Making sense of abuse statistics

Royal commission

The newspaper headlines this week have not been kind to the Catholic Church, writes Michael Cook at MercatorNet.

The statistics are cold numbers but behind them are horrifying stories of abuse by men (they are nearly all men) and women consecrated to God. They are deplorable and inexcusable and cry out to the Almighty for redress. The lives of many innocent children have been ruined.

While all Catholics, and especially their bishops, have to bear the burden of shame for this abominable sexual abuse, the Church still deserves to be treated fairly, on the basis of the facts.

Here are a few key problems with coverage of the royal commission's sessions.

(1) The Sydney Morning Herald reported: "In the past 35 years there were 1880 alleged perpetrators from more than 1000 Catholic entities". This is not true but the mistake is understandable because of the complexity of the statistics in the commission's report. The truth is that the allegations made over the 35 years from 1980 to 2015 relate to 1880 alleged perpetrators dating between 1950 and 2010. In other words, the claims stretched over 60 - not 35 - years.

(2) The SMH report relates to "priests and non‐ordained religious". In its telling of the story, the "1880 alleged perpetrators" seem to be all priests, religious brothers and a few nuns. But this is false, as a closer reading of the report reveals.

The figure of 1880 is reached by adding 597 (32%) religious brothers, 572 (30%) priests, 96 (5%) religious sisters, and 543 (29%) lay people – plus 72 (4%) whose religious status was unknown. Counsel Gail Furness omitted the 72 unknowns while the SMH omitted both the unknowns and the lay people. However, together, these constituted fully one-third of the total.

A figure of 1265 "priests and non‐ordained religious" is ghastly enough. But 1880 inflates that by nearly 50%.

The effect upon public perception is dramatic. Compressing the time frame from 60 to 35 years and increasing the number of "priests and non‐ordained religious" from 1265 to 1880 – as the media did – more than doubles the horror. The real figure per annum of alleged perpetrators who were "priests and non‐ordained religious" is about 21. But the per annum figure which sticks in one's head is about 53.


Clerical sex abuse in Australia: can you believe the statistics? (MercatorNet)


Child sex abuse royal commission: Catholic canon law used to avoid dealing with paedophiles, priest says (ABC News)

Royal Commission into child sex abuse: Claims of Vatican cover-up (Herald Sun)

Cardinal George Pell slams Greens push demanding his return a 'political stunt' (The Age)

Church laws deliberately misused to cover up sex claims: Royal Commission (Sydney Morning Herald)

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse case study 50 | day four (Newcastle Herald)

Paedophile shock: Royal commission names our diocese (Riverine Herald)


Archbishop Costelloe SDB - Statement on the Royal Commission


Royal Commission Case Study 50 Catholic Church Final Hearing Day 4 (THJC)


Royal commission

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