02Nov Interesting results of poll conducted by Iona Institute

Majority of public overestimates number of priests who are guilty of child abuse

Seven in ten overestimate prevalence of abusers among the Catholic clergy

One in four believe that 40pc or more of all priests have abused a child

November 1, 2011 – A CLEAR majority of the public overestimate the number of Catholic clergy who are guilty of child abuse, a new Amarach Research poll commissioned by The Iona Institute reveals.

The most authoritative estimate to date, conducted in the United States, puts the true number of accused priests at 4 percent. (See note three below).

However, seven out of every ten respondents believe the number is higher than this and 42 per cent put the number above 20 percent. Of these, 27 percent believe the number exceeds 40 percent, and 17 percent put it at half or more.

Five percent of the public believe that between 90 percent and 100 percent of all Catholic priests are guilty of child abuse. (For a fuller breakdown of the figures see note four below).

Therefore, close to half of the public are overestimating the number of guilty priests by a factor of at least five to one.

The findings of The Iona Institute poll are similar to those of a poll commissioned on this subject by the Royal College of Surgeons in 2002, although a higher percentage of the public are now grossly overestimating the number of priests who are guilty of child abuse.

The Royal College poll found that 11pc of the public believed that more than half of priests are guilty of child abuse. This latest poll, as mentioned, found that 17 percent of the public today put it at more than half.

Commenting on the findings on behalf of The Iona Institute, Professor Patricia Casey said: “There has been very deep and completely justified public anger over the scandal of child sex abuse by clergy. However, only a small minority of priests are guilty of this terrible crime and in the interests of justice, and in fairness to the vast majority of priests, it is essential that fact this becomes universally known among the public at large”.

Professor Casey continued: “It might be understandable if the public were overestimating the number of guilty priests by a factor of two or so, but the fact that so many members of the public are grossly overestimating the number of guilty priests should be a matter of deep concern to all fair-minded people.

“It could be claimed that the fact for this overestimation lies exclusively with the Church. However, as a normal rule when responsible media outlets are reporting crimes by certain groups such as Travellers or Muslims, great care is taken not to stereotype or demonise these groups.

“For example, when terrorist atrocities are committed in the name of Islam, responsible media point out that only a tiny minority of Muslims are guilty of these atrocities, and that such terrorist attacks are an aberration in Muslim terms, rather than a true expression of Islam”.

She concluded: “Therefore, when cases of clerical abuse are being reported, a similarly responsible attitude should be adopted, that is, the cases should be factually and objectively covered, but it should be made clear each and every time that only a very small minority of Catholic priests are guilty of child abuse”.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. The Iona Institute is a pro-religion organisation.

2. These findings are based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 Irish people in September using the Amárach Research omnibus service.

3. According to the most authoritative study on the topic, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the United States, four percent of priests in the US had one or more allegations of child abuse made against them in the period 1950 to 2002. The abuse scandals peaked between 1975 and 1985. The study is called ‘The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States’. No comparable study has been done of any other organisation anywhere in the world. The variation between US dioceses averaged at between 3-6%.

4. Thirty one percent of respondents put the number of abusers at 5pc or less. Another 14pc put it at 6 to 10pc; 13pc put it at 11 to 20pc; 10pc at 21 to 30pc; 5pc at 31 to 40pc; 10pc at 41 to 50pc; 4pc at 51 to 60pc; 3pc at 61 to 70pc; 4pc at 71 to 80pc; 1pc at 81 to 90pc and 5pc at 91 to 100pc.

14 Responses

  1. Spencer

    The overwhelming majority of cases worldwide involved offences against pubescent males so the problem in general appears to be one of abuse by homosexual men who sought and achieved ordination. Sexual offences by homosexuals are proportionately very much higher than those committed by heterosexuals in all western socieities. It is well known that some seminaries and orders were run by homosexual cliques who encouraged homosexuals to join and discouraged heterosexuals or, at least, those who did not regard active homosexuality in a positive light. These people were the cause of this disaster and not ‘the Church’. The recent Vatican instruction on accepting homosexual candidates should, if followed, greatly reduce the problem which in any case is not any greater than in any other denomination or youth organisation.

  2. Fr S

    Firstly, we should be thanking the Media for their crucial role in exposing abuse and for bringing to light an unpalatable truth about our Church. There is no doubt that the Media have saved God knows how many children from being exploited in this way.
    Secondly, in gauging public reaction, let us remember that the present negativity towards our Church is not just for abuse – it is because of abuse AND cover up. The two cannot be separated. I am not just referring to the hierarchy here – and make no mistake, they are culpable – but how many priests knew, heard or suspected what certain priests were up to, took part in ‘innuendo’ and did nothing? No survey will find that out.
    As regards the 4% figure, that is extremely debatable. Other surveys have put the real figure at between 8-10% (Check some of the articles on NCR.) Many instances went unreported, many were unproved, victims committed suicide, many were successfully covered up, victims were silenced, many still lie in the bottomless drawers of the CDF and many victims were simply too frightened to come forward. What about priests who had more than one victim? I know one priest who had over 120 victims over a span of 20 years.
    Then, regarding our hierarchy, there is the question of their response (or lack of it.) Benedict’s response has been to meet hand-picked victims and cry with them. In an interview Diarmuid Martin was asked why he had spoken out on behalf of victims. He replied, “After hearing the stories from victims, I had no other choice but to speak out. Wouldnt everyone?” No Diarmuid, they wouldn’t.

  3. Mary Burke

    Your post is perpetuating an outrageous and false slur against gay people. In fact the majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse against children are family members, i.e. fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles of the victims. The percentage of clerical sexual abusers is not significantly different from the percentage of the population at large.

  4. w. gerard poole

    This article is misleading on a number of issues. The first is the reference to “child abuse” that makes no distinction between pederasty and child molestation.The latter is a mental illness, the former is an accepted behavior among most homosexuals: it is sex with young men/boys, not children.
    Secondly, the 4% figure, while probably correct, is not what the Catholic public sees. What they do see is an inexplicable preponderance of gay priests- openly gay and effeminate men that lead the laymen to believe that if up to 40% of the clergy in many circles are gay, then the percentage of sexual predators is also that high. The reason it is not that high, is simply that the majority of the 40% homosexual priests have either never been caught indulging in pederasty, or else they are having homosexual sex with fellow priests and friends who are more mature.
    So in this way the public perception is neither ignorant nor prejudice- two favorite whips of the socialist elites- but a rational reaction to a real perception: the absurd abundance of homosexuals in the clergy.
    The real question,side-stepped by this article, is: why are there so many homosexuals in the clergy to start with? This will prove to be one of the most interesting revelations about what has happened to the Catholic Church over the past many decades. I would like to ask this association; are you willing to even ask that question?

  5. Spencer

    @ Mary Burke, I know that the majority of cases do not involve the 1-2% of the population that is homosexual. I said “proportionately” and that’s true. The great majority of cases involving Catholic priests were homosexual offences.

  6. Mary Burke

    “Sexual offences by homosexuals are proportionately very much higher than those committed by heterosexuals in all western societies.”
    “And that’s true.”
    Please cite your sources!

    Let’s look at your figures for a moment!
    1) Roughly 4% of the population abuse children sexually.
    2) According to your reckoning 2% of people are gay. (I suspect it is significantly higher.)
    3) You claim that the percentage of gay sexual offenders is “very much higher.” Let us say it is 5%. (That’s an increase of 25%.)
    4) That means that .001% of sexual offences in society are carried out by gay people.
    That figure speaks for itself.

    As long as such slurs against gay people continue to be perpetuated, the real culprits continue their activities with impunity.

  7. Pádraig McCarthy

    Mary Burke wrote: “Roughly 4% of the population abuse children sexually.”
    Where did this statistic come from?
    I have seen statistics of 4% quoted for the percentage of priests who abuse.
    I have not been able to find any survey showing what the percentage of the general population, male or female, who abuse.
    Pádraig McCarthy

  8. Mary Burke

    Pádraig, here’s the link to the (US) National Alert Registry.

    http://www.registeredoffenderslist.org/what-is-pedophilia.htm

    It confirms the figure of 4%.

    I admire and agree with anything you have written which I have read here and elsewhere.

    MB

  9. Eileen

    A person’s sexual orientation, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is created by God and, therefore, good and worthy of respect. It is outrageously insulting and unjust to try to explain the evil of sexual abuse on sexual orientation. Such a strategy serves as scapegoating and ignores the evils, such as silence and cover-up (which protect the perpetrators. Don’t forget, homophobia is also abuse. Apart from the horrific damage to those to whom it is directed, it also rubbishes God’s creation.
    By the way, the incidence of homosexual men in the clergy is totally irrelevant. One may as well ask: “How many wear glasses or have red hair, prefer cycling to driving or like to watch old movies”? The evil of abuse of minors has been perpetrated by clergy of both orientations, as we have seen from several cases in the diocesan reports to date.

  10. Spencer

    The major study into this situation was undertaken by an independent body on behalf of the US Bishops, the John Jay study. This is a very short extract:
    — An overwhelming majority of the victims, 81 percent, were males. The most vulnerable were boys aged 11 to 14, representing more than 40 per cent of the victims. This goes against the trend in the general U.S. society where the main problem is men abusing girls.
    — A majority of the victims were post-pubescent adolescents with a small percentage of the priests accused of abusing children who had not reached puberty.

    PS the study says that 4% of priests were accused, it does not say that 4% were guilty which would be inaccurate as some accused have been found not guilty and because accusers stand to gain substantial financial settlements providing an incentive to invent or exaggerate offences. At least one imprisoned priest refused an offer of one to three years in jail to plead guilty and was imprisoned for 67 years. His treatment by US prison authorities is harsher than usual because he continues to maintain his innocence. His accusers, several brothers, received very high financial awards.

  11. Joseph O'Leary

    This is extremely disturbing. Please put the brilliant article of Fr Andrew McMahon in this month’s Furrow on the AIP website!

  12. Mary Burke

    Your posts have tried to equate pedophilia with sexual orientation. That is a distortion of the truth. Whether you intend it or not, such conflation is one reason why gay people continue to suffer subjectively and objectively.

  13. Pádraig McCarthy

    Mary – thanks for that link. He does not give a source for the estimate.
    Marie Keenan’s newly published book is: Child Sexual Abuse & the Catholic Church: Gender, Power and Organizational Culture. On page 5 she offers an estimate of 6% of the general adult male population who sexually abuse children, but she says this figure must cautiously interpreted. This would be higher than the estimate of 4% for Catholic clergy; which itself is clearly 4% more than it should be.
    An enquiry by New South Wales Police into various churches an into their Juvenile Justice Department has many familiar echoes. It’s available on:
    http://www.pic.nsw.gov.au/files/reports/VOLUME5.pdf
    Reports on the Anglican church:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_abuse_scandal_in_the_Anglican_Diocese_of_Sydney
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1566826/C-of-E-child-abuse-was-ignored-for-decades.html
    A report on Penn State University:
    http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/abuse-and-cover-penn-states-catholic-scandal
    Pádraig McC.

  14. Wendy Murphy

    Thank you Mary, Padraig and others.
    Don’t know much about statistics myself, though very grateful for your posts and links.
    My thoughts on homosexualty/paedophilia etc. are more to do with observation and experience.
    From ordinary press reports on violent abusive crimes, I get the strong impression that those who commit such crimes are invariably damaged themselves. The one who seeks to abuse, exploit and dominate someone weaker, younger etc has often suffered some form of grotesquely restricted, domineering or abusive background.
    This seems to me to be true of abusing priests and others, a case of disturbed and/or arrested development. This is why the Church must look to its own structures and teachings before placing the blame elsewhere.
    An individual’s sexual orientation has, in my view, absolutely nothing to do with such criminal and disturbed acts. As Eileen says above – you might as well try to prove that all redheads are potential paedophiles.
    Thank God we’re now more enlightened than say, 30 years ago, about what it is to be human and about human sexuality. Hopefully our understanding will continue to grow.
    Again, it’s not scientific, only my observation, but gay men appear to me to be, as a rule, more gentle, tolerant and considerate than the general population – less likely to be abusers therefore.


Scroll Up