Friday, February 12, 2010

More than a Catholic problem

“Why do so many people think clergy sex abuse is ‘just’ a Catholic problem?”

I get asked this question a lot, and I hope to talk more about it in the future. Meanwhile, Philip Jenkins, professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, provides an explanation that basically has to do with the “relative ease of litigation” against Catholic dioceses. Though there’s more to it than that, “ease of litigation” is certainly a big part of it. Here is a broader explanation from Professor Jenkins.

“No evidence indicates that Catholic or celibate clergy are more (or less) involved than their non-celibate counterparts. Some of the worst cases of persistent serial abuse by clergy have involved Baptist or Pentecostal ministers, rather than Catholic priests. Every denomination and faith tradition has had its trail of disasters . . . .

"Sexual misconduct appears to be spread fairly evenly across denominations, though I stress the word appears. Astonishingly, Catholic priests are literally the only profession in the country for whom we have relatively good figures for the incidence of child abuse and molestation. For these other groups, we have to depend on the volume of news stories and largely impressionistic evidence, but based on this, there do not appear to be significant differences in the amount of misconduct. If someone wants to claim that the Catholic priesthood is more prone to abusive behavior than other groups, then the burden of proof is upon that person…. In order to establish a case proving priestly depravity, we would need to compare like samples of clergy from different denominations, with comparable systems of processing complaints and keeping records. No such studies have ever been attempted. As a result, the Catholic connection to abuse or pedophilia remains no more than an unproven assumption . . . .

"As reported cases of priestly abuse proliferated during 2002, the media became increasingly intolerant of protests that the Catholic angle of the affair was being exaggerated. If that’s so, they demanded, why is it we only hear about Catholic molestation stories? Actually, there are several answers to this question, which reflect the intertwined workings of the media and the courts. . . .

"Structural and bureaucratic reasons also help explain the number of Catholic cases that appear in the news. Much of the evidence comes from civil lawsuits involving priests and their dioceses. The proliferation of specifically Catholic lawsuits does not mean that priests are more likely to have offended, but rather that a centralized church with good record keeping and extensive property holdings is a much more valuable legal target than a small decentralized congregation. Catholic clergy lead the list of known abuse cases because they are relatively easy to sue and because civil lawsuits produce a wealth of internal church documents. . . .

"To some extent, the media concentration on Catholic abuse cases represents a kind of self-fulfilling expectation. Because priests are considered likely to offend, any cases that come to light can be fitted into a prepared package of images and issues: the media has a lot of experts handy and know what questions to ask, and those all deal with Catholic themes. If a non-Catholic case comes to light (as it often does), it is usually treated as an isolated case of individual depravity, rather than an institutional problem. . . . Journalists find writing stories much easier when they know from the start exactly what the finished product is going to look like. The more Catholic cases are treated in this way, the more the accumulation of sensational cases confirms the media expectation about the Catholic nature of the problem.”
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Quoted material is from Philip Jenkins’ books Pedophiles and Priests at p. 51 (1996), and The New Anti-Catholicism at pp. 142-44 (2003).

9 comments:

Melanie said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Christa. Cappy Larson and I have a website for survivors of abuse in the Orthodox Christian churches. Abuse is definitely more than just a Catholic problem!

Melanie Jula Sakoda
http://pokrov.org

S. Newman said...

Philip Jenkins is also a professor at Baylor University

Christa Brown said...

It would be nice to imagine that someone like Jenkins might somehow, someway, be able to help Baylor officials see the need to acknowledge their own dreadful keep-it-quiet mistake in the Matt Baker case . . . but of course, I won't hold my breath.

Anonymous said...

http://www.kvue.com/news/Accused-sexual-predator-is-a-high-ranking-member-of-a-Central-Texas-church-84189467.html

This is the latest of Baptist Church sagas,this week....
Where and how does this end?

Thy Peace said...

Off Topic:

Christa Brown: Can you provide a lawyerly view on this comment?

One SBC lawyer opined "It is a serious ethical breach for lawyers (which I am) to receive mail from other people like this. Ah, if only you preachers would live up to the standards set by the bar associations".

Full Context here.

If you can, please provide a comment on Pastor Wade's blog here.

Much obliged.

Thy Peace said...

Off Topic:

One more lawyer on Wade's blog had this to say, but wanted the context. He has not responded yet.

Thanks.

Thy Peace said...

Off Topic:

That lawyer got back to Wade's blog and had this to say.

Anonymous said...

http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/cops-ut-worker-solicited-minor-online

Please paste in your brower and read this article near Austin Texas this past week.
Not only Pastors, but their Deacons are predators on our children. This guy taught children's Bible Classes as well.
And the members support him, because he needs help! yes, he does but not while pretending to serve my children. People need to wake up. Grace and forgivness are required of us, but not as a crutch and reason to stick our heads in the sand.Our churches are a perfect place for predators to roam. Some of our churches have been overtaken by the Evil One.

Christa Brown said...

Anon: Thanks for the links. Interesting that the KXAN article didn't even mention that the guy was a deacon in a Baptist church. But the KVUE article did. Kudos to KVUE! The fact that he's a deacon in a Southern Baptist church is probably a fact more important to most people than the fact that he works for UT.

Thy Peace: Thanks for thinking of me and for caring about what I might think with respect to the views expressed on Wade's blog. However, let me just say this. . . With rare exceptions, I seldom think that blog comments can possibly constitute a "lawyerly view," particularly when the comments come from people who write anonymously and use pseudonyms. If for no other reason than that, I would not consider the view of "Louis" as constituting any sort of "lawyerly view."