Irish Priests, Abuse, and Mathematics
A report by the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Dublin finds 102 priests may have abused 350 children since 1940.
To begin with, let’s state the obvious: This is horrible. 350 abused kids is 350 too many. It’s even worse coming from those in positions of responsibility.
That said, the “breaking news” hubbub over this report is spurred by a combination of innumeracy and bandwagon jumping. Because we now have it in our heads that Roman Catholic priests are child molesting perverts, the numbers always seem high. And the reporting tends to be sensationalistic. See, for example, the rather breathless headline “Ireland’s Catholic archdiocese acknowledges hundreds of sex abuse reports” on several versions of the AP report.
Dublin is a Roman Catholic city in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country (88.4%). And those numbers have been in steady decline, probably partly because of these scandals. Indeed, the report results from “a two-year review of the personnel files of more than 2,800 priests who have worked in the Dublin archdiocese, either as parish priests or in religious orders, during the past 66 years.”
So, of 2,800 priests, 102 “are suspected of sexually or physically abusing” children. That’s 3.64 percent of the priests who are even suspected of abuse.
And this is sexual or physical abuse. What percentage of the suspected cases are physical abuse? And how were they defining physical abuse? Paddling too hard? Did it include things that were considered legitimate at the time but not now?
And 350 kids out of how many total? This is a span of 66 years, after all. One imagines that thousands of kids passed through the doors of Dublin’s churches and parochial schools.
None of the stories I have seen so far (all variants of the AP report) or the release at the Archdiocese of Dublin website have those details. They are not inconsequential.