News flash: Not all abuse is by priests

News flash: Not all abuse is by priests

The New York Times has just discovered that not all sex abuse in the Church is caused by priests.

Although hundreds of instances of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have come to light in the past several years, resulting in millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements and judgments, the problem is not limited to church clergy members.

“People don’t want to deal with the reality that it’s not just priests that abuse,” said Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law, a national group that fights abuse. “Here on Long Island we’ve had a youth minister, a church choir director and even a church soup kitchen volunteer.”

Across the country, experts say, complaints of sexual abuse have been lodged against a variety of church employees and volunteers, including camp counselors, seminarians, parochial school teachers, day care and health care workers and catechism instructors.

There are also instances of nuns being accused of sexual abuse.

Again, none of this is new so, what is the point of the newspaper’s story? (On a related note: if people are surprised that it’s not just priests then who’s fault is that? Perhaps the sensationalist media who made it seem like all priests were potential pedophiles and that celibacy was responsible for repressed sexuality bursting forth in inappropriate ways.)

It sounds like to me that it’s an effort by professional victims’ advocates and plaintiffs’ lawyers are looking for ways to extend the horror we’ve been experiencing over the past five years.

There are no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem. In 2003, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops hired the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to survey the number of sexual abuse complaints but limited the scope to complaints against priests and deacons. That study, which included every diocese in the United States, found 10,667 people had lodged complaints against 4,392 priests from 1950 to 2002, although critics said many victims never filed complaints, and many complaints were not recorded by the church.

“There’s a paucity of hard data on this,” said David G. Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as Snap. “It’s a huge, gaping hole, and it’s troublesome. We have minimized the horror.”

Since priests make up a minority of a church’s staff, Mr. Clohessy said, “it’s at least plausible that as many or more nonordained people are abusers as there are priest abusers.”

In the absence of data he’s making a baseless assertion and because he wants to believe it to be so, then it will become truth for him in short order. Perhaps one reason such data for the nonordained has not been compiled is because of the difficulty in compiling it. Priests were reassigned by bishops and paper trails exist. But youth ministers would be fired. No paper trail within the bureaucracy. And then how do you characterize abuse by a church worker who abuses someone when they’re not at work?

It’s just more mission creep. While the clergy sex-abuse scandal is perceived to be winding down, in the best case, people who’ve made it a lifelong mission to either shed light on abuse, or in the worst case, people looking to make yet more quick bucks off the Church, have begun to shift their sights to what they see as untested ground.

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