New Zealand’s Catholic church admits 14% of clergy have been accused of abuse since 1950


As you well know !

So as I was trying to show, statistics can be misleading.

I do think those figures were only going back as far as the 60's. So 75% in the first three decades and 25% in the most recent three decades.

The reason that's spin, though, is that it takes decades to report childhood sexual abuse. We shouldn't expect to have the same proportion of all cases reported yet. At this point likely most of the people from the 60's who will ever report their case have already done so. But more than likely only a fraction of those from the 2010's who will eventually report have already done so.

We could look at stats on how long people usually take to report to estimate what the final totals may eventually be and see if the numbers really have shifted. We could also look to see if the time people take to report has changed over the years to further assist that estimate.

I do think social attitudes have changed, though I'm not sure the Catholic church's have. So I would expect to find that survivors are reporting sooner than they used to.

I'd also expect to find that the proportion of all cases of abuse that are reporting at some point is rising, which could make it look like total cases haven't fallen in recent years when in fact it's just that a higher proportion of survivors feel able to report.

But yeah, the raw 75% / 25% figure isn't all that meaningful.

I did try to get a baseline figure for abuse in the general population to compare these numbers to, but it's not easy. The best I could find was US studies that just asked a few hundred college students to self-report whether they'd have sex with a child if they could get away with it. Those came out with figures between 3-7% of men saying they would. You'd expect that to be an under-estimate on one hand because who the hell tells people they want to have sex with kids, even if they do. On the other hand it could be an over-estimate because the students may not have taken the questionnaire seriously and said yes as a joke or even just ticked boxes at random without reading the questions.

The apples to apples comparison here would be how many men in the general population have been accused of any form of child abuse or neglect, but I couldn't find a figure for that.

Even then there's a selection bias. It's popular to conclude that the Catholic church exists to abuse kids. But the fact that abuse occurred in just about all institutions that had responsibility for children speaks to the role of selection bias.

There are some number of people in the community who are attracted to sex with kids. Some percentage of these are committed to acting on that attraction. The risks of doing so are extreme and society generally tries to prevent them having the opportunity so they are going to look for roles that offer access to kids and trust from parents. So institutions that care for kids and have power over kids are going to be magnets for pedophiles.

So I guess an apples to apples comparison would really be what percentage of all men in institutional child caring settings have been accused of abuse or neglect and how does that compare to the Catholic church.

Even then there's the question: does the Catholic church stand out among child caring institutions because it's inherently protective of pedophiles or did the Catholic church's beliefs about backing their priests over lay people, protecting the reputation of the institution and forgiving abuse as a one-off misdeed rather than treating it as a lifelong struggle - did these beliefs and tendencies make the Catholic church an especially attractive target for pedophiles to infiltrate for their own purposes?

It can of course be both: maybe the Catholic church had some beliefs that made it slightly more attractive to pedophiles to infiltrate and then those pedophiles rose to leadership positions and made the church's positions more extreme and that made it more attractive to pedophiles and a vicious circle was set up.

The unwillingness of the Catholic hierarchy to really shift on how it handles abuse allegations at this point though doesn't look good. And the third from top cleric in the church going to jail for abuse (before getting out on appeal) doesn't either. Still, it's hard to know what is arrogance and rigidity about the institution and what is something more suspect. Either way they don't seem to care.

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