Catholic Church Will Now Teach Us How to Handle Sex Abuse

Is the pope taking cover behind Penn State scandal?

With all due respect, Pope Benedict XVI either lives in an alternate reality or needs better PR handlers. His comments over the weekend to U.S. bishops about the sex abuse of children showed a continued disconnect with the church’s mishandling of this ongoing scandal. The pope referenced the church’s “conscientious effort” to confront sex abuse by priests.

Uh? Perhaps the pope meant to say conscientious cover-up.

No institution has done more to deny and downplay the sexual abuse of young boys than the Catholic Church. No institution has done more to discredit victims and protect pedophile priests than the Catholic Church. And no institution has done more to avoid accountability for decisions made at the highest levels to cover up decades of sexual abuse of boys by scores of priests.

After decades of denial, it is really stunning for the pope to talk about the church’s “conscientious effort” to confront this scandal. At best, there have been some half steps brought on mainly by legal actions. If anything, the church has orchestrated a conscientious effort to minimize the scandal and hide behind any legal statute of limitations. But most everyone—including many Catholics like myself—is still waiting for church leaders to root out all the problem priests and hold others accountable for the cover-up.

The pope is right that all of society’s institutions—not just the Catholic Church—must be held to “exacting” standards in their response to sex abuse of children. He correctly called pedophilia a “scourge.” But then the pope had the gall to hold up the church as an example for how to confront the problem.

“It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society,” he said.

If other institutions follow the church’s lead regarding the handling of sex abuse by priests, well, then heaven help us all. David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: “No public figure talks more about child safety but does little to actually make children safer than Pope Benedict.”

Of course, one can’t help but feel the pope’s recent comments were timed to coincide with the sex-abuse scandal at Penn State. In a sense he was saying: “See, the church isn’t the only institution with a pedophile problem.” At Penn State, former defensive football coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a number of years. Some have said the two scandals are similar because of the cover-up that reached the top echelon of two esteemed institutions.

But that is also where the similarities end. Unlike the Catholic Church, Penn State has taken swift and decisive action, with more likely to come. Days after Sandusky’s indictment, university president Graham Spanier was forced out and legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired. Granted the university, like the church, initially did its best to cover up the abuse. But unlike the church, once the allegations came to light there were no excuses or denials or efforts to blame the media by the university trustees. Instead there has been real accountability. Those not charged with crimes were removed from power because they failed to alert law enforcement. Including JoePa, the proverbial pope of Penn State.

“The church to this day, while waving a moral flag, hasn’t even come close to the Penn State Board of Trustees response,” said Kristine Ward, chair of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition. She pointed out that no bishops have been fired. “Issuing self-satisfied pats on the back while children remain in danger only further diminishes the church’s credibility and deepens the laryngitis in its moral voice.”

The pope is correct that child sex abuse isn’t limited to the church. But no one has said as much. The reason so much attention has been paid to the church is because of the Vatican’s supposed moral authority; the abuse stretched around the world; and the cover-up was extensive. “While child sex crimes happen in every institution, in no institution are they ignored or concealed as consistently as in the Catholic Church,” Clohessy said.

Not even at Penn State.

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  • A.j.

    The hypocrisy of the pope , his minions and the sheeple continue , I would not expect anything less from this morally hypocritical organization. If you keep telling a lie over and over people begin to believe it as a truth, Germany did this and now the rcc follows suit !

  • Patrick

    Let’s get it straight – the Catholic church was MUCH, MUCH worse. Here’s the truth:

    – Penn State, in last week’s case, had ONE accused pedophile. They fired 5 people within 5 days, all of whom are in power positions.

    – Syracuse had ONE accused pedophile, and fired him already.

    – The Catholic church had 4,392 according to their own John Jay report of 2004. That’s right – over four thousand. They have never fired anyone in a power position, and sent Cardinal Law of Boston to one of the best jobs in Rome after he mobilized 169 priests who raped 826 children.

    – The Catholic church MOVED known pedophile priests to other parishes where they raped other children. Then they moved them again. No other institution ever did that.

    – Then bishops in the Catholic church lied about it, knowing their congregation would be afraid to question their honesty, and Catholic prosecutors would be afraid to prosecute them

    – Then they fought and disparaged the victims of their own child rape. Horrifying, cowardly, reprehensible church.

    The Catholic church is a professional pedophile protection program. Penn State and Syracuse were just amateurs. Everyone involved in the Penn State and Syracuse scandals should go to jail, and every Catholic bishop should go with them.

  • Michael

    Paul, you’re sadly just another bigoted slanderer, the kind who cares not for the facts, as you’re out of touch with the current realities. The Catholic Church is the safest place for kids these days. IF you were actually looking for truth, you would admit that public schools have 10x the sexual abuse, and Protestant ecclesial communities have more of a sexual abuse problem than some of the men in God’s Catholic Church. Satan loves to try to attack God’s Catholic church, and with the complete lack of justice you show, you’re simply joining Satan.

  • teetownmike1

    You’re right on Paul! Clannish Catholics like Michael here need to take looong walk – off a short pier – with Bill Donohue – where they can take a lengthy soak. These willfully ignorant/head-in-the-sand types puts us Catholics all to shame. It’s these types who keep giving the Catholic bishops permission to keep covering-up sexual abuse and shielding the predators within the Church.

  • Christine

    Paul, I admire you immensely. I also disagree profoundly about the reaction to the Pope’s comments. In my humble opinion, he wasn’t attempting to say “Hey, look at how great a job we’re doing” nor was he timing his comments to coincide with the actions at Penn State (and the despicable way that Joe Paterno was treated, by the way.) He was simply saying that attention needs to be focused on all aspects of society and the institutions that allow abuse to continue. If that makes me a ‘sheeple’ Catholic simply because I’m not willing to take this opportunity to bash the church (as your other commenters here have done, save Michael), bring on the hay.

  • David

    LOL According to a draft report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, in compliance with the 2002 “No Child Left Behind” act signed into law by President Bush, between 6 percent and 10 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees and teachers.
    Charol Shakeshaft, the Hofstra University scholar who prepared the report, said the number of abuse cases—which range from unwanted sexual comments to rape—could be much higher.

    “So we think the Catholic Church has a problem?” she told industry newspaper Education Week in a March 10 interview.

    To support her contention, Shakeshaft compared the priest abuse data with data collected in a national survey for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000. Extrapolating data from the latter, she estimated roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a school employee from a single decade—1991-2000. That compares with about five decades of cases of abusive priests.

    Such figures led her to contend “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”
    Read it yourself. All of your hate and anti-semitic comments should be directed to the people who are more dangerous.

  • peter1

    David, an “unwanted sexual comment” to a student could be, “why are you dressed like that, you look like a tramp?”

    Furthermore, a high school or school district could have hundreds if not thousands of employees, with children being exposed to these adults for 40+ hours a week for 9 months out of the year. A Catholic parish, unless affliated with a school, might have a dozen or so employees, including priests, and access to the children for only a few hours a week.

    If your job description includes not being able to have sexual relations with members of the opposite sex, what sort of person do you think that might attract? People who have “deviant” proclivities, perhaps.

    Finally, is anti-semitic the word you’re looking for?

    The Catholic Church is corrupt and protects it’s own monsters, just like every religion does (including PSU football, Syracuse basketball, and so forth). Don’t get so defensive…

  • fr lobo

    the pope seems to say that church has done much more to cover up than any one else. when operation cover up is resorted to, priests are protected because of prestige issue of the church but when it comes to civil cases n compensation to victims they are not paid servants hence no liability.
    what sort of double speak or mental reservations are these?
    sex abuse within the church and its cover up is most abhorring unlike in civil society. pen state took action immediately. even if forced to take action with volumes of evidence church has tried to brush aside the issue.

  • Mike

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, This article by Mr. Davies exemplifies both thus proving the remarkable wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King.

    Mr. Davies claims to be Catholic and I suspect he thinks that he is, but then so does Nancy Pelosi. In reality neither one is a faithful Catholic instead both are CHINOs i.e., Catholics in Name Only. This article proves Davies’ animus towards the Church because he completely ignores the astonishing success the Church has enjoyed in arresting this problem over the last 10 – 15 years. But he doesn’t stop there, he further affirms his bias by calling in groups like the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) to support his case. These two groups have a history of attacking Catholic priests almost exclusively while claiming a broader, loftier goal of protecting all kids from abusers. What they, particularly SNAP, is interested in is $$$$$$$$$$ not protecting children.

    Somewhere along the line Mr. Davies either lost or abandoned his journalistic integrity. If he had smidgeon of integrity left he would have provided a view from the other side. He would have delved into the facts provided by the John Jay Study on The Causes & Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the U.S. 1950 – 2010. Had he done that he would have reported that:

    1. About 4.3% of all active priests were found guilty of abusing minors. This means that 96.7% of Catholic priests are innocent but are being vilified anyway by people like Davies.
    2. Abuse complaints against the Church dropped dramatically beginning about 1985.
    3. The vast majority of all allegations filed today are over 20 years old….many dating back 35 – 50 years. But in the press they are treated like they happened yesterday….. and the drum beats on.
    4. During the period 2002 – 2010 there were 125 allegations made against approximately 100,000 active priests in the U.S. Church or 0.125 percent of all priests in active ministry.
    5. In all of 2010 there were 10 allegations made against U.S. priests. By the same measure used in #4 above amounts to 0.01 percent of all priests in active ministry.
    6. The Church as paid out hundreds of millions in victim compensation.
    7. The U.S. Catholic Church has become one of the most transparent organizations on planet earth with regard to child abuse… one can name another organization that even comes close to opening itself to such intense scrutiny as has the Catholic Church.

    Had Davies vetted his sources he would have learned that David Clohessy’s personal anti-Catholic views heavily influence his comments. Clohessy said, “While child sex crimes happen in every institution, in no institution are they ignored or concealed as consistently as in the Catholic Church”. This is patently false. Go to and learn the truth. Today the Church is the most open/transparent organization in the U.S. while Clohessy continues to live in the past.

    Had Mr. Davies done a bit of research he would have learned that the rate of child abuse within the U.S. Public School System is over 9%. There are 50 million students in the system; you do the math. In addition the record of transferring teachers, putting them on leave, allowing them to resign or transfer without prejudice cannot be refuted. Where is Mr. Davies outrage? Why isn’t SNAP and NSAC attacking the public school system? I’ll take a wild, wild guess. Because it is nearly impossible to sue the public school system there is no payday for them. The Catholic Church as paid out hundreds of millions in compensation to around 11,000 victims while the school system has paid out zero to an incalculable number of victims. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, SNAP and NSAC focus almost exclusively on the Catholic Church because that’s where the money is.

    Too bad Mr. Davies article is just a hit piece on the Church, if he was honest he would admit that the safest place for a child in the U.S. today is in a Catholic Church, school or other institution. That is the honest truth.

    Mike Malone

  • Maureen

    In all honesty I have to agree with what Paul Davies has said right down the line in this 11/30/2011 article above.

    Pope Benedict XVI has made really very moving statements in regard to the Roman Catholic Church’s continuing sexual abuse scandal in every country he has visited since becoming pope. The problem is he has never, ever followed through with substantive actions that only he as pope could initiate.

    I recall earlier on when the 2005 Grand Jury Report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was released there was great outrage from Philly churchmen and/or their lawyers and Catholic Conference lobbyists that it was an Anti-Catholic attack comparable with that of the KNOW – NOTHINGS of more than a century and a a half ago.

    At that time I wrote that such a statement was far from the truth as the KNOW – NOTHINGS were a group outside the RCC and the horrific damage to children as revealed in the 2005 Grand Jury Report, the systemic cover-up by bishops – think Caardinals Krol and Bevilaequa in particular – and lesser church officials – think Msgr. William Lynn – and the betrayal of the Catholic Faithful everywhere WAS CAUSED BY THE LEADERSHIP OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH ITSELF.

    One can talk all one wants about the fact that most child abuse happens in homes, etc., etc., and that is true but it is a poor excuse for the collusion, conspiracy and cover-ups orchestrated by the bishops here in the United States and around the world.

    Sadly Pope Benedict and the bishops continue to refuse to address the systemic and endemic causes that have landed the Church at such a low water mark both in its moral authority and credibility.

    Also, sad to say, the Anti-Semetic card was also played on the release of the 2005 PGJR and I answered then that Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham “should be beatified not vilified, in a 2005 National Catholic Reporter article –

    Pope Benedict XVI could have done so much more, so much more….

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

    Advocate for Victims & Legislative Reform
    Founding member of the National SurvivorAdvocates Coalition
    Spoke to House Bills 832 & 878 in Harrisburg on March 1st, 2011
    Testified before Senate and House Judiciary Committees in support of Delaware’s 2007 Child Victims’ Law

  • ninamck33

    On the one hand, we’re told the Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ, that priests are acting in persona Christi, that the Church is the keeper of the fullness of the Truth, etc. On the other hand, they’re having a snit-fit because we just can’t understand that they’re just like everybody else, no better, no worse.

    Well, boys, which is it? I’m inclined towards the latter myself.

    Not only is the Church crowing over the Penn State scandal, but now they’re sniggering over the recent allegations of institutional abuse in Hollywood.

    One Catholic blogger suggested Penn State had the Catholic Church to thank (!!) because the Catholic Church had laid the groundwork for dealing with this kind of problem. You can’t make this stuff up.

    The continued display of hierarchical arrogance and pride in the face of these horrific scandals only proves the Church doesn’t genuinely accept responsibility for their role in the sex abuse scandal. To have the audacity to hold themselves up as a shining example of how an organization should honorably deal with the destruction of innocence proves they are not men of God. If they were, they’d have had the humility to shut up and take their lumps.

    Nothing has changed. Not a thing. They are still the same weak, cowardly, selfish, little men they always were.

  • ninamck33

    Michael, if the Catholic Church is the “safest place for kids these days”, explain the Kansas City Diocese scandal. Go ahead. I’m waiting.