2017 Child Abuse Audit of U.S. Bishops

The headline from NCR/Catholic News Service reads, “Annual audit of church abuse allegations shows work still needed.” After last year’s audit, Reuter’s headline said “Audit of U.S. Catholic church shows sharp spike in sex abuse reports.” The “sharp spike” last year was a 35% increase. But this year sex abuse reports increased 125%, yet religious journalists merely state that the Church’s mission is not yet fully accomplished -- suggesting it was almost there.

As far as I know, major media have failed to cover this story. Even RNS (Religion News Service), the main source for religious news, has ignored it. While the pope has declared zero tolerance for child abuse, he has not commented on the 125% increase in U.S. abuse reports. Similarly, while he acknowledged (unspecified) failings in his own Child Abuse Commission, he has done nothing to correct them. (See The Pope’s Child Abuse Commission – An Update.) On the other hand, the pope has taken extraordinary measures to ensure the obedience of Nigerian priests, threatening to defrock them unless they take a loyalty oath and are totally obedient to his wishes. (I’ll have more to say about this in the future.)

The U.S. Bishops emphasize that much of this increase stems from Minnesota, which did away with its statute of limitations for clerical pederasty. In the past, nearly all cases of clerical child abuse were made moot by the statute of limitations, and could not be pursued or prosecuted. With the removal of the statute of limitations, victims can make meaningful charges, and there are a lot more of them.

The clear implication is that the audit procedures recommended and used by bishops are grossly inadequate to detect child abuse. If bishops had a valid and adequate audit procedure, the statute of limitations would not affect the results. Their audit procedure is far from adequate. Victims typically take more than a decade to report the crimes; recently committed crimes are unlikely to be reported.

Special efforts are needed to detect ongoing clerical child abuse, but no one is addressing this problem. The Church is actually using it to its advantage, trumpeting the relative absence of recent cases of abuse. And both the Catholic flock and the general public seem to be satisfied. Despite scandal after scandal, there is no public pressure to put an end to the problem. Media attention to the problem rarely exceeds the ever-shortening news cycle.