Over the past few weeks, I have had several readers ask about the recent allegations of clerical sexual abuse in Europe, particularly in Ireland (where the revelations began in 2006) and in Germany.
Until now, I've held off on writing anything, because it's hard to separate fact from fiction, let alone account for anti-Catholic bias. Much of the reporting is mixed with commentary, and it's all rather sensationalistic. Otherwise respectable news outlets, such as Slate.com, have given professional anti-Catholics such as Christopher Hitchens carte blanche to write pieces that viciously attack Pope Benedict XVI by making connections that really aren't justified by the facts as we know them.
None of this is to suggest that the vast majority of allegations aren't truthful. But the conclusions that are routinely drawn from revelations of sexual abuses are often wrong (e.g., celibacy is the problem, or sexual-abuse rates are higher among the Catholic clergy than, say, rabbis or public-school teachers) or deliberately provocative (e.g., Pope Benedict's brother admits to slapping boys when he was a choir director, therefore it's certain that he knew that a previous choir director had sexually abused some boys, and thus obviously Pope Benedict engaged in a cover-up to protect his brother).
In every country where widespread allegations of clerical sexual abuse have emerged, it's clear that the Catholic hierarchy has handled the situation very poorly. The new regulations for the reporting and handling of allegations put into place here in the United States several years ago were designed to put an end to such mismanagement, and the consistent drop in sexual-abuse allegations since 2004 indicates that those regulations are working. The U.S. regulations have become a model for other countries, including Ireland.
One thing that is often forgotten is that not every allegation is true, and a priest, like anyone else who is falsely accused, deserves the opportunity to defend himself. Indeed, canon law, as much as civil law, gives him that right. But some who have other axes to grind against the Catholic Church (such as the aforementioned Christopher Hitchens) insist that every accused priest is guilty until proved innocent.
In my day job as executive editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, I wrote many thousands of words about the clerical sex scandals here in the United States several years back, and so I know from painful journalistic work how hard it is to separate fact, fiction, and anti-Catholic bias. Over the coming weeks, I'll apply that experience to discussions of the current allegations, as well as to some of the commentary being offered here and overseas.