Although there is a lack of hard data, preliminary surveys and other figures suggest that the Catholic Church has a disproportionate number of clergy sex abuse cases.
Observers have claimed that the scourge of clergy sexual abuse is present in all denominations. But the Boston Globe (March 13) reports that the Catholic Church has been “hit with many more allegations of clergy sexual abuse than any other faith or denomination.” Michael Paulson reports that the Archdiocese of Boston has stated that at least 80 priests have been accused of child abuse over the last 50 years, and scholars say as many as 2,000 priests have been accused of the crime in the U.S.
In contrast, Protestant and non-Christian denominations have “had so few reported cases that their leaders can generally count them on one hand.” Paulson cites a 1999 Hartford Seminary study which interviewed 76 ministers who had in 40 years served 532 different congregations in 14 different denominations and turned up no instances of sexual abuse of children in the Protestant congregations studied. In looking at New England, Paulson finds few reported cases of child sexual abuse by clergy in non-Catholic denominations.
For instance, in the United Church of Christ, the largest Protestant denomination in Massachusetts, there were three clergy accused of the crime in the past 50 years and they were defrocked (with two sent to jail). In the Episcopal Church, only three cases have come to light, and two of the perpetrators were jailed, while the other one was defrocked. There has been one case in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Boston.
In a report in Time magazine (April 1), psychologist Thomas Plante writes that the “best data we have suggest that about five percent of the Catholic clergy have had involvement with minors, mostly adolescent boys. That figure is consistent with other male clergy and the general population. In fact, the rate is probably higher in the general population.” The Catholic cases are unique in that there are more victims, due to the pattern of offending priests moving from parish to parish.