The Real Story on Sex Abuse

In recent weeks, we have once again seen “news” stories in the papers about sex abuse and the Catholic Church.

These “news” items related to a disclosure of some documents by the Archdiocese of Chicago, relating to old cases dating back many decades, and a hearing before a UN board at which the Holy See was questioned about how sex abuse cases were handled and how many priests have been laicized in response.

Obviously, the sexual abuse of minors is a great concern to us, and to society as a whole.  It is a terrible evil, and must be rooted out from every institution.  The Church hardly needs the release of ancient personnel files, or some hearing before an international organization, to remind us that some priests were abusers, and some bishops were negligent in their leadership.  Every case of sexual abuse is a tragedy, and we are completely committed to helping victims heal from their ordeal.

But all these stories, and dozens like them, completely miss the real news.  The fact is that the Catholic Church has become a model for child protection, and that other organizations emulate us and wish that they could have as good a record as we do now.  This is the key — what’s being done to ensure the protection of children today and in the future.

We should never be afraid to take a long, hard look at mistakes that were made in the past, in order to try to learn how we can do things better in the future.

So, what’s wrong with much of the reporting of these old incidents?

First, many of these “news” events are orchestrated by trial lawyers and self-appointed victim advocates, who are supporting lawsuits or litigation that target the Church. In almost every case,  the incidents took place years, even decades ago, and most of the priests have long since died or have been removed from the priesthood.  And the reports raise serious questions about fairness.  No other institution is subjected to constant reminders of the misconduct of former officials — certainly not the public school system, which has a much higher rate of sexual abuse.

The hearing before the UN committee that is supposedly dedicated to defending the rights of children has its own problems.  The committee is filled with nations that have terrible records of human rights abuses.  (The committee has also never said a word about the worst abuse of human rights that it taking place around the world, legalized abortion, which takes the lives of tens of millions of children each year.)  And no other organization has been called before the committee to explain its policies regarding sexual abuse — certainly not the UN itself, which has failed to address the systematic sexual abuse of children and women by UN peacekeeping forces in various countries around the world.  The UN committee even had the audacity to recommend that the Church change our teaching on abortion and contraception — tipping their hand to their real, anti-Catholic, anti-life biases.

The only “news” here is that the UN would have the chutzpah to pass judgment on any other organization at all.

So what is the real story?

The real story is the incredible amount of human capital and financial resources that have been expended on prevention of future incidents of child abuse.  Let’s put some numbers on it.  We have over 48,000 active people working with children in the Archdiocese of New York alone, and two million more across the nation.   The Church spends tens of millions of dollars each year in prevention and safety programs.  All our people have been screened, trained, and are being supervised by dedicated leaders who are committed to protecting children.  We have tight policies to ensure that predators can’t have access to our children, and we react promptly and decisively to root them out and bring them to justice.

Other institutions study and model themselves on us.  Experts, like Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University, have said that “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”  We have been open and transparent in allowing outside auditors and scholars to study our efforts.

And we’ve seen the results of all this investment in child protection.  There has been a dramatic drop in the number of credible reports of present-day sexual abuse of minors by clergy — in 2012, there were only eleven minors who reported allegations in the entire nation.

Nobody can match our efforts or our accomplishments.

Why is this the bigger story?

Just think about it — when a big company like Apple makes a tiny design change in a popular product, it makes headlines around the world.  Everybody pays attention, and thinks it’s a big deal.

But the Catholic Church in America has done something even more important, something that no other organization in the world has done.  We’ve made a huge, across-the-board, change in our corporate culture, so that now, every leader and every worker has child protection as a high item on their agenda.  Nobody does as much as we do to protect children.  It’s not just superficial window-dressing, but a massive substantive commitment. And all of that has been done voluntarily, in the midst of hostile and intense scrutiny, because it was necessary to avoid and correct the mistakes of the past — and because it was the right thing to do.  This is a huge accomplishment.

That’s the real news that the media should be writing — not yet another rehash of old tragedies, but a story of  transformation, commitment and success.


5 Responses to “The Real Story on Sex Abuse”

  1. Peter Rox says:

    It should be a matter of greatest embarrassment to our hierarchy that they have so miserably failed to confront the sex abuse crisis. How many of us heard time and again from pulpits, in the Catholic press, and in conversations with bishops during the several early years of the crisis that the allegations were all untrue, that they were perpetuated by “enemies of the Church”, and that greedy lawyers were behind all this. It took massive numbers of civil law suits and great investigative journalism by the secular press to expose the truth of what happened, along with the deception in its cover-up. The US Church, even today, needs court orders and aggressive prosecutors and lawyers to release documents (as in Chicago) and to own up to anything.

    During the current period when the Church is supposedly responding, we have seen many lay persons who served on various commissions on this issue in different dioceses as well as with the USCCB resign in disgust over having their hands tied by bishops in the US as they have sought out the truth. The crimes and the cover-up have cost the US Church alone over a billion $$ dollars (more than $600,000,000. in Los Angeles alone) of the donations made by the faithful and squandered by our leadership.

    Now to think that even the United Nations is citing the Vatican for lack of adequate response is a hideous stain upon our Church and leadership. The culture of authoritarianism in the hierarchy and clergy, careerism, and lack of meaningful lay input in the governance of the Church has allowed a terrible situation to persist. In the meantime, the credibility of the Church on faith and morals, as well as the sincere faith of a great many people , have been irreparably injured. Then, of course, there is the issue of the spiritual lives of the many thousands of victims world wide, and their families, that have been so shaken, if not destroyed.

  2. Dottie Day says:

    To me, a big, big reason why the Church continues to be punched around by the world on the abuse scandal, is that the hierarchy has not faced and admitted publicly the extent of homosexuality in the priesthood that was at the heart of the fall. The data from the John Jay report commissioned by the bishops themselves, indicated that the “child abuse scandal” was overwhelmingly abuse of young men — 81% of the victims [between 1950 and 2002] were male and 78% were post-pubescent. As long as the hierarchy won’t speak to the truth of homosexuality in the priesthood, they are lying to themselves. And so the enemies of the Church can forge ahead knowing that the lie is intact and the Church has a glass jaw.

  3. Ed Mechmann says:

    The fundamental issue in this particular situation is not about sexual orientation, but fidelity to the will of God, the teachings of the Church, and the sacred vows entered into by clergymen.

    Back in 2004, the National Review Board, which was set up by the Bishops, issued a report on the crisis. They said something very, very important: the problem of sexual abuse has to be dealt with in polices and procedures, but at its heart “the over-riding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness”. We’ll never understand this issue unless we get this right. All the policies in the world will do no good unless we realize that sin is the real enemy. They went on to say,

    The only way to combat sinfulness is with holiness. This is not a public relations battle for the approval of the press or the loyalty of the laity. It is, fundamentally, the age-old issue of good and evil. The Church must be holy; her ministers must be holy; her people must be holy. The foundation of holiness is a strong spiritual life, a life of prayer and simplicity. Priests who were truly holy would not have abused young people; nor would they have allowed others to do so.

  4. DottieDay says:

    But when the abuse scandal is presented in the international public square, why would the Church not respond with the light of truth and call it what it is: homosexual sinfulness made more serious because it was done by priests who are called to holiness. Believe me, the enemies of the church would be struck dumb by their own conscience if the Church shone the light of truth on the situation by calling it what it was. Just as with the woman caught in adultery who was to be stoned, Jesus wrote on the floor of the temple and the Pharisees went away one by one because none of them could cast the first stone. Very prayerfully, the Church should speak the truth to homosexual scandal.

  5. Nadine M. Chiffriller says:

    The media in this country is definately anti-Catholic in a huge and obvious way. I know the church has implemented various programs to strength our our protection of minors and to bring clergy to justice for any crimes they may have commited in regard to sexual abuse of minors. The media likes to publicize bad news because it sells newspapers, rather than report on the activities of the church to correct this situation.