Skip to main content /US /US

Abuse 'not simply a church problem'

By Thurston Hatcher

(CNN) -- Experts emphasize that the problem is hardly unique to or more prevalent among priests.

"People are saying there must be something basically wrong with the church, but if you look at it from a broader perspective, this is not simply a church problem or a priest problem," said Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist. "This is a societal problem, and priests are no more likely to be involved."

 CNN NewsPass Video 
    Man shoots priest he accused of abuse
    Examining Egan's record on abuse
    Man says he shot priest he accused of abuse s
    Church details Egan's role in abuse case
    Access: Suspect's mom: Son sought priest's apology
    FindLaw: Maryland v. Stokes (FindLaw) (PDF)
    Factfile: Church rocked by sex scandals Catholicism in Crisis
    The pope's letter
    Interactive: Catholic Church faces scandal

Fred Berlin, director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma, said he's not aware of any evidence that the problem occurs more often in the church than in other segments of society.

"It's just a tragic problem that's been around for years in all aspects of society," said Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University.

Rossetti cited statistics suggesting that about 0.8 percent of priests have been sexually involved with minors at some point in their careers. That's less or the same as in society as a whole, he said.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement earlier this year expressing the bishops' "profound sorrow" for the behavior of some priests under their watch.

But he also sought to draw attention to the 40,000 "wonderful priests" who serve the church.

"I am very saddened that the crimes of a few have cast a shadow over the grace-filled and necessary work that they do day-in-and-day-out for society and for the church," he said.

Berlin also expressed concern that the scandal has unfairly tarnished many "non-offending" priests.

"The overwhelming majority of priests, as best as we can tell, are doing their jobs properly. They're decent and sincere people so they've been very victimized in this," he said.

Rossetti contends many church officials have dealt responsibly with the problem, but suggested priests haven't done a good job of relating their concerns to the public.

"One of the mistakes we've made is we haven't really communicated our sincere horror and anger and frustration with priests who sexually molest minors," Rossetti said. "I think that's why people say the church doesn't get it. Because somehow we haven't been transparent enough in showing what we are doing."


Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top