How extensive is the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests? Cases have been coming from around the world. Some have said that the percentage of abusive priests is no worse than the percentage of men who abuse children in the general public. But is that true?
Some years ago, the John Jay College Criminal Justice program carried out an extensive study of accusations dating from between 1950 and 2002. It found that 4.2% of priests had been accused of child sexual abuse. (See this post by Jonathan M. S. Pearce for statistics and studies about this issue, including links to the sources. )
That is not a huge percentage, but it is significant nonetheless. That would mean that 4 out of every 100 priests, or 1 out of 25 have accused of sexual misconduct with minors. The number includes both priests accused of pedophilia and the much larger number who have targeted adolescents.
A more recent Australian study found that 7% of the priests in that country had been accused. An expert who has worked extensively with priests caught up in these scandals estimates that 6% are involved, with 4% targeting teenagers, aged 13-17, and 2% targeting pre-pubescent children.
As for pedophilia, studies Pearce cites indicate that as many as 1% of men are sexually attracted to children, but the percentage of those who actually act on those attractions are much smaller.
Here is another perspective. According to a recent large-scale, sympathetic study that we blogged about, the total percentage of all LGBT folks is 4%. Of those, nearly half are bisexual, so that the number of exclusively homosexual individuals is closer to 2%.
But let’s assume that the number of priests who belong in the LGBT category is the same as for the general population, 4%.
That is also the percentage of abuser priests!
Certainly, not all LGBT people or gays abuse children. The Catholic priesthood must have a much larger percentage of homosexuals than the rest of the population. And a much larger percentage of pedophiles.
To be sure, by far the majority of priests are innocent of these crimes. And yet, claims that priests are no more likely than anyone else to abuse children and that the Catholic church has no more of a problem with this than any other institution may be examples of the complacency that has kept the church from truly dealing with the issue.
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