Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Something you won't see blogged about much

When the pope's Irish letter was released, we saw lots of blogging commentary to the effect that this wasn't nearly enough, that the only way to fix the problems of clergy sex abuse is to kick out bishops, increase lay power, reformulate the Church, do away with the hierarchy, let women run things, quit teaching that sex outside marriage is sinful, or all of the above.

I'm guessing that this story won't get nearly as much attention from mainstream secular bloggers:
While the Roman Catholic church in Europe reels from a widening sex abuse crisis, the scandal that has plagued the U.S. church for nearly a decade is tapering off, a report released Tuesday says.

The number of abuse victims, allegations and offending clergy in the U.S. dropped in 2009 to their lowest numbers since data started being collected in 2004, the report said. [...]

The latest annual report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identifies 398 allegations of abuse involving clergy from Catholic dioceses in 2009 - a 36 percent decline from 2008. Most cases involved preteen or teen males and incidents that were decades old, in keeping with past patterns.

The number of offenders dropped 32 percent, to 286. Most are dead, no longer in the priesthood, removed from ministry or missing, the report said.

Of the allegations reported in 2009, six involved children under the age of 18 in 2009.

The report said that about one-eighth of the allegations made in 2009 were unsubstantiated or determined to be false by the end of the year.
I want to be clear about this: even one case of a child abused by a member of the clergy is too many, just as one case of a child abused by anyone is one case too many. The problem of child sexual abuse is not something to take lightly or to speak of as if a mere "downward trend" is all the progress we need to see.

That said, though, by this report it would appear that the practices adopted by the Church in America to address the problem are, thus far, working. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is having the effect it was hoped that it would have. The situation is improving.

Of course, not everyone thinks any of this is true. Those determined to see the Church as a darkly secret and irreparably corrupt organization will argue that the Church's data on this can't be trusted in the least, that unless we kick out bishops, increase lay power, reformulate the Church, do away with the hierarchy, let women run things, quit teaching that sex outside marriage is sinful, or all of the above, there won't be any real or lasting reform. I can understand where those who think this might be coming from, but I don't think there's any real reason to doubt the report. A whole lot of policies and procedures have changed since the Scandal became news and the Charter was adopted; at the very least, any adult who would leave a child in the sole company, not only of any priest, but of any employee or volunteer of the Church at all, would be doing so in direct violation of what every person has been taught through endless "Keeping Children Safe" classes. Child predators need not only motive (which they have abundantly, alas) but opportunity, and the strategy of removing as far as possible any opportunity for abuse to occur has probably been the reason for the significant decline in abuse cases.

The real thing to watch here is how this rather positive news will either be ignored entirely, or spun in wholly negative ways. This illustrates one of the beliefs I've long had about the Scandal: those who scream loudest about the Church's admittedly bad record in this--and who will continue to do so even given a positive news story like this one--will tend to be people who, for whatever reason, have come to hate the Church. Those whose deepest concern really has been for the safety and well-being of children will welcome this good news, and will see in it a model of how other large groups can address the problem of child sexual abuse in ways that will heighten awareness, protect children, and prevent abusers from gaining access to the young and vulnerable.

Of course, there is much more work to be done. One thing I'd like to see all those concerned about child sex abuse do is admit the little known fact that coming from a single-parent household doubles the risk that a child will be abused. In all the things I've seen so far, this statistic is never mentioned--yet it's not an unimportant one. Child predators look for stressed-out parents who welcome their "help" with the children; parents trying to do the job of raising children alone might, however careful they are, miss the signs that a person they've let into their home or into their children's lives might be a predator. But, again, truly focusing in on these and other risk-factors for abuse requires that we look beyond the Church (which, here in America, really does seem to be making headway in addressing the problem) and toward the children who need our protection.

In the coming years, those of us in America will be able to tell the difference between those who care about children and those who only cared about tearing down the Church. The ones who care about children will be optimistic (however cautiously so) that the real changes which have been put into place are doing what they ought to do, and slowly eradicating the evil of child sexual abuse from the Church; those who really only wanted to see the Church fall because of this terrible evil will refuse to accept any evidence that things are improving, and will, instead, continue to call for the Church to kick out the bishops, increase lay power, reformulate--oh, do I really need to go through the whole list again?

5 comments:

Charlotte (Matilda) said...

The best thing a parent can do to protect their children is to watch or read one of those interviews with an abuser that most Dr. Phil/Oprah type people do. If you can get past being physically ill, you will learn a lot about how to keep your children safe.

Charlotte (Matilda) said...

I forgot to say that yes, those interviews all confirm that children of single parents are prime targets for grooming.

Anonymous said...

Is this a slam on divorced parents or are widows and widowers also just a tad complicit when their kids are abused?

Blaming the victims - or in this case, their parents - just a little bit?

Anyway, the guy I know whose abuse helped break open a Massachusetts case came from a very intact, supporting and loving family. Their crime was trusting the priest.

romishgraffiti said...

Is this a slam on divorced parents or are widows and widowers also just a tad complicit when their kids are abused?

No, it's stating a widely-ignored fact.

Blaming the victims - or in this case, their parents - just a little bit?

Not at all. Rather, given that predators will seek out single parents, that they need to exercise extra caution about who they let in their lives.

Anyway, the guy I know whose abuse helped break open a Massachusetts case came from a very intact, supporting and loving family. Their crime was trusting the priest.

No one suggested that being in a traditional, stable family was an iron-clad guarantee. But that doesn't change the reality that certain situations entail more risk than others. This isn't a blast against single-parents. How could it be, since there plenty who are that way through no fault of their own? Red Cardigan is a good egg. Please try not to read more into her entry than she wrote.


God bless,

Scott W.

Jeannette said...

Anonymous 9:25 I remember reading a report (sorry, it was a few years ago but maybe it was the Weekly Standard?) discussing TV channels like Lifetime; in TV-land, "Dad who is married to Mom" is almost always the predator and Mom's new boyfriend is the savior. In real life,it's the opposite: The single most dangerous person to a child is "Mommy's latest live-in boyfriend" and "Dad, who is married to Mom" is the least dangerous ("Mom, who is married to Dad" is more likely to commit physical abuse!). I hope single parents reading this will use this reminder well.