Facts are Stubborn Things: Unraveling the Priest Abuse Crisis

Facts are Stubborn Things: Unraveling the Priest Abuse Crisis August 2, 2018

Let the little children come unto me. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The blame game is alive and well in the Catholic Church today. 

The clergy sex abuse scandal is a case in point. We’re 20 years in with this scandal, and it’s still rolling. Insofar as their dealings with sexual predator clergy are concerned, the Catholic bishops look like a bunch of drug addicts who promise to get clean and then start using as soon as we turn our backs. 

They tell us they’ve finally seen the light. We believe them and dance off, la-la-la. Then it happens again. And they tell us another lie about their latest last time this will happen. 

This has reached the point that many Catholics are engaged in an active search for a scapegoat. We want that Judas Goat of old on which to hang this sin and then cast into desert perdition. We want someone, or a group of someones, to blame and purge from our presence so that we can somehow or other manage to, as my colleague Jen Fitz put it, be Catholic when the bishops are not. 

The number one group being blamed for the clergy sex abuse scandal is homosexual priests. That is followed by baby boomers, whose death the blame game folks look forward to with glee and delight. 

This interesting idea is based on fantasy, not fact. It is a function of the disowning projection, coupled with willful ignorance. Rape, sexual assault and child molesting are not confined to wayward Catholic clergy and failed bishops. Catholic priests are not the only people who do these things and Catholic bishops are not the only people who treat sexual crimes as trivialities that don’t matter much. 

Facts are stubborn things, and the facts tell us that rape, sexual assault and child molesting are ubiquitous throughout our society. The facts say that a good many of the people who are talking the scape goat talk have themselves behaved exactly as the bishops have behaved, and not so long ago. They have disbelieved and attacked victims of sexual assault, rape and child molesting and they have protected and lionized the predators who assaulted them.

Before we get to that, let’s unpack a few of those stubborn facts. Here are the statistics about rape, sexual assault and child molesting in the United States of America:

A rape will occur every six minutes in the USA. 

One in five women will be raped at some point during their lifetime. 

One in 71 men will be raped at some point during their lifetime. 

91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female. 

9% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are male. 

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. 

96% of the people who sexually abuse children are male. 

The average age at which girls become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14 years old.

The average at which boys become victims of prostitution is 11 to 13 years old. 

One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. 

90% of sexual assault victims on campuses do not report the crime. 

Rape is the most under-reported crime. 63% of rapes are not reported. 90% of child sex abuse is not reported. 

Now, let’s look at child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Here are the statistics. 

4.3% of diocesan priests have been accused of child sexual abuse. Which means that 95.7% have not been accused.

50.9% of the victims are between 11 and 14 years of age at the time of the abuse. 

27.3% of the victims are between 15 and 17 years of age.

16% are between 8-10

6% are under 7 years of age at the time of abuse. 

81% of the victims are male

19% of the victims are female

40% of the victims of child sexual abuse by priests are males between the ages of 11 and 14. 

The differences between these two sets of statistics paint a startling picture. Sexual predators who are Catholic priests tend to prey on boys. Sexual predators in the larger society prey almost exclusively on women and girls. 

It is easy, looking at these numbers, to draw a correlation between what seems apparent to most pew-sitting Catholics, which is that most Catholic priests are homosexual, and the fact that most victims of clergy child sex abuse are boys rather than girls. It lines up. However, it is not so easy to say that rape, sexual assault and child molesting are a homosexual problem. In fact, it’s impossible. 

The only conclusion that we can draw from these statistics is that most — not all, most — sexual predators are male. The fact is that 96% of the people who commit rape, sexual assault and child molesting are male. 

Yet very few men are sexual predators, just as very few homosexuals are child molesters. Most men have a powerful instinct to protect women and children, not hurt and dehumanize them. But facts are stubborn things, and the stubborn fact is that almost all sexual predators are men. 

I want to emphasize the “almost” part of that statement. If 96% of sexual predators are male, then it follows that 4% of sexual predators are female. I would also add that I believe that part of the reason for this has to do with the fact that men’s superior physical strength and privileged positions of power make it easier for the predators among them to operate.  

Just about every Catholic over the age of 12 is well aware that most of the Catholic priests they encounter are homosexual. These statistics reflect this. It follows that homosexuals who are also sexual predators tend to prey on other males, and homosexuals who are child molesters, tend to molest male children. 

However, if we somehow or other expunged every homosexual from the priesthood, we would not stop predatory sexual behavior among priests. No matter whether our priests are homosexual or heterosexual, so long as they are all-male, we will be drawing our candidates for the priesthood from the group of people from which 96% of the sexual predators come. That makes it inevitable that there will be priests who are sexual predators pretending to be moral and Godly men. 

We can switch the victims from little boys to little girls by getting rid of homosexual priests. But we can’t stop sexual predators from getting into an all-male priesthood. Back when we were putting together the first rape crisis center here in Oklahoma, I had a psychologist tell me that “tests show that sexual predators are the same as any other men.” I told him that all that proved was that there was something wrong with his test. 

The truth is sexual predators fool a lot of people. I’ve been fooled by them myself. We can’t, with any consistency, weed them out ahead of time. What we can do is stop excusing them when they do dastardly things to innocent people. We can stop blaming the victims and start going after these guys with the full force and total lack of tolerance that they deserve. 

The real scandal in the 20-year running sore that is the Catholic priest child abuse scandal has nothing to do with the fact that sexual predators sneak into the priesthood. Sexual predators are in every walk of life in our society. The priesthood isn’t special in this regard. 

It isn’t even different that the bishops took the predators’ side of the matter, that the bishops abused the victims with legal actions and spiritual bullying and shielded the predators and allowed them to continue preying on children. This happens in the larger society, as well.

I don’t want to cross the issues right now, but it’s a fact that many of the people who are howling for the heads of every homosexual priest behaved just like the bishops when they were faced with high profile sexual predators in our electoral politics. They blamed the victims and pretended they didn’t believe them. They not only excused the predators, they denied reality to the point that they cast the predators in the role of victims.

The bishops did what the larger society does. They excused predators, blamed victims and used their power to try to force the victims to stay silent. 

The difference, the thing that sets off the howls of rage and betrayal from the laity, is that the bishops claim that they speak for God and a lot of us want to believe them. They tell us that priests are another Christ, that when they lift the chalice and the Host at mass, they are standing in for Our Lord at Calvary. 

But their actions in the priest sex abuse scandal not only belie these claims, they grind them into the dirt. They say they speak for God, but their actions speak for the serpent. 

The rage of the laity is a reflection of how much the laity wants to believe in the Church. But the truth is that the laity is called — called — to take a stand. It is our power, our ability to get into this and force change to happen, that can turn this thing around.

But it is very important that we base our demands on facts and truth. We need to employ great discipline of mind and heart to stick to the facts. It is imperative that we avoid the cheap shots of the blame game. 

It would be a terrible injustice  to take up torches and go after homosexual priests who have never hurt anyone, just because they are homosexual. The question of homosexuals in the priesthood is a separate thing entirely from the priest sex abuse scandal and needs to be addressed separately. Scapegoating does nothing to stop the instances of rape, sexual assault and child molesting in the priesthood. 

We could, if we somehow managed to purge all homosexual priests and replace them with heterosexuals, switch the attacks on little boys to attacks on little girls. But we would do nothing to clean up the priesthood or stop the corrupt abuse of power by the bishops. 

The solution is simple. Stop punishing the victims and start punishing the predators. 

… to be continued

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

18 responses to “Facts are Stubborn Things: Unraveling the Priest Abuse Crisis”

  1. Very good writing. I see a partially rapist society (from the federal government down to some local governments) with brainwashed adults and children to the point where rape has been largely condoned as tradition.

  2. In any religion there are those that take advantage of their position as a Priest, Minister, Rabbi etc. to take advantage of children. (also in regular everyday life—teachers and others who deal with children). However what I think tends to make molesters of children worse is that religious leaders are just that—leaders in a religion—and religions teach love, caring, compassion etc. and a belief in a Supreme Being, ie God. Somehow it is believed that religious leaders are different than others—they have dedicated their lives to God and his teachings. The Catholic faith has been in the public eye due to the revelations of the treatment of children….and the lack of consequences for those actions. To be honest, I’m not sure I would be able to remain a member of the Catholic faith with the last many years of these facts, if I was a Catholic. I taught with a large group of wonderful Catholic teachers and children. Good people, good kids. They believed strongly. However, there was one priest who was in charge that I never liked—and I’m not sure there was anything wrong he was doing, but he was hard to even like. (he wasn’t well liked by anyone) Fortunately he was transferred and a new priest assigned to the church—a better fit.

  3. Thank you Michele. I agree that people accept rape, sexual assault and child molesting as minor things to be put aside because they thing there are more important things to consider instead. This is is cruel, amoral and tragic.

  4. You state as fact several times, “most Catholic priests are homosexual”. How do you come to that conclusion?

  5. Observation, and the facts I quote in another column on this issue. The statistics are pretty clear.

  6. Sorry I don’t see how you can reach that conclusion. Personal judgements (observations) are not facts. The facts you do present say 4.3% of diocesan priests are accused, and 81% of their victims are male. From the behavior of 4.3% of diocesan priests one cannot logically conclude that most Catholic priests are homosexual.
    That aside, I agree with you that the issue is not one of sexual orientation – it is a issue of celibacy and the failure of ordained ministers to live up to their ordination promises. It is also the failure of seminarian rectors, priests, and bishops to hold one another accountable.

  7. The issue here is not about celibacy. It is about people in privileged positions of power and their abuse of helpless children. The Australian government set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to look into this matter. The final report was completed on December 2017. The commission looked into the abuse reported against the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, The Salvation Army and other institutions. Child abuse is not unique to the Catholic church where celibacy is required. Child abuse is also rampant in the Anglican Church and the Salvation army, institutions where celibacy is not required.

    To read the whole report and recommendations please search “Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse”.

  8. Looks like you and I are going to disagree on this. It looks obvious to me that the two sets of numbers tell the story.

  9. “Just about every Catholic over the age of 12 is well aware that most of the Catholic priests they encounter are homosexual.” What?!? Your essay appeared to be well-reasoned and to that point, but that ridiculous conclusion does NOT follow from anything that you presented; you simply and casually stated as a fact that most Catholics are aware that most Catholic priests are homosexual. Do you not recognize that you are simply making this up and presenting it as “fact”? And do you not recognize the grave harm that you are doing when you write such things? Please rethink such leaps of reason before you publish them. It is irresponsible ~ or worse ~ not to.

  10. Thanks for posting the raw data. I saw this data a decade ago in the Jay Report and studied the numbers, and I think they are important.

    However, the conclusions you draw from the data are not the only possible ones. Consider:

    Hypothesis A: 81% of priests are homosexual. 19% are heterosexual. Homosexual priests are just as likely to abuse teenagers as heterosexual priests. If this hypothesis is correct, then we would expect 81% of abuse victims to be male — which is indeed true.

    Hypothesis B: 68% of priests are homosexual. 32% are heterosexual. Homosexual priests are twice as likely to abuse teenagers as heterosexual priests. If this hypothesis is correct, then we would expect 81% of abuse victims to be male — which is indeed true.

    Hypothesis C: 52% of priests are homosexual. 48% are heterosexual.
    Homosexual priests are four times as likely to abuse teenagers as heterosexual priests. If this hypothesis is correct, then we would expect 81% of abuse victims to be male — which is indeed true.

    In other words, to deduce the frequency of homosexuality in the priesthood, you need more data than the Jay statistics gives you. You also need the relative frequencies of abuse from each population.

    Obviously the vast majority of gay priests do not abuse minors, and the vast majority of straight priests do not abuse minors. Some in each group do. But to assume, without evidence, that the frequencies are equal is not logically justified.

    (I’ve sometimes heard it argued that the reason more boys were abused than girls is that priests have more access to boys. However, the Jay report shows something very striking: The frequency of abuse of girls remained relatively constant in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. The frequency of abuse of boys jumped way up around 1970s, by orders of magnitude. This can’t be explained by the “access” theory, since co-ed Catholic schools, and female altar servers, were increasing in the 1970s.)

  11. You’re ignoring the other set of statistic taken from the general population. If there was only one set of stats, your reasoning would be a possibility. However, there are two sets, and, taken together, they tell a story.

  12. A lot of people certainly have a double standard … one for powerful politicians in “their” party, whichever party it happens to be, and other people.

  13. The fact of the matter is that Jesus and his apostles were not homosexuals therefore priests must follow the correct path or get a job at a gay bar. Priests should be able to marry and include their flock as members of his family . The Vatician is too rich, too powerful, too cheap to do what is best for the flock.

  14. Statistics of the percentage of homosexual clerics in the priesthood have been compiled by several prominent therapists who either are or once were clergy, who conducted anonymous surveys with Q & A directly of the clergy, so I think the numbers are fairly consistent among these various authors, which do point to a very high percentage of homosexual clergy. That said, if all clergymen who are homosexual abused children, the number of victims would be far greater than it already is. I also definitely believe the % of clergy who abuse is certainly greater than the 4.2% put forth based on information our bishops provided to John Jay investigators. When we look at diocese that have been the subject of civil/law enforcement investigations that percentage is at least double the 4% often times cited. In the end the conclusions are correct…1. it is up to us, the people ion the pews to demand real reform 2. STOP THE BLAME GAME…for all to some degree have been complicit, the good priests who, out of fear of retribution, failed to speak out, the laity that have given far to much deference to those members of the clerical cast and certainly our bishops and cardinals who KNEW and acted only in the interest of themselves and/or the institution for many reasons NONE OF WHICH are good or have served our church well. Only when we instill accountability and consequences will we begin to see the changes required to truly stem the scourge of child sexual abuse by known clerics. That MUST include real accountability for bishops and cardinals! 3. WHEN will we begin to help restore faith and hope to those most damaged by all of this, the children who were betrayed (by silence and indifference) and/or molested by those who should have protected them? That includes ALL MEMBERS of our faith, not just the clerics.