Pope Francis’ Child Abuse Commission is Dead
Long Live the Status Quo
A little over four years ago, amidst pomp and splendor, Pope Francis announced the creation of his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The new Commission would put an end to decades of scandal, ushering in a reformed Church with zero tolerance for child abuse. On December 17, 2017, Pope Francis’ Commission on Child Abuse died without even a whimper. This is about as close to open contempt as it gets.
The general press did not cover this event, or even post an obituary. Even the religious press had no news coverage. The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) published an editorial, calling it “disappointing.” Others didn’t even do that. NCR was told by some nameless Vatican official – certainly no one with authority over a papal commission – that the dead commission will rise again next April. NCR, normally a cog in the Church propaganda machine, said: “These statements, meant to be assurances, sound too much like hollow promises of the kind we're been programmed to hear from church officials when it comes to the abuse of minors by clergy.”
An Empty Gesture of a Commission
NCR noted that ten months ago, Marie Collins, the last remaining victim on Pope Francis’ child abuse commission, resigned in protest. This created a furor. Pope Francis met with her and admitted she identified some valid problems. He promised to take care of them. Pope Francis failed to keep his word. Prior to its demise, none of the Commission’s problems was even addressed.
Some of those problems were trivial and easily fixed. For example, Ms. Collins complained that the Commission was essentially unfunded. Funding was insufficient to allow members to meet in person. Creating an important Commission that lacks funding to hold meetings is unheard of. Such an “oversight” should have been quickly and easily corrected. It wasn’t.
Similarly, any output from the Commission had to conform with Canon Law, which is deeply involved in many aspects of the child abuse problem. Yet Pope Francis failed to provide the Commission access to a canon lawyer. The Commission didn’t even ask for a dedicated lawyer, merely access to someone who could answer questions. Apparently, that never happened.
The Commission was a sham, intended to buy time until the furor over the most recent child abuse scandal subsided. It worked. But Pope Francis had no plans to fix the problem. Church policy remains business as usual.
More Defense of the Status Quo
Thomas Reese of the Religion News Service (RNS) published an editorial on the new report from Australia’s Royal Commission on Child Abuse. Its headline: “Abandoning celibacy won’t stop sexual abuse by priests.” Mr. Reese is a Jesuit priest, and he was using his jesuitical skills. He claimed, “The impact of celibacy on sexual abuse has not been proved.” It is hard to prove something to someone whose faith overwhelms facts and reason. Mr. Reese adds, “Unless there is a significantly greater percentage of priests involved in abuse than there is for other groups of men, evidence is lacking to support the commission’s recommendation.” Of course that has been shown again and again. Father Reese and his colleagues simply refuse to acknowledge the facts.
The Executive Summary of the Royal Commission provides an example. On page 45 it compares Catholic priests and Anglican priests, a far stronger match than Mr. Reese requested. The data comes from thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse in religious institutions. It turns out that 62% of such abuse was by Catholics, and 15% by Anglicans. According to Wikipedia, only 23% of Australians are Catholic, and 13% Anglican. Thus while the percentage of child abuse by Anglicans closely reflects its share of the population, the percentage of Catholic child abuse is nearly three times as great as its share of the population. Catholic institutions are highly toxic.
How Bad is the Rot?
Mr. Reese claims that 7% of Catholic priests are child abusers. He believes this is true of other occupations as well. Once again, he is in denial. I defy him to find another profession with such a high incidence of child abusers. Teaching should be highly attractive to pederasts, since it provides even greater access to children. But if anywhere close to 7% of teachers were pederasts we would have squads of cops patrolling the schools, and massive government intervention. I doubt whether as many as 1% of teachers abuse children.
Furthermore, as I have noted before, far more than 7% of priests are child abusers. Priests hold a special position of trust. When they abuse children, trauma and other factors tend to prevent victims from reporting the crime. Furthermore, initial reports are usually directed to Church officials, who invariably attempt to suppress reports to legal authorities - the only reports that really count. On average in Australia, there was a 30 year lag between the time a child was abused and the time the crime was reported to authorities.
This means that even if a newly ordained priest abused children continuously from day one, it would probably take decades for the record to reflect any of that abuse. Both the trauma and church cover-ups render the abusive priests “invisible” or “ineligible” as far as statistics are concerned. In calculating the 7% incidence rate for abusers, the denominator for the number of priests consists overwhelmingly of priests who have been on the job less than 30 years. Making even conservative adjustments to the denominator to reflect “visibility” or “eligibility” would make the estimated incident rate of abusers several times higher than that usually reported. While efforts are being made to reduce the reporting lag, it is too early to assess their success.
The basic problem is that priests and other professional employees of the Catholic Church are far more likely to abuse children than their counterparts in other religions or in other professions. The Catholic Church provides a highly toxic environment for children. Needless to say, the Catholic Church does not acknowledge this nor do others state the problem so bluntly.
We don’t know exactly why the Church is so toxic. Many factors are involved. When people isolate one particular factor, like its celibacy requirement, the Church and its defenders say changing it won’t solve the problem. That is true. Similarly, eliminating drunk driving won’t solve the problem of car accidents. But it would help a lot. No simple change will solve the problem. The Church and its defenders use this as an excuse to avoid reform. But the status quo is toxic. Change is urgently needed, and you’ve got to start somewhere. You might try limiting the exposure of children to clergy outside public domains like the classroom or church services. This does not involve church sacraments or doctrine, and would greatly reduce the problem.