According to the 2016 Annual Report: Findings and Recommendations, Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, in the audit year July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, there were 25 allegations of sexual abuse made by current minors against Catholic clergy. Of these allegations, two were determined to be substantiated, meaning there was enough evidence to prove that abuse took place; eleven were determined to be unsubstantiated, meaning there was enough evidence to prove that abuse did not take place; eight were still being investigated; two were referred to a religious order; one was referred to a diocese; and one investigation was postponed by the bankruptcy courts for matters of confidentiality. Every case was reported to the civil authorities.
These findings are consistent with the pattern that has emerged since the early 1990’s, where there has been an average of less than ten substantiated reports of abuse against Catholic clergy each year.
One case of abuse is too many. But, it’s clear that there is no evidence that an on-going crisis of child sexual abuse exists among Catholic clergy. Indeed, when one compares the number of new cases of abuse each year since the 1990’s with those of the mid-1970’s, when there were hundreds of new cases each year, there is no question that the reforms put in place by the Church beginning in the late 1980’s have been remarkably successful.
How does the Catholic Church compare to other religious and secular institutions? That’s difficult to say, because no other institution collects this kind of data. Colleges and universities are required by law to report incidents of sexual assault but, surprisingly, elementary, middle, and high schools are not. This in spite of the fact that research done by the Government Accounting Office and Carol Shakeshaft of Virginia Commonwealth University reveals widespread abuse by educators, abuse that often goes un-reported to authorities, predators still finding jobs in the classroom, and teachers who are credibly accused simply shuffled to other schools. Public schools across the country have been mostly resistant to adopting reforms for protecting children from predators. The American Society for the Positive Care of Children reports that 58,000 children are sexually abused each year. Dr. Shakeshaft reports that as many as 29,000 children are physically or sexually abused by employees of the public schools each year.
We have a problem in this country. Not only are our children suffering terribly, but the suffering of many of them is being ignored based on who is abusing them. Laws passed by several states dispensing temporarily with the statues of limitations on child abuse often exempt public institutions, so if you were abused by a priest or minister in the 1950’s, you can press charges or sue, but if you were abused by a public school teacher last June, it’s already too late. Entertainers such as Michael Jackson and David Bowie were celebrated in life and mourned in death, in spite of suspicions of sex with minors. Harvey Milk had sexual relationships with minors and the United States Postal Office put his picture on a stamp. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, spent two years in jail for having sex with fourteen year old girls, and his high school alma mater honored him as a distinguished alumni. Frankie Valle had sex with a sixteen year old fan when he was in his forties, and Hollywood made a movie about him. Speaking of Hollywood, the epidemic of child sexual abuse in the movie industry, documented in the film, An Open Secret (which was suppressed by the powers that be) is well established and largely ignored. The message is clear: your abuse matters or not depending on who abused you.
The bottom line is, it shouldn’t matter who is abusing children: all abusers need to be identified and stopped. Those credibly charged need to be incarcerated, whether priest, minister, teacher, rock star, or movie mogul. It’s past time to commit ourselves to protecting our children — all of them.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.