Providing some answers to the question of clerical sexual abuse
in the Catholic Church
By Tony Staley
Several important pieces of information have been lacking in much of the reporting on the scandal of clerical sexual abuse.
This will attempt to provide important facts, drawing from several sources, but primarily from several articles in the Jesuits' America magazine (4/1).
First, nothing said here should be interpreted as an attempt to dismiss or lessen the problem or how it was handled or to deny the pain it has caused.
While clerical sexual abuse is often called pedophilia, that is almost always incorrect. Pedophilia is sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. Most priest abusers are ephebophiles meaning they are attracted to post-pubescent minor children, which is different, but is still a grave moral and legal wrong.
While no one knows how many priest sexual abusers there are, in the early 1990s the Chicago Archdiocese examined the records of all the 2,200 priests who had served there in the past 40 years. It determined, based on checking internal complaints that about 40 priests were probably guilty of misconduct with minors. That is 1.8% of the total, meaning more than 98% of priests were not sexual offenders.
Sexual abusers can be found among the clergy of all religions and among married and unmarried men and women in all occupations. Again, this is not to diminish the problem, but to provide perspective.
Some have tried to blame sexual abuse on the sexual revolution. Perhaps, but the charge seems impossible to prove or disprove because we have little or no reliable information going back that far. I am aware of allegations of sexual abuse in a diocese outside Wisconsin that are pre-sexual revolution. Back then, if reported, the problem was dealt with quietly, if at all.
Nor is it just a problem in "sex-obsessed" North America. One study found that 43% of the leaders of major clerical religious orders in Central America and the Caribbean and a third in Africa, Asia/Pacific, Europe and South America were aware of accusations of sexual abuse against one of their priests.
One difficulty we face as a church involves making sense of what has happened. Various factions are using the abuse problem to push their own agendas. For some, it's an argument for ending mandatory clerical celibacy and/or ordaining women. For others, it can all be blamed on homosexuals in the clergy. For others, it's a sign of church led astray by Vatican II. For others, it's an ideal opportunity to attack the church. For others, it's the fault of a patriarchal system.
As a church we need from all quarters, openness, honesty, answers and solutions. Sadly, they seem to be in short supply.