Catholic League report puts clergy sexual abuse in context

In anticipation of two major studies on clergy sexual abuse that will be released Feb. 27, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued a report to help put the recent scandal in the Catholic Church in perspective.

The report was printed to counter the assumption that the problem of sexual abuse is worse in the Church than in any other sector of society.

It compiles data, which indicate that family members are the most likely to sexually molest a child. As well, it shows that the incidence of the sexual abuse of a minor is slightly higher among the Protestant clergy than among the Catholic clergy, and that it is significantly higher among public school teachers than among ministers and priests.

“The report does not seek to exculpate anyone who had anything to do with priestly sexual misconduct, but it does seek to challenge those who continue to treat this issue in isolation,” said Catholic League president William A. Donahue in the preface to the report.

One of the studies, to be released Feb. 27, is a national study on the extent of sexual abuse of minors by priests since 1950, conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The other is a study of the causes and consequences of the abuse crisis, conducted by the National Review Board. The board was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Both studies were done at the request of the U.S. bishops. 

About 903,000 children were victims of child maltreatment in 2001, 10 percent of whom (or 90,000) were sexually abused. The report cites two clinical child psychologists – Wade F. Horn and Dr. Garth A. Rattray – who both found that the majority of sexually abused children (about 85 percent) are abused by family members and friends.

The report also cites several newspaper surveys and studies, which demonstrate that less than 1.8 percent of the estimated 60,000 Catholic clergy in the last 40 to 50 years have been accused of child sexual abuse. The large majority of victims, up to 91 percent, were adolescent boys.

Protestant Clergy

In 1990, a study by the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics in Chicago, revealed that 10 percent of ministers said they had had an affair with a parishioner and about 25 percent admitted some sexual contact with a parishioner. Two years later, a survey by Leadership magazine found that 37 percent of ministers confessed to having been involved in “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a parishioner.

Joe E. Trull, co-author of the 1993 book “Ministerial Ethics”, found that “from 30 to 35 percent of ministers of all denominations admit to having sexual relationships—from inappropriate touching to sexual intercourse—outside of marriage.”

The Catholic League also cites a 2000 report, conducted by the Baptist General Convention in Texas, which states that: “The disturbing aspect of all research is that the rate of incidence for clergy exceeds the client-professional rate for physicians and psychologists.”

“In the authoritative work by Penn State professor Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests, it was determined that between .2 and 1.7 percent of priests are pedophiles,” reads the report. “The figure among the Protestant clergy ranges between 2 and 3 percent.”

The problem of sexual abuse also exists among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and in the Jewish community among rabbis, the report pointed out.

Child-care professionals

The report also cites the incidence of abuse among athletic coaches nationwide, which is at 0.2 percent. In other words, about 6,000 coaches have been convicted of sexual abuse in the U.S. Between three and 12 percent of psychologists have had sexual contact with their clients.

The report also indicated that the number in incidences of abuse in schools progressively increased, from 1986 to 1991. Abuse in schools was by far the most common. In 1991, The Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children reported that 17.7 percent of males who graduated from high school and 82.2 percent of females reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff. About 13.5 percent said they had sexual intercourse with their teacher.

In 1994, Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft and her colleague, Audrey Cohan, found that of 15 percent of all students have experienced some kind of sexual misconduct by a teacher and that up to 5 percent of teachers sexually abuse children.

“By putting the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in perspective, it is hoped that this report will make for a more fair and educated public response,” said Donahue.

Read the full report at:

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