Perspectives on the priestly abuse scandals?

How can we have a proper understanding and evaluation of the priestly abuse scandals in the Church? It seems like there are so many because they are so often highlighted in both secular and church news. Is the abuse in the priesthood higher than other areas of society?

It seems so terrible because one does not just simply “fall” into these kind of sins. They are deliberate and involve other individuals. That any priest would choose to do such things is so hard to imagine.

What are some facts or ways of understanding this?

True, it is a terrible thing.

In the recent case, they were brothers versus ordained priests.

Either way, the Church has implemented background checks and extensive training programs and new policies to combat this. I participated in a 3 hour training.

There seems to be an increase with teachers who do similar things. I think this is traced to the overall state of society.

I was talking to a former Pentecostal convert who said if we are honest, it happens in other Christian faiths also. I’m not making excuses, but let’s be fair.

What in our society would cause even a multitude of priests to commit such horrible acts? Is there some aspect of the priesthood that attracts certain people like this? Or is it just an over-representation by the media that makes it seems it is a bigger problem in the church then other places?

It is a very touchy subject because while it was horrible, there is also a danger of imputing too much guilt by means of over-blowing the situation. For example, it isn’t clear just how many priests actually abused. There is an online database of abuse accusations by a non-Catholic group, and if you look at the accusations, the data base (really more of an excel table) distinguishes between mere accusations, actual convictions, and number of victims.

There were something like 50 priests in my diocese that were accused over the last 75 years, but only about 10 of those accusations were found to be credible. Of those 10, only about 2-3 of those priests actually abused more than one person. On top of this, many of the priests are deceased, and thus cannot speak up. So we will never fully know the extent, but 3 priests who serially abused out of 50 accused isn’t that big of a number. This isn’t to make excuses, but it is real perspective.

With the moral downfall of our society, it’s natural that sexual abuse is growing, and it takes place by public school teachers at a much higher rate than the Catholic Church, I’d say the worst percentage by far comes from boyfriends of single moms (because the boyfriend uses the single mom’s desperation for a man to gain access to her and her kids).

There certainly is culpability among bishops as well, because they should have done more to really crack down. One difficulty here was that there was so much disobedience and confusion during the 60s-70s that even the good priests and good bishops couldn’t really do a good job. For example, the Psychologists over the last 75 years have de-classified sexual perversion as an actual mental disorder and re-classified it as a lifestyle choice and following one’s “natural” urges. So when a troubled priest got “evaluated”, the Psychologist would say it’s not really a problem, just let the priest go back to doing whatever he was doing after getting some counseling.

It’s not the majority of priests.

Should it be called out? Yes, sure.

However, the media (e.g. Liberal atheists) and nonCatholics need little excuse to highlight it.

It also does not make the fullness of truth any less true.

The rate of child molestation in the general population is four percent.

The rate of child molestation among priests is four percent.

So, no, it’s not higher among priests than the general population.

Just a guess on my part, but most of these priests became priests when Vatican II was just coming into being, and Vat II caused a lot of upheaval in the Church. It was a period of bad theology, bad catechism, folk masses, liturgical abuses and it brought about some pretty radical changes. It wasn’t meant to do these things, but it did.

Couple Vat II with the secular upheaval that was going on during the 60’s, race riots, hippies, free love, peace protests, drugs etc., and I think it was a perfect storm for some very bad things to happen to our Church. I’m quite sure seminaries were not immune from all this upheaval, and many seminarians who should have been weeded out, went on to become priests and even leaders in our Church.

It might have been very different had Vatican II happened at a different time in history…

I think we are coming to the end of all this, as the seminarians and young priests I am around today, are seriously very good people. The seminaries are on point these days.

Pray for our priests!

It’s not a higher rate, it’s actually a low rate when compared to teachers and other religions. However, negative news against the Catholic Church sells (1) the secular world is against some of the teachings of the Church, (2) the Church is viewed as one large organization so please can’t help but see conspericies everywhere when it comes to the Chuch and large organizations. Finally, (3) modern people have a habit of looking at past events via modern views and sensibilities. But the truth is that in the past (even 50 years ago) cultures were different, so when horrible things happened in the past its often hard for modern people to understand how the cultural environment played a role.

That’s not to diminish the crimes and improper handling of it. But it has to be understood from the mindset of someone living in that time.

God Bless

These will probably help a great deal. They are all from the Ask An Apologist forum.
Sex Abuse Scandal:

*]Priest Scandal
*]How do we answer the charges of hypocrisy in the midst of scandal?
*]The Church Scandalous
*]Three Great Lessons of the Abuse Scandal
*]dalDouble Standard: Media Coverage of the Sex Abuse Scan

It’s hard to say why priests would do such a thing. It could be for any number of reasons.
I know for sure there have and always been men who were pushed into the priesthood by over zealous families. As were daughters made to become nuns. Some would of course go on to be wonderful religious, but then a small percentage would hold resentments.
Anger can be a contributing factor in child molestation and sexual abuse, as well as stress.

There will always be those with psychological-sexual disorders who would offend in or out of a religious institution anyway. The opportunities within a religious setting are good though, as they are in a position of trust, “supposed purity”, and authority.

There is then the priest or religious who is weak willed and has been tempted by the Devil.
It is after all the work of Satan. It’s a great way for that filthy fallen angel to destroy the beauty of God’s masterpiece of His creation, the human being. He will try as hard as he can to cause despair in the child or later in that persons life. Another reason is his continual attack on the Church from within. This is why it behoves us to always pray for our priests.

As far as numbers are concerned, no one knows really how many children have suffered or are still undergoing the abuse each year because most do not come forward. (shame, guilt, the usual things). Most sexual abuse happens within the family or by a close friend of the family and there is usually a threat imposed. An awful lot happens in other institutions, orphanages, schools, etc. as well. The Catholic Church is top of the headlines because the world consciously or unconsciously expects it to be the moral barometer.

The Church has always moved relatively slowly, but is actually doing something about it, albeit in “church time”. But there will always be those wrongly accused, some who slip through the net and some who actually are caught.

Child sexual abuse has been going on for millenia and will sadly continue under the cloak of secrecy until the end of time. Most victims taking that dark secret with them to the grave.

I would also say that by focusing on the priests, you miss the really hard to questions.

As pointed out many times on the forum, it doesn’t seem like the rates of abuse by priests are higher than the rates by other clergy. The scandal is the institutional support of the priests, meaning the complicity of the bishops and the higher ups in religious orders.

When the stories break about bishops being involved, sometimes it’s the bishops having been the abusers, but more often it’s stories about them facilitating the shuffling of the priests around to keep them out of courts and the news. See the recent indictments of the three Franciscan leaders.

That brings up questions about clericalism inside the Church and how that plays out institutionally. That part of the scandal is more uniquely Catholic, as Protestant churches largely don’t have that issue. And, frankly, as a Catholic who places special trust in the bishops, is more troubling than a small percentage of priests turning out to be deviants.

So, when seeking perspective, it’s important to remember that it is this aspect of the story that a Catholic should grapple with and wonder about how the institutional incentives were set up so that non-abusing Church officials became involved in this way.

No one should be surprised that not all priests are holy men and all institutions have corruption, but trying to fix institutions is something we can try.

My recollection was that the incidence among priests was actually notably less than the general population (like 2% vs. like >3%; though I do not have those figures handy–just off memory here).

But, be that as it may, the problem wasn’t (and isn’t) so much the priests (though clearly there was an increase in prevalence of incidents post Vat. II, and post permitting homosexuals to become priests)–the problem–for which there is no excuse–was in the covering up (as usual), at the diocesan level.

I wish I had some better response.

Alas, this scandal was and remains, an unmitigated disaster, and epic failure at the highest levels.

As one poster mentioned above, that does not serve to compromise the Truth (of the Faith)–nor does it discredit the fiduciary thereof (i.e.–the Church)–but it was and remains, an epic failure by that same Church.

She was rightly called out, and has been rightly called to account for her failure.

We can’t go back in time; all we can do is move forward (in faith), and seek to avoid such lapses in the future.


Bear in mind that “today’s news” is not about “today’s abuses”, but about the cumulative abuses of the last 30 or 40 years.

In a 2013 letter to California governor Jerry Brown, Bill Donohue wrote that “in the the last 6 years (2007-2013) the average number of credible allegations made against over 40,000 priests is 7.” This means that the abuse rate is less than 0.02%. The letter stated, “Today, there is no institution in the nation with less of a problem with the sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”

This is an important point. The vast majority of new stories today are about events that happened prior to 2002, when the reforms were put in place.

Its not a multitude of priests though, the media and secular world may try to make it seem that way, but broken down into averages, the number of priests who do these things versus the number of actual priests would probably not be a high percentage, Id say no more than any other profession anyway.

The media and secular world likes to show religion in this light though, to further their agenda, notice how you dont hear many news stories of big CEOs, powerful politicians, and other Govt employees involved in such things, even though some past investigations have shown these are the types leading and running the child sex slave industry…Gee, I wonder why the media never talks about this side of it?

The original John Jay Report provides a great amount of data about this subject, including the ordination years of priests who were most likely to abuse. One must also keep in mind that not every allegation of abuse is credible, and some innocent priests have been unjustly convicted. See: “Philly Abuse Accuser Who Sent Three Priests and Teacher To Prison Admits To False Abuse Claims and Making Up Stories”

Thanks for all the replies thus far! It is helpful to know perspective: that numbers are comparable to the rest of society, and that most of these cases happened decades ago.

I guess the issue for me rests in the fact that these are priests. If we say the rate of abuse in the priesthood is equivalent to, or even slightly less than, the rest of society, then that rate still seems too high of a rate, to me, because of what it means to be a priest. Don’t priests become so because of a uniquely Christian calling? Priests are supposed to be disciples of Christ and his example on Earth. It seems like there is a piece missing. Is there any reason to think that celibacy is at all connected?

All Catholics should read the John Jay Reports. I also recommend a book called: Double Standard by David Pierre Jr

Also recall that a lot of this seems to have taken place during the 1960s through the 1980s - e.g. the “sexual revolution”. There is a lot of collateral damage from that so called movement - divorce, drugs, abortion, etc. One could argue that as society was affected, so were some members of the priesthood, even though the numbers are still small.

Although priests do have a calling, they are still human and subject to temptation. Some clergy enter religious life after coming to God from negative life circumstances. Spiritual warfare can go either way sometimes.

Pray for our priests, even the few who did these things.

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