Catholic Church Abuse Graph 1970-2009
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the Catholic Church, following the then-prevailing societal practice, sent suspected abusers to psychologists rather than calling the police.
In this respect, the Church was far from alone.
When the Church was sending accused priests to psychological treatment, "the criminal justice system was doing the very same thing with convicted offenders – sending them to treatment instead of prison."
"From the 1950's to the 1980's, these treatment-based interventions for sexual criminals were not only enormously prevalent in the United States, but surveys of ordinary citizens showed that they were enormously popular …
"[T]he science of human sexuality and sexual offending is extraordinarily young. Virtually all of the information we utilize today regarding the treatment and supervision of sexual offenders has been discovered since 1985."
– Dr. Monica Applewhite, Ph.D.
Yet in almost every media account, the media has failed to provide this important historical context that the Church was following the then-reigning advice of experts in the field to send accused priests to treatment.
"No one would hold a brain surgeon to today's standard of care for professional decisions he made in 1970. Yet the decisions made in 1970 by Catholic bishops, who routinely consulted with mental health professionals about sick priests, are being judged by today's standards. Today, the confidence of the mental health community about the likelihood of curing sexual disorders is far less than it was in 1970."
– L. Martin Nussbaum, "Changing the Rules" (America magazine, 2006)
Tragically, sending accused priests to treatment rather than reporting them to the police resulted in a high rate of recidivism among those priests. According to the 2004 John Jay College report, 149 priests were "serial abusers" (10+ victims) and accounted for an alarming 26% of all of the abuse that took place between 1950 and 2002.
Yet these 149 men represent only one-tenth of one percent of all priests who served in the Catholic Church in the United States between 1950 and 2002. Most accused priests (56%) have been the subject of only one allegation.