It seems that the answer to this question is “Yes.” “No.” And “Maybe.”
Since the John Jay Report to the Catholic Bishops, there have been a spate of articles, especially in Catholic media crowing that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church™ is “no worse” than in other organizations that serve families or children. The report found that around 4 percent of priests committed some form of abuse and that this percentage is about the same as pedophilia in the general population.
Now, the first thing to say that for an organization which holds itself to be the moral arbiter of the whole world to be “no worse” than all the rest of the world in this horrendous crime is certainly nothing to be proud of. I also feel I have to alert the irony police that one of the organizations the church chose to compare itself to was the Boy Scouts, who are almost as homophobic as the church itself.
There also seems to be a number of people who have studied this issue that feel the problem is either different or worse in the Catholic Church™.
This is certainly an area where truth is going to be difficult to ascertain. The Bishops certainly have a vested interest in minimizing the problem, but critics of the church certainly have their own axes to grind, for their own reasons. With that in mind, let us look at some of the sources that say the problem in the church is somewhat unique.
So let’s look at some of those sources.
The oldest I can find is this 2002 report from the Boston Globe, they won a Pulitzer for reporting on clergy abuse in Boston. The story says that other denominations had many fewer reports of abuse and those reports were dealt with promptly, with most of the perpetrators ending up in jail. It also quotes several academics who state that the problem in the Catholic Church is much worse than other denominations.
More up to date is this page from the Bishop Accountability project updates the John Jay report to find the the abuse rate is higher than the original report found. They also cite a couple of other dioceses where the abuse rate is about twice what the Bishops found, which they then extrapolate to the whole country, which probably is not fair.
Richard Sipe, who has written extensively on the issue and has acted as a expert witness in abuse cases also feels that the abuse rate is much higher than the Bishops report. Again, his report does not include links, so I don’t have immediate access to those statistics. His overall conclusion is that given that the John Jay almost certainly undercounts the cases of abuse, his final conclusion is that the abuse rate was about 9% of priests as the story broke nationally.
One area where there seems to be a difference in the victims of Catholic clergy abuse. According to the John Jay report, 81% of the victims were boys. In general, girls are twice as likely as boys to be abused, so this is a possibly significant difference between clergy abuse and that which may occur in other organizations or in general.
According to Wikipedia: “The John Jay Report suggested that “homosexual men entered the seminaries in noticeable numbers from the late 1970s through the 1980s”, and available figures for homosexual priests in the United States range from 15–58%” Obviously solid numbers for the percentage of gay priests are impossible to ascertain.
There is also tremendous debate as to whether or how celibacy figures into all of this. I would have to say that entire debate boils down to opinion, there is no way to empirically say anything clear about the effects of celibacy.
But I can offer my opinion, such as it is.
Obviously I feel that celibacy is unnatural and can be problematic. Denial of human pleasures or drives can certainly be a valuable discipline on a temporary basis, but long term it is easy to see that it can lead to problems.
I would also say that it is easy to see how the priesthood would have been an attractive choice to young men who felt a homosexual leaning in their sexual orientation. Certainly in America during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s a homosexual orientation could have even be dangerous. What better way to remain single (and above reproach) than joining the priesthood? Ironically, the more homophobic the society, the more attractive the priesthood option will probably appear to young men and the church increases homophobia. This is not to say that homosexuals are more likely to pedophiles, but only that the victims will be more likely to be of the same sex.
Ultimately, however, celibacy, homosexuality, or whatever may have contributed to the priests decision to do what they do, it is impossible to tell. And it could well be that priests are no more likely to abuse than any other person in a position of trust working with children.
However there is no explanation of any kind that explains the actions of the bishops and church hierarchy that ignored or minimized the problem for so many years. They are the true monsters of the scandal.
Better for a “few children” to suffer than for everyone to doubt, and risk hell by losing the faith. It is this kind of insane logic that truly is the problem with the church.