3 myths about sex abuse

by Heidi Schlumpf

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Accurate information about the church's sex abuse crisis is what the website bishop-accountability.org is all about--which is why one of its co-directors is so concerned about three myths that keep popping up in the news media.

"These myths minimize the devastation of the past and create the perception that the bishops today have reformed their ways," Anne Barrett Doyle told the national conference of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Chicago Saturday afternoon.

She urged those at the conference to watch for--and correct--these three myths when they see them in the media:

1. The myth of mandatory reporting: Although the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People specified that church authorities must call the police when an allegation is brought to them, that language was changed in the norms, which are the "real rules," Doyle said. The norms only require "complying with all applicable civil laws."

2. The myth of 4 percent: The statistic that only 4 percent of U.S. priests have been accused of sexual abuse is not only old, it is based on the church's own unverified data, Doyle said. The church's new numbers put it at 5.3 percent. "But in dioceses with fuller disclosure, the rate is consistently 9 to 10 percent," she said, citing Providence, Rhode Island; Covington, Kentucky; and Manchester, New Hampshire as examples.

3. The myth of zero tolerance: Doyle finds this myth the most problematic. The average person assumes this means any accused priest is removed from ministry. Wrong, says Doyle. Instead the norms say removal only comes after "an appropriate process in canon law." The bishop first decides if the allegation has a semblance of truth, and in dioceses where data are available, such as Manchester, the bishop consistently finds about half of allegations not credible enough to warrant removal.

"Because 99 percent of bishops don't tell the number of allegations, [zero tolerance] is a claim that cannot be verified," Doyle said. "We're as much in the dark about how the church handles child abuse complaints as we were years ago. So no responsible reporter should state zero tolerance as fact. It should always attribute to the bishops."

Following are the reports she filed during the conference:

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