An opinion article by author Jason Berry in Sunday's Los Angeles Times (11/11/07) claims that United States Catholic bishops "released data [in 2004] showing that they had identified about 4,400 abusive U.S. priests." The truth? That number refers to the number of priests who had allegations of abuse.
This discrepancy is significant for a number of reasons:
- A priest "with an allegation" does not necessarily represent "an abusive priest." An allegation is not a presumption of guilt. The 2004 John Jay study, to which Berry alludes, defined an allegation as "any accusation that is not implausible" (link)
- As we reported in this post over the summer, a number of priests have vehemently denied the allegations against them. (In the post I identified one Los Angeles-area priest whose accuser received a settlement despite the priest's vociferous denial.)
- The Jay study covered allegations spanning over a half a century (1950-2002). Berry's article conveniently omitted this fact. A significant percentage of priests are deceased, and many were tagged with a single accusation after their death. We reported that in the case of the Los Angeles archdiocese, about 25% of the accused clergy were deceased at the time of the large settlement in July of this year.
Berry and the Los Angeles Times owe their readers a correction. The study did not "identif[y] about 4,400 abusive U.S. priests."
Meanwhile, last month, the Associated Press published an explosive three-part series about our nation's schools. (Must-read AP report: Part 1, 2, 3.) It "found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct." The AP also reported, "One report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade." The series also talked of a practice among schools of "passing the trash" and the "mobile molester." Also included was the story of a teacher who kidnapped "more than 20 girls, some as young as 9." "The system fails hundreds of kids each year," the investigation found.
Yet the Los Angeles Times has not printed a single syllable about this stunning report in their newspaper. (I found a cached version of an latimes.com story from a couple of days ago with a reference to the AP study, but it never appeared in the print edition.)
The abuse by priests has been undoubtedly real, angering, and contemptible. (The actions by Michael Wempe, for one, have been nothing short of abominable.) But it's clear that it's not the harmful abuse itself that's important to the Los Angeles Times, it's who is committing the abuse. (We've reported before on the negligent coverage of the Church abuse scandal by the Times here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
Berry's article comes across as a weak and desperate attempt to keep the church abuse scandal in the public arena. The end of the article reveals that Berry is directing a documentary film about the scandal "to be released next year." It sure seems that Mr. Berry has a vested interest in keeping this story alive and in the public eye. And the LA Times is all too willing to oblige.