of those Abused by Priests
Select essays from around the nation
MYTHS, NEW MYTHS
by Barbara Blaine of Chicago (312 399 4747)
Founder and President of SNAP
February 27, 2004
Some myths about the bishops' sex abuse crisis should now, finally,
be put to rest. At the same time, we must be careful to avoid replacing
the old myths with new ones.
Here are just a few of the old myths:
"It's just a tiny percentage of priests who commit these
For more than a decade, numerous church leaders in America and in
Rome emphatically claimed 1% or even less than 1% of priests molested
children. By American bishops own self-survey, the "bare minimum"
true figure is at least 4%.
"A lot of the abuse was minor."
According to today's New York Times, those tabulating the surveys
"were surprised at the high rate of serious offenses."
Bishops and their PR staff have consistently used and still use
vague and mild terms like "inappropriate conduct"and "boundary
violations" to describe what most everyone else would call
oral sex or sodomy.
NIMDY "not in MY diocese. . .."
The document apparently indicates that abuse allegations surfaced
in more than 95% of America's 194 Catholic dioceses.
And here are a few of the potential new or recently-revived myths
that may emerge from the reports issued today.
New (revived) myth one
"It's gay priests who are responsible."
There's just too little evidence to make this conclusion. Some argue
many boys were victimized because abusive priests had greater access
to them. Others point out that half of SNAP's membership is female.
New (revived) myth two
"It really IS the fault of the church-paid shrinks."
The Review Board mentioned this excuse. But we must remember that
bishops could have afforded top-notch, independent professionals.
Instead, they repeatedly relied on (and continue to rely on) trusted
Catholic professionals, often without relevant psychological backgrounds
or expertise in treating child molesters. (Fr. John Geoghan's "therapists"
were a close family friend who happened to be an MD and a psychologist
who was twice accused of sexually abusing patients.)
New myth three
"Canon law prevented some bishops from getting rid of abusers."
Where there's a will, there's a way. We in SNAP have seen virtually
no evidence to suggest that bishops WANTED to remove abusers but
couldn't. We know of only one bishop who was taken to internal church
proceedings for removing an abuser. That bishop prevailed.
New myth four
"At least bishops are starting to "come clean"
Several bishops fought against launching this anonymous survey in
the first place. Several others refused to comply with their own
self-survey. Fourteen percent of diocese and religious orders "provided
none of the financial information requested." From coast to
coast, bishops are still in courtrooms fighting tooth and nail to
keep damaging church
records from ever seeing the light of day. The examples of continued
secrecy are legion.
New myth five
"Very few victims came forward until very recently."
This we must take with not a grain but a mountain of salt. Today's
New York Times reports that "2/3s of the accusations were reported
since 1993." And anecdotally, we in SNAP know that many who
spoke up in the last few years had tried in the past, often repeatedly,
to be heard by church officials to no avail. It's foolish to assume
that since there was no document found in a chancery office file
that no one had reported an abusive cleric in the past.
New myth six
"There was something strange/aberrant about the priests
ordained in the late 60s and early 70s."
Again, there's no solid evidence to suggest this. Our strong hunch
is that if these men seem to have abused more, it's simply because
their victims have reached the ages where they begin to see troubling
behavior patterns in their lives, are getting into therapy, are
being more introspective and analyzing their actions, and are finding
and courage to report their victimization.