A Church Study on Child Rape

Catholic Church

Image by The Advocacy Project via Flickr

Every now and again religious institutions seek to re-embrace the scientific method after keeping it at a distance due to angry queries like: “The God Hypothesis” or evolution.  The result of this bastard-prone marriage ends up with science beaten and bloodied by the rigors of protecting The Holy Mother Pedophiliopolis (.pdf).

This report was batted around the news this week. I list quickly below some of the key findings hit on pretty much everywhere else this story was touched. For example, Bill Maher jumped on this on his Friday show. He had a lot of material to work with, what with the apocalypse set to begin two hours after his monologue. But, a quick aside.

Religious people: you cannot mock the ridiculousness of other people’s beliefs. No amount of shouting you down with “pot, kettle, black” seems to stick and you take the same self-entitled and un-ironic world view that works so well at shielding your own psyche and then you apply it to the absurdity of other’s minds. It’s fundamentally insulting, like two developmentally disabled children circling one another, brandishing fisticuffs. Stop it.

The report gets hit on for a few insane proofs:

1) Priests (probably) never raped kids before 1950. (Not really implied by the report, I know, but everyone else in the media’s been saying it.)

2) Sexual deviance in the 1960s seeped into the priesthood and caused this whole rape pandemic.

3) The Catholic Church fixed the problem in the mid-80s. (Then, gave up on it I guess?)

4) Child rape occurs mostly to boys (81 percent) because they’re available.

5) Rapists priests are not homosexuals.

6) Raping kids has nothing to do with “an exclusively male priesthood and the commitment to celibate chastity”.

7) Priests aren’t pedophiles1.

I think we all look at those findings and rub our eyes with astonishment, Catholic or no, rationalist or fundamentalist.

But, this report is 90 something pages, so let’s dig in past the first pages covered in the televised media.

First, there’s this bell curve.

Sane people look at that and think: that can’t be right, surely there’s more abuse going on in the ’90s and early ’00s.

“this discrepancy is the result of a significant delay in the reporting of most abuse incidents; one-third of all incidents known by the end of 2002 (the years the media reported widely on the abuse crisis) were reported in that year alone” (pg 9).

Hmmm. Why put that bell curve in here when you know, and you admit as much in plain English, that more reports of abuse will come out for the time frame that looks all innocent and “Newt Gingrich/George W. Bush” Moral Majority-ish?

How about, another study of child abuse among all insitutions that cater to children (religious or not; schools, daycare, Boy Scouts)  found that many individuals will join an organization specifically to get access to children.

…found that 15 percent reported having specifically picked their profession to access children while 41.5 percent reported that access to children was at least part of their motivation for having selection their profession. Indeed, over [sic] 90 percent of the abusers studied were reported to have been aware of their sexual attraction to children prior to having begun their professional careers. (pg 17)

One would hope that with this knowledge in hand, the Church can go back and re-visit their least common punishment for child abuse. That is, below reprimand, below counseling and psychoanalysis, the least-common result of a priest raping a kid is “laicization” or de-frocking a.k.a. firing the priest.

Most of us want to know what the Church’s response to incidences of abuse. Unfortunately, the best this report can offer is what we already know. That the Church should have been removing priests from the order, turning them over to authorities in either the psychological community or to law enforcement.

The recommendation of one outside report seems especially poignant, though ignored:

When there is even a hint of such an incident, investigate immediately; remove the priest whenever the evidence warrants it; follow the reporting obligations of the civil law; extend pastoral care to the victim and the victim’s family; and seek appropriate treatment for the offender. (pg 81)

There’s also this cryptic explanation, which my cynical brain interprets as blaming the victim, but my analytic brain identifies as stupid institutional language:

Persistence by victims and advocates in their attempts to participate in diocesan efforts often were not welcome. Victims began to organize for support and connect into organizations. The process undertaken by dioceses to provide for and then select a victim assistance coordinator was often drawn out. Victims were frustrated and confused by the delays and lack of response of the part of diocese. Civil litigation by victims became more common after the mid-1980s, and such legal action further complicated the diocesan response to victims. (pg 89)

Then, we get a list of institutional responses by bishops. To summarize: abusive priests were transferred to other parishes where their crimes were unknown, and the community they left was not notified as to why. Leaders covered up or failed to provide information to civil authorities, “even before the statute of limitation expired.” Officials’ response to civil/criminal action by victims was often hostile and aggressive, not helping the Church’s situation.

By the mid-1990s… church leaders felt confident that they had done what was needed in response to incidents of abuse that took place many years earlier. Yet, the victims and victim advocates sought immediate recognition and remediation of the harm that they had experienced. Again, the complexity of events and the disjointed timeline of disclosure clouded an understanding of both perspectives. (pg 89)

And if you’d like, Chapter 6, starting on .pdf page 118 details the finding’s full Conclusions and Recommendations.


1. “It is worth nothing that while the media has consistently referred to priest-abusers as “pedophile priests,” pedophilia is defined as the sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Yet, the data on priests show that 22 percent of victims were age ten and under, while the majority of victims were pubescent or postpubescent [sic].” (see below, Fig. 1.4)

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One Response to A Church Study on Child Rape

  1. Pakiprince86 says:

    I concur with Quinten’s comment on FB. I enjoyed the disclaimer.

    I know a lot of nations in Middle East and other regions are controlled by religious leaders but I don’t agree with it. I think state and church should be separate. So if you catch these people sexually abusing children, I think they should be tried to full extent of the law regardless of how much pull church has with government.

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