The Media
Church in Crisis
Psychologists dispute Ratzinger’s figures

Jan 10, 2003 - While psychologists say they don’t know what percentage of people in the United States have been credibly accused of abusing children, one leading Vatican figure has said that abuse by priests is less common than in other groups.

“The percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower,” said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He made the remark Dec. 9 in answer to a question about a comment he had made Nov. 30 in Murcia, Spain.

“In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type,” he said Nov. 30. His comments were first reported by Catholic News Service.

“The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information or to the statistical objectivity of the facts,” he said. “Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the church.”

However, according to psychologists, Ratzinger’s assertion that the number of offending priests is no higher than in other professions has never been supported by research, because no such research has been done, according to psychologists.

Fr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist and president of St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., who has served as consultant for the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, addressed the issue in America magazine April 25: “There are simply no prevalence rates of perpetration of child sexual abuse either in society at large or in the priesthood. The reason for the lack of data is inherent in the crime. It is very difficult to gather a sample of adult males and ask them if they have ever sexually abused a minor.”

Psychologist A.W. Richard Sipe told NCR he doubts the accuracy of Ratzinger’s pronouncement that “less than 1 percent” of priests is guilty of abuse. Sipe said the bishops’ office in Washington has in the past created such statistics by only including priests whose history of abuse has become public knowledge and withholding information about “a number of offenders who are not publicly known.”

Sipe, whose years of study of sexuality and the priesthood have led him to estimate that between 4 and 5 percent of U.S. priests have sexually abused minors, said that Ratzinger’s comments miss “the core of the problem. The core is the revelation of systemic corruption. It isn’t about bad priests. It is about a system that is hypocritical at its core. The faithful are up in arms because the system builds on and fosters a kind of hypocrisy.”

-- Gill Donovan

National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2003

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