Any attempt to define what the true abuse rate for priests may be and to prove that it’s “better than average” is speculation at best and excusing evil at worst. We will never know what the true rate is because until very very recently, the overwhelming majority of abuser priests were never publicly identified and punished. I don’t think there’s any credible evidence to suggest the priesthood drew more, or less than the average number of abusers who would be tempted to take advantage of access to youth and a relative lack of supervision.
if by some fluke, the percentage of abuser priest is let say, half that of lay teachers, that still doesn’t tell the story. What has people enraged at the Church isn’t the fact that some priests abused, some tiny minority of priests. What has them up in arms is that the bishops sided with the abuser against victims 100 percent of the time! A 1% abuser rate is nothing to take comfort in if that 1% has carte blanche to abuse and a worldwide organization to aid and abet them in doing it and in evading justice until they die. Abusers are as profilfic as time and their health and circumstances allow. An abuser who is always kept one step ahead of the law can abuse from his 20s to his 80s, and so that 1% can do a lot of damage. more damage than the 3 or 4% of their secular counterparts in some circumstances
I was a reporter for a solid upper middle class suburb in the Midwest for more than a decade. I saw a lot of people get busted for underage sex offenses of one kind or another. Doctors, teachers, gym coaches, tanning salon operators, you name it - yes even a number of priests. What set the cases apart was how they were handled. When it was someone in a secular profession, I saw that they were put out of their job on leave the MINUTE a credible allegation came against them, and they were usually in cuffs the same day. For the priests on the other hand, justice never came at all, or it came 25, 30 years after the fact, usually when they were beyond the reach of criminal law. They were, in every case, shuttled from one city or country to another, their victims threatened or bought off into silence. Could some of them have been false accusations? Sure, but when you get new allegations from every parish they worked in accross an entire continent, that excuse wears thin. These guys had active help in abusing people from an organization which supposedly has a special charge for the well being of children.
Even well into the 2000s, when the archdiocese had adopted all sorts of progressive-sounding internal procedures to deal with abuse, reasons were always found as to why they couldn’t do the right thing, didn’t act on an allegation, didn’t tell a parish that their new priest had a long long record of accusations at three prior stops. So that’s the difference in secular insituttions vs the Church to date. I don’t believe that most teachers, or most priests I would encounter are abusers. However, if the teacher’s bosses hears an allegation that was credible, I would have considerable confidence that they were acting on that informattion properly. I would have ZERO confidence that a priest’s bishops were doing the same if they thought no one was looking.
I can’t tell you that no secular teacher’s colleagues or bosses never covered up an abuse case, but I can tell you the law and culture are vastly different. Teachers and virtually all other licensed lay professions are mandatory reporters under the law. If they sit on an allegation and get caught doing that, they go to jail. Churchmen, on the other hand, are under no such obligation and in fact have been sent mixed messages from their own superiors on their obligations to report abuse to law enforcement. At times, they have been threatened with excommunicaiton for doing so. More recently, they have been give only lukewarm endorsements by bishops, the Vatican etc.
It’s fair to point out that most priests are not abusers. The idea that the Church is doing “better than average.” does not wash, however.