Praying the Post

Reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in one hand and a rosary in the other.

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Sunday, June 09, 2002
More bad news?

The headline at the top of column 1 on page A-1 of Sunday's Post reads:

Hundreds Of Priests Removed Since '60s
Survey Shows Scope Wider Than Disclosed

Oh dear, even wider than the 1-2% of active priests that has been widely reported for several years?

It seems the Washington Post has done a survey of "each of the nation's 178 mainstream Roman Catholic dioceses." (Mainstream? As opposed to...? (My guess is they mean excluding the various Eastern Church eparchies and dioceses, but they don't actually say.))

96 dioceses responded (the other 82 did not, despite the petulantly reported "repeated phone calls and e-mail messages"). That, along with supplementary data "gathered from local newspapers, church newsletters, and diocesan Web sites," led to the following totals, printed under the headlike Survey of Cases just below the fold on A-1:
  • 218 priests placed on administrative leave or dismissed this year
  • 355 priests removed in previous years
  • 866 priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors since the 1960s
  • 34 past offenders still in ministry
That sure sounds like a lot of priests, doesn't it, especially when "one is too many." As a percentage of the estimated 60,000 U.S. priests over the years in question, this works out to...


1.5%? This is the "wider than disclosed" results of the survey? Isn't this pretty much exactly the percentage church officials have been saying?

Yes, it is, as the article admits, right after citing a plaintiff's lawyer who believes the number of accused priests "is higher than 1,500" (2.5%) and the ubiquitous "former priest turned psychotherapist" [how's that for a phrase to warm your heart?] Richard Sipe who "estimates that 6 percent of all U.S. priests have committed child sexual abuse."

So the data collected by seventeen named Post staff writers, staff researchers, and special correspondents, returns a number squarely in the range reported by Catholic bishops. (The 1.5% figure is given in the nineteenth paragraph of the story.) Where, then, is the front-page news to this story?

Looking at the numbers the Post reports, of the priests who have been removed from ministry for sexual misconduct with minors, 38% have been removed this year. At least 4% of the known or suspected offenders remain in ministry (compared to about 29% in January).

I'd say the news in this story is this: that on the whole the U.S. bishops have been extremely responsive to this situation since the Globe broke the Geoghan story, compared to how they treated accused priests before 2002.

Incidentally, today's paper also has a good article on Fr. Bill Parent, the outgoing vocations director for the Washington Archdiocese. What might be missed by those who only read the Post online is that and the widely-blogged celibacy story from June 5 were both published on the front page of the Style section, a section of which the Post does not ask much in the way of traditional journalistic objectivity. This is the section where all the hip writers ooze irony all over others' beliefs, where the often-embarrassing (and often very funny (and sometimes both embarrassing and funny)) Style Invitational runs, where during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City an article appeared that was nothing more than an extended mockery of Mormon undergarments. The fact that two such sympathetic articles should appear so close together in the Style section is one that all sensitive Catholics should appreciate.