Clergy Sexual Child Abuse-Myths

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD

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Myth: *** abuse by Catholic clergy is far more prevalent than in other religious sects.

Based on media coverage, one gets the impression this is the case. This perception is simply not supported by the facts, according to one of the country's foremost education researchers.

Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Hofstra University in New York, states, “There are no reliable national statistics at all on what percentage of children have been exploited by Catholic clergy or employees. ”

As part of a report for the U. S. Department of Education, Shakeshaft has set out the parameters of the problem in another major national institution, the school system, where she found that seven percent of students report physical and *** exploitation by a teacher or other school employee. Shakeshaft notes that *** exploitation of children has been reported in other religious denominations and in groups serving youth such as the Scouts.

These studies clearly reveal that *** exploitation of children is a universal problem.

Shakeshaft came to another interesting conclusion. The response of educators to the problem of abuse in the schools is now at about the same level as the Catholic Church was in the 80s and 90s.

Only a few research articles have been written about either abusing priests (Haywood, Kravitz, Grossman, et al. , 1996; Hayward, Kravitz, Wasyliw, et al. , 1996; Jenkins, 1996; Fönes et al. , 1999; Plante, 1999; Langevin, Curnoe, and Bain, 2000) or the victims of these atrocities (Rosetti, 1995; Isely, 1997; Berezin de Guiter, 2000; Fater and Mullaney, 2000; Disch and Avery, 2001).

Of the four articles on survivors of clergy *** abuse, only two have used sample sizes of ten or more. Disch and Avery (2001) compiled data on a mixed population of clergy, medical and mental health professional *** abuse survivors. Their study reported:

  • a larger number of males are abused by clergy members: 26.3%, as opposed to the 9.5% abused by medical professionals and 6.7% by mental health professionals.

  • in clergy abuse, a larger number (94.4%) of the abusers were men, whereas a smaller number (64.3%) of the abusers were heterosexual than in the other two groups.

  • Rosetti examined 1,800 adult Catholics, divided into three groups: those who reported no childhood *** abuse (n = 1,376), those who reported childhood *** abuse, but not by clergy (n = 307), and those who reported childhood *** abuse by clergy (n 40). Rosetti (1995) found that those abused by clergy reported significantly lower levels of trust in the priesthood, church, and God than those in the other two groups.

  • Fater and Mullaney described a small sample of seven men who were *** abused by clergy as children. All reported anger and spiritual distress.

  • Berezin de Guiter (2000) conducted a single case study of a 10year-old boy whose father died when he was 2, who was abused by a priest; the boy's *** response, anger, and violent reactions to these life events are typical of boy’s who were *** abused by someone other than clergy.

    Isely (1997) wrote his dissertation on the effects of clergy abuse, interviewing nine men who were abused by clergy as children. Isely described symptoms of posttraumatic stress, anxiety, guilt, low self-worth, loss of religion, anger, difficulty managing and maintaining interpersonal relationships, and depression. These aftereffects are consistent with *** abuse survivors who were abused by a family member, family friend, neighbor, or other trusted adult.

    Myth: The Archdiocese impeded the prosecution of priests charged with abusing minors.

    This myth arose because the Archdiocese fought to protect spiritual and confidential communications between priests and the Archbishop, Chancellor and Vicar for Clergy, the privacy of which goes to the heart of the way the Catholic Church practices religion. The District Attorney believed—and some reporters have bought into this—that the DA needed the documents in order to prosecute.

    The exercise of common sense quickly showed the fallacy in this. The fact is that for years in California and across the United States *** abusers from all walks of life have been convicted without the kind of private and protected information the DA sought from the Archdiocese.

    The truth is—and this rarely is reported—the Archdiocese offered to provide the District Attorney with the names of all accused priests, records of their assignments and other related information. In addition, the District Attorney has available the testimony of the victims and others.

    Myth: The Archdiocese went to the Supreme Court in an effort to block public release of the proffers.

    The Archdiocese wanted to release them; it was the Archdiocese attorneys who prepared them for the purpose of aiding the prosecution.

    Instead, the objections to the release of the proffers, which summarize the essential contents of priests’ personnel files, were raised by a number of the priests named. It was their appeal, first to the California Court of Appeal and later to the state Supreme Court, which delayed release. The priests have legal representation completely separate from the Archdiocese. They are not told by the Archdiocese lawyers what course to pursue and they did not ask.

    It was the Archdiocese attorneys who proposed the proffer procedure. The intent was to provide the information needed for the parties involved to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement of the clergy abuse civil cases while at the same time protecting spiritual and confidential communications between accused priests and their superiors in the Church. The alternative would have been years of litigation, which could delay a settlement.

    All parties to the mediation and settlement process agreed to the proffer procedure.

    Myth: The Archdiocese has done little to help victims of *** abuse by priests.

    Interest in allegations of abuse has been extensive; less so the attention paid to Archdiocese efforts to reach out to and aid victims. These efforts have been wide-ranging and intense.

    Cardinal Mahony has publicly apologized for the harm done by abusers within the Church and acknowledged the past mistakes that were made in dealing with abusive priests. He has participated in a number of private prayer and apology services with victims of clergy misconduct and their families.

    The Office of Assistance Ministry works throughout the Archdiocese to find solutions for the needs of victims, working to arrange pastoral outreach, counseling, residential treatment, housing, schooling, insurance and child care. Representatives of the Ministry are constantly out in the community meeting with individuals who have been affected by abuse. Several victims of abuse act as advisors for the Office.

    The Office of Assistance Ministry has been involved in 125 cases since the beginning of 2004. Only 40 of these concerned allegations of abuse were (either present or past) against clergy. The rest concerned allegations against teachers, coaches, volunteers and family members.

    Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, author, “If I'd Only Known. . . *** Abuse in or Out of the Family: A Guide to Prevention, specializes in: Mind, Body, Spirit healing and Physical/Sexual Abuse Prevention and Recovery. As an inspirational leader, Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's challenges as an opportunity for Personal/Professional Growth and Spiritual Awakening.

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