Pope Francis: “Stop Using Church as Sexual Abuse Scapegoat”

Pope Francis has now once again (though to judge by the so far sparse coverage, you’d think he’d never said or done anything before) expressed his abhorrence of clerical sex abuse. Previous popes—indeed most senior clergy—are normally too reticent, however, to do what he has now done as well, that is to say, he has defended the Catholic Church’s record on tackling the sexual abuse of children by priests, by declaring what is now the simple truth: that “no one else has done more” than the Church to root out pedophilia.

The Catholic Church, he said in an interview with Corriere della Sera published March 5, “is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked. The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighborhood environments.”

He’s not in fact the first pope to point out that child sex abuse is a problem for society as a whole, and not just for the Church. Pope Benedict, having acknowledged that clerical sexual abuse has “profoundly wounded people in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime,” was quoted by Dr Pravin Thevathasan, in his booklet The Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis (CTS, 2010), as saying that “‘the crimes of priests, while reprehensible, should be seen in the context of the times in which these events took place.’ Citing the rise of child pornography and sexual tourism, he concludes that moral standards in society at large have broken down.”

We are not the only ones, Benedict XVI was rightly saying then, and Pope Francis is in effect saying now. This does not mean that the Pope is saying that we don’t have a real problem: just one priest child abuser would be a scandal. But this is principally, tragically (and to me incomprehensibly) a major problem for society as a whole. The percentage of priests accused of this unspeakable crime is in fact lower than that of males in the population at large. It ought to be a lot lower than it is: it ought to be non-existent. But as long as the Church is singled out in the scandalous way it was recently by the UN as the major sex abuse scapegoat, so long will a profound problem for society at large not be taken seriously.

I will of course (as I know from weary experience) be intemperately attacked for this post whatever I say. All the same, let’s be rid early on of the nonsense that this Pope doesn’t take clerical sex abuse seriously. He said in the interview that the abuse cases “are terrible because they leave very deep wounds.” Pope Francis praised his predecessor Benedict XVI—the first pope to apologize directly to abuse victims—saying he had been “very courageous and opened up a path” to changing the Church’s attitude towards predatory priests. Francis himself has said that Catholics should feel “shame” for such abuse. In December he created a commission to investigate sex crimes, enforce prevention and concentrate on care for victims. According to Cardinal Seán O’Malley, whose particular concern the new commission will be, the Vatican’s focus so far had been on legal procedures. The new body, he said, would represent a more pastoral approach. The cardinal said the commission would study a number of areas, including programs to educate pastoral workers in signs of abuse, psychological testing and other ways of screening candidates for the priesthood, and also, and not least, the Church’s “cooperation with the civil authorities, the reporting of crimes.”

Whatever was the case 25 years ago (on which the UN’s intemperate attack seems largely based) the Church has learned its lessons and has acted on them, unlike many other institutions in modern society in which the same problem (with its attendant cover-ups) is still endemic. The facts are clear enough: but the media, and institutionally Left-wing organizations like the UN, refuse to acknowledge this, or even indeed that this is a problem for our whole society. This is now a long-standing problem for us. “When,” asked the Catholic blog La Salette Journey four years ago, “will the media acknowledge that the sexual abuse of children is not a ‘Catholic problem’?” The fact is, suggests the writer, Paul Anthony Melanson, that “the media are not so much concerned with the welfare of children as they are with unfairly portraying the abuse of children as a ‘crisis in the Church.’”

For example, the American state school system has a considerably higher rate of sexual abuse than the Catholic Church: according to a report prepared for the US Department of Education entitled Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, “9.6 percent of all students in grades 8 to 11 report … educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted.” This report was virtually ignored by the media.

Around the same time, an article by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times reported that the New York state legislature was addressing the fact that child abuse was not only a problem for the Church, but for the whole of society. Should it be possible, asked Dwyer “to sue the city of New York for sexual abuse by public school teachers that happened decades ago? How about doctors or hospital attendants? Police officers? Welfare workers? Playground attendants? … there is little evidence to show there is more sexual abuse among Catholic priests than among clergy from other denominations, or, for that matter, among people from other walks of life.”

There is, indeed, almost certainly less. Dr Thevathasan is not inclined to deploy this fact to get the Church off the hook. As he concludes his booklet: “It is true that the abuse of minors is rife within society. But we claim, by the grace of God, to be members of the one Church founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we are therefore called to a higher standard than that found in society at large. We are called by our Holy Father [Pope Benedict] to enter a period of purification and repentance.” But as he also says: “One of the immense dangers of focusing unduly on clergy abuse is that we might fail to protect vulnerable children in the wider society.”

That is what being a scapegoat means. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest of Israel took two goats: one of them was to be the “Azazel” scapegoat, who was to be sent away into the wilderness. The High Priest confessed the sins of the Israelites to Yahweh placing them figuratively on the head of the scapegoat, who then “took them away” never to be seen again. The Church has been designated to bear the sins of our culture: and that indicates the nature not only of an important part of our problem as a Church but more importantly a vital part of society’s sex abuse crisis too. The trouble with scapegoats is that they are designed to make society feel better about itself without actually addressing its problems. As Pope Francis says, “the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighborhood environments.” And that’s the real difficulty which needs urgently to be addressed. But will it be?

 Editor’s note: This column first appeared March 7, 2014 in the Catholic Herald of London and is reprinted with permission. (Photo credit: AP / Domenico Stinellis)

Dr. William Oddie


Dr. William Oddie is a leading English Catholic writer and broadcaster. He edited The Catholic Herald from 1998 to 2004 and is the author of The Roman Option and Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy.

  • Dick Prudlo

    I for one have tired of all this. The hierarchy in the Church, many of whom, have lent a blind eye for decades on this pathetic subject and supported it are now leading commissions? Dr. Oddie, your article claims that by-and-large the culture is more affected than our priesthood. Well, I say so what? The Church has been asleep for 50+years on this subject and on most others regarding Catholic doctrine. The fact that our Bishop of Rome, thinks this or thinks that, we should care?

  • lifeknight

    Sexually abusing children is a crime no matter who is the perpetrator. The real problem is the preponderance of homosexual men in the priesthood. They have a disordered view of life. Some act on this with children, but most are smart enough to have relations with adult sodomites. Sympathizers with the “orientation” idea are even more damaging to the culture of life and to the Church.

    • TheAbaum

      “The real problem is the preponderance of homosexual men in the priesthood”.

      The problem of the sexual abuse of minors isn’t limited to the Church.

      The money quotes: “The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.” -Charol Shakeshaft

      “Yet, outside the Catholic Church, the reaction is increasingly accommodation instead of outrage.”


      Since this was published in 2006, there have been about a half a dozen stories regarding teacher abuse of students.

      As the NEA is a member in good standing of Codevilla’s ruling class, don’t expect mass media investigations.

  • Don

    The Church has taken significant steps forward and must continue to make every effort to prevent future abuse. Of course to many, there is absolutely nothing the Church can now do to redeem itself. That view is the product of a general rejection of most traditional values. The Boy Scouts have been attacked for years for their stand on homosexuality in its ranks and, bowing to pressure, apparently now will allow gay scoutmasters. Watch as they get sued and attacked by the press when some of those same scoutmasters abuse boys.

  • Vinnie

    …”educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted.” This report was virtually ignored by the media.” “the media are not so much concerned with the welfare of children as they are with unfairly portraying the abuse of children as a ‘crisis in the Church.’”
    Schools indoctrinate the progessive doctrine. The Church does not. Nothing, not even sexual abuse can stand in the way of the brainwashing of the “state’s” children. Heck, they search out Planned Parenthood and TEACH sexual abuse in school.

  • The day abusers are no longer allowed to write in America magazine on how we all need to accept homosexuals in the priesthood, gay marriage and support gay teachers in Catholic Schools, is the day I’ll believe that the Church has done enough to stop this horrid crime.

    The abusers aren’t just the men who did the physical abuse, they’re also the bishops and provincials in the orders who tried to cover it up.

    • GaudeteMan

      One major US seminary is still referred to as the Pink Palace. Mmmmm.

      • poetcomic1

        That would be ST. MARY’S SEMINARY IN BALTIMORE. Why be coy? I would love to find out it is an exaggeration and things have changed. Anyone?

  • poetcomic1

    Rampant sexual abuse of youths continues unabated and tacitly condoned in hundreds of monasteries. Where is the outcry? Oh! I’m sorry I’m talking about Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and the failure of the beloved ‘Dalai Lama’ to address this issue.

  • GaudeteMan

    I. “9.6 percent of all students in grades 8 to 11 report … educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted.” This is only TEN TIMES higher than sexual misconduct reported regarding Catholic priests. An obvious difference is that the teacher’s union is in bed with trial attorneys, i.e. a hefty payout does not exist for any victim of teacher abuse (I’ve heard there is a $40k cap but have not seen it documented) whereas the Church is viewed as having very deep pockets and multi-million dollar settlements are not uncommon. (even if auctioning off Church treasures be required).

    II. “no one else has done more” than the Church to root out pedophilia. True, or to fight AIDS, house orphans, et al. But pedophilia is not and never was the main sin of Catholic priests in the so-called sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church. It was sexual relations with POSTPUBESCENT males. It begs the question – are these abusing priests homosexual? And if so, how did they gain entry into our seminaries? Incontestable studies have proven that in most cases the answer is that the perpetrators were homosexual. Maybe our pontiff will take the next logical step of calling out the sin of sodomy and really grab the bull by the horns.

    • TheAbaum

      “An obvious difference is that the teacher’s union is in bed with trial
      attorneys, i.e. a hefty payout does not exist for any victim of teacher

      Apart from the fact that they are fellow travelers and members in good standing of Codevilla’s “ruling class”, unions invest in politicians, not Churches, hospitals and charities. Their income statements are heavy, but not their balance sheets. Since unions represent, but do not direct teachers, “let the master answer” wouldn’t seem to apply.

      As result, if the tort bar began pursuing multimillion dollar setllements, the financial responsibility would fall on taxpayers, who might not be as amenable to enormous settlements when their taxes increased as when they read about a diocesan bankruptcy.

    • mikidiki

      It is apparent it takes balls (courage) to grab a bull by the horns! The gay lobby is way too powerful within both the priesthood and society.

  • WRBaker

    The Church needs to throw out homosexual priests, but this is never discussed, nor the question asked of a prelate. In my own diocese, one priest said that at least 60% of the priest are homosexuals. Pope Benedict said that the Church might needs to get smaller, it’s past time.
    It made me laugh when the priest that ministers to other diocesan priests said he had never heard of the Sins that Cry to Heaven for Vengeance, though it’s in the Catechism. I guess the sin of sodomy never came up?

    • leogirl87

      I heard about one diocese having a Christmas party for priests and their boyfriends. There is a huge homosexual problem and a lot of priests need to be defrocked.

      • hombre111

        The Christmas party sounds like a conservative urban legend. But there is a huge homosexual problem. Boot out the gays, try to staff parishes with the priests who remain, and then, finally, finally, start ordaining married men. But Rome is about twenty years away from ordaining married men. Maybe the pope after the next pope will finally have the nerve and realize that access to the Eucharist is more important than any discipline established during the Middle Ages to protect Church property.

    • hombre111

      The homosexual priests in my diocese are celibate, as far as I know, and do loving, generous work for their people. Why throw them out? Allow married priests, and they might simply disappear. As it is, at least two priests have told me they became priests to solve their sexuality problems, because they could proceed to live as sexless beings.

      • ForChristAlone

        Since you’re a priest, then you know full well the high numbers of active homosexual priests. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

        And I hope that the two priests who told you that they entered priestly life so they could “live as sexless beings” do not counsel anyone about matters of sexuality since their notion about sexuality is an obviously distorted one. Celibacy is a gift of one’s sexuality; too bad these priests have spent their lives hiding out.

        • hombre111

          That’s right. Celibacy is a gift, inspired by the Holy Spirit. But for most diocesan priests, celibacy is the burden they agree to carry in order to become priests. Read Pope John Paul in Theology of the Body. Says beautiful stuff about celibacy for the sake of the kingdom. But he blindly looks away from the forced celibacy that is the lot of diocesan priests. A priest survives by using the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous, or by using the utilitarian spirituality I counsel for men locked up in the penitentiary, i.e: “As long as I am locked up here, oh Lord, help me serve my sentence generously for the sake of the Kingdom. And please, please, please, teach me to love the loneliness that is my daily portion.”

  • Tony

    While we are at it: There are tourist agencies that cater to a certain constituency, and do a hopping business sending men to Thailand. Why? A few years ago I caught a minute or two of a very popular “lifestyle” show on Canadian television, which has now apparently jumped over to American television. It is hosted by two men, one of whom went to Thailand, where he bought orange shoes — and we see him on film in Bangkok, walking in those shoes. Why Thailand? What the heck is in Thailand that is so appealing to many thousands of westerners? Pederasty, that’s what it is. I am not saying that the particular person on the show went to Thailand for that purpose; but if I did not want to be associated with pederasty, if I didn’t want to put my dollars in the pederast collection plate, I would not go to Thailand …

  • kv

    The church still will not acknowledge that this was not a matter of pedophilia. The majority of crimes were committed against post pubescent boys. This is molestation not pedophilia.

    • carolineredbrook

      It’s still horrible!

  • ForChristAlone

    Now repeat after me…these were NOT cases of pedophilia but homosexuality run rampant among the priestly clergy…these were NOT children in the strict sense of the word…these were pubescent and post-pubescent males whom these homosexual priests assaulted.

    Now that we have that matter cleared up, we can get on with discussing other aspects of this matter.

  • cajaquarius

    In defense of the Church, this isn’t a Catholic problem but a problem in the culture, itself. I will grant them that much. I live in a small town yet I can check the location of sex offenders in my area and there are at least two dozen of them within a single kilometer of my home, last I checked. Considering I have young cousins who sometimes visit and stay with me, this is highly alarming. And all in a town of only four or so thousand – imagine how many live near you if you are from a city of millions like New York City or Los Angeles. You might live in a building made up mostly of them. A scary thought if you have kids or are a single woman, I would suspect.
    My grandma is an old school Polish Catholic from the old country and she came from a lineage that gave one of their sons from each generation to the Church. She nudged me to join early on as I always had a way with words but I think it is important to have a calling to that vocation; if one is becoming a priest because they love the tradition and feel they are serving God in it then that is good. If they are getting into the Church to run away from their orientation or aberrant desires then they should be honest with themselves and seek help. I don’t wonder if traditions such as hers have helped create this problem in some ways.

  • Pingback: 3/14/14: Today’s Round-up of Child Sex Abuse in the News()

  • Pingback: Highlights from Around the Web: March 16-23, 2014 | Unto That Glorious Adventure()

  • Pingback: La mala espera | Agua Fresca en los Espejos (Vinka Jackson)()

  • Marylou

    Finally! Thank you Pope Francis! What about the falsely accused priests? There are some who have still not been returned to public duty.

  • D bran

    Oh how people fall for hate propaganda.

    Here are the facts!

    published from Misty-United the Year of Faith.

    You can’t get more facts than this my friends.

    Why do so many cases of child molestation occur within the Catholic church?

    Actually there aren’t “so many” it only appears so because of how all these cases (many decades old) came to light all at the same time. This was because they lifted the statute of limitations on sex abuse allegations. So it appeared that suddenly the Catholic Church was swamped with child molesters, but that is actually not the case.

    In reality Protestant ministers have been convicted of pedophilia at a rate of 10% ccompared to 1.7% of Catholic priests. Over all the largest group of child molesters are fathers and step-fathers.

    There are many child molesters in the world, unfortunately. They tend to get jobs and situations that put them near children. Catholic priests don’t become child molesters, some child molesters choose to become Catholic priests in order to gain access to children. They also become youth ministers, day care workers, school employees, etc. etc.

    The media is more interested in reporting on Catholic sex abuse because of the nature of the Catholic priest’s position. They are celibate men who take a vow before God, in an organization that is 2000 years old and tied directly to Christ. This make any sins of Catholic priests interesting, the more perverted the more interesting…sadly so.

    But here are some websites I hope you check out because they show that the problem is far from a Catholic one.














    Nothing excuses the abuse of another human being. No matter Catholic priest or school teacher, the misuse of another person, especially a child, is monstrous. The Catholic Church never condoned such acts, nor was it ever a “passtime.”

    Unfortunately, there are bad people out there and some of them used the priesthood to further their perversions.

  • Lil P

    “No one else had done more”…really. That is dissallusionment at its best