The Seven Percent Finding

australian-diocesesOn BBC this morning, this item from Australia.

An inquiry examining institutional sex abuse in Australia has heard 7% of the nation’s Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

Australian bishops and religious orders weren’t singled out. Consider sports like gymnastics and soccer, Scouting, schools, and likely the number one location for abuse, though non-institutional, the home. The government’s committee cast its eyes far and wide:

(M)ore than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia were identified in claims of sexual abuse, with a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators between 1980 and 2015.

The meme that blames homosexuals targeting teenagers is pretty much dismissed by the Australian numbers:

The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys.

This aligns with the Jay Report: average age well into pre-adolescence and girls younger than boys.

Seven percent is crushing. It would be in any American diocese, where the percentage here have hovered around half that, if memory serves. Other cultural factors have already battered the Church by chasing away members. I wonder what this report will do for remnant Catholics in parishes down under. More discouraging exits by believers who see that the Church has abandoned them.

Many people may feel that things have moved on. We have francisbishops now instead of JP2-bishops. Institutions have not only lawyered up, but insurance companies now require due diligence. I still think bishops and parishes must provide significant leadership in special and extraordinary ways to win back the trust of those who believe Church has left them behind.

The key is to take actions that match the perception of the institution as less moral and more sinful than victims of abuse and cover-up. That may or may not be true in all cases. But there is a sense that non-believers and newcomers have a conversion journey as a prelude to belief. Likewise responsible leaders must recognize they are being held to the same standard of morality, ethics, and membership. In the early centuries, those who committed serious sin entered an Order of Penitents. I don’t know how an institution fits into something like an Order. Until the institution figures it out, these discouraging reports will continue to drive wedges between bishops, victims and their allies, chanceries, parishes, clergy, religious orders, parents, and the ideological extremes of Catholicism.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to The Seven Percent Finding

  1. FrMichael says:

    Allegations. Knowing now how many bogus allegations were made in the US version of this nightmare, let’s take the 7% with a grain of salt.

    The low mean age of victims doesn’t tell us much about the gay/straight nature of this abuse. More statistics are needed, such as the percentage of male vs female victims.

  2. Todd says:

    Raw nerve. Comparing allegations against abusers and allegations against homosexuals might also be an interesting exercise. It is true that not all allegations are true, just as not all incidences of abuse get to the stage of reporting. Seven percent has a margin. If 14% of allegations are false, then the figure drops to 6. If a quarter of real abusers never get accused, then that number goes to 8. Any way you cut it, it’s still way too much for an institution that lays claim to a moral high ground. And many angry people know it.

  3. Todd says:

    I will say that people on all sides would optimally be free of scandal:

  4. FrMichael says:

    A statistic worth knowing is the percentage of male victims vs. female victims. That was 80% in the US, letting us know that the main story of the US abuse crisis– beyond the episcopal cover-up, of course– was the widespread gay priest predation of the young. We will have to see whether Australia has a similarly strong Lavender Mafia going or not. Either way, even if half the allegations are bogus (and I have no idea what percentage are bogus), we are still talking lots of priests and lots of victims. Disgusting and discouraging.

    • Todd says:

      The gay meme could be discounted. At the risk of self-citation, we’ve blogged on it here. About half of Jay Study victims were males at age 14 or older. Another thing to consider: do predators choose victims based on sexual attraction? Or are there other reasons? Access to more males because of all-male altar servers or an all-male school? Did the percentage of female victims rise after server corps were generally more open to girls and many schools became integrated?

      I notice that FrMichael brings up the matter of “bogus allegations,” but he has no numbers. And early in his commentary we considered not the crime of forced sexual encounters with underage victims, but that a good bit of the activity was male to male.

      I don’t know that commentary like that necessarily helps the uncovering and healing of abuse. I wouldn’t expect homosexual priests to be any more or less virtuous than their straight brothers. If 7% of priests abused, I would expect that means one in 14 gays, one in 14 heterosexuals.

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