National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
July 14, 2006


Spin in abuse scandal

The editorial, “Spin without end in abuse scandal” (NCR, June 16), which took the Catholic League to task for its New York Times op-ed page ad is simply wrong on the facts.

On Page 29 of the 2005 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, it says that 81 percent of the victims were male and that 14 percent were younger than age 10 when the abuse began. On page 43 of the John Jay Supplementary Data Analysis that accompanies the audit, it defines pedophile priests as those who began their abuse when their victims were 10 or less. Now if NCR wants to conclude from this data that homosexual priests do not account for most of the abuse, then it needs to explain itself.

Similarly, the Catholic News Service coverage of the John Jay report that studied the years 1950 to 2002 said that “an overwhelming majority of the victims, 81 percent, were males,” and that “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.” Indeed, in the National Review Board’s 2004 report, it said, “We must call attention to the homosexual behavior that characterized the vast majority of the cases of abuse observed in recent years.” No wonder board member Dr. Paul McHugh, a former psychiatrist-in-chief at John Hopkins Hospital, said last year, “This behavior was homosexual predation on American Catholic youth, yet it’s not being discussed.”

We know why the homosexual connection is not being discussed -- it’s politically incorrect to mention it. Even the most recent John Jay report tries to cover up this reality: It mentions the word “pedophile” 14 times, “ephebophile” 12 times, but never once does it mention homosexual. It should be noted that the term “ephebophilia,” meaning sex with postpubescent adolescents, is rarely used by experts outside the Catholic church, has no clinical standing and is never used to refer to heterosexual acts.

Our ad also says, “It is estimated that the rate of sexual abuse of public school students is more than 100 times the abuse by priests.” The editorial brands this as “more spin,” claiming, “Sexual abuse of students by teachers, coaches and school employees is an area worthy of investigation, but virtually no serious research on the topic has been carried out.”

Apparently, NCR is unaware of the report, “Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature,” which was published in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Education. The report, authored by Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University, provides valuable insight into the problem. It was her conclusion that nearly 10 percent of American students are the victims of sexual misconduct by public school employees each year. And it was Dr. Shakeshaft who told Education Week that “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”

New York magazine recently did a story, “On Rabbi’s Knee,” that was subtitled, “Do the Orthodox Jews have a Catholic-priest problem?” To which the answer came, “Rabbi-on-child molestation is a widespread problem in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and one that has long been covered up.” As the article makes plain, it seems that the rabbi molesters typically choose boys as their victims. While this does not constitute hard data, it offers a glimpse of reality.

Finally, the editorial admits that while our ad correctly cites the figures of priestly sexual abuse found in the bishops’ audit, “it frequently takes years for those abuse victims to come forward.” Wrong again. On Page 13 of the John Jay Supplementary report, it says that “reporting patterns have stabilized over the last decade” and that “the decrease in sexual abuse cases [cited in the report] is a true representation of the overall phenomenon.”

I have spoken on television and on radio many times against those who have called for an outright ban of homosexuals from the priesthood. That’s because I know too many good homosexual priests and know how unscientific and malicious it is to say that homosexuality causes molestation. What I’ve said repeatedly is that while most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters are gay.

New York

William Donohue is president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

NCR responds:
Page 29 of the “2005 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” states: “Of the 690 alleged victims reported in 2005, some 81 percent (560 victims) were male and 19 percent (131 victims) were female.” The report continues, “About half of the victims (49 percent) were between the ages of 10 and 14 when the alleged abuse began … and 14 percent were younger than age 10.” Another 14 percent “could not be identified by age.”

That means that at least 63 percent of victims reported in 2005 were age 14 or younger. These are kids, the oldest of whom hadn’t even yet finished their final year of junior high when they were molested. These findings are consistent with the initial John Jay study, released in February 2004, which examined clergy sex abuse between 1950 to 2002.

The bottom line is that self-reported diocesan data over 53 years clearly demonstrates that in the vast majority of clergy sex abuse cases the boys and girls who were raped or molested were just that -- boys and girls.

We accept, as Mr. Donohue notes, that we’re not, by and large, talking about classic pedophilia. But it’s equally clear that we’re not talking about classic homosexuality, or, for that matter, classic heterosexuality.

We have read and reported on the 2004 study “Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature” (NCR, March 26, 2004). While it contains useful information that might provide the basis for additional research, it is hardly authoritative or even particularly rigorous. The claim that “it is estimated that the rate of sexual abuse of public school students is more than 100 times the abuse by priests” is based on an extrapolation of data collected by the American Association of University Women for surveys whose purpose “was not specifically to document educator sexual misconduct.”

* * *

In July 2004, the U.S. Department of Education completed a major, 156-page report, “Educator Sexual Misconduct.” As mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, the report was presented to Congress. The report got no press in local papers where we live. The report is the result of a one-year study and implies that students in public schools in the United States are sexually molested at a rate higher than in the Catholic church. Where are the media bloodhounds? Are teachers off-limits but not priests? Protecting children is never a politically correct or incorrect decision, and I pray that NCR will join parents by choosing protection over bickering.

Portland, Ore.

* * *

You assert in the editorial that it would be “surprising if the 2005 numbers cited by the League were to hold up over time.” It actually wouldn’t be surprising at all. That 2005 abuse allegation count is now locked in. I assume that it may well include some complaints about abuse in earlier years. There could well be complaints in 2006, 2010 or 2020 about abuse that took place in 2005. But none of this will change the number of complaints filed during 2005. Even so, when the annual count declines, that should be reason for optimism about the future. No doubt, as you mention, “the self-reporting methodology is less than reliable.” But it’s hard to believe that it is growing less reliable than it was, say, 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

Redondo Beach, Calif.

Bishops’ liturgy changes

How relieved I am to once again say “Lord, I am unworthy that you enter under my roof” (NCR, June 30). With all of the issues facing this nation: the bloody and costly war on terror, with payments thankfully deferred to our children, to skyrocketing numbers of unhealthy, uninsured poor, to the “hot” issue of global warming, to American economic gluttony, it’s good to know that our hierarchy agonizes about roofs and words like “consubstantial” that have a place in the national spelling bee. I hope at their next meeting the bishops will finally be able to get back to that vexing question about the number of angels caught on the head of a pin.

Fayetteville, N.Y.

Dress reform

Cindy Wooden reports the pope saying that religious should “dress in a way that communicates their total dedication to following Christ and serving others” (NCR, June 2). If this is a priority issue with him, may I suggest that all women religious should wear slack sets to distinguish them from the male priests who wear dresses. The male religious should wear dresses of a different color to distinguish them from the pope who would wear a red or white dress. That way we can all identify the different hierarchical places to which each individual belongs.

Lake Suzy, Fla.

Israelis and Palestinians

The logic of Gary Rosenblatt’s “With no peace partner, Israel must assure security” (NCR, June 16) is seductive. Had I not just returned from standing at the Israeli wall of partition in Bethlehem following its serpentine maneuvers throughout the West Bank, I might have fallen sway to Mr. Rosenblatt’s party line. In reality, the wall is designed for far more than security. It is calculated to strangle the Palestinian from any hope of a unified land suitable for statehood, let alone individual survival. A wall is a wall is a wall. It speaks for itself.

Redding, Conn.

* * *

Thank you for including the piece by Gary Rosenblatt . It was wonderful to see this new balance in your commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Your readers are well served by the airing of a number of informed view points when dealing with such a controversial and highly charged area. I particularly appreciated Mr. Rosenblatt’s straightforward citation of the historical background of the current conflict. We must not fall into the trap, as Rosemary Radford Ruether seems to, of equating Islamic jihad terrorists who target innocent civilians with Israeli soldiers who target terrorists in defense of their citizens.

Madison, Wis.

* * *

The anguished screams and the flailing body of Huda Ghalia, the 12-year-old Palestinian girl who survived the artillery blast that killed her family members while picnicking on a beach, will become an icon burned in the memory for generations to come. It will serve as a reminder of the daily anguish of innocent Palestinian civilians and as an indictment of the fiendish brutality of the Israeli military toward these people. Her cry carries a distant echo of the Holocaust victims, who wondered why the world did not hear their anguish. Will our world hear the pain of her suffering and the Palestinian people crying out to the heavens for justice?

Cambridge, N.Y.

How the food system works

Paul Winner makes the case for the family farm well (NCR, June 16) and cites Br. David Andrews, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, about the food system and the relevance of Catholic social thought to how it works. Note is also taken of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ renewed efforts to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the proposed 2007 Farm Bill. This is important for dealing with U.S. agriculture as a key sector of the economy. U.S. agriculture, however, has an immense impact on the global food system, which leaves one-seventh of the human race without access to the food they need and to which they have a right. That aspect of agriculture policy is within the ambit of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, which for this part of the international trade negotiations is staffed by former USDA staff persons, part of a revolving door phenomenon involving Capitol Hill staffers, former employees of agribusiness corporations or commodity-lobbying groups. It is those agribusiness corporations that dominate every aspect of food production, distribution and to some extent, consumption. I hope readers who wish to engage in action to change this basically unjust system would bear in mind both the domestic and the international aspects of the system and its problems.

Arlington, Va.

Martin McLaughlin is a research associate with the Center of Concern in Washington.

Nuclear power

Virtually everything Michael Mariotte said or implied about nuclear power is incorrect (NCR, June 16). Nuclear has the best safety and environmental record of any major energy source. It has caused no deaths among the general public and has not had any significant environmental impact. Like renewables, nuclear emits negligible amounts of greenhouse gases. By contrast, fossil plants are the largest single source of greenhouse emissions. Fossil plant wastes, which are released directly into the air or carelessly buried, represent a far greater health and environmental risk than nuclear waste, both now and in the distant future. Nuclear is actually the only source that has developed an acceptable solution to its waste problems. Since the intermittent nature of renewables will limit them to a fraction of our power supply, we must make a choice between nuclear and fossil fuels. As a domestic, reliable, cost-effective power source that has no significant health or environmental impacts, nuclear is clearly the better choice.

Campbell, Calif.

James Hopf is a member of the Public Information Committee of the American Nuclear Society.

* * *

Michael Mariotte thinks solar power is the dream solution to our energy needs in the future. Has he ever looked at a Kansas wheat field? Does he understand that our abundant harvests are the way to use solar energy? In the meantime, we need to keep the lights on at night, and nuclear power is there at our service. It does not involve the diversion of energy from other uses, such as providing our breakfast cornflakes each morning.


Fr. Haig is professor emeritus of physics at Loyola College in Maryland.

Honesty in the church

Following disclosures in various articles by NCR and prior to the 2005 conference of U.S. bishops, we wrote to Kansas City, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn and copied Bishop William Skylstad, president of the conference, asking the bishops and cardinals to call one another to greater accountability for their role in the problem of pedophilia and child abuse within the clerical structure of our Catholic church. They played a role in the problem but had failed to acknowledge their role. We asked for greater honesty and accountability.

At that time we made a decision to place the portion of our charitable giving that is designated for the church in a savings account until some bishop, or the episcopal leadership, said “enough” and called bishops and cardinals to accountability. The straightforward honesty and truthfulness that we look for we find in NCR. A specific example was the cover story, “A Radical Shift: Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City and the remaking of a diocese” (NCR, May 12). Recently we advised Bishop Finn that the funds in our savings account are being donated to NCR. We commend and applaud its fine work. We find it helpful when making faith decisions.

Gladstone, Mo.

* * *

Now that you have an Opus Dei bishop in Missouri, you can understand how wrong was John Allen siding with Opus Dei in his book, claiming that Opus Dei was not as bad as many people, me included, try to make him understand. His coverage of Opus Dei was biased and he did not make efforts to ask for inner documents or pertinent data. In short, I think he was happy to be brainwashed.


Religion and the Democrats

I was appalled by the front page headlines, “Can the Democrats get religion?” (NCR, June 16). Have you read Matthew 25 lately? It appears to me that Democratic policies reflect the core of Jesus’ message, who, by the way, as a good Jew, reflects the core of the Hebrew scripture’s message as well. I hope the Democrats don’t give up this basic traditional Judeo-Christian direction to embrace the popular religion of today.

South Bend, Ind.

* * *

It is my experience that Democrats are more “pro-life” than Republicans. Most Democrats that I know are not only against abortion, they are also strongly against war, poverty, environmental destruction and the death penalty. Many Democrats are against legislating the abortion issue and prefer education and strong support for families as the primary means of reducing abortions. This does not mean that they are for abortion. However, the Republicans will try to make them appear that way by labeling them “pro-choice.” The Republicans have hijacked this issue and have misled the Catholic church into believing that they are more pro-life than Democrats. I fervently hope that the Democrats will get better at expressing to the church why they are more pro-life than Republicans.


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National Catholic Reporter, July 14, 2006