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A true apology from the Pope would acknowledge that Catholic Priests are 100 times more likely to be a child sex offender

 A new report, the Adriaenssens Commission, has come out on the scale of child rape by Catholic Priests within Belgium. The results are horrific, with reports of children as young as two being abused, three quarters of parents being afraid of the consequences of reporting the Priest to the authorities, sexual abuse in every congregation in Belgium and evidence that even now cultural barriers are preventing many cases from coming to light.

Of course, you wouldn't know this from the statements made by the Pope. One of the most offensive and infuriating parts of the Catholic Church child rape saga is the complete inability of the Catholic Church to admit that the Church has causative responsibility for the abuse. Instead they acknowledge that abuse is bad, but in the same breathe blame homosexuality and "a few bad apples". The Church must know that the first excuse is a blatant scapegoating attack and the second excuse is the entire reason that the child rape saga has continued since time immemorial.


Blaming homosexuality for child rape by priests

The ease of blaming child rape on homosexuality comes from the erronous assumption that those who rape male children must be sexually interested in adult males as well. This is demonstratively wrong in both directions - homosexual men have no particular predisposition to sexual attraction to prepubescent boys, and the men who rape male children are less likely to be homosexual than the population average. In 1963 Freund used a controlled study to measure the sexual arousal in heterosexual and homosexual men, and showed that while heterosexual men have a increased level of arousal when shown images of prepubescent girls, homosexual men have no increase in arousal level when shown images of prepubescent boys. Groth and Birnhaum explain a similar result a decade later:

"There were no peer-oriented homosexual males in our sample who regressed to children. Homosexuality and homosexual pedophilia are not synonymous. In fact, it may be that these two orientations are mutually exclusive, the reason being that the homosexual male is sexually attracted to masculine qualities whereas the heterosexual male is sexually attracted to feminine characteristics, and the sexually immature child's qualities are more feminine than masculine ... In any case, in over 12 years of clinical experience working with child molesters, we have yet to see any example of a regression from an adult homosexual orientation. The child offender who is also attracted to and engaged in adult sexual relationships is heterosexual. It appears, therefore, that the adult heterosexual male constitutes a greater sexual risk to underage children than does the adult homosexual male."

So who are the child rapists? Around a third are people who are more attracted to asexual children than adults with mature sexual features, while the other two thirds are people who are more attracted to adults, but exploit children as a sexual power trip. In one unbiased analysis of the perpetrators of child sex abuse, less than 1% of molesters were homosexual - well below the population average. Far from being a risk factor for child sex offense, homosexuality is actually a protective factor. The Catholic Church needs to admit that child rape is not committed by well adjusted homosexual men, but rather a combination of perverted heterosexual men and a distinct class of men with a sexual desire specifically for pre-sexual children.


"Just a few bad apples"

After blaming homosexuality for the crimes committed by its own members, Church apologists tend to trot out the old canard that you can't judge the Church on the actions of a few bad apples "like you would get in any profession". Okay, let's assess that claim. In America there are around 500,000 sex offenders, and of those around half of all cases involved children under the age of 18. Crunch the numbers and around 0.08% of Americans are paedophilic sex offenders.

So if we were to assume that Catholic Priests are no better than the average person (a claim which, by the way, negates the entire premise of the profession), we would expect to find around 0.08% would be child rapists. Of course, since the Church has been systematically covering up cases of child rape, we can't know for sure what the percentage is. We can, however, take the Catholic Churches own figures, using a report commissioned by the Church and authorised for publication by the Catholic Church. The report only includes Catholic Priests serving in the US between 1950 and 2002, only includes reports made to the Catholic Church (not reports made directly to police), and only includes those reports which were entered into official Church documents (and we know that many reports were never officially recorded).

The headline figure was that 4% of Catholic Priests had allegations of sexual abuse reported against them. However, the figure is actually much worse than the headline, since it is artifically decreased by Priests entering or leaving the order around the cut-off dates (eg, a Priest ordained in 2001 counts in the total number of Priests, but they only have a fraction of their career to count in the total number of sex offenses). If you take Priests who served their full career during the reporting period, ie those ordained in 1970 so that the entire 30 years of normal service is included within the reporting period, 10% of Catholic priests had allegations of child sexual abuse reported against them.

Of course an allegation does not mean that a crime was actually committed. The Church reported only a tiny fraction of allegations to police - even priests with ten or more allegations were transferred to a new ministry 96% of the time, and only reported to police 4% of the time. So once again, we have to rely on the Church's own investigation. As reported by official Church documents, 82% of cases were noted at the time of the report to be "credible". 72% of cases were investigated, and of those 80% were found (by the Church) to be "substantiated" and only 1.5% of cases were found to be "false". When these percentages are layered upon the 10% accusation rate, the Church's own official reports (which can be considered a bare minimum) demonstrate that 8.2-9.9% of Catholic Priests were child sex offenders.

I don't know what it is about Catholic doctrine that leads to child sex abuse, whether it is enforced celibacy, the doctrine of special status, the theology of guilt and forgiveness or simply an extension of Voltaire's observation "those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities". There are three points, however, which cannot be argued:

 1) It is not "a few bad apples". Around 9% of Catholic Priests that fell fully within the reporting period had substantiated sexual abuse investigations made against them.

2) Child sex abuse by Catholic Priests is not "like you would get in any profession". By the Church's own records, Catholic Priests are more than 100-fold more likely to be a child sex offender than an average member of the public.

3) There was a cover-up. When 96% of Priests with more than 10 allegations of child sexual abuse against them are transferred rather than reported to the police, there is no other way to describe it but a systematic cover-up.


A sincere apology

I am disgusted by these half-apologies start by minimising the scope of the problem and finish by blaming atheism or homosexuality for the crimes. To me a real apology needs to:

1) Admit that child rape is a wide-spread crime being perpetrated within the Catholic Church by a substantial proportion of Priests, reaching across continents and as far back as records exists.

2) Admit that this child rape has nothing to do with homosexuality or secularism or any such, and is instead a problem disproportionately within [the dogma of, edit re:Mike] Catholicism.

3) Admit that the Church knew for a long time that this was a problem but chose to cover it up, and that Church doctrine is still preventing cases being reported directly to the secular authorities.

4) Admit that the Church has spent, and still spends, far more time devoted to petty concerns such as preventing contraception than it has to preventing child rape by its own members.

5) Fix the damn problem. Sell a few pieces of art and pay restitution to the victims. Make it official Church policy to report every incident to the police. Investigate Priests with the zeal shown during the Spanish Inquisition. Shut up about other people's "sins" until the Church is clean. Change those aspects of doctrine or theology that drive child rape. Show some humility.

With the Church failing to meet any of these requirements for a sincere apology, it is not surprising that the number of practicing Catholics in Belgium has dropped from 46% to 14% in the last thirty years. Quite a few people are even formally undergoing debaptism (conviently available online) to reduce the subsidy that the Belgian government gives the Catholic Church for every baptism.

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    Adrian Liston - With a Graph and a Map - A true apology from the Pope would acknowledge that Catholic Priests are 100 times more likely to be a child sex offender
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    Adrian Liston - With a Graph and a Map - A true apology from the Pope would acknowledge that Catholic Priests are 100 times more likely to be a child sex offender

Reader Comments (32)

Excellent post. I found this via your guest post on PZ Myers' blog, and I haven't yet seen a better fact-based refutation of those lame Church excuses for their abuse epidemic.

One point I'd want to make is that the general child abuse figures (0.08% by your estimate) may not be the right benchmark; more adequate is the figure for men, since the priests are all men. I don't know the figures but it might be he case that most of the 500,000 offenders are men - so the population benchmark would be perhaps 0.15%. Still, 60 times average is not a sampling error.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Danner

Thank you Jim. I thought about the male/female issue for a long time when writing this, as you suspect the majority of sex offenders in the general public are men. Ultimately I came down on just treating it as a general public statistic, on the grounds that it is the choice of the Catholic Church to only ordain men, and that if they are skewing their intact that is still part of their deliberate policy. Still, it might be fairer to say that Catholic Priests are 100x more likely to be sex offenders than the general public, but only 60x more likely than the general male public. Interestingly, the rate of sex offenders within the Catholic Church is actually quite similar to that within the general inmate population.

I really wish there were good numbers that used the same methodology across different professions and countries, but this was the best dataset I could find when doing the research.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

Admit that this child rape has nothing to do with homosexuality or secularism or any such, and is instead a problem disproportionately within Catholicism.

You've made an excellent case for child rape being a problem disproportionately within the Catholic clergy, but you have made no case for it also being disproportionately within Catholicism. TTBMK, Catholics outside the Catholic priesthood are no more likely to be child rapists than the general public at large. You might want to rephrase your statement or present evidence to support the contention that child rape is disproportionate within Catholicism.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Yes, good point. One would assume that sex abuse within Catholic populations would be similar to that of other populations, although I am not aware of any studies. By Catholicism I was referring to the dogma and strictures of Catholicism, ie the hierarchy of the Catholic Church rather than the followers, hopefully that is clearer in the edit.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

Really great post! I love it when someone really gets to the facts. Thank you very much. Your post is worth more than all the other stuff I have read on the scandle put together. Maybe the Roman Catholic Church will finally get of its screwy anti-sex kick and let its priest get married. Ordaining women would be great too.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed Lawry

Cheers Ted! The Church has such an unhealthy and guilt-laden attitude towards sex - but if this scandal hasn't been enough to get the hierarchy to look at themselves, I don't know what could.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

The problem is ephebophilia, adolescent boys, a hallmar of homosexuality. If you don't believe it look Harvey Milk an his 15 year od lover.

This article tries to write off the abuse as pedophilia which it is not and in doing so destroys any sort of credentials it supposed to have.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjjg

When I was in Louisville there were a number of cases against nuns and sisters, and I understand the same was true in Ireland so I think your base statistic is correct.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterARK

Ahahaha! "500,000 sex offenders, and of those around half of all cases involved children under the age of 18. Crunch the numbers and around 0.08% of Americans are paedophilic sex offenders." that's the most retarded shit I've ever heard. Where did you learn maths and logic?
I bet you think all rapes are reported and all prosecutions end in conviction too. That's the only way your logic could hold up.

The rest of your post is invalidated by your mathematical ignorance.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

Alice, the estimates are clearly going to be at the low end for both the Catholic Priest population and the general population. It is well known that sexual abuse is under-reported, so both figures are going to be artificially low. Because there is no reason to assume otherwise, here I am assuming that sexual abuse by Catholic Priests and the general public are equally unreported.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

I have no love for the Catholic church. But there there is a very serious flaw at the end of your analysis which renders your conclusion that 8.2 to 9.9% of Catholic priests were child sex offenders invalid.

You are confusing the percentage of CASES of actual abuse with the percentage of PRIESTS that are abusers. The inexcusable heartache to the victims is the same, but the numbers are not. After all, the most infamous cases are of priests that abuse again and again, and these are probably the most credible cases. It could very well be that an occupational hazard of a non-abusing priest is a 5% chance of being accused of child abuse at least once in their careers. So let us say that 5% of blameless priests are accused once and 1% of all priests are abusers that are accused on average ten times each, and (to keep it simple) that all of the blameless priests are exonerated and all of the actual cases are substantiated. Then out of 10000 priests, there are 495 blameless ones that are accused once and 100 that are actual abusers. This produces 1495 total cases, two thirds of which are produced by only just over one sixth of the accused. You can't take two thirds of the almost 6% that are accused and say that 4% of the priests are abusers.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermagster2

Alice can you read?
"0.08% of Americans are paedophilic sex offenders"

To be an offender you have got to be caught, tried and convicted. So the author is actually dealing with facts here, not fantasy.

The maths looks fine and their logic using actual convictions is fine too. If this is the best apologetics the catholic faith can expect on this issue then it is doomed. Thankfully for it truly is a criminal enterporise.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterharebell

@Magster2. That is a possible bias. I would like to control for that, but unfortunately the John Jay report did not break down the "credibility" of the accusation by the number of accusations a Priest has had. Still, only 1.5% of cases were judged (by the Church) as "false". Even if these were entirely contained within the ~50% of Priests that only had a single accusation, it won't change the final numbers that much.

In general, I am not satisfied with the calculations presented here, for the various reasons raised. However they are the best numbers available from public documents and I have controlled for every variable that I have data for. In any case where there was no data (eg, for systematic reporting bias) I have assumed that Priests and the general public are the same. Again, it is not ideal, but I think it is better to make an estimate on the limited data available than to not make an estimate at all.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

@Magster2. Okay, I have crunched the numbers now, using the breakdown into number of complaints made against each Priest. If we assume that 100% of unsubstantiated claims were made against Priests who only got a single allegation (and this is an unrealistic model), the numbers change slightly. Using the 1.5% "false" rate, the number drops from 9.9% of Priests to 9.6% of Priests. Using the 80% "substantiated" rate, the number drops from 8.2% to 4.9%. Take the middle-range of each estimate and you drop from 9% to 7%.

In other words, even if you accept that the Church reported all cases of abuse and never inaccurately excused a Priest and that all the false accusations occurred in the single allegation case, you only drop down to a figure of 7%.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston


I bet you think all rapes are reported and all prosecutions end in conviction too. That's the only way your logic could hold up.
The rest of your post is invalidated by your mathematical ignorance.

Mathematically it all seems correct. It would be good to have data about the actual (not convicted) number of offenders. But unfortunately Alice doesn't bring up any data... Wikipedia says 39% gets reported, and also that 25% of reports lead to an arrest, and it seems perhaps 58% of those lead to a conviction. That's an overall rate of 6%. So if 500,000 people are recorded as sex offenders, how many are there really? Not 500,000/6% because many of them are likely to be repeat offenders (one person can commit multiple rapes). Maybe 5 million? That's 0.8% or 1.5% if you only count men; still far below the reported and deemed guilty 9% in the Church. And by what factor is that 9% under-reported? If you knew a biased process without forensic evidence was the best you could get, would you report?


The problem is ephebophilia, adolescent boys, a hallmar of homosexuality. If you don't believe it look Harvey Milk an his 15 year od lover.
This article tries to write off the abuse as pedophilia which it is not and in doing so destroys any sort of credentials it supposed to have.

You don't quote any research that proves a link between homosexuality and ephebophilia. If you really think your one example proves anything, that's pathetic. Besides, many of the abuses by priests were of much younger children, so they were indeed pedophilia.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Danner

@jjg, the post talks about the legal issue of child sexual abuse, not "pedophilia" or "ephebephilia" or any other psychological term. There are definitely differences as you point out, but they're not entirely relevant.

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike LaTorres

The thing that occurs to me is that this must mean that, given the small percentage of the catholic population at large which is pedophilic, that the vast majority of catholics with pedophile tendencies must go into the priesthood! Have I missed something or can someone figure out what percentage of catholic pedophiles conclude that the priesthood is the ideal venue to pursue their perversion? This would then mean that the safest person to leave your kids with would be a catholic male who was not a priest, since his chances of being a pedophile would be far lower than average! :-)

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarella

@Jim Danner. Thanks for your post. I think that there is a lot of uncertainty about the numbers both for the Catholic Priesthood and the general public, and both number are certainly higher than I calculated. If you consider my numbers to be the minimum baseline rate, you could calculate a "worst case scenario" for the general public that brings up the figures a fair bit. And if you assume a "best case scenario" for Catholic Priests (ie, that each and every case was reported and is included in the Church statistics), then I guess you could each a point where the two figures are comparable. But if (like me) you don't think that you could compare the "worst case scenario" for the general public vs the "best case scenario" for Catholic Priests, you end up in the same place - Catholic Priests have a 100-fold worse "best case scenario" than the general public, with some unknown multiplier thrown in for under-reporting.

March 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

@Marella - novel idea!

March 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

I think its important to point out that we probably can't treat the entire time period of the study as being homogenous. You seem to be implying that, because sexual abuse by priests was a big problem in the past, then it should be an equally big problem now. While the lack of movement towards justice is certainly disappointing, whether or not the problem persists to the same degree is not something we can readily ascertain.

Take a look again at Section 2.2. It appears that a large proportion of abusing priests were ordained in the 70's, and then the number drops noticeably thereafter. Isn't there a significance to this trend? Is it not possible that part of the real problem were the ordination standards of that period, rather that any supposed link to "doctrine" or what not? A lot of the cases being reopened in the present are actually from several years ago, after all.

Or am I barking up the wrong tree? I would appreciate your thoughts!

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJuan T.

Great Post!
Reminds me of Dan Bull's Open Letter to the Pope ("Dear Benny").
The next time someone talks bullsh*t about child abuse and the catholic church, I'm going to show him this article. Thanks!

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterL3viathan

Hi there,

Interesting post. May I enquire after the source for the claim: 'In America there are around 500,000 sex offenders'?

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave The Happy Singer

@Juan T. I think you are probably right, levels of abuse are probably dropping over recent decades in the Catholic Priest population, as indeed they are dropping society-wide. Partly this will be because of changing attitudes within society (it is now easier to report abuse and be listened to), partly because of tighter regulation and oversight (non-existent in many areas in the 70s). The data in section 2.2 can be quite misleading, however. There are several good reasons why even stable levels of abuse would show a decrease between Priests ordained in 1970 and 2000. Firstly, the abuse claims needed to be made between 1950 and 2002 to be included. Secondly, there is often a significant time delay between abuse and allegation (frequently a decade or more). Thirdly, Priests ordained in 2000 would only have a two year snap shot of their lifetime included in the study, while Priests ordained in 1970 would have had a 32 year chunk of their life included in the study. So those figures are like comparing life-time rates for Priests in the 70s vs yearly rates for Priests in 2000.

@Dave the Happy Singer. It was the US Department of Justice, but I'll have to hunt around to find the primary data again - I wrote this post six months ago so I can't remember off the top of my head.

March 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

Great analysis. Thank you. As an ex-Catholic learning to deal with the way the Church treats child rape, the truth, and victims, I thought it was impossible for me to respect them less that I already did, but your facts make them worse than they already are.

I'm convinced that you'll only get your apology with their dying breath.

One insightful (yet obvious) thought that I've had is that the church has never, ever done anything in 50 years to aid the victims of child rape from their own priests. God is gonna be mad...

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick O’Malley

What ignorant and dishonest rubbish you have posted here, Adrian. You have no idea what numbers you are comparing to each other -- but hey, they are numbers, and any number can be compared to any other number, right?

Wrong. First of all, there aren't "500,000 sex offenders" in America. You were obviously clueless about what that number was -- but that didn't stop you from throwing it into the stew, did it? Here, then, is some information for you to clear up your statistical nonsense. To begin with, what you have used is an outdated figure indicating how many people there are on so-called "sex offender registries" in the various states. That number today is over 700,000, and increases daily as offenders leave prison. Next, sex offender registries did not exist in all states the past; they only became mandatory nationwide in 1994. You cannot compare nationwide data that goes back to 1950 with data that only begins in 1994. Third, in order to be on a sex offender registry, one must first be convicted of a crime. The John Jay report is not concerned with convictions for crime, but is instead interested in allegations of inappropriate behavior, much of which -- even if able to be proved -- is not criminal. It is totally invalid to compare unproven allegations on the one had with criminal convictions on the other. Surely you are not so naive as to think that the only sexual offending committed by persons who are not Catholic priests will always result in a criminal conviction,and that allegations and convictions should be regarded as interchangeable -- but that is what you comparison needs to claim in order to make the comparison valid.

Beyond that, didn't you realize something was wrong when you made the absurd claim that there were only 250,000 persons in the United States who at some point in their adult lives had had improper sexual contact with someone under 18? With more than 308,000,000 living Americans, that gives you an offender rate of fewer than 1 in 1,200, or less than one tenth of one percent. As 27% of adult women and 16% of adult men report having been victims of some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18, just who do you think committed it?

Clearly, you know nearly nothing about this topic. You have misunderstood your data; rendering your analysis statistical nonsense, and your claims about priests utterly baseless falsehoods.

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMuldoon

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