Two recent opinion pieces, one in an Australian conservative magazine, the Quadrant, and a second this past weekend in the Denver Post caught my eye and deserve a larger audience than they would ordinarily receive.
The article in the Quadrant came on the heels of the indictment of Cardinal George Pell, an Australian cardinal accused of molesting two choir boys over 20 years. The Australian media has been consumed with this story and the coverage, as one might expect, has been largely anti-Pell, anti-church. Pell was convicted primarily on the testimony of one witness and plans to appeal his case.
The author of the article, Peter Wales, makes some little-known points that need to be highlighted here. He notes that the Australian Broadcasting Company, the equivalent of ABC in this country, reported that 60 percent of all child sexual abuse cases occurred in Catholic institutions. Yet during the time period of the investigation, 80 percent of all children attending religious schools were attending Catholic schools.
This means 20 percent of these abuse cases can be traced to non-Catholic institutions, yet accounts for 40 percent of the abuse. Accordingly, those in non-Catholic religious institutes at that time were more than twice as likely to experience abuse than those in Catholic institutions. Wales further notes that Catholic clergy have lower reported rates of abuse than other clergy in non-Catholic denominations or, for that matter, than abuse reported in secular organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America. Reports easily demonstrate that most cases of child sexual abuse occur in the home, many times by the partners of single parents.
Wales blames the Australian media for ratcheting up the frenzy over the abuse case to a new level and practically indicting Pell before he was ever tried. He also points out there are those who seemed to want the indictment simply because it was against a Catholic member of the hierarchy close to the pope.
In way of contrast, there has been no national outcry in the U.S. regarding the recent discovery that over a 20-year period, 700 children are claiming abuse by over 200 clergy members of the Southern Baptist convention https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/02/10/pure-evil-southern-baptist-leaders-condemn-decades-sexual-abuse-revealed-investigation/?utm_term=.c1242947d458 ).
The estimate of 1,000 or more children abused by Catholic priests documented in a bill released by a Pennsylvania grand jury last year dates from 1947. Wales says most Catholic Church abuse cases run from the late 1950s into the 1980s, and this can be verified.
Why the discrepancy between the Southern Baptists and the Catholics? Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that Catholicism is the least popular among all the religions in the U.S. and can cite a long history of persecution not only in America but the UK and Ireland as well? Historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. has called Anti-Catholicism “the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Catholicism).
An NBC news think piece found at https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/southern-baptist-convention-report-sex-abuse-shines-light-evangelical-culture-ncna970756 claims the same for evangelicals — that they see themselves as a persecuted faith and this creates a “victim” mentality.
But the persecution statistics cannot compare to those cited for the Catholic Church. The same NBC editorial also strikes at what the real issue and ultimate solution to clerical sex abuse should be — “rejecting purity teachings that are used to shame and blame survivors, renouncing authoritarianism and elevating the voices of the many who remain unheard.”
That leads to a much larger problem, a collective mindset that completely ignores the First Amendment and the rights of the accused, blaming Christian teaching and morals for sexual abuse of children. (This is especially popular in mental health circles.) So it becomes, in the end, a question of religious freedoms, a question that must be fully examined and resolved.
Next week Part II of this series will examine First Amendment issues involving Catholics and Christian conservatives and why its potential consequences cannot be ignored.