Is Sexual Abuse Strictly a Catholic Problem?

ABOVE: A collection of mug shots including a portion of the 220 people who, since 1998, worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches and were convicted of or pleaded guilty to sex crimes.

If you listened to the news media, or the political pundits, or a number of Evangelical Fundamentalists, you would think the Catholic Church (and the Catholic Church alone) is plagued by sexual abuse, both of minors and adults. Or at the very least, you might think that this problem is worse in the Catholic Church. Why is that? What if I told you that it’s more of a media problem than an abuse problem?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to make light of sexual abuse. Nor am I trying to minimize the crime, excuse it, dismiss it, or brush it off. I’m not. I think sexual predators in the ministry should be immediately fired, defrocked, excommunicated, prosecuted and imprisoned for life, with no possibility of parole. At the same time, however, the American press often gives us the impression that there is something inherent to the Catholic priesthood, or Catholic religion in general, that leads men to sexually molest teenagers (yes, the majority of sexual abuse is with teenagers, not children). I once had a non-Catholic (Evangelical) approach me about the whole Catholic sex-abuse scandal and ask me why the Church “teaches people that it’s okay to molest children.” This man was not an anti-Catholic. He never showed any hostility toward the Catholic Church at all, and was always genuinely curious about my Catholic faith, as well as very friendly. No, this poor soul just watched so much mainstream news that his worldview was shaped by CNN and FoxNews. He, being ignorant of Catholic teaching, actually believed that the Church was teaching people its okay to molest children. What a tragedy! Again, however, I submit to you that his false assumption about Catholic teaching was not so much the result of actual, clerical sex-abuse. Rather, it is the result of the way the mainstream media has reported it.

“The American River Ganges. The priests and the children”
Political Cartoon featured in an 1871 Publication of Harper’s Weekly.

How many times have you heard the national media report on sexual abuse in the Baptist Church? How many times have you heard the national media report on the sexual abuse in the Methodist Church? Or the Presbyterian Church? Or the Pentecostal Church? Or the Church of the Nazarene? Or the Episcopal Church? You probably haven’t heard anything of the sort. In fact, I dare say you might be under the impression that the reason why you haven’t heard about sexual abuse in these churches, is because it’s just not as prevalent, and therefore not news worthy. And that, I’m starting to believe, is exactly what the American mainstream media wants you to believe.

Now, I realize that’s a pretty bold claim. In fact, some might think its outlandish, even preposterous!

Really?

I might have thought so myself, until I read this…

Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations. Insurance companies that cover all denominations, such as Guide One Center for Risk Management, which has more than 40,000 church clients, does not charge Catholic churches higher premiums. “We don’t see vast difference in the incidence rate between one denomination and another,” says Sarah Buckley, assistant vice president of corporate communications. “It’s pretty even across the denominations.” It’s been that way for decades.

Newsweek
Priests Commit No More Abuse Than Other Males
BY PAT WINGERT ON 4/7/2010

You may want to read that above quote two or three times and let that sink in. The people in the know, meaning those people who actually have the information (insurance companies), are telling us that sexual abuse is no more prevalent in the Catholic Church than any other church, denomination or congregation. Yes, let that sink in. As far as the insurance companies are concerned, when writing an insurance policy for a particular church, there is no concern whether the church is Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist or Pentecostal. As far as the insurance companies are concerned, based on their own internal data, the sexual abuse rate is almost exactly the same.

Okay, I don’t know about you, but when I read these words, my blood starts to boil. What’s your blood doing? I’m furious. How about you? To think, we have been treated to no less than 2 decades of one news story, following another, focusing on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church like a laser beam. While this whole time, the sexual abuse rate has been just as high in non-Catholic churches. Again, let that sink in. According to insurance companies, the people who pay out on abuse claims, sexual abuse is just as high in a Baptist Church as it is in a Catholic Church. It’s just as high in the Pentecostal churches, as it is in the Catholic Church. Yet these churches have gotten off scot-free for 2 decades, with nary a story about them, while the Catholic Church has been on media prime-time, national news for night after night, nonstop for 20 years!

Are you angry yet?

You should be. If not, you may need to check your pulse. You might not be alive.

Now, I don’t blame Baptists for this, or Methodist, or Pentecostals, or whatever. It’s not their fault. They’re not the problem here.

And apparently, neither are Catholics.

Again I’m not dismissing the severity of sexual abuse, and nobody wants pederast priests defrocked, and behind bars, more than I do. Yes, there is a problem in the Catholic Church, but apparently, this problem is no bigger than in Protestant churches. In fact, according to insurance companies, no one Christian denomination can be blamed more than another.

The problem seems to be something completely different. It seems to be the American press.

There are only three logical explanations for their disproportionate reporting on sexual abuse, nailing the Catholic Church in almost every single report, night after night, for 20 years, while not a peep about sexual abuse in other churches. Let’s see, what could those logical explanations be? It could be…

  1. Maybe the American press didn’t know that sexual abuse was so widespread among so many different denominations. This seems unlikely to me, since it’s the press that reported it is so widespread over a decade ago. In order for this to be the case, we would have to assume that the majority of the American news media was completely unaware of the Newsweek story I quoted earlier. I don’t consider this likely.
  2. Maybe the American press just didn’t realize they were reporting these things in such an unfair and unbalanced way. This too seems unlikely to me, since it would require us to believe that the American press is not self aware, and completely incompetent, incapable of reporting the news at all, in any kind of meaningful way. In other words, they’re idiots. I don’t think so. I tend to think they know exactly what they’re doing.
  3. Maybe the American press is very self aware, knows exactly what they are doing, and are intentionally skewing their reporting to make it look like the Catholic Church is the ONLY Church out there with this problem, and if the problem does exist anywhere else, then it’s so insignificant and small that its not worth reporting. Maybe the American press has an agenda on reporting sexual abuse in churches, just like it seems to have an agenda on everything else, and in this case the agenda is to destroy public trust in the Catholic Church specifically.

After twenty years of thinking about it, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that it is the third logical conclusion, and it is only the third logical conclusion that makes sense. The American mainstream press is Anti-Catholic, it’s always been Anti-Catholic, and this is nothing new.

Anti-Catholic Cartoon by Tony Auth
Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times on 4/20/2007

You see, there is nothing new here at all. The US Catholic Church has always had a tenuous relationship with the American mainstream press. Anti-Catholicism is a great American pass-time in the mainstream media, and little has changed over the last two centuries. It used to be that Catholics couldn’t get elected to public office at all, because of the American press. Now, they just can’t get elected unless they swear that their religion will not affect their political decisions, and that their Catholicism doesn’t play a role in their public life. This is a requirement placed on no other type of politician: Protestant, Jewish or Muslim. Only Catholics are expected to follow this rule, and make public promises to that effect. It used to be that a Catholic couldn’t rise to political power in America at all. Now, a Catholic can only rise to power if he promises to ignore his faith entirely. In other words, according to the American press, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, meaning one who doesn’t really believe the faith. That’s why the American mainstream media fawns over the likes of President Joe Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Dick Durbin. They are exactly what the American press wants in a Catholic politician. That being an empty shell of a Catholic, ignoring the Church’s teachings on key political things, pledging to never let the Church influence or affect their governance of the nation. In other words, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.

Meanwhile, the American mainstream press runs a 20-year-long blitzkrieg of stories, focusing on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, like a laser beam, while completely ignoring the exact same amount of sexual abuse in all other churches, denominations and sects. I smell Anti-Catholic bigotry here, and it’s just as bad as anything that existed in the 19th century. So it would appear the United States is still an Anti-Catholic nation. It’s just shifted the way it expresses that Anti-Catholicism. In centuries past, the American press relied heavily on Protestant accusations, against Catholics, of popery and loyalty to Rome over America. Today, it just makes up its own accusations, but reporting on stories of Catholic sexual-abuse excessively, while ignoring those same stories in other churches. It’s really quite clever, actually, but they can’t hide it anymore. It’s time for Catholics to call out Anti-Catholic bigotry for what it is. Yes, sexual abuse is a problem in the Catholic Church, and we must deal with it. But it’s no more of a problem for Catholics than it is for any other Christian denomination, and this is nothing compared to the same problem as it exists in secular institutions.

In accordance with a requirement of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, in 2002 the Department of Education carried out a study of sexual abuse in the school system.

Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft looked into the problem, and the first thing that came to her mind when Education Week reported on the study were the daily headlines about the Catholic Church.

“[T]hink the Catholic Church has a problem?” she said. “The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”

So, in order to better protect children, did media outlets start hounding the worse menace of the school systems, with headlines about a “Nationwide Teacher Molestation Cover-up” and by asking “Are Ed Schools Producing Pedophiles?”

No, they didn’t. That treatment was reserved for the Catholic Church, while the greater problem in the schools was ignored altogether.

CBS News
Has Media Ignored Sex Abuse In School?
BY HILLARY PROFITA on 8/24/2006

Yes, my fellow Catholics, we have just stepped back in time some 200 years. The circumstances are a little different, just as the players are, but the problem is exactly the same. The United States is an Anti-Catholic nation once again (was it ever not one?), and the American mainstream press is in on it, just as it was in centuries past. Nothing has changed. It’s the foul stench of bigotry and hate. Smell it! The American press is making sure that we do not feel welcome here. It’s time we refuse to cower to these bigots in the media, and call them out for their unfair and unbalanced coverage of clerical sexual abuse.

Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.

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