As a practicing Catholics, we feel the need to defend the Church from claims made by contributors to the Brown Daily Herald. Many students at Brown, and in fact many Americans, agree with Dominic Mhiripiri’s ’12 claim from his article “Of scandals, religion and forbidden sex” that a “global clerical sexual abuse epidemic” has reached “enormous proportions.” However, I would like to draw the reader’s attentions to the facts. Too often the Herald columnists make outlandish claims without having any support. We promise to not fall victim to such poor journalism.
According to a comprehensive report on abuse by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, from 1950 to 2002, sexual abuse accusations were brought against 4,392 priests out of the 109,694 priests that were surveyed. Thus the total percentage of accused priests is roughly 4 percent. Of those accused priests, 1,021 went through criminal investigations, but only 384 had charges brought against them. Out of these 384 priests, only 252 were convicted, and of those convicted, only about 100 served time.
Once the reader is presented with these numbers, Mhiripiri’s claims seem outrageous. Two hundred fifty-two convicted priests, less than 0.2 percent of all priests, is hardly an epidemic, and furthermore, of those priests convicted, only 100 had such egregious offenses that they deserved prison time.
Most critics of the Church also cry foul play with regards to the way the Church handled the accused priests, but after a quick glance at the facts, these criticisms become ungrounded. The Church did not relocate every priest; 40 percent of all accused priests received psychiatric help immediately after they had been accused, showing that the Church took the cases seriously. With regards to relocation, one needs to understand the position the bishops were in at the time. During the period when priests were being relocated, there was no widespread controversy surrounding priests, and few bishops knew the extent of the problem. Furthermore, most instances were simply a case of “he said, she said” with very little evidence to support claims made by either party. According to the previous numbers, only about one third of priests accused — who went through entire criminal investigations — were eventually found guilty, meaning most of the time the priests were innocent. Finally, relocating accused sexual abusers was the same exact thing that other contemporary institutions (including U.S. public schools) did at that time.
Also, we feel the need to defend the pope from the unwarranted accusations that have been brought against him. Despite allegations of blatantly ignoring and covering up hundreds of sexual abuse scandals throughout the years, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has always been a proponent for eradicating what he refers to as the “filth” from the priesthood. In no way has Ratzinger strayed from this issue, passionately speaking about it on numerous occasions and following these words with determined actions, a far cry from the “shockingly indifferent stance in the scandal’s aftermath” that Mhiripiri stated of the pontiff.
Such was the case with late Father Marcial Maciel, who founded the infamous Legion of Christ congregation. Ratzinger not only pushed for a thorough investigation leading to Maciel’s removal from active priestly ministry, but refused to ignore the situation during a time where that route would have proved to be not only easier, but very beneficial to him. By the time Ratzinger became aware of Maciel and his abuses, Maciel had already built himself a blockade of connections and financial support to curry favor with important Vatican officials — a web of influence and protection. Nonetheless, Ratzinger fought through Maciel’s barriers, ignoring gifts from Maciel’s beneficiaries, while all along going against Vatican interests to bring him to justice. Another case being used by those challenging Ratzinger’s steadfast position would be that of “Father H” in Munich. In this case, the alleged abuser was granted permission by Ratzinger to live in a rectory and was then assigned the position of parish work. Ratzinger, unaware of the accusations again Father H, did not pick up on the inappropriateness of his assignment and failed to do anything to stop it.
Critics argue that celibacy leads to pedophilia; this claim — like all the others — is completely based on unproven surmises. In the general American male population, most experts gauge that around 4 percent are pedophiles. When compared to the roughly 2 percent of priests that have committed such crimes, pedophilia in the Catholic Church does not seem like an epidemic at all.
It is shameful that people will lambast the Catholic Church, claiming that it is a human rights travesty, and we are embarrassed to have to defend the Church from such ignorance that should not be seen on this campus or in journalism in any capacity. The Church has shown the world mercy, compassion and generosity in such a magnitude that cannot be matched by any other institution. We could write volumes of books that would fill up the Rockefeller Library solely on the good works of the Church, but that is not necessary. One does not have to look very far in their own personal lives to see the good deeds of the Church, because they surround us. Once critics stop mudslinging and instead look beyond themselves, they will see all that the Church has done — even in Providence alone — and after they have done this, if they are feeling truly brave, they can lend a hand in making the world a better place. We assure you, the Church will gladly accept.