Sex Abuse and the Clergy

Sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy has, by now, become impossible to ignore and increasingly difficult to conceal. That the scope of the problem is enormous is illustrated by the following statistics:

  • Since 1950, there have been 17,000 victims of clergy sex abuse.
  • Nearly 7,000 priests have been accused of sex abuse since 1950.
  • Sex abuse by clergy has affected more than 95 percent of the dioceses and 60 percent of religious communities.
  • Settlements of clergy sex abuse cases from 1950 to 2007 total as much as $3 billion.
  • The Los Angeles Archdiocese alone accounts for more than 500 victims of clergy abuse and $660 million in settlements.

The Abused

It has taken decades to uncover information about those who suffered abuse by members of the Catholic Church. Some of the facts that have come to light regarding the victims of clergy sex abuse are:

  • The overwhelming majority of victims, 81 percent, were males.
  • Among the most vulnerable were boys between the ages of 11 and 14. Most victims were post-pubescent adolescents, although a small percentage of priests were accused of molesting children who had not yet reached puberty.
  • The majority of the allegations involved touching, either over or under clothing.
  • In 27 percent of cases, a cleric was alleged to have performed oral sex. Another 25 percent were accused of penile penetration or attempted penile penetration.

The Abusers

Characteristics of the abusing clergy members have also been shrouded in secrecy and include the following:

  • Many of the accused clerics engaged in a variety of sexual offenses with minor victims.
  • Most often, the context for the abuse was a social event. In fact, many of the accused priests socialized with families of the victims.
  • The residence of the priest frequently served as the location for the abuse.
  • About one-third of the accused priests had a history of substance abuse as well as behavioral problems that made their fitness for the ministry questionable.
  • Almost 7 percent of abusing clerics reported having been abused as children.
  • About 3 percent of accused clerics have been criminally convicted, with about 2 percent receiving prison sentences.

The Cover-Up

In the 1950s, the founder of a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests accused of molesting children concluded that abusers were not likely to change. He further urged that offenders not be returned to the ministry. These concerns were related to several bishops as well as Pope Paul VI, who served until 1978. Still, even after the clergy sex abuse scandal became public knowledge, abusing priests were allowed to remain in settings where they had contact with children. The Church claimed this was not so, but it was not until 2001 that it began requiring the reporting of sex abuse cases to the Vatican. Attitudes in the Church have been slow to change. As late as 2006, a prominent member of the Church who counseled troubled priests declared that most of the clergy’s victims had brought the abuse upon themselves. He also recommended that sexually abusive priests not be jailed for a first offense. Pope Francis, stating his intentions to protect minors and restore credibility to the Catholic Church, has instructed the Vatican to act quickly and decisively in punishing pedophile priests. Advocates for the Church’s many abuse victims are not yet convinced that the Pope’s actions will speak as loudly as his words.

It’s Not Just the Catholics

Although the Catholic clergy has been the most visible target of sex abuse allegations, this problem affects other religious communities too. In Brooklyn, home to the largest ultra-Orthodox population outside of Israel, District Attorney Charles Hynes seeks to require rabbis and other religious leaders to report allegations of sex abuse to the authorities. Protestant churches receive 260 reports a year of minors being sexually abused by clergy, congregants, church staff members, and volunteers. Because Protestant establishments are often independent and not as centralized as the Catholic Church, reporting sex abuse allegations is a much more difficult process.

If you or a loved one has been sexually abused by a member of the clergy, contact the attorneys at The Orlow Firm for a free initial consultation. For your convenience, we maintain four offices throughout New York City. Call (646) 647-3398 or contact us online.