read more: Boston Herald

Today, Catholic-bashing is trendy and jokes about “pedophile priests” commonplace. So is it any surprise that the release last week by the American Catholic Bishops of a report on the causes of priest sex abuse was used as yet another excuse to pile on?

Although the report, commissioned by the Church and authored by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, paints a complex picture of the origins of clergy abuse, you’d never know it from media accounts, most of which (inaccurately) describe the report as a whitewash.

Heavily criticized is the finding that incidences of priest abuse in the U.S. reached their apex during the 1970s, and that this spike coincides with the increase in social pathologies generally during this permissive time.

The evidence is intended to provide context, not exculpate church leaders. Yet, predictably, critics mock this finding, calling it the “Woodstock defense.”

Did these critics miss the part that states no single factor caused the abuse? Or the part that criticizes church leadership for failing to prepare priests for a life of celibacy? From the reaction of many professional church-bashers, one might think they hadn’t read the report at all.

Why should they when the occasion of the document’s release provides a fast-moving opportunity to generate publicity for the false notion that sexual abuse of minors is some weirdly Catholic phenomenon? It is not.

As Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon told me recently, “All the evidence now shows that the principal locus of abuse was the family home — by stepfathers and live-in boyfriends — and that Catholic priests were no more likely to abuse kids than others with privileged access to children such as school teachers, scout leaders, rabbis, ministers, etc.”

There is simply no evidence that the incidence of abuse in the Catholic Church differs significantly from that in Protestant denominations. Indeed, insurance firms estimate that the rates of Protestant and Catholic clergy abuse are roughly equal.

But they pale in comparison to the rate of sexual abuse by public school personnel. Charol Shakeshaft, principal author of a U.S. Department of Education report on the issue, says sexual abuse of children by school personnel is “100 times the abuse by priests.”

So where is the outrage over supposed decades-long conspiracies by school administrators to cover up abuse by deviant teachers? And why does our culture regard sexual crimes by pastors, scout leaders and teachers as individual wrongs, but those by Catholic priests as institutional failings?

Put simply, money. Youth athletic leagues, small Protestant congregations and school districts do not have the Catholic Church’s deep pockets. And so, lawyers haven’t gone after those institutions as relentlessly as they have the Church.

Moreover, the scapegoating of priests, as well as church hierarchy, is part of an ongoing attempt to undermine the moral authority of the Catholic Church, whose positions on many issues remain anathema to the media elite.

“The narrative that has been constructed [by the media],” says George Weigel, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “is often less about the protection of the young (for whom the Catholic Church is, by empirical measure, the safest environment for young people in America) than it is about taking the Church down — and, eventually, out, both financially and as a credible voice in the public debate over public policy.”

The sexual abuse of minors is a serious issue that deserves serious attention. It should not be used to score political points against the only institution that has undertaken such a comprehensive and soul-searching self-analysis of the problem.


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