On the distorted coverage of the Dutch abuse report

From David Quinn’s blog at the Irish Catholic:

On the distorted coverage of the Dutch abuse report

Sat, 17/12/2011 – 14:31

If you want to know why so many members of the public so grossly exaggerate the number of priests who are guilty of child abuse, look no further than the coverage of a new report on abuse in the Catholic Church in Holland released yesterday.

The media are correct in stating that approximately 20,000 Dutch children, possibly more, possibly considerably less, have suffered some form of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, religious or lay workers since 1945.

But on its own, and taken out of  context, the reporting is highly misleading because it gives the impression, yet again, that the Catholic Church is especially prone to this terrible scandal.

A story in today’s Daily Telegraph is a case in point. It informs us that, “Children involved in church organisations were twice as likely as non-Catholics” to be abused.

But that isn’t what the report says at all. What it says is that children in institutions were twice as likely to abused as other children, but that there was no difference in the rates of abuse between Catholic and non-Catholic institutions.

This could hardly be more different from what The Daily Telegraph has reported.

Here is the exact quote from the Dutch report: “The Commission of Inquiry investigated how great the risk of unwanted sexual contact with children was in institutions (boarding schools, private schools, seminaries, children’s homes). It emerged that the risk was twice as high as the national average, but with no significant difference between Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic institutions.”

The Dutch commission, established by the Catholic Church, surveyed over 34,000 people aged 40 or more to determine levels of child abuse in Dutch society.

It found that one in ten had suffered abuse at the hands of a non-family member. (What must the figure be once family members are included?)

Of those surveyed, between 0.3pc and 0.9pc were abused by a Catholic priest, religious or lay worker.

Ironically, the Dutch report warns against media misrepresentation of child abuse by the Catholic Church. It should have saved itself the bother. The report has been used to further exaggerate the scale of the problem in the Church.

The Dutch bishops should not have commissioned this report unless other organisations were doing the same. By commissioning it and releasing it in this way, it has allowed the Catholic Church to be singled out again and damned for having a worse problem than comparable organisations, when this is not the case.

Is it any wonder that people are so inclined to believe that so many Catholic priests have abused children?

David Quinn also had an excellent article in Studies on the Ryan Report back in 2009.

New Catholic at Rorate Caeli reminds us that the Dutch Church was in the vanguard of doctrinal and liturgical innovation, both before and after the Second Vatican Council, rendering implausible claims that the scandals arise from an adherence to orthodox doctrine. I also noted on his comments box that this report from the Netherlands also contradicts the widespread idea that clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church is in some way a particularly Irish phenomenon, and peculiar to the English-speaking world.

When the child abuse scandals broke out first in America and then Ireland, many people (including a prominent tradition-friendly Cardinal) argued that the whole thing was down to Irish influence and priestly paedophilia was in some way peculiar to the Churches of the English speaking world. Then when the Ryan Report was released in Ireland, the revelations were widely blamed on a non-existent ‘Irish Jansenism’ (see here) and all the supposedly ‘unique’ attributes of pre-conciliar Irish Catholicism. About 2 years ago, abuse revelations suddenly started pouring out of continental Europe, quite undermining that ‘analysis’ and we haven’t heard much of it since. With this report we can have no doubt that clerical sex abuse is a problem for the Roman Church universally (and I would add for all of human society) and not at all confined to any particular ethnic or cultural category.

Sadly so many conservative Catholics, particularly on the blogosphere, are so dogmatically convinced that pre-conciliar Irish Catholicism was ‘uniquely’ defective in all sorts of ways (ie. that it was obsessed by sex, aliturgical, repressive, blah blah blah…) that this narrative is unlikely to go away any time soon.

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Posted on December 17, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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