It appears that the Roman Catholic Church may finally be getting serious about reforming its culture which has led to clerical sexual abuse including pedophilia and ephebophilia (which refers to adults who are sexually attracted to 15- to 19-year-olds).
On Friday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, accused of sexual misconduct, who will lose the “rights and privileges” of his clerical office but be allowed to retain his title.
O’Brien, 77, resigned as Archbishop of St. Andrews in 2013 in the wake of allegations that he had made sexual advances on a number of priests. Francis subsequently asked O’Brien to undertake “a period of prayer” but also launched an investigation into the charges. The Vatican announcement said that the resignation of O’Brien was “not a punishment resulting from a process,” but came from O’Brien himself “after a long period of prayer.”
While O’Brien “will no longer be invited to attend consistories and other gatherings of cardinals” (including an eventual conclave for the election of a new pope), Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said, “he retains his faculties as a priest and retired bishop.”
The Washington Post reported that “some well-known church-watchers said the culmination of the case showed both Francis’s desire to restore faith in church accountability and his emphasis on mercy by letting the cardinal keep his title.
“It’s incredibly significant that a cardinal has been stripped of his ‘rights and privileges’… it shows that the pope is serious about removing anyone accused of sexual abuse and harassment—even someone from the highest echelons of the church—from ministry. ‘To me, it’s also long overdue,’ said the Rev. James Martin, a US Jesuit who writes on Catholicism.”
The only hard prevalence data about clerical abuse comes from John Jay College’s study of Catholic priests, which was authorized and paid for by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops following the public outcry over the scandals in 2002. Limiting their study to plausible accusations made between 1950 and 1992, researchers reported that about 4% of the 110,000 American priests active during those years had been accused of sexual misconduct involving children. Specifically, 4,392 complaints (ranging from “sexual talk” to rape) were made against priests by 10,667 victims.
In comparison, experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population; but Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says a conservative estimate is 10%. Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says her review of the numbers indicates it’s closer to 20%. Either number is surprisingly and shockingly high.
But in either case, the rate of abuse by Catholic priests is lower than estimates of the national male population. Furthermore, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance since the mid-1980s, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not at higher risk than other denominations.
Ministers, rabbis, and other religious leaders are no more or less likely than priests to be sexual abusers of children. Sadly, the greater danger of abuse is in our nation’s homes.
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