Release of the reports by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the
U.S. Bishops’ National Review Board marks an important landmark in the
long and painful era of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It is far
from the end of the era. The reports along with the Gavin Self-Study, released
in January, do not constitute exoneration of the U.S. Bishops.
These reports would not have come about were it not for the fact that intense
and unrelenting pressure has been put on the U.S. bishops as a result of
widespread revelations that they have covered up and enabled sexual abuse of
children, adolescents and adults by clergy and religious. This era began in the
early 80’s and not in January, 2002. The gradual uncovering of the
Bishops’ collective and individual responsibility for this nightmare has
been the direct result of the persistence of victims and survivors; honest and
detailed reporting by the media and the demands for justice in the civil law
arena. Had none of this happened, the cover-up would have continued until some
other point of critical mass was reached, possibly well into the future.
Thousands of sexually abused adults, victims from past decades, would have
remained unaided and suffering and unknown numbers of clerics and religious
would have been continually shifted around unchecked. Finally, the Catholic
laity reached the point where they would no longer tolerate seeing their
children raped and ruined. The courts and the press, fed up with an uncaring
monolithic power structure, responded when the institutional church could
It is imperative that we understand that these three reports have told only
part of the story. The unasked questions and still hidden information is
possibly more important than the data and conclusions which are published:
1. Preliminary glimpses of the John Jay Survey indicate that the bishops
claim that 50% of the accused clerics had one victim. This statement defies the
data provided by mental health professionals concerning the average number of
victims of sexual abusers, both pedophiles and ephebophiles.
2. The reports do not indicate how often bishops and religious superiors
reported alleged sex abuse cases to the law enforcement authorities or child
3. The John Jay Survey does not give a clear differentiation of the ratio
between diocesan and religious order clerics.
4. Do the reports clearly indicate the number of accused bishops and what
happened to them?
5. Do the reports provide statistics on the number of accused clerics and
religious who were moved at least once from one assignment to another after
having been accused of sexual abuse?
6. Do the reports reveal credible financial details such as the amount of
money expended from church (diocesan and religious community) funds for the
a. Treatment of accused clerics/religious
b. Legal fees for accused clerics/religious
c. Retirement maintenance for suspended clerics/religious
d. Treatment fees for victims
7. Do the reports reveal the treatment costs paid by insurance carriers?
8. Do the reports reveal the numbers of victims personally visited by bishops
and religious superiors?
9. Do the reports reveal the number of civil and criminal court actions?
a. The number of criminal actions and convictions
b. The number of civil suits filed, settled, dropped
c. The number of confidentiality agreements entered into between
dioceses/religious orders and victims, and the number of these that were at the
insistence or request of the victims
d. The number of countersuits filed by perpetrators or dioceses/religious
10. Do the reports reveal the exact number of diocesan bishops who knowingly
moved accused clerics from one place to another?
11. Do the reports reveal the number of bishops who accepted known abusers
from other dioceses or religious orders and allowed them to work in
12. If the bishops are sincere about their commitment to provide a safe
atmosphere for children and their promises of transparency and accountability,
then why are the Catholic bishops in several States the most strident opponents
of revisions to the Statutes of Limitations and the expansion of the reporting
laws to include clergy? In these instances, why are the bishops lobbying so
vehemently using false information about canon law and first amendment
13. In how many cases in the reporting period did the bishops and religious
superiors comply faithfully to all of the requirements in canon law especially
the requirement for a documented inquiry into the validity of an allegation?
14. How many victims have committed suicide and how many accused
clerics/religious have committed suicide
15. How many dioceses and religious orders have provided complete records to
law enforcement officials, judicial officials or the media and how many dioceses
are resisting such disclosure at the present time?
16. How many priests have been laicized and suspended
a. Willingly and by their own request
b. Against their will at the request of the bishop
c. With and without any due process
As we review the statistics and other information we must keep in mind
that all data was provided by the bishops to investigators or other persons
either selected and appointed by the bishops themselves or employed by
organizations selected by them. Furthermore the same bishops claimed for years
that they had no way of providing statistical data on clergy sex abuse cases
because of the independence of dioceses one from another and the inability of
the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to compel or even suggest uniform case
following and reporting.
Some will point to the so-called study done by the Catholic Anti-Defamation
League which claims that the number of Catholic clergy abusers is no higher than
in other professions including clergy of other denominations. Even a cursory
look at this report will reveal multiple questions that seriously impugn its
relevance and credibility. Nevertheless since some bishops (e.g., Archbishop
Edwin O’Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services) have used this
highly questionable data to deflect the seriousness of the real situation the
erroneous data and conclusions should be addressed.
To compare the Catholic clergy to the general population and thereby attempt
to minimize the seriousness of the problem of sexual dysfunction among the
clergy is outrageous. The Catholic Church is not a secular corporation but a
religious body that insists that loyal members comply with a highly restrictive
code of sexual ethics. The Vatican is a signatory of the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child. The bishops have collectively and
individually condemned violence and abuse against children. Yet the
institutional church has intentionally conspired to allow known sexual offenders
to escape criminal prosecution. By failing to remove known or suspected abusers
it has enabled these offenders to prey upon multiple victims. It has not only
intentionally ignored the plight of victims but has revictimized them in
countless cases in order to obtain their silence or defeat their attempts at
receiving justice through the civil court system. The trust expected of the
leadership and clergy of the Catholic church and the compliance and respect
demanded by these same leaders and clerics means quite simply, that the Catholic
church cannot be compared to other social entities or other religious
denominations. The clerical elite are held to a much higher standard.
This era of revelation has focused in great part on the sexual abuse of
children and young people. It has incorrectly been referred to as “the
pedophilia problem” in part because the earliest publicly known offender
was a serial pedophile. Some have tried to minimize the issue with the hardly
newsworthy revelation that a small minority are true pedophiles while most
victims are above the age of reason. Again, a resounding “So what!”
In fact, the majority of offenders have preyed upon young adolescents, most of
whom were male. The age matters not. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse whether the
victim is 6 or 13 or 33 years of age. The damage is deep and long lasting.
Some will claim that most of the victims who have recently come forward are
reporting events that happened years ago. This is irrelevant because the damage
done is life long and does not abate as years pass. In nearly every case of this
kind the victims remained silent out of fear or because they deeply buried the
painful memories. Only recently has there been sufficient support for many of
these older victims to come forward without the fear that they would be
disbelieved and summarily dismissed by the church and by society.
Yet another claim is that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number
of contemporary complaints. This too is misleading and almost irrelevant because
it often takes years for a young victim to come forward. It has also been much
more difficult for bishops and religious superiors to cover up and simply move
accused offenders from place to place. The intense public scrutiny has made such
actions close to impossible. Nevertheless it is highly probable that in the near
future we will see a dramatic upsurge in complaints from certain ethnic
communities where reporting of child sexual abuse was socially discouraged and
where the position of the priest was more protected.
The revelations of widespread sexual abuse of children and young people has
surfaced concern for another aspect of clergy sexual abuse that is deep seated,
equally insidious yet somewhat protected by a less than sensitive society. Some
experts claim that although clergy sexual abuse of the young is the most
dramatic aspect to surface it is not the most numerous. There is far more sexual
abuse of age appropriate victims, most of whom are women. In spite of the
awareness of this problem by the bishops, they have steadfastly refused give it
serious consideration. Historically the institutional church has promulgated
more disciplinary legislation to curb sexual abuse of adult victims, again
mostly women, than any other category of victims. The obvious reason is because
this has been the largest class of victims. The present age is no exception yet
the bishops and clergy in general as well as a significant segment of the
general population remain in culpable denial, refusing to honestly confront the
issue or failing to see validity in the immense power differential that allows
unscrupulous professionals to prey on vulnerable clients.
There is yet another dimension of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse that
must be confronted and this is the abuse meted out in schools and orphanages by
religious women. Long protected for a variety of reasons, the sisters and nuns
have not yet been forced to answer on as widespread a scale as clerics and male
religious yet their victims are every bit as numerous and the scars and trauma
inflicted every bit as deep and deadly. The dramatic example seen in the recent
exposure of the Magdalene Sisters serves as a prophetic reminder that this
bastion of abuse must also be named, confronted and its victims healed.
The hardest questions provoked by these studies are the very questions that
the church’s governmental structure and clerical elite refuse to face.
These are the questions that will not go away no matter how much effort the
papacy and the bishops fight to keep them hidden. These questions cut to the
heart of the matter and they are about two fundamental issues: the governmental
structure of the Catholic Church and the obsession of its incumbents with their
power and, the relevance and authenticity of mandatory celibacy. Until these
questions are honestly faced, these studies and any others that may follow
remain far from complete.
February 26, 2004