “just as bad”*. (Mind you, I’m not comparing you to him.) What I saw was that, while both institutions had issues with child abuse for similar reasons, there were some enormous differences both in responsibility and response.

    The big thing was that the “schools do it too!” crowd kept trying to use examples of sexually abusive teachers getting “shuffled around”, but it always turned out to be a misrepresentation. What actually occurred in each case was that there was no actionable evidence whatsoever, just rumors nobody would confirm. In that situation, without any charges pressed or students coming forward even when asked, the schools were really not able to fire the teachers, only put them on leave and not renew their contracts. They couldn’t even give bad references when contacted by other schools to which the teachers applied, because their legal liability for slander or libel would be enormous. Make one overt statement concerning rumors about a teacher and you’ve effectively destroyed his career… and in return he will bankrupt your school system. Eventually these teachers were exposed and very quickly arrested.

    So on the one hand you have a private organization violating the law in order to protect child rapists as a matter of policy, and on the other hand you have a government institution whose hands are tied because it obeys civil law and whose individual employees sometimes further the damage by not investigating enough or protecting their asses.

    *He wasn’t even Catholic. He defended child rapists for the stated reason that he thought it “hurt liberals”.

  • Vice-President Dink Cheney

    You are ignoring the fact that pedophiles creep into existing power structures and use them as bases. You find them in churches and schools, and in fast food and daycares and the military. It is NOT an inherent weakness of religion, but one of organization.

  • Tom

    You expressed that very poorly – since religions are, by your implication organizations, and the problem is inherent to organization, then yes, it *is* inherent to religion. But those other examples don’t protect and hide abusers even after finding out what they’re doing, they don’t say the abuser is forgiven just as long as he gets right with god and to hell with the victim’s opinion, and your argument is basically just another “they-do-it-too,” all of which has been addressed in the above article. You did actually read it, didn’t you?

  • Anna

    In majority-Muslim countries, sex taboos are so pervasive that I’m willing to bet that most abuse cases, if they come to light at all, are never reported in the media.

    Not only that, some forms of child abuse can even become an accepted part of the culture. There’s a documentary called The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan that explores the situation there.

  • Jason Hinchliffe
  • 3lemenope

    Wow. Six links that have lots of statistics about something we aren’t talking about.

    If they were six links about child sexual abuse in non-Catholic religious institutions, that would be actually responsive.

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    Those “factors” were a joke. If you think “A Patriarchal Worldview” is clinically established parameter for increased proclivity towards child abuse, I have some swamp land in Florida for you. The author was in fact pulling shit directly from his colon when he concocted that list.

    Just because I dislike the RCC, just because I know they’ve done disgusting things, is not a reason for me to uncritically accept any slander against them. I hold myself to a higher standard. I may hate you , but I still require some actual evidence of a charge before I can act on it. It isn’t that hard to look up the number or reported cases, total number of priests, under-reporting estimates and well established national averages, and see if there are statistically significant differences.

    Coming on with line like “Trust me, I’m paying attention” is asking for far too much faith. You know? Faith? The thing we’re all supposed to be against?

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    Read the links. You can extrapolate a huge amount of data from them. Unless you want to just be another uncritical half wit. They clearly state the estimated levels of abuse with the RCC versus non-religious institutions.

    Any amount of data form those links could have been incorporated into this article to give it an empirical base to its argument.

  • LesterBallard

    I think telling a child that someone who lived two thousand years ago was tortured and murdered for them is abuse; I think telling a child that someone who lived and died two thousand years ago was tortured and murdered because of them is disgustingly abusive.

  • 3lemenope

    They clearly state the estimated levels of abuse with the RCC versus non-religious institutions.

    Still confused over why you think that matters for the purposes of this conversation. Remember, the question was how the RCC compared to other religious institutions, so as to examine the thesis that religion, in general, itself contributes to abuse and abuse-hiding behavior, rather than something peculiar to the RCC.

  • Vice-President Dink Cheney

    Not JUST an inherent weakness of religion might be better, indeed. But companies have shuffled pedos around too, and schools quietly fired them and didn’t involve cops; no big organization wants a scandal. I’m no big fan of churches, but the article tends to make it seem that they attract pedos because they are religions, not because they are organizations. See what I mean?

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    “Does Religion (and Not Just Catholicism) Produce More Than Its Fair Share of Child Abusers?”

    Exactly why does that suggest to you that they are only comparing religions against each other? The question, is do religions produce more abusers than average. Which is the data I just provided.

  • Vice-President Dink Cheney

    I’d say grind ‘em all up for catfood except that a small percentage get hold of themselves after one offense and never do it again. If it wasn’t for them, pedophilia would be a first-offense death penalty crime.

  • 3lemenope

    Uh, are you serious? Read the question again. Pay attention to the work that the stuff in the parenthetical does, in particular.

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    So what are you looking for specifically before you can say that all of the factors that together form a religious hierarchy can contribute to abuse? A signed confession from the clergy saying, “We believe males are meant to dominate the earth and everything in it, and therefore we are allowed to get away with this abuse”? Because we could start by pulling out the relevant Scriptures, even – “go forth and multiply, and have dominion over all living things on earth,” “the husband is the leader of the family as christ is the head of the church,” etc. No one is asking for things to be taken as faith, but you don’t need every single report before you can start finding trends across incidences in the same environment, and motivations are easy to spot if you look at how crimes are justified.

  • Vice-President Dink Cheney

    It’s pathetic when you think there is some sort of “True Christian” who is incapable of crime. Grow up. Prisons are full of Christians like you who stole or murdered one bad day. If you believe in Christ, you believe that only He was perfect, and you want to be worthy to approach Him, but you don’t believe you are sin-proof and perfect unless you are in a cult.

  • Vice-President Dink Cheney

    “are these not the cherries you are picking today?” Sic a bear on her.

  • Rich Wilson

    Granted I was flip. And certainly the Scouts have many religions attributes, not only their “Duty to God”.

    When I was a teenager half a dozen friends and I studied martial arts, mostly Kung Fu, with a guy who was desperately trying to keep his pederasty “under control”. Obviously not he environment for such an individual. Unfortunately I don’t know the conclusion to the case.

    Although it wasn’t a religious setting, it did include an extreme power differential, and “Sifu is always right”.

    But it should be clear that child rapists come in all kinds of guises, and while we’d do well to keep a weary eye on the Catholic Church, true vigilance doesn’t take a break around morality peddlers of any stripe.

    No figure has such authority that they cannot be questioned, or be wrong.

    (sorry if I gave a negative impression of your piece- it wasn’t my intent. I was just trying to highlight the “child rapists come in all kinds of guises”)

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    Yes I’m serious. In fact, I’m stunned there’s any disagreement here at all. The questions is clearly “Does Religion in general produce more sexual abusers than the average in society”. His point about whether other religions produce as many abusers as the RCC is a premise to his actual point that all religions are producing “more than (their) fair share of child abusers”. (Clearly meaning above normal rates of abuse in society).

  • phantomreader42

    Sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children is an illness, so I’d assume that its prevalence is independent of religious view
    I don’t think this is exactly the case. Sexual desire for pre-pubescent children is an illness, but the act of sexually abusing a child requires both that desire and the opportunity. The desire is probably independent of religion, but some religious groups and some jobs offer more opportunity. Sexually repressive faith groups encourage victims to stay silent, authoritarian groups are less likely to believe abuse reports against authority figures, insular groups rob victims of access to outsiders from whom they can seek help.

  • FlyingFree333

    Catholic priests are 100 times more likely to be child rapists than the general population, evidence suggests these numbers are about the same across all religions. Frauds and predators seek positions of authority over the weak, gullible and vulnerable. It’s not that religions create pederasts (though some do) it’s that religions create an environment for pederasts to thrive in and they even provide them support networks to enable them.

  • Michael W Busch

    Catholic priests are 100 times more likely to be child rapists than the general population

    That is not true. The incidence of sex offenders in the priesthood is perhaps slightly more than in the general population, but it is nowhere near “100 times” higher. Demography says the incidence differs by less than a factor of 2 (it is hard to be more precise than that).

    The problems with the Catholic church when it comes to sexual abuse are the silencing and blaming victims, the enabling future abuse by known offenders, and the failure to report to law enforcement, all of which increases the number of victims per offender. As you said, offenders persist in social environments that enable their offenses.

  • Tom

    Would you accept, then, the statement that it is a problem generally inherent in hierarchical organisations with the power differentials that entails, but it turns out that religious organisations in particular tend to deal with it far more badly than most, whilst acting as if they’re better, and thus warrant particular attention?

    Forgive me if it’s not your intent, but you’re coming over as one of those people who won’t support a perfectly valid condemnation of something just because it’s not general enough, like those who barge into FGM discussions and start talking about male circumcision; there’s nothing logically or morally wrong with what you’re saying, but it’s counterproductive in practice.

    I agree with you that organisations, that is, hierarchical power structures in general all create such dangers to some degree, and some day I hope the entire systematic problem is dealt with, but you can’t reform something so vast as that all in one go; you’ve got to prioritise and focus on dismantling it piece by piece, and ideally the worst pieces first.

  • Vice-President Dink Cheney

    If I was going to do something about it, I’d start with the churches because they really are the worst; they tell witnesses to be silent or literally be damned. But the problem is the way pedos like authority over others. I think it’s just that the author is already looking at churches, while I see them as a subset of a larger problem.
    And thank you for helping to refine this; every discussion is a chance for action or intervention, and something we just toss out may be vitally important to someone who sees it later.

  • Coolred

    I lived in the middle east for over 23 years. Sexual crimes against children were rampant generally but among the religious leaders (self proclaimed or assigned) it was disgustingly high. Most often children attending Quran classes were subject to it…quite often right in front of other students. The power of ownership among Arab/Muslims is extremely high. The culture instills that our children, our women belong to us…we can do what we want with them…and nobody ever puts up too much of a fuss when a new sexual abuse scandal (scandal to us anyhow) breaks out. Most especially when it is a religious figure of sorts that has committed the crime.

  • baal

    “those who actually apply to Jesus’ teachings”

    How do we tell?
    “New atheists”, by the way, are usually defined as the atheists who are unapologetic about their atheism but also think theism itself is the problem. It’s too broad a brush for all the commentators on this blog.

    Lastly, I would be reluctant to speak on behalf for the victims.

  • Mackinz

    Perhaps I was a bit shortsighted in my generalization…

    Still, I think Abrahamic religions are more likely to such actions.

  • Pseudonym

    So what are you looking for specifically before you can say that all of the factors that together form a religious hierarchy can contribute to abuse?

    I’m not Jason, but the question was whether or not religion produces more than its fair share of child abusers. What I’d want to see is statistics on institutions which are not religious, such as state-run orphanages, non-religious boarding schools, and so on.

    I’d also like to see the statistics widened to institutions which were supposed to look after all kinds of vulnerable people, not just children. Institutions for the mentally ill, disabled people, indigenous people, prisoners, the elderly… any group of people that respectable society didn’t want to concern themselves with in days gone by.

    The null hypothesis is that any institution with bureaucracy and lack of oversight will tend to produce the same kinds of abuse at the same rates. That’s what I want to see in any fair analysis.

  • Pseudonym

    Oh, one more thing while I think of it: Hollywood.

  • anon 101

    No, if you look at sexual assault in the US military you have the same problem of hiding and shielding of the perpetrators. ‘Invisible war’ comes to mind.

  • Amanda Barker

    Funny story… with a long background.

    My husband and I both have genius level IQs (and are lazy as hell thus our lack of actual momentum in life) and sociopathic tendencies. If we could agree on a religion and have a child, I’m almost certain it would be a sociopath. I briefly contemplated going out of my way to make sure it’s a sociopath. Bad mothers are good at making sociopaths from what I understand from horror movies.

    It’s hard to raise a sociopath with secular values (“An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated.” etc etc) so I figured I would just send the kid to church.

    Then we both got neutered and the problem solved itself.

  • C Peterson

    Got a reference for that? Because it sounds like an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires some extraordinary evidence.

    I’m sure that the incidence of pedophilia is higher in priests than in the general population. Their profession already demands a somewhat damaged psyche, and it provides opportunity. In addition, it has historically provided shelter, so pedophiles who would have been caught and incarcerated outside the Church have been able to operate with some degree of protection.

    (“Pederast” is a poor word choice, since it describes only some pedophiles. Furthermore, not all those who abuse “children” are pedophiles. There are many examples of abuse inside the Church that simply involve sexual activity with a minor- criminal, yes, but not pedophilia if the minor is sexually mature. This type of crime is common in all environments where adults and children are placed together.)

  • C Peterson

    I thought I had separated the idea of desire and motive from that of opportunity, but thanks for expanding on the idea. I certainly agree.

  • jscalvano

    It’s just that from what I’ve noticed, sexual abuse in the school system isn’t reported on nearly as much. There simply aren’t enough reliable studies out there relating to it. This is the best I could find.
    Here is a pertinent quote from it.
    “Because of its carefully drawn sample and survey methodology, the AAUW report that nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career presents the most accurate data available at this time.”

    As for it being a “matter of policy” from what I understand the Bishops were following the recommendations of the experts at the time. They were wrong, but I don’t think they were the only ones doing it. The Catholic Church has since revamped it’s system so that I would say overall it is safer than almost any other organization today for children. There are still people in the church who abuse the authority they have in the church, but they are growing less and less prevalent.

    I’m Catholic by the way in case that wasn’t obvious. I wasn’t trying to say anything conclusively. I was just wondering if The Friendly Atheist was also looking at Public School Systems or just religious organizations. I think the information gained would be useful to the overall debate if he was.

  • DG

    With more religious people than not, it’s likely that more religious people are abusing children. But on the whole, there is no connection, as non-religious seem to abuse children along with religious – believe it or not. Though it’s tough, because atheists seem to want to stack the numbers with anyone at all who could remotely be seen as anything other than traditionally religious as part of the great atheist revival, and then suddenly if that same person is found to do something wrong, the atheist inexplicably chants ‘don’t stand so close to me.’ Of course this is just one small step of the never ending ad hominem marathon of ‘religious people are stupid/evil, not like atheists’, which proves nothing at all about atheism vs. the existence of a divine. Not to mention that atheists have a habit of gerrymandering the standards in order to heap as much blame on religion, while dodging as much blame when aimed at atheism. In short, being the viewpoint that says all humans are essentially biological life forms who invent the illusion of meaning long enough to pass on the DNA before they die and become worm food, atheists seem to think they have a rather broad set of standards when it comes to applying principles to everyone else. Of course for most, the concern is how can we reduce child abuse. For some, alas, it’s how can we exploit child abuse in order to land one more punch. But then, if all I had was illusion of meaning and rotting in the ground to be forgotten about in a hundred years to look forward to, I guess that would be my approach as well.

  • Lagerbaer

    True. That’s why I qualified it as “somewhat unique”. Maybe it’s something unique to organizations and entities that elevate abstract concepts above other humans, be it piety, honor, tradition, obedience etc.

  • Antinomian

    What I find just as troubling is Keyra’s claim to speak for the victims of this abuse.

  • Schmorty

    It’s not just the access to children that attracts pedophiles to the RCC. The absence of an opposite sex spouse is looked upon as normal, and removes the need for a ‘beard’ or sham marriage. If I wanted to molest children, wouldn’t I become a priest? It’s a perfect setup. Maybe it’s why Christianity was invented in the first place…

  • Nisa Taft

    This is partly true… There are priests who use their authority to take advantage of the weak, gullible and vulnerable members of the religion.

    sign letters

  • Rian Penn

    Child abuse is one of the dark sides of religions. It is just disappointing that those people whom we look up to are also the people who violate the rights of other people.