My research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination -- or indeed, than nonclergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported.
Literally every denomination and faith tradition has its share of abuse cases, and some of the worst involve non-Catholics. Every mainline Protestant denomination has had scandals aplenty, as have Pentecostals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas -- and the list goes on. One Canadian Anglican (Episcopal) diocese is currently on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of massive lawsuits caused by decades of systematic abuse, yet the Anglican church does not demand celibacy of its clergy.
.... Just to find some solid numbers, how many Catholic clergy are involved in misconduct? We actually have some good information on this issue, since in the early 1990s, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago undertook a bold and thorough self-study. The survey examined every priest who had served in the archdiocese over the previous 40 years, some 2,200 individuals, and reopened every internal complaint ever made against these men. The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law, but just the consensus that a particular charge was probably justified.
By this low standard, the survey found that about 40 priests, about 1.8 percent of the whole, were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers. Put another way, no evidence existed against about 98 percent of parish clergy, the overwhelming majority of the group.
Since other organizations dealing with children have not undertaken such comprehensive studies, we have no idea whether the Catholic figure is better or worse than the rate for schoolteachers, residential home counselors, social workers or scout masters.
The Chicago study also found that of the 2,200 priests, just one was a pedophile. Now, many people are confused about the distinction between a pedophile and a person guilty of sex with a minor. The difference is very significant. The phrase "pedophile priests" conjures up images of the worst violation of innocence, callous molesters like Father Porter who assault children 7 years old. "Pedophilia" is a psychiatric term meaning sexual interest in children below the age of puberty.
But the vast majority of clergy misconduct cases are nothing like this. The vast majority of instances involve priests who have been sexually active with a person below the age of sexual consent, often 16 or 17 years old, or even older. An act of this sort is wrong on multiple counts: It is probably criminal, and by common consent it is immoral and sinful; yet it does not have the utterly ruthless, exploitative character of child molestation. In almost all cases too, with the older teenagers, there is an element of consent.
Also, the definition of "childhood" varies enormously between different societies. If an act of this sort occurred in most European countries, it would probably be legal, since the age of consent for boys is usually around 15. To take a specific example, when newspapers review recent cases of "pedophile priests," they commonly cite a case that occurred in California's Orange County, when a priest was charged with having consensual sex with a 17-year-old boy. Whatever the moral quality of such an act, most of us would not apply the term "child abuse" or "pedophilia." For this reason alone, we need to be cautious when we read about scores of priests being "accused of child abuse."
The age of the young person involved is also so important because different kinds of sexual misconduct respond differently to treatment, and church authorities need to respond differently.
If a diocese knows a man is a pedophile, and ever again places him in a position where he has access to more children, that decision is simply wrong, and probably amounts to criminal neglect. But a priest who has a relationship with an older teenager is much more likely to respond to treatment, and it would be more understandable if some day the church placed him in a new parish, under careful supervision.....
...The story of clerical misconduct is bad enough without turning into an unjustifiable outbreak of religious bigotry against the Catholic Church.
The Myth of the Pedophile Priest