Beyond the Soundbites on Clergy Abuse

There has been no lack of sound bites about the horrible abuse of children by clergy. But two pieces caught my attention this week. Neither will feed the more popular narratives and therefore receive much notice in popular media.

The first was from a totally secular source Psychology Today. The other from Pope Francis writing to the vast majority of priests who are often lumped with abusers.

Psychology Today addresses the myths

The bi-monthly publication Psychology Today is endorsed by the National Board for Certified Counselors. In its August issue it writes

“An emotionally charged topic like child sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests illicit strong feelings from people in and outside of the Catholic Church.  The story has resulted in international and national headline news on a regular basis for almost 20 years.  It is critically important to dispel myths about this problem and separate facts from fiction in order to ensure that children are safe both within and outside of the Catholic community and that those who might harm children are identified and prevented from access to them.  To do otherwise would certainly be scandalous.”

Here are the 10 myths that it backs up with research

  • Myth 1: Sexual abuse is more common among Catholic priests than other groups of men.
  • Myth 2: Catholic clerical sexual abuse is still common today.
  • Myth 3: Most clerical abuse perpetrators have hundreds of young child victims.
  • Myth 4: Fewer numbers of reported victims in recent years is because it takes decades for victims to come forward.
  • Myth 5: Homosexual men cause clergy sexual abuse of children
  • Myth 6: Mandatory celibacy causes Catholic priests to sexually abuse children.
  • Myth 7:  The lack of women priests in the Catholic Church causes clerical abuse.
  • Myth 8:  All victims are truthful.
  • Myth 9:  Clerical offenders went into the priesthood so that they could abuse children.
  • Myth 10: The Church has done nothing to keep children safe and offending priests out of ministry.

Fortunately, best practices and quality research data is available to both provide safe environments for children in the church and to screen and better manage potential or current clerics that could be at risk of harming children

Pope Francis speaks to disheartened priests

Pope Francis is keenly aware of so many dedicated priests who feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit. Especially since they are just as disgusted as others, perhaps more so, by priests who have betrayed their trust. In his 5,000 word letter to priests he speaks to them quite personally.

The letter is meant to give priests, many of whom feel disheartened because of the horrendous crimes of abuse committed by a small percentage of their fellow priests, hope in these times of tribulation.

The 5,000-word letter focuses on four themes: pain, gratitude, encouragement and praise. For each of these sections he draws on a passage from scripture to frame his thoughts on their pain, his gratitude for their continued fidelity and service to God’s people, and encouragement for them to continue, He concludes with these words

“May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
May the Lord Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin watch over you.

And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me.

Opportunities for reflection

  • Did any of the myths surprise me?
  • What would I like to say to innocent priests I know?

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