The priest sexual abuse scandal that was brought to light in the first few years of this new millenium is indeed a shameful chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. Every priest who preyed on and abused any child, in any manner, did an absolutely horrible thing and should be justly punished for their actions.
Having said that, however, I wish to offer a few observations that need to be kept in mind, particularly by those who would, seemingly gleefully, exploit this scandal to further their own anti-Catholic agenda. And, I want to make clear, that nothing I say below is any way, shape, or form, meant to excuse or somehow justify anything that was done by these priests who acted in such a shameful manner.
The first thing I would say is this: Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. If anyone says something to you about the priests scandal, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that is was shameful, sinful, horrible, disgusting, and is indeed a blight upon the Church. But, if someone is trying to use the scandal to promote their anti-Catholic bigotry or some such thing, then the second thing to do is to ask this person if they can name a single Protestant denomination that has not had a minister or ministers commit sexual abuse. Or, one that has not had a minister or ministers commit murder, steal, lie, cheat, engage in adultery, or any one of a number of sins against God and man. They cannot do it because there is no such denomination.
Which means that if the sins of the leaders of the Catholic Church somehow prove that the Church is not of God, or that it is indeed the Whore of Babylon as many of them contend, then the sins of the leaders of any particular faith tradition "prove" that that faith tradition is not of God. Which means then, that there is no faith tradition that is of God, because there is not a single one that has leaders who are 100% without sin.
And, in point of fact, according to studies and surveys done in the last few years, it appears that the incidence of sexual abuse within Protestant denominations is higher than it is within the Catholic Church. Again, not to excuse the actions of a single miscreant priest, but to point out that if non-Catholic Christians are going to be righteously angry about the priest sexual abuse scandal (and they should be), they need to also recognize and be righteously angry about the sexual abuse scandals that are going on inside of their own congregations and denominations.
The Washington Post did a survey a few years ago that showed less than 1.5 percent of the estimated 60,000 men who have been priests in the previous 40 years had been accused of child sexual abuse. Now, there are undoubtedly a number of priests who committed child sexual abuse and were never accused, but there are undoubtedly a number of priests who were accused of child sexual abuse who never actually committed such abuse, but we can't know for sure what these numbers are either way. The N.Y. Times also did a survey and found that about 1.8 percent of priests ordained from 1950 to 2001 had been accused of child sexual abuse.
So, those are the figures relating to the Catholic clergy, but what about the Protestant clergy? In a 1984 survey, 38.6 percent of ministers reported sexual contact with a church member and 76% said they knew of another minister who had had sexual intercourse with a parishioner. In 1990, a study found that 10% of ministers admitted to having had an affair with a parishioner and 25% admitted to having "some sexual contact" with a parishioner. In a 1993 survey, 14% of Southern Baptist ministers said they had engaged in "inappropriate sexual behavior." In a 2000 report to the Baptist General Convention, it was noted that in the 1980's, 12 percent of minsters had "engaged in sexual intercourse with members" and nearly 40% had "acknowledged sexually inappropriate behavior." One thing to note here, is that these figures dealing with the Protestant clergy do not focus specifically on child abuse, but include all manner of sexual sins. The point, though, is that it appears the incidence of sexual abuse amongst Protestant clergy is as serious, if not more serious, than it is among Catholic clergy.
However, specifically in regard to child abuse, in 2002, the Christian Science Monitor reported that, "Despite headlines focusing on the priest pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church, most American churches being hit with child sexual-abuse allegations are Protestant." In Pedophiles and Priests, a work by Penn State professor Philip Jenkins, it was determined that between .2 and 1.7 percent of priests are pedophiles, while between 2 and 3 percent of Protestant clergy are pedophiles. So, according to this study, the number of pedophiles among Protestant clergy range from just slightly higher than Catholic clergy to as many as 10 to 15 times higher than Catholic clergy. Finally, the New York Times reported in 2007, that just three insurance companies that insure Protestant churches said they receive an average of 260 reports a year of children young than 18 being sexually abused by members of the clergy, church staff memers, volunteers, or congregants. In other words, the problem is not one that is found solely within the confines of the Catholic Church.
So, why do you hear so much about the incidence of sexual abuse among the Catholic clergy and little to nothing about the incidence of sexual abuse among the Protestant clergy? A few reasons, but I believe the most important one is that the nice people in the media hate the Catholic Church more than the hate any other Christian church and will use any excuse to try and bring her down. They hate the Church's stance on abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, contraception, and many other such things. So, because the hate the Church so much, they go after her with great gusto every chance they get, and this priest abuse scandal was like waving a red flag in front of a bull for them.
Another reason for the spotlight shining so brightly on the Catholic Church, is that the abuses of a number of different priests were exposed all at the same time so it seemed like the problem was larger within the Catholic Church compared to anywhere else. The fact is, most of the abuse cases go back to the 60's, 70's, and 80's. So, when they came out, they didn't trickle out here and there, they came out all at once. And, because of the size of the Church, compared to any single Protestant denomination, it makes it seem like the problem is more prevalent in the Catholic Church because of the numbers you hear talked about. So, you hear about 40 or 50 priest abusers in one archdiocese on national media one night, while in the back pages of the Eastaboga Times you read about the sexual abuse perpetrated by Pastor Jones over at the 1st Baptist church. The thing is, though, that when you add up all of the Pastor Jones abuse situations in all of the Protestant denominations, it is apparently a bigger problem than that which exists in the Catholic Church.
Which means, again, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Now, is the situation in the Protestant churches something for Catholics to gloat over: "Yeah, we've got sexual abuse in our Church, but at least it's not as bad as what you Protestants have, hah!" No, that should not be the reaction of anyone who calls themself a Christian. Sexual abuse, whether of children or of adults, is a crime that destroys lives, and it is something that we all need to pray comes to an end in both the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. Just as no one should be trying to exploit the situation of the priest abuse scandal to "score" points against the Church, so Catholics should not try to exploit the situation of the minister abuse scandal to "score" points against the Protestant denominations. We should all be equally outraged against all of these abuses and work and pray to lessen the incidence of such despicable acts.
One more thing to keep in mind, though, which provides a bit more perspective on the whole situation, particularly as to the motivation of the media - by all accounts, while the sexual abuse problem is bad in the Catholic world and the Protestant world, it is apparently many times worse in the public school systems around this country. It has been reported, by the Journal of Education Research, that as many as 17.7 % of males who graduated high school, and 82.2 % of females, reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their years in school. And consider this, in the State of New York, teachers accused of sexual misconduct cannot be fired. In a 1994 study of 225 cases of sexual abuse by educators, every single one of them admitted the abuse, but not a single one was reported to authorities, and only 2 or 3 of them lost their license to teach. Studies show that up to 5% of teachers sexually abuse children. So, have you heard about this on the nightly news? Of course not! Why not? Because the teachers' unions and the mainstream media outlets are allies in many areas.
So, is the media zealous in their pursuit of these priest abusers? You bet they are and, quite frankly, I'm glad they are - or else a lot of this crap may have never seen the light of day. My criticism of the media is not that they shouldn't be exposing abuse within the Church, they should be. My criticism of the media is that their outrage over the sexual abuse of minors appears to be rather selective, depending on who is committing the abuse. They need to go after all incidences of sexual abuse wherever it is found.
So, if someone comes up to you and starts railing on the Church because of the priest abuse scandal, you can agree with them 100% that it is something heinous and scandalous and that every one who perpetrated these crimes and/or covered them up, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and their conversions should be prayed for to the full extent of Christian charity.
But, if they try to use the scandal to start questioning the underlying legitimacy of the Church...its authority...its teachings, then point out the facts as I have above, but also mention that the Church nowhere taught that the actions of these men were ever moral. That these men in fact committed acts that were directly contrary to the Church's teachings and to their oaths. Nor did the Church ever condone these actions. And that a few Bishops covering up for these abusers does not constitute the approval of the Church, it constitutes sin. Even if it is ever found out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Pope himself knew about the sexual abuse and sought to cover it up or to somehow excuse it, that does still not constitute approval of the Church. It constitutes sin. The Pope can sin right along with the rest of us.
The sexual abuse scandal in the Church should rightly be condemned by one and all, but sexual abuse by ministers outside of the Catholic Church should be condemned just as strongly, as should sexual abuse within the schools. The Church should not escape scrutiny and criticism, but scrutiny and criticism should be applied without prejudice to all. Those who try to exploit the sexual abuse scandal to further their own agenda are loathsome people. Those who simply question the Church regarding the scandal should be given the full facts and the full context of the situation, and should be made to understand that it is not our problem alone.