Seems to me that non-Catholics, especially secularists, associate pedophilia a lot more with the Catholic Church than other institutions (such as other religious denominations, public schools, or say, the family.) Look, it's bad no matter where it comes from, but I'm dubious the Catholic Church merits the close association everyone assigns it. As Pat Wingert of The Daily Beast explains,
According to Wingert's article, estimates suggest 4% of Catholic priests have abused children, compared to roughly 10-20% of the general male population.
Of course if the best defense for the Catholic Church is that everyone else is even worse, I don't find that terribly reassuring. After all, 4% is still way too high. But my point here is not to defend of condemn Catholics, but to figure out why Catholics are associated so much more strongly with child abuse when they actually abuse at a rate equal to or less than everyone else. A few thoughts:
- People react strongly to hypocrisy. Child abuse is always bad. Child abuse from institutions that are supposed to be moral authorities in the world is even worse.
- You'd think, then, that people would be equally appalled by all other religious denominations (not to mention school teachers) that abuse. And I expect people would be equally appalled, but you hear about it more in regard to Catholics. Wingert suggests a few reasons for why this is the case:
- Catholicism is one of the largest religious denominations in the country (there are more protestants than Catholics, but Protestantism is broken into many denominations). The rate of Catholic abuse may be equal or less than others, but the raw numbers will be higher as compared to smaller denominations.
- Catholic sex abuse scandals have been made public in waves. Victims often delay reporting, but when some come forward others realize they aren't alone and feel encouraged to report as well. What might seem like a high concentration of scandals is actually a diffuse pattern over years or decades that comes to light all at once. This pattern is similar to abuse patterns for the general male population, but it appears much worse because of the way it's reported.
- The Church has been historically bad at punishing and preventing this sort of abuse, and this can result in a single priest abusing many children before he is revealed. In other words there haven't been very many abusive priests, but many of those who have been abusive have been able to go on for far too long without intervention. One study estimated over 160 abuse cases per abusive priest.
Again, it's not exactly reassuring to think that Catholics aren't that special because everyone else abuses children at least as much, if not more. It's freaking awful.
However, given the seeming eagerness of some detractors to bring up pedophilia every time Catholicism gets mentioned in any context, and given my own (now confirmed) suspicions that it is not somehow a Catholic-specific phenomenon, I tend to see the accusations as more of an anger at Catholicism (or religion in general) than as an anger over child abuse. Although there's no reason it can't be both, really.