Double standards and blind eyes

Originally posted on May 31, 2013

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, thinks the media has a double standard when it comes to clergy abuse:

There is no organization in the nation today that has less of a problem with sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic church. But one would never know that by listening to late-night talk show hosts, and the likes of Bill Maher. They would have the audience believe that nothing has changed. To top things off, the media often fail to adequately report on this problem in the non-Catholic population.

Other people have played the “they do it, too” card, but before I get to that I want to address Donohue’s claim that sexual abuse in the Catholic church is “practically nonexistent in the Catholic church today.” In the article, Donohue writes:

The timeline for the lion’s share of abuse cases is not in doubt: the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. This was when the sexual revolution hit our culture like a tidal wave, engulfing even Catholic seminaries; it ended soon after the discovery of AIDS in 1981.

Donohue likely got that idea from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice studies released in 2011 concerning sexual violence in the Catholic church. The first dealt with the nature of the abuse, and the second dealt with the cause. As I noted in my post about the second study, the researchers concluded that cultural changes at that time (the 1960s and 1970s) led to an increase in abuse, yet they offered no evidence supporting that conclusion. They listed other cultural issues as well, but presented no proof coming directly from offending priests. 

Donohue continued:

Here’s the good news: According to the Annual Reports on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, prepared by CARA, a Georgetown University research institute, over the past 10 years, the average number of credible accusations made annually against approximately 40,000 priests has been in the single digits. In the 2012 Annual Report, there was a total of six. Too bad there was a media blackout of this story.

The report found more than six cases. From the Examiner:

StoneBridge Business Partners conducted the audits while the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate gathered the data for the 2012 annual report released for May 2013. The information gathered showed “the fewest allegations and victims (of sexual abuse) reported (within the Catholic Church) since the data for the annual reports began in 2004.” Additionally, law enforcement validated six cases among 34 allegations of sex abuse to a minor in 2012, however 15 are still under investigation, 12 were unable to be proven and one is a “boundary violation.”

Of the 397 allegations made in 2012, most were from the 1970s and 1980s. However, we cannot assume that no sexual abuse happened since then because it appears that many people wait years to report the abuse. It is possible that more incidents happened in 2012 than were reported. This report is also limited to the United States. It is possible that more abuse occurs abroad, particularly given how often known abusive clergy members have been moved from country to country.

Even if there are fewer cases of abuse today, that does not change the Church’s history of abuse or its tendency to cover it up.

Going back to the “they do it, too” card, Donohue does have a point. The media does cover fewer cases of sexual violence in other Christian and non-Christian communities. However, when one does hit, the media goes on the same free-for-all. For example, one might recall the media gorging itself on the FLDS polygamy and sexual abuse scandal several years ago. That spawned scores of articles and roundtable discussions, proposed legislation, investigations into other Mormon communities, and several television shows about Mormonism and polygamy.

Yet the larger problem with Donohue’s argument is that many of those religions lack the global scale of cover-ups found in the Catholic church. It is not just something that happens in the United States. In every country where the Catholic church has a major presence, one finds huge numbers of victims, and many cases of officials concealing and protecting men and women who abused children. In some cases, the offenders were moved from country to country over the years, resulting in them having victims from one decade in one country and victims from the following decade in another.

What other religious organization has employed tactics like threatening to excommunicate victims of child abuse if they report the abuse to the police? What other religious organization uses its political connections to ensure offenders do not face jail or prison time? What other religious organization kept hundreds of thousands of pages of reports about sexual abuse allegations dating back to 1950s under lock and key? Most importantly, what other religious organization did this publicly while playing stupid as evidence mounted over decades?

That is why the media focuses on the Catholic church more than any other religious group. While Rabbi Yosef Kolko may have abused a boy for years and had his leaders protect him over protecting the boy, there does not appear to be anywhere near the same scale of cover-up in the Jewish community as there is in the Catholic church. Likewise, while the Protestant church deals with just as many cases of sex abuse as the Catholic church, it lacks the same level of control that the Vatican has over its dioceses. For example, before he became Pope, Pope Benedict was in charge of handling all the allegations of abuse worldwide.

Claiming the media has a double standard ignores the actual problem: the Catholic church’s poor history of addressing sexual violence against children. Whether the coverage is biased or not, nothing changes that the Catholic church turned a blind eye to child rape for decades, denied it occurred when thousands of victims came forward, and then quibbled when their own records proved officials knew about the abuse all along.

No Catholic official has any business pointing at anyone else.


8 thoughts on “Double standards and blind eyes

  1. Hmm:

    Actually, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had the same problem. Disfellowship for reporting abuse.

    And that was a problem for years and received quite a bit less coverage. To be fair, the RC church is much larger and influential and thus would naturally receive more press coverage, even so I don’t disagree with the assertion that the RC church really does have political and social enemies and parts of the press fall into that last category and gladly play up any perceived wrong doing of the church.

    I don’t doubt that the Church has less abuse today, partly because so much light has been shined on the abuse of the recent past that real changes have been forced on it.
    I don’t feel sorry for the church because:
    A. Their policy wasn’t to just ‘cover up’ very minor (alleged groping over clothes, sexual innuendos, even, arguably an incident of consensual sex with older teens) singular allegations(and instead investigate them themselves) but instead to cover up everything. It’s amazing what they didn’t bring to the attention of the police for proper investigation.It really was “fu** the victim”. Some servants of God.
    B.As someone who believes Catholicism is false, their flawed model of human sexuality and the sexual shame they insist on spreading offends me. At least part of the sexual abuse that did occur was probably related to sexual frustration by Priests that could not marry or otherwise consort in that fashion with other human beings. In short their sexual stupidity helped bite them in the ass. It’s too bad it took other victims with them.

  2. “I want to address Donohue’s claim that the Catholic church is “practically nonexistent …”

    I was pointing out a typo.

  3. Our whole culture doesn’t like to admit or look at sexual abuse, and generally prefers to look the other way.

    The attention on the catholic church is because of the lawyers and money involved. They are a relatively good target for repeated civil suits that some law firm specialize in to great profit. It’s more about the money, not the kids, no matter where you look.

  4. I had someone on another site recently throwing the “they do it too card” around in an attempt to defend the RCC, citing the Jimmy Savile case in the UK and the BBC’s/police’s protection of him and other paedophiles.

    The key differences would seem to me to be:

    1. The BBC has never appointed itself God’s representative on Earth and positioned itself as the possessor/arbiter of ultimate truth and morality. I tend to take a somewhat dimmer view of child abuse when committed by people who have put themselves up on a self-made pedestal.

    2. When the Jimmy Savile case hit the press big time, co-operation of the institutions involved was immediate, or close to it. The RCC dragged its heels almightily.

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