Albany Bishop Claims Church is Safest Environment for Children but the Numbers Tell a Different Story
Despite heading a diocese that has seen more than 80 priests accused of abusing children and needing to administer a neighboring diocese due to the sudden ouster of its bishop for mishandling sex abuse allegations, a New York prelate claims that “there is no safer environment” for children than the Catholic church.
On what does Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger base his assessment? The unsupported claim that "only about 20 cases (of sex abuse against children by priests) last year were committed.”
First, it’s important to make clear that no one knows how many children were sexually abused last year in the Catholic church or any other institution. Only around 12% of child sexual abuse cases are ever reported, meaning that the 20 cases estimated by Bishop Scharfenberger is more likely to be 160 cases.
Second, media reports show far different numbers than the ones Bishop Scharfenberger is claiming. In 2019, we counted 37 cases of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults by Catholic priests, nuns, deacons and teachers, not 20. Those crimes occurred in 20 different states. Using the reporting rate above, that means more than 300 cases of sexual abuse were likely were committed in 2019 against children and vulnerable adults in catholic schools and parishes.
Since 1950, the church reports that at least 21,000 victims have been abused by 7000 priests. Over 70 years, that works out to 300 victims per year. Using the ratio of 3 victims to every priest, if 370 crimes were committed last year, they were committed by 120 priests. That is a number that should concern every catholic mother and father in the United States.
And the problem with the Bishop's assessment doesn't stop at the numbers; report after report indicates that abusive priests and former priests are alive and not monitored. Similarly, priests are still abusing children today and escaping justice. But because prelates like Bishop Scharfenberger are either in denial or are simply intentionally not transparent, these men remain hidden and dangerous.
Yet whether the count is 200, 370 or more than 400, the numbers say not enough has changed. Rather than declare the church the “safest environment” for children, prelates like Bishop Scharfenberger should be turning over documents to state investigators, releasing full lists of accused clerics, and treating every allegation with the “Zero tolerance” pledge that was made back in 2002.
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(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)