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Dutchess_III's avatar

Why are allegations of sexual abuse leveled against the Catholic church more than any other religion?

Asked by Dutchess_III (37984points) 1 month ago

This article, detailing 300 ‘Predator Priests’ in Pennsylvania.

I’ve seen accusations here and there of other denominations, but they seem to be isolated incidents, not systematic abuse spanning decades—even centuries.

What is it about the nature of the Catholic Church that seems to foster an atmosphere where this can be so prevalent?

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58 Answers

Zaku's avatar

Priestly vows of celibacy. Shaming of sexuality and homosexuality. Authoritarian hierarchical power structure and claims of absolute divine rightness, culminating in inquisitions, killing heretics, excommunications, etc. Placing church headquarters in Rome, where its power structure was part and parcel with familial, clan & political wealth/power/corruption including the abuse of religious pilgrims for hundreds of years.

Dutchess_III's avatar

All the Catholic women I’ve known (which is like 3) have had hang ups about sex.

So celibacy is the root cause? If they lifted the vows of celibacy, would that help alleviate the problem?

Demosthenes's avatar

It’s more organized and hierarchical than other religions and denominations. There’s more of a “system” in place that desires to hide the abuse and can effectively cover it up when it occurs.

The ironic part is that they cover it up to avoid damage to the church’s image (resulting in more people leaving and fewer people joining) but when the cover-up comes to light, the damage is greater than any damage that might have been done by getting law enforcement involved right when abuse is discovered.

MrGrimm888's avatar

@Zaku makes an interesting point. Celibacy, could cause all kinds of problems for a male…

Power. Power is my answer. All religions are designed to manipulate, and use influence. By conceding, publicly, so many problems, they appear weak, or out of control. How could an organization, run by such holy people, be so evil, or corrupt?

It’s about appearances. It’s about control.

Dutchess_III's avatar

If you were raised a Catholic, and as a still religious adult with children, would you change denominations or would you take your kids to the Catholic church?

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

I think another big factor is that the abuse was sort of an open secret despite the cover ups and reassignments. So anyone who was interested in sexually abusing children and getting away with it knew that the church would protect them as a byproduct of protecting itself, which only attracted more child molesters to the church.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Would you send your kids to a Catholic Church @MrGrimm888?

Dutchess_III's avatar

That’s a good point @JeSuisRickSpringfield. And how many of the abusers were, themselves, abused in their parishes when they were kids? What a viscous circle.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I went to a Catholic college – all 4 years – back in the 1970s. I was one of two Jews on my floor in the dorm.

Granted, that\s 40+ years ago, but even back then there were some guys in the dorm who were seriously screwed up about sex and sexuality. As if they had grown up in an aquarium and been fed only Catholic fish food.

Figure that some percentage of them went into the priesthood. (In large catholic families, the oldest son was often given ‘to the church’)

So in my little microcosm of catholic acquaintances, there were easily a half dozen guys who became priests who had sexual identity issues.

I don’t think that being celibate cures these issues.

janbb's avatar

I think it’s the celibacy manly.

Dutchess_III's avatar

As if they had grown up in an aquarium and been fed only Catholic fish food. Hilarious!!

Well, I think celibacy started it, but @elbanditoroso point is that the way people are raised in the Catholic church screws them up one way or another. Many come out with sexual issues, and many of those become priests.

When my son was a toddler, he had such an easy going personality. My Mom told me I needed to consider the Priesthood for him. Imagine me, dead pan, at the camera. Don’t want to dis you Mom, but HELL no! And that was even before all of this broke.

Yellowdog's avatar

To a point, the Roman Catholic Church seemed to think it was exempt from laws about hiring, transfers, even reporting. The Roman Catholic Church is a worldwide organization that operates in some ways like a separate nation. They also keep things confidential / secret.

So, the problem happens when an offender has a secure position in the priesthood. Rather than being let go, They are merely moved somewhere else when there is a problem, and the higher-ups believe they are above the law in reporting. The problems therefore persist,

I do think things have changed in the past 10–15 years with the Roman Catholics. And although I do not deny the allegations, I think most Roman Catholics hate the situation as much as we outside observers do.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think you have a good point, @Yellowdog. And the article I linked to in the details actually said, “The grand jurors said that “almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.” So they are becoming aware..but is it just going further underground or are they changing policy or what?

kritiper's avatar

Because Catholic priests can’t marry.

Demosthenes's avatar

If celibacy is the cause, as so many of you are suggesting, then what is the connection? Being celibate doesn’t turn you into a pedophile.

Dutchess_III's avatar

They can’t have sex @kritiper, which has nothing to do with marriage.

Being horney as hell and having no outlet, not even masturbation (which I’m sure many of them did anyway with a LOT of guilt afterward,) can tear a man’s mind UP, I’m sure.
Is there anything in the Bible that address sex and children? .... ?

stanleybmanly's avatar

The big reason of course is because the Church is an enormous institution, and probably dwarfs the combined wealth and numbers of all other Christian denominations. It’s equivalent to laying the scourge of female genital mutilation on Islam.

kritiper's avatar

@Dutchess_III I meant it the same way. If a pastor or elder or leader of a church can be married, he (or she) can have sex. But, as a catholic priest, if you can’t marry, you can’t have sex. At all! Period!

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

All the Catholic women I’ve known (which is like 3) have had hang ups about sex.

That is not my experience. But that’s with non-devout Catholics, not the candle-lighting rosary-carrying weekly-confession variety. I couldn’t date someone like that.

janbb's avatar

I think many Catholics have loosened up considerably at least in the younger generations. I wouldn’t tar the whole community with one brush.

As for celibacy and pedophilia – I wonder if you are celibate and horny, you take it where you can get it. I don’t know enough about it but I wonder.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@kritiper perhaps they don’t consider having sex with children as having “real” sex, so it’s somehow ok. They aren’t supposed to have sex. At all! Period! But they do.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

As @Yellowdog points out, priests were moved around.

It’s rather recent that the church has reported offenders to the police. It was an internal problem and there was no thought of it being a crime.

It really bugs me when that people want to make John Paul II a saint. If I knew about priests abusing boys almost 40 years ago, he sure as hell knew.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I agree with you @Call_Me_Jay One of the first Netflix programs I watched was The Keepers. It was a documentary series about the death of a nun in 1969….1969… that is believed to have been a murder to cover up a sex ring at a Catholic High School. It was riveting and horrifying. Child molestation was just unheard of in our circle….it never even occurred to me that it could be possible.
Looking back now, I’m pretty sure a couple of girls who lived across the street from us in Florida in the early 60s were sexually abused by their dad. Of course, I wasn’t old enough to read the signs. I didn’t even put it all together until I was in my 20’s.
Those poor, unprotected children…..

Tropical_Willie's avatar

This is what some members of the Catholic Church are doing about the situation. The formed Voice of the Faithful about 17 years ago. Here’s their website Voice of the Faithful, I have a couple of friends that work with and for the organization.

KNOWITALL's avatar

May sound crazy, but I almost joined a cloister when I was a virgin of 17 yrs old. I was pretty devout and really into it. The celibacy aspect didn’t bother me at the time, I thought it was powerfully interesting, the whole self-denial process, flagellation, etc… Obviously I didn’t join after all, although it still evokes admiration for those few who do it correctly. And no, I don’t have any hang-ups, but I converted in my teens, not a cradle Catholic.

Interesting theory:
In an interview, Father McBrien explained, “The Eastern Orthodox do not have celibate clergy, and they have no sexual abuse crisis. When you require celibacy as a life-long commitment from any control group, you are inevitably, automatically and infallibly limiting your pool of potential recruits to one of the thinnest slices of the population.

“There are some healthy people who practice celibacy. But that requirement of the priesthood will attract a disproportionately high percentage of men who are sexually dysfunctional, sexually immature, or whose orientation will raise the question – are they attracted to the priesthood because of the ministry, or because it is a profession that forbids one to be married?”

https://www.virtueonline.org/only-half-catholic-priests-are-celibate-mike-mcmanus

Dutchess_III's avatar

Excellent @KNOWITALL. I don’t think celibacy would be as difficult for women as it is for men though. I guess if I was all that devout, and believed it all with my whole heart I could do the celibacy thing, fairly easily.

kritiper's avatar

@Dutchess_III “They aren’t supposed to have sex…. But they do.”
Maybe, but it isn’t supposed to be/work that way.
Killing a fellow human being is illegal…But I might do it. Does that make it okay?? Absolutely not. Catholic priests having sex with ANYONE isn’t right regardless of which one of them is doing it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

No one said anything made it OK @kritiper. What they’re saying is wrong is demanding celibacy as well as making masturbation a mortal sin. It’s tearing many men up, and has been for thousands of years. They’re finding a way, any way to have an orgasm that they can get away with, by somehow convincing themselves that they didn’t really have sex. I guess that’s how they justify it. God only knows where little children fit into that perverse, twisted logic.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III There are a lot of old weird stories about priests and sisters, and all kinds of things.

Dutchess_III's avatar

When you’re talking about adults it’s just not in the same arena as defenseless, trusting children being betrayed and physically hurt.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

I don’t hear from about Buddhists sexually abusing children.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t think they take vows of chastity either…do they? Plus they are really on an entirely different spiritual level than Western religion.

kritiper's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m surprised you know so much about it! Or are you just assuming???

kritiper's avatar

@Dutchess_III ”...perhaps they don’t consider having sex with children as having “real” sex, so it’s somehow ok.”
You said it, I didn’t

Brian1946's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay

“It really bugs me when that people want to make John Paul II a saint. If I knew about priests abusing boys almost 40 years ago, he sure as hell knew.”

Was it his picture that Skinhead O’Connor tore up on Saturday Night Live?

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Yes, Sinead O’Connor tore up Pope John Paul II’s photo to bring attention to his international child-raping ring.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@kritiper why would I not know at least a little about foreign religions?

Yes I did say that about children. They must somehow be justifying their behavior so it isn’t breaking their vows, in their minds. It was a thought.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I know this will sound awful, but, maybe to a priest a boys butt doesn’t count as sex?.....

Think about Bill Clinton. He opined that oral sex, was not “sexual relations.” That was essentially his defense for lying, when questioned about it.

People can try to justify anything.

Dutchess_III's avatar

That’s roughly what I was wondering. But they do molest girls too. Maybe sex with children doesn’t count?

I saw the most horrifying documentary about the Mendendez brothers, who killed their mother and father. Their father had sexual molested them for years. I forgot which person just did not believe it. Refused to believe it because they were his sons. The person said it would be different if it had been his daughters, though. That he could believe.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Now that I think about it. I feel like I remember talking to a few marines that had been stationed in the ME, for a few years. They said that homosexual rape, was very common in the larger mosques. Just a bunch of guys, around no females, for years. I don’t want to speak for these people, but the Marines, were saying that such rapes were like didn’t count. Something like that.

There was a book, and movie called (if memory serves) The Kite Flyer. It was about two friends who grew up in some middle eastern nation (I want to say Iran, Pakistan, or Afghanistan) and one of the bully kids rapped one of the two friends. The rapist would become a religious zealot…

Dutchess_III's avatar

Deliverance. Sex with animals doesn’t count either.
The church really need to tighten their laws. It should read that the vow of chastity means, “No orgasm, no ejaculation ever, with anything or any one. Period.”

MrGrimm888's avatar

Pfft. Then they’d REALLY be crazy!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, they are pretty crazy now. You know they feel a ton of guilt after every encounter. They know what the spirit of the chastity vow is, and they know they’ve violated that spirit.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I don’t know that. Honestly, if I were wanting to rape young boys, and probably never suffer any ramifications, I would be signing up for Catholic Church priesthood. I would think a portion of these rapists, are there for the low hanging fruit. No pun intended….

Dutchess_III's avatar

I wonder about that too.

Pandora's avatar

I don’t think it’s a religious situation but rather a society situation. How many coaches and teachers have also done the same thing. I think it comes from two things. Parents who naively believe that sexual thoughts don’t happen to grown men and women who are constantly surrounded by children. And children in our society who are vulnerable are not being watched. Especially children from troubled homes. They are the easiest to be preyed upon. I worked in daycare. People were always amazed at how easily I could get a trouble child to cooperate. Given a few months that kid would become my best behaved child in class. Why? Because often the troublemakers were looking for acceptance. To feel special. I’ve seen this in many age groups. Even adults. Anyone with bad intentions sees this too.

As for why in the Catholic Church? I think it exist in other religions to but some community churches won’t have the big pay out they can get when making a claim of sexual abuse and in a small community they just risk being ostracized. A successful lawsuit with a big church can get you enough money for you family to move away. It’s not unusual for a victim to be victimized by their community. I lived in a small community for a few years. Whenever something happened that made news, the victim would be ostracized, by those who didn’t believe the victim, and some who just would stay away because they didn’t know who to believe. Rumors in a small town could crush people.

There is also the fact that some people don’t even report it till they are grown that also makes things difficult. I think the Catholic Church is just a wealthier target for retribution. To save their reputation, they just pay out. They don’t want it to go to court. With a smaller Parrish, and a smaller budget. They may either go to court. Or close their doors and leave the pastor to pay for his own misdeeds. So he would go to jail if found guilty and that is the end of that. Just another rape case. The church will let him go and he no longer has ties to the church. Not so with the Catholic Church. They believe in redemption. They believe that a man could ask God for redemption for murder and get it, if they are truly sorry. So I see the dilemma.

If they do not give someone a chance to redeem themselves than they can’t say they believe in redemption, and they can’t say they believe in Jesus either.

Now as a Catholic myself, I disagree. Jesus also believed that man should follow mans laws. The Church can offer redemption to a sinner and also still obey the law. They could visit these perverts in jail all they want.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Great answer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It was.
I just wish religions would quit make sex out to be something forbidden, or a sin of some kind. Just normalize it, like anything else, and give the kids guidance.

rojo's avatar

^^Sex is always taboo in patriarchal societies. It has more to do with ownership and control than it does sex itself.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yes. Some of it is natural, I think. The men want the offspring to be theirs, not someone elses. Isn’t that why most mammals fight to the death during mating seasons?

stanleybmanly's avatar

Not most mammals. And most men don’t want their women sleeping with other men, but I’ll bet not one in 10,000 has gone beyond that statement to explain to themselves why they want to hoard as many women as possible to themselves exclusively.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Which ones don’t? I don’t think Bonobos do. They don’t mind sharing. I can’t think of any others, though.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It’s the fight to the death idea. Lots of them fight, but the issue is usually settled without actually “dying for love”

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, fighting, then. One of them wins in the end and wins the right to pass their genes along.

rojo's avatar

They will also kill off the offspring of previous males in order to make the female more receptive. We frown on this in human culture unless all the male participants are of royal blood, with them fratricide, matricide, filicide, geronticide, parricide and, well, damn near any other kind of “cide” is considered normal.

Dutchess_III's avatar

We are so stupidly complex.

stanleybmanly's avatar

And that complexity guarantees irrationality on many fronts.

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