by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado

The nightly news coverage begins with maddening monotony. Viewers see a church procession of some sort with Gegorian chanting in the background, ending with a close-up of the Pope in full regalia, looking somber. Like other faithful Catholics, I am distressed by the repetitious coverage of the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Church. It is tragic, of course, that so many child victims have been robbed of their innocence. In my view, anyone who abuses a child sexually or otherwise and those who fail to supervise or discipline the abusers should be punished to the limit provided for by the laws of their state or other civil jurisdiction. There is no valid excuse for such a crime and I have little sympathy for the perpetrators.

I do, however, have abundant sympathy for my Church which I believe is taking a needlessly prolonged public beating for the sins of a relative few that occurred mostly decades ago. It is the pedophile priests who committed the crimes, not the Church or the overwhelming majority of the clergy who are blameless and who have devoted their lives to taking care of others. Yet to read and watch media accounts and the angry letters to the editors they provoke, one might think that the Catholic Church was primarily to blame for the world-wide child sex abuse scourge and that the entire Church hierarchy is immoral and corrupt.

The media clearly have a responsibility to report news but where is the balance on this issue? There is an abundance of survey and study data, accessible on the internet, that show quite clearly that this is not exclusively or even primarily a Catholic problem. It is rather a universal problem encountered almost everywhere in society including other religions and denominations and, most alarmingly, in families and public schools.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, in a 2004 report, summarized the findings of some of this research. Some of the statistics are particularly illuminating. The largest group of perpetrators of sexual abuse of children consists of relatives and friends of the family including boyfriends of single or divorced mothers. The breakdown of the family unit, poor parenting, sexual promiscuity, pornography and childbirth out of wedlock can be blamed for much of the child sex abuse epidemic. Why is this not being emphasized by the media? Could it be political correctness?

The report cited an American Medical Association finding in 1988 that one in six girls and one in eight boys of school age were sexually abused before the age of 18. Another study reported in The Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children found that about 18% of males and 82% of females claimed sexual abuse by faculty or staff. An incredible 13.5% said that they had sex with a teacher. How well is this being covered in the media?

The report also cited a survey by a major Washington newspaper that found less than 1.5% of Catholic clergy has been accused of child sexual abuse. It also reports a major New York newspaper survey putting the figure at 1.8% for priests ordained between 1950 and 2001. These are actually lesser percentages than those reported for some other religions and denominations. In fact, another prominent national newspaper cited a report which concluded: “Despite headlines focusing on the priest pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church, most American churches being hit with child sexual abuses are (not Catholic) and most of the alleged abusers are not clergy or staff but church volunteers.”

Almost all priests who abused children, the Catholic League report continues, are homosexuals. A psychologist at Santa Clara University reported that 80-90% of all priests who abuse minors have sexually engaged with adolescent boys, not prepubescent children.

An unfortunate consequence, at least partially attributable, I believe, to this repetitious and unbalanced news coverage is the financial damage it has done to the world’s largest religious and charitable institution. Church financial settlements to date have made many victims and their lawyers rich but it never seems to bring forgiveness or closure. In the United States alone, the Church operates about 230 colleges and universities and a non-profit hospital system of about 637 hospitals which account for 20% of the hospital beds, available to Catholics and non-Catholics without discrimination. It provides arguably the best elementary and secondary education systems in the country with a graduation rate far in excess of public schools and where students are substantially safer from sexual abuse. Its charitable services feed, clothe and shelter the poor. These services save the taxpayers billions but they are in jeopardy

The point of all this is not to deflect blame from one institution or source to another for the despicable crimes of sexual abuse against children. It is rather an appeal for balance and perspective. Those who would leave the church over this scandal or encourage others to, haven’t a clue as to what it means to be a real practicing Catholic. There is plenty of blame to share. Let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone. Then let’s move on to more productive things. CRO

copyright 2010 J.F. Kelly, Jr

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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