Saturday 3 September 2022

Comparing child abuse by Catholic priests, Protestant clergymen, sports coaches and schoolmasters

Andrew Brown, the former editor of the religious section in the Guardian, is a brilliant writer but does not believe in God and is certainly not sympathetic to the conservatism of (or in) the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, he wrote an article in 2011 that said:

The most detailed statistics on child abuse for the Catholic clergy that I can find come from the John Jay Institute's report drawn up for the American Catholic bishops' conference. From this it emerges that the frequency of child abuse among Catholic priests is not remarkable but its pattern is. Although there are no figures for the number of abusers in the wider population, there are figure for the number of victims. These vary wildly: the most pessimistic survey finds that 27% of American women and 16% of men had "a history of childhood sexual abuse"; while the the most optimistic had 12.8% of women and 4.3% of men. Obviously a great deal depends here on the definition of abuse; also on the definition of "childhood". In some of these surveys it runs up to 18, which is a couple of years above the age of consent in Britain.

The Catholic figures show that between about 4% of priests and deacons serving in the US between 1950 and 2002 had been accused of sexual abuse of someone under 18. In this country, the figure was a 10th of that: 0.4% But whereas the victims in the general population are overwhelmingly female, the pattern among American Catholic priests was quite different. Four out of five of their victims were male. Most were adolescents: two out of five were 14 or over; 15% were under 10.
This is vile, but whether it is more vile than the record of any other profession is not obvious. The concentration on boys makes the Catholic pattern of abuse stand out... it is nowadays very widely reported. It may be the best reported crime in the world: that, too tends to skew perceptions.

Conservative Catholics often say that the problem of child abuse by priests is mostly a problem of pederasty (attraction of men to boys who have reached puberty). Unfortunately girls and pre-pubescent boys are also victims, however.

An American Catholic catechist, now retired, called Emmett Hubarth said this on Quora. I read this elsewhere too.

Actually, the number of cases within the Catholic Church is about the same or slightly lower than other Christian Churches. However, since the other churches have no real central authority, they don't get the attention that the Catholic Church does. Also the incidence of sexual abuse in any of the churches is far lower than that of the secular world. There are far more cases in our public schools, athletic teams, and involving family members.


  1. from Wikipedia. 'Brown has described himself as someone for whom "Christianity is only true backwards." He has written that he is "constantly astonished by the way in which the Church of England contains such a large number of clever, learned and dedicated people giving their lives to an institution that is none of those things." He has also concluded, "But I still can't do it myself. So why worry? Why not see it all as nonsense? Because really it isn't all nonsense. As a friend of mine, a former missionary, said once: 'It's about the thing that is true even if Christianity isn't true. Christian language does things that no other use of language can. I can conclude only that God has called me to be an atheist.'"