Two questions jump right out at you about the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. They scream so loudly your ears echo until someone answers.
#1. What if the grown men accused of these perverted acts were not priests, but rather employees such as janitors, security guards, maintenance workers or any other kind of men who might happen to be around a Catholic church - like deliverymen, mail carriers, plumbers, carpenters, construction workers, painters, electricians? How would these kinds of sexual criminals be treated by the Church and by the local law enforcement agencies?
#2. What does it take to make someone walk away from the Catholic Church?
Question #1 probably answers itself for most people. Who could imagine the Catholic Church engaging in a worldwide cover-up of the sexual criminality of non-priests? Not very likely is it? How realistic would it be that a church janitor, for example, might sexually abuse 200 deaf boys in a Catholic school in Wisconsin and simply be let go with no punishment or repercussions by both the Church and the police? Would such a man be quietly transferred to another Catholic school? Couldn't happen, could it?
I think everyone can agree that if widespread sexual abuse of young boys had been committed on Church property by men who were not priests, men with no official connection to the Catholic Church, they would have been arrested, charged, tried and convicted and sent away to jail for a long time. Question #1 is not that difficult to answer.
Question #2 is a stumper. What does it take to make someone walk away from the Catholic Church?
A few reasons, excuses may come to mind. Everyone needs a rationalization now and then, even Catholics. So, perhaps a Catholic mother or father in the United States might say that these despicable and unfortunate incidents are few and far between - sort of a "not in my parish" kind of defense. Do the facts support this?
The five biggest settlements made by the Catholic Church in the United States are (remember, this is money paid by the Church to victims of sexual abuse by priests): $660 million in Los Angeles; $157 million in Boston; $129 million in Portland, OR; $100 million in Orange County; $85 million in Covington, KY. Thousands of victims. Coast-to-coast. North and south. More than $1.3 billion, willingly paid by the Church to avoid civil trials. Few and far between? Not in whose parish?
Maybe, after seeing and accepting that sexual abuse by Catholic priests is widespread in the United States, these same Catholic parents might say that this is not essentially a church problem; it's an American problem. That might work, for a while. But, what does one say about the current state of Catholic priest sex scandals in Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands and Spain? Or Brazil, which has the most Catholics of any nation? Or, on the other side of the world in Australia and New Zealand? What about Canada? All of these countries, plus others, have had sex scandals involving priests and young boys. A Church problem, not a national problem. And now the cover-up reaches into the highest echelons of the Vatican itself?
Not few and not far between. Sadly instead, sexual abuse of boys by Catholic priests is seemingly often and everywhere.
Here in the United States, where there are estimated to be nearly 65 million Catholics, there are more than 41,000 priests serving in 195 dioceses and archdioceses. How many Catholic parents have looked at these 41,000 priests and wondered: "You, too?" Worldwide, the number of Catholic priests exceeds 408,000. Again, how many Catholics are asking: "You, too?"
The Catholic Church in America, through CARA research at Georgetown University, claims that only 36% of US Catholics attend mass on a weekly basis. Many more count themselves as active Catholics and attend church less frequently. Do they still send their small sons to church unattended? Do they allow their children to be in the company of priests without adult supervision? While statistical data on the American Catholic Church is widely available and diverse in its detail, it is nearly impossible to find any Church figure for the number of altar boys. Who's surprised?
Again, question #2 demands an answer. What does it take to make someone walk away from the Catholic Church? What has to happen before a parent says, no more? What does a reasonable Christian need to conclude about the worldwide organization of the Catholic Church before refusing to send them any more money? How horrible must be the transgression before Catholics say they want nothing more to do with these people?