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Is sex abuse more common in Catholic church than other religions?

For nearly two decades, we’ve watched as the scope of the Catholic church child sex abuse scandal slowly revealed itself. The headlines painted a discouraging portrait of not just abhorrent behavior by trusted individuals, but inaction by those in leadership positions when confronted with the allegations.

The focus of much of the reporting has been on the Catholic church. That might explain why nearly half of U.S. adults believe sexual abuse and misconduct is more common among Catholic priests and bishops compared to leaders in other religions. Is this belief true? Or in reality, does sexual abuse occur just as often in other religious traditions, and we just don’t know as much about it?

What the research says

Research on this subject is limited, though there is some data to consider. According to a piece in Psychology Today, studies suggest about 4% of Catholic priests sexually abused a minor between 1950 and 2000. How does this compare to other religions?

The author notes there aren’t any comprehensive studies about the prevalence of child sex abuse in other religious traditions. One small study found about 4% of Anglican priests in western Canada had abused minors, which is about the same rate as the Catholic church. In addition, media reports about sex abuse in other prominent religious institutions indicate this type of behavior is widespread and not restricted to a single group.

While it’s difficult to make any claims with certainty, “no empirical data exists” demonstrating child sex abuse happened more often in the Catholic church than in other religions, the author writes. This does not minimize what survivors have endured – rather, it suggests we may not yet be fully aware of the extent of the problem across the entire spectrum of religions.

Surviving abuse

Under which religious umbrella abuse might have occurred does not change what a survivor faces from that day forward. This might include years of anger and confusion about the incident, feelings that can lead to isolation, changed behavior and even conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

For many, the journey toward recovery is difficult. With proper support, including options for both seeking justice and finding closure, they can continue moving in a positive direction.

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