Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 19, 2010
Report on abuse lacked perspective
Church seeks light on abuse situation, but light must be based on truth
Our Shepherd Speaks
ARCHBISHOP RICHARD SMITH
The issue of sexual abuse by a relatively small number of priests, and its mishandling by some bishops, has been in the news over the last few weeks. What is often missing from the reports and their headlines is a proper perspective.
Of course, there is no question that the Church must face directly any instance of the heinous crime of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by a member of the clergy or other Church personnel or volunteers. We do not shun any light directed upon our situation, because it can actually help us reach out to victims and learn from any past mistakes.
However, for that light truly to be of assistance, it must be based on truth, not falsehood, and on a sober assessment of facts rather than a sensational presentation of conjecture or speculation.
Furthermore, given the broad presence of this scourge throughout our society, such light ought not to be focused upon a single group; rather it should be directed to any and all organizations that deal with children or vulnerable populations. Only in this way can media attention truly be of benefit to victims, their families and to society as a whole.
A recent example of lack of perspective is the Ipsos-Reid survey reported in the April 13 Edmonton Journal. Its headline was sensationalistic, to say the least: "Church sex abuse touched millions." One would think from reading it that there are millions of victims of clerical sex abuse.
Upon reading the article, one realizes that the headline does not quite correspond to the body of the text. One point of the survey is to suggest that as many as two million people may know someone who has been abused by a priest.
But the lack of perspective does not end there. The report is based on a survey of 1,000 people, on the basis of which it is suggested (that is, not claimed as fact) that as many as two million people might know someone who has been abused. The number of two million is based not on known fact but on a statistical extrapolation from the survey of a small segment of the population, as the article itself admits.
This is very different from saying, as the vice-president of Ipsos-Reid inexplicably does, according to the article, that "two million people admitted" knowing someone who had been abused by clergy.
To its credit, the article does attempt to place this issue in a helpful perspective when it states that this issue affects not only the Catholic Church but also other religious communities and secular organizations.
CIRCLE OF TRUST
Even more helpful on this point would be to recall a recent article by Pat Wingert in the April 8 issue of Newsweek, where it is stated that the scourge of sexual abuse of children "includes priests and ministers and rabbis, of course, but also family members, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, youth-group volunteers, and doctors. According to federal studies, three quarters of abuse occurs at the hands of family members or others in the victim's 'circle of trust.'"
Sexual abuse is a heinous crime present throughout society. We do a terrible disservice to victims when we forget or ignore that.
HORROR AND HEARTBREAK
Of course, this broader and necessary perspective does not lessen the horror and heartbreak Catholics feel at the fact that sexual abuse has been perpetrated by some priests and mishandled by some bishops.
The survey indicates that most Canadians know that only a very small percentage of priests have committed these heinous crimes and that the vast majority of priests are deeply dedicated to their calling and want only to do good. Yet our priests and people alike realize that the actions even of a few have caused great harm.
We want only to heal and do whatever is necessary to create safe environments in our own parishes and institutions and help other segments of society do the same. The bishops of Canada have been working to do this through strong screening and response protocols since the publication in 1992 of From Pain to Hope. We will continue to work to strengthen our procedures in the interests of protecting children and the vulnerable and of providing healing to any who have been hurt.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.