We haven’t heard very much about the so-called clergy abuse crisis recently, but you can be sure that if the mainstream media manages to find some obscure, outdated case they will gleefully splash it on their soiled canvas. Thing is, there is actually a great deal to report, and it’s all good news. In the most recent annual audit of abuse in the Catholic Church, documented in the Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, published under the auspices of the National Review Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, only six credible cases of abuse allegations by priests were reported for the year 2012 in the entire United States.
To put this in context, there are more than 40,000 Catholic priests in the US, and this represents the lowest number of cases since 2004, when the audit was instituted. It is, by the way, independently and scrupulously checked, and open to outside and public scrutiny. The 2012 report was also audited by the private company Stone-Bridge Business Partners.
One would have thought that after so much obsessive media attention given to the abuse crisis, ostensibly because so many journalists were deeply concerned as to the fate of young people and wanted the situation to be repaired and rectified, there would be widespread reporting of the latest findings and the successful work of the Catholic Church. What a surprise, then, when we heard hardly anything about this report at all! Only three newspapers that were not part of Catholic media covered the report, and they were all small and had a limited circulation. The Press-Register in Alabama, the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota, and The Bulletin in Georgia.
So much ink, so many pages, so many columns and editorials were devoted to the abuse, and so many reporters and columnists spent hours covering it. Yet this vital part of the story was treated as though it had never happened. The New York Times and Boston Globe in particular, so eager to report actual—and doubtful—priestly crimes or indiscretions, suddenly became quiet and reserved. It’s all too easy, and often so commonplace as to be irritating, to complain that the Church is not treated fairly in and by the media, but in this case the lack of mention of what was, in effect, the conclusion, the finale, the denouement of the abuse crisis was utterly shameful.
The story goes further. Half of the priests who were named in 2012—some remained anonymous and unidentified—had been dead for some time. Most of those accused in 2012 were dead, missing, or had already been laicized or punished in some other form and three-quarters of the abuse charges in 2012 date from before 1985. This is a record that shows quite clearly that the Church has dealt with the issue, the plague of horrors is more historical than current, and the Church of the future is likely to have a minor challenge on its hands.
The same cannot be said, for example, of organized sports, public education, and certain other faiths, where abuse cases are increasing rather than diminishing.
I remember interviewing an abuse victim for one of my books, and I foolishly asked him if had left the Church over it. “No,” he replied, visibly angry. “No, no, no! If I’d left the Church I would have allowed that man to abuse me every day for the rest of my life. The Church didn’t abuse me; an evil man exploiting the Church abused me.”
It’s entirely understandable that journalists would be sensitive to the claims of victims. But not every alleged victim is to be believed, and many have been exposed recently as people who are emotionally needy or financially unscrupulous. It puts the Church and its defenders in an extremely difficult position, and it’s made worse by lawyers who are determined to exploit the situation and activists with an agenda. Yet we know that the Church reacting well, wisely, and properly is a story that will never satisfy or please the culture and its fiercely anti-Catholic scribes. How very disappointing, and how very abusive.