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If one researches the terms “Louisville,” “pedophile,” and “priest” on Google, one gets more than 38 thousand hits. The enormity of this scandal and the terrible damage done to its victims—and the Catholic church as well—truly staggers the imagination. And there has certainly been a multitude of stories about this tragedy in the local press.
We have all read and watched as the disgusting details of the depredations of Louisville’s defrocked priests Daniel C. Clark and Louis Miller, and followed the multimillion dollar lawsuits on the six-o’clock news. By 2009, U.S. dioceses have paid more than 2.6 billion US dollars in abuse-related costs since 1950 to victims and their lawyers. One local lawyer even tried to sue the Vatican; a sovereign nation.
But, how widespread is this pedophile priest problem? In 2004, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to conduct a national survey of the problem of clergy sex abuse. The survey filtered information from diocesan files on each priest accused of sexual abuse and on each of the priest's victims to the research team.
The team reported that 10,667 people in the US had made allegations of child sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002 against 4,392 priests (about 4% of all 109,694 priests who served during the time period covered by the study). One-third of the accusations were made in the years 2002 and 2003, and another third between 1993 and 2001. "Thus, prior to 1993, only one-third of cases were known to church officials," says the report.
Around 81% of the victims were male; 22.6% were age 10 or younger, 51% between the ages of 11 and 14, and 27% between the ages to 15 to 17 years.
Of the 11,000-odd allegations, 6,700 were investigated and substantiated against 1,872 priests, and another 1,000 were unsubstantiated against 824 priests. The remaining 3,300 allegations were not investigated because the priests involved had died by the time the allegations were made. The allegations were thought to be credible for 1,671 priests and not credible for 345 priests. Police were contacted regarding 1,021 priests. Nearly all these reports led to investigations, and 384 instances have led to criminal charges. Of those priests for whom information about dispositions is available, 252 were convicted and at least 100 of those served time in prison. Thus, 6% of all priests against whom allegations were made had been convicted and about 2% sentenced to prison at the date of the report.
Investigator Randall Hoven, writing in The American Thinker, revealed some devastating statistics—not generally reported in the mainstream press—calculated to shock the conscience of even the most cynical observer. “Let me take you on a journey into reality,” said Hoven. (Remember this starting point.)
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education reported on the results of academic studies into the prevalence of sexual abuse in Catholic schools. As a group, these studies present a wide range of estimates of the percentage of U.S. students subject to sexual misconduct by school staff and vary from 3.7 to 50.3 percent. Because of its carefully drawn sample and survey methodology, the AAUW report that nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career presents the most accurate data available at this time.
Based on the assumption that the AAUW surveys accurately represent the experiences of all K-12 students, more than 4.5 million students are subject to sexual misconduct ... sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade.
Just last month, the Government Accountability Office reported on fifteen specific cases of sexual abuse in Catholic schools, showing that sexual abuse is ongoing and ignored even now.
The 15 cases GAO examined show that individuals with histories of sexual misconduct were hired or retained ... At least 11 of these 15 cases involve offenders who previously targeted children. Even more disturbing, in at least 6 cases, offenders used their new positions as school employees or volunteers to abuse more children.
We often hear how the Catholic priests and bishops excuse sexual offenders or merely pass them along from parish to parish. The GAO confirmed such behavior.
A [school] compelled a teacher to resign after he accessed illicit photographs on a school computer. Although the school ... reported the abuse to child protective services, [an] administrator told another ... school seeking a reference that they would rehire the teacher "without reservation." A second [school] also compelled him to resign, but his separation specifically directed all inquiries from future employers to the superintendent and agreed that he would provide a letter of recommendation. This school ... also provided him with positive references. He was eventually hired by a third [school], where he was convicted of sexually assaulting two students.
The GAO summarized the findings of the fifteen specific "cases of individuals with histories of sexual misconduct hired or retained."
In 10 of our 15 cases, school officials did not perform preemployment criminal history checks on prospective employees, including teachers, administrative staff, maintenance workers, volunteers, and contractors. As a result, registered sex offenders were allowed to gain access to ... schools. In 7 of these 10 cases, the offenders had been convicted for offenses against children and in at least 2 of the cases, they subsequently committed sexual crimes against children at the schools where they were working or volunteering.
In four of the cases we investigated, school officials allowed teachers who would have been subject to disciplinary action for sexual misconduct toward students to resign or otherwise separate from the school rather than face punishment.
“That ends our little journey into reality,” wrote Hoven, at the end of this remarkable list of statistics. (Remember this ending point.)
Hoven concludes with this kicker: “I have a secret to tell you: everything in the above ‘journey into reality’ (between the parenthetical starting and ending points) was about public schools, not Catholic ones.”
“The DoE report and the GAO report were real, but they were reporting on public schools. The 9.6% rate of ‘educator sexual misconduct’ was based on surveys of public schools. The estimate of 4.5 million children ‘subject to sexual misconduct’ was based on those same surveys of public schools. The quotes used above did indeed come from those DoE and GAO reports. I used brackets ([ ]) or ellipses (...) within the quotes only to disguise the identity of the schools or officials as public ones rather than Catholic ones.”
The U.S. Department of Education concluded that 4.5 million K-12 students are subjected to sexual misconduct from the types of people in the above list. None are priests.
Tom Hoopes, then National Catholic Register executive editor, observed: "during the first half of 2002, the 61 largest newspapers in California ran nearly 2,000 stories about sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, mostly concerning past allegations. During the same period, those newspapers ran four stories about the federal government’s discovery of the much larger — and ongoing — abuse scandal in public schools."
Learn more: Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature (156 Pp., .pdf)