Conviction speaks to core issue in sex abuse cases

Every national MSM site is currently leading with this story:

PHILADELPHIA — Msgr. William J. Lynn, a former archbishop’s aide, was found guilty Friday of endangering children, becoming the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to be convicted of covering up child sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.

The 12-member jury acquitted Monsignor Lynn, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, on a conspiracy charge and a second count of endangerment after a three-month trial that prosecutors and victims rights groups called a milestone in the sexual abuse scandals that have shaken the Catholic church….

There’s a good reason for that, and it’s not that the MSM is picking on the Church.

A lot of people think the problem is that Catholic priests tend to sexually abuse kids. That’s not the case. They are, if anything, less likely to do so than men in the aggregate.

The problem is that, in the rare (but not nearly rare enough) cases when it does happen, the Church on the whole has not — or at least, did not for far too long — respond effectively to prevent abusers from committing their horrific crimes again.

And that’s what this case addresses. That’s what makes it a “milestone,” as the NYT put it.

20 thoughts on “Conviction speaks to core issue in sex abuse cases

  1. Steven Davis II

    Or the Catholic church does what they did when it happened in my hometown. The priest was moved out by the local bishop during the night the news broke and protected at the bishops residence and later reassigned to another parish where he again molested a young girl. I think the church (someone higher than the bishop) hid him after that because I didn’t hear anything about him until his obituary was posted in the local newspaper. So the Catholic church’s response was to not punish the priest, but to hide him and do what they can to keep this quiet. Four families in my small hometown quit the church over this ordeal. What should have been done is for him to have been turned over to the local sheriff’s department and charged. Which is why I view the Catholic church to be on the same religious cult as the Scientologists and Mormons.

  2. Tim

    the study you cite is from the study commissioned by the Catholic bishops, and it says that there is no higher incidence than the general population, not that there is less.

    There is other evidence suggesting a higher percentage among the Priesthood than the general population. Cultures like this create and attract the problem makers.

    The church leaders who knew of this and did nothing, or worse moved those priest around should have been brought up on RICO charges. They have by and large been given a pass, or like Law, given a sinecure and hustled out of the country. Glad they got this one.

  3. Lynn T

    Actually, the article that you reference doesn’t say that priests are “less likely to do so” [abuse children], simply that priests are not more likely than others to abuse children. Your underlying point is still valid. The data don’t point toward the priesthood as a special haven for pederasts. However, the data do point toward the church being a special haven for those who value the reputation of their institution above the well-being of those they are supposed to serve. (I don’t, by the way, regard this as a uniquely Roman Catholic phenomenon, it is found everywhere, certainly including in my own church.)

    In any case, one would hope that the priesthood would be significantly lower in frequency of pederasts than the general population. A frequency indistinguishable from that in the general population is extremely unimpressive.

  4. Brad

    OK, let’s walk back through the article. It says Catholic priests are no more likely than those in other institutions, citing more than one statistical source.

    That of course is not the same as a comparison to “men in the aggregate,” as I put it.

    For that, I looked at the John Jay study, which was commissioned by the church and is the only such study in which the results have been made public. It indicated that 4 percent of priests had been ACCUSED, which of course is not the same as being guilty. But since some of those accused will be (like Cardinal Bernardin) innocent, while some who are guilty may never have been accused, let’s just use that number.

    The article goes on to say that actual abuse is committed by somewhere between one in five and one in 10 men.

    All of the numbers are imprecise, of course. It would be impossible to compile any that are perfect. But there’s a significant disparity between even the more conservative one in 10 and the one in 25 (4 percent).

    That’s why I said it the way I did.

  5. Brad

    Also, I hadn’t thought that a reason for not revealing abuse cases was to protect the institution, although I suppose that’s a factor.

    I had assumed that the problem was that the church was an institution oriented not toward prosecution and punishment (although once it was very big on both), but toward confession, contrition and forgiveness — for anything.

    I think that’s a lame excuse, but I assumed it was the excuse. It fits my perception of the institution.

  6. Steven Davis II

    Brad give it up, we all know you’re going to side with or make excuses for your church. I’d like to know how you’d react if a family member or someone you knew was sexually molested by a priest and the response by the church was to try and hide it.

    Of course they’re not going to reveal cases, it’s similar to USC… have you ever wondered why an institution this large never has any lawsuits brought to trial? It’s because they settle 99.9% of all lawsuits brought against it if for no other reason than to stay off the front page of the local newspaper.

  7. Doug Ross

    I was kind of surprised by the revelation made by Slate advice columnist Emily Yoffe last week that she had been molested by Congressman/Father Robert Drinan when she was 18 or 19.

    The last incident was not child abuse, because I was no longer a minor, though I was still a teenager of 18 or 19. Several years earlier, my family had worked for the election of our congressman, Father Robert Drinan, an anti-Vietnam War, pro-choice priest. He was in town for a fundraiser or town meeting, and I went. Afterward he offered me a ride to the subway. (You’d think I would have learned.) He was in his 50s, and as he drove we chatted about college. We got to where he was letting me off, he turned off the engine, and he began jabbering incoherently about men and women. Then he lunged, shoving his tongue in my mouth while running his hands over my breasts and up and down my torso. It seems like the set-up for a joke, a Jewish woman being molested by a Jesuit. As we tussled, I had probably the most naïve thought of my life: “How could this be happening, he’s a priest!””

    One of the problems with these studies is that we don’t know how many incidents were not reported. The amount of anecdotal evidence seems so much higher when it comes to church leaders that it’s difficult to just ignore it.

  8. Mark Stewart

    Wow. I can understand why one would want to believe an istitution wasn’t acting to preserve appearances over the well-being of it’s officers/members; but that’s just not what happens.

    Had the Church been able to prove that it was diligent about removing abusive priests (or whomever) promptly, providing care and support for the abused and “exiling” the perpetrators to an abbey or some such other place with zero access to children, then I might be willing to consider the idea that the Church was focused on contrition and foregiveness.

    It didn’t – ever – go down that way. Sorry, no pass for those who choose institutional appearances over the well-being of it’s most vulnerable members.

  9. Lynn T

    Brad, I believe you’re correct about the excuse. However, from your comment you clearly understand something that my mother taught me very young — there is a difference between an excuse and an explanation. I agree that the church’s excuse was preference for contrition and forgiveness. However, they could have forgiven the contrite and still done one heck of a better job of protecting the innocent if they hadn’t been so focused on protecting the institution.

  10. bud

    It is completely ridiculous to put ANY stock in a study sponsored by a group directly affected by the outcome of results. Here’s an excerpt from the article Brad linked:

    “Experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population, but Allen says a conservative estimate is one in 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 one in 5.”

    One in 5 is just a ridiculous number and pretty much discredits everything else. If that number is true then we have an extraordinary problem in this country. I would suggest the Catholic Church is just on an overly zealous damage control mission and we can pretty much dismiss this study.

  11. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    @bud–the best guesses of the rate of sex abuse of girls are significantly higher, so why not? I think 1 in 5 is not a ridiculous number at all.

  12. bud

    Then I guess we have an extraordinary problem in this country. I wonder if sex abuse includes stuff like a teenage boy peeking through a hole into a girls locker room or other juvenile voyeristic behavior? Although not a good thing that is a far cry from forceable rape.

  13. Silence

    @ Doug – but seriously, who could resist the feminine temptations of dear Prudence?

  14. Silence

    @ bud – It’s a shame that what used to be considered teenage hijinx is now considered bullying, sexual abuse and whatnot. I’ll bet you couldn’t get away with 1/2 of what they do in the movie “Porkies” or “National Lampoons Animal House” today.

  15. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    @Bud–I think what they count is offensive touching, not peeping Toms.

    @Silence–I think that outside of gonzo comedies, most of what you’d call “teenage hijinx” IS bullying and abuse–and always was. How would you feel if it happened to your daughter, wife or sister?

    The behaviors exhibited in The Three Stooges are assault and battery in most any other universe.

  16. bud

    Even if 1 in 5 girls/women are victims that doesn’t translate into 1 in 5 men being perpetrators. Sandusky abused at least 10 boys. One scoundrel can commit many lewd acts. I still maintain 1 in 5 men seems extremely high. But whatever the number we need to deal with the perpetrators and not let them skate as Penn State and the Catholic Church have done.

  17. Mark Stewart


    There is no way to even define what is, and what is not, sexual abuse – at least not statistically. Therefore, it isn’t possible to analytically evaluate any “rate”. That’s as true for victims as for perpetrators.

    Nobody challenges such numbers as 1 in 5 (or whatever), because nobody wants to be seen as defending the perps.

    While I agree that the incidence of sexual abuse is surely underreported, it is nearly an equal supposition that a smaller number of individuals are both repeat offenders and repeat victims – not even addressing the cycle between the abused and the abuser.

  18. Silence

    @ ‘Kathryn – So when Peewee and Tommy and Billy are peeping on the showering girls through the drainpipe, they are abusing the girls? What about when Peewee sticks his tallywhacker (their word not mine) through the pipes to tease the girls and then Coach Balbricker grabs him by it? Who’s being abused then?

  19. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    @Mark–Of course you can define sexual abuse–statutes and courts do it all the time.

  20. Mark Stewart


    I meant statistically. One doesn’t even need a court to define abuse – people generally have no trouble assessing a situation – once they have the specific facts of a case. That’s what I meant, the farther one get’s away from rape the harder it is to draw the line. At some point within the arena that some of these studies purport to include, both parties end up being as equally responsible for what occurs.

    My point was that we do not have a statistically valid framework to analyze the general occurance of sexual abuse within the wider population. It may be more helpful to say that it should not – ever – occur, than to wallow in obfuscated, politicized “data”.

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