Well, better late than never. Some slightly-less-lazy hack in the VO came up with the news yesterday that the Free Presbyterian Church didn’t bother respond to a Department of Health audit into child protection. That’s the Free Presbyterian Church whose former head, one Ian Paisley, went all the way to Scotland to protest the Pope’s failure to respond properly to child abuse. Mind you, the Health Department audit took place in 2006, but sure you can’t go rushing the reporting of such things. Today’s VO reports Dr Margaret Kennedy, who heads up Ministers and Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors, as saying “The survivors who contact us come from all denominations. Abuse is not just confined to the Catholic church”.
If you check an earlier blog, you’ll find I report an occasion when I was verbally mugged by three Protestant clergymen. It happened afer I had asked a question about sexual abuse among Protestant clergy on a UTV programme hosted by the late Jim Dougal. The irate pastors informed me with some force that child sexual abuse by clergy was unique to Catholicism and came from the celibacy ruling in that Church. When I asked for evidence to support this claim, I was told there was no need for research, they drew on their experience.
So now the wall of silence has been broken by Dr Kennedy. Why it couldn’t have been broken by an enterprising journalist years ago comes down to two factors: laziness and fear. If you’re lazy, it’s easier to run after the main story, which is that the Catholic Church is heaving with paedophile priests and here’s another case. If you’re cowardly, it’s clever to go with the anti-Catholic clergy flow. Do otherwise and people may begin to think you’re somehow sympathetic to preying priests.
So is there evidence that Catholic clergy abuse children more than their Protestant counterparts? It’s extremely difficult to get data in Britain – the NSPCC has done a survey but it’s vague on the extent to which Protestant Churches suffer from the same horrors as the Catholic Church. In the US, things are much clearer.
Since 1950, an average of 228 credible accusations of child sexual abuse per year have been brought against Catholic clergy. The nearest comparison is provided by the three insurance companies that cover 165,000 Protestant churches. They typically receive 260 reports every year of children being sexually abused by Protestant clergy or other staff. In short, in the US there are on average 32 more cases of child sexual abuse in the Protestant churches than in the Catholic. Professor Philip Jenkins, a respected religion and history scholar from Pennsylvania State University – and a non-Catholic – has studied church abuse problems for twenty years. He’s found that among Catholic clergy in the US, between .2% and 1.7% of Catholic priests are paedophiles. The figure among the Protestant clergy in the US is between 2 and 3 per cent. “There is no plausible evidence that Catholic priests are gangs of sexual predators, as they are being portrayed” Professor Jenkins says.
There’s no reason to believe things are radically different on this side of the Atlantic. Which means that for the last ten years or so, journalists in Britain and Ireland have been digging vigorously in one corner of the garden, crying out in horror as the latest skeleton is dug up. Now let’s see them tackle the rest of the garden with equal vigour, especially when there are indications even greater horrors await them.
I said earlier that the failure to investigate Protestant churches and paedophilia was the product of laziness and/or fear. There’s actually a third reason, and one the Rev Ian Paisley would know something of: good old-fashioned anti-Catholicism.