Often when engaging potential Catholics (aka non-Catholics) online the clergy sex abuse crisis is brought up as a hammer with which to bludgeon the Church and all faithful Catholics, a "guilt by association" argument. The idea underlying this argument is if Catholics (especially priests and bishops) do bad things, Catholicism must be false, or at least dismissible. Sometimes, the Crusades or the Inquisition are used as the "bad things" done by Catholics, but most often it is the sex abuse crisis that is used. Whether or not using the pain and suffering of sexual abuse victims to win an argument online is commendable, I'll leave to the reader to decide. How are Catholics to respond to these types of attacks? Here is how I usually do.
1. The Abuse Crisis was Terribly Evil.
Any percentage of priests taking sexual advantage of minors is outrageous and evil, but
it tells us nothing about whether Catholicism is true. We all have free
will. Any man (yes even priests, even bishops, even the Holy Father himself!) can freely choose misuse that gift and do evil instead of good. That is simply the human condition. It is deplorable when men, especially those in holy orders, commit gravely evil acts. Catholics, of course, should be the first in both condemning evil actions and in forgiving repentant sinners (which, of course, does not entail "letting them off the hook.") Priests that abuse minors and bishops who are negligent in investigating credible complaints should be (and are) held accountable. Period. No one is arguing that.
2. Let's Get Our Facts Straight.
It is often claimed that the sex abuse crisis was about pedophilia, "priest raping little kids." Of course, this wasn't the case at all. In fact, the vast
majority of sexual abuse cases by priests were with older teenage boys. Evil,
yes (and those priests deserve to be punished to the fullest possible
extent of the law), "raping children," not exactly. Some suggest the sex crisis had more to do with homosexuality in the clergy than with pedophilia. As those attacking the Church frequently support homosexual sex as morally licit, the argument is re-framed, making it about "raping children" instead.
3. Uneven Media Coverage Has Lead to Distortions
Protestant churches, YMCAs, families, athletic programs, the Boy Scouts,
and public schools all have higher rates of abuse than the Church had
during the scandal (which ended 20 years ago). None of these institutions have, however, been dragged through the mud by the media in the same way the Church has. When is the last time you heard someone smear the current Penn State football program because of the sins of some of its coaches under Joe Paterno? Yet this is exactly what happens with the Church!
4. The Church Today
As I mentioned above, the sex abuse crisis in the Church ended two decades ago. In the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution some men were ordained priests who should have been screened out by the seminaries, which were coping with the aftermath of Vatican 2. Some bishops, heeding the advice of therapists, handled these cases horribly. People suffered because of these failings, which was awful. That was then. Today, the Catholic Church
has stepped up to the challenge of ending sexual abuse and now has more
security in place than any other institution. More even than institutions that have higher abuse rates. Is there blame to go
around for what happened? Certainly. Has the Church been unfairly
singled out. Again, certainly. Has the Church done the most to make sure
nothing like this ever happens again? Certainly. Has that been as
widely reported as the abuse cases? Absolutely not.
In the end,
though, whether or not Catholics (even priests, bishops, or popes) do
bad things or handle situations incorrectly has no bearing on whether or
not Catholicism is true. No Catholic would ever claim that Catholics (including popes) are sinless. Indeed, we claim the exact opposite. We are sinners in need
of a Savior, the man Christ Jesus.
UPDATE: As some have called the accuracy of the statistics cited and the veracity of myself personally into question, I've decided to provide a link to the John Jay Report Executive Summary for anyone who is interested (SEE HERE). For those who don't want to wade through the whole document, the Catholic League has a nice summary (SEE HERE).