Anyone who wants to know how Catholic prelates should be addressing the abuse crisis should read the remarks that Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin delivered a couple of days ago at the Marquette University International Dialogue on the Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal. Martin has walked the walk to deal with the crisis in his own diocese; no one has confronted these realities more honestly and straightforwardly. But in what he had to say, he frames the issue in ways that the rest of the hierarchy seems incapable of understanding, much less conveying. It was itself an exercise in the restorative justice he sees as necessary for the church to heal.

Consider, for example, how Martin addresses the issue of reckoning with the extent of the scandal.

Statistics can be used in different ways. If I take a Father Z, I can categorise him statistically in various ways. He can be statistically registered as one priest; it can be determined however that he abused perhaps one hundred known victims; there can be valid indications that he had probably abused hundreds more other children; the number of family members affected will then easily reach into the thousands. And that is just for one priest. And in Dublin you must multiply Father Z by about ten real serial abusers. More dramatically still there are no accurate statistics about those who took their own lives.
But even those numbers, though shocking, have not got the right focus. Statistics are too often offender-focussed. We have to set out from the standpoint that the person who was at the epicentre of abuse was not the priest, but the victim, a child. A restorative justice approach would have to re-orient the way we draw up not just our statistics but our pastoral care. One victim constantly reminds me that the stern words of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18:6) about the “great millstone” to be fastened around the neck of anyone who becomes a stumbling block for the “little ones”, are quickly followed (Mt 18:12) by the teaching on the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who has been lost.
Now compare this with New York archbishop Timothy Dolan’s recent account of his response to a fellow airplane passenger, who asserted that the Catholic Church was “the only group that knew it was going on, did nothing about it, and kept transferring the perverts around.” 

“You obviously never heard the stats on public school teachers,” I observed. “In my home town of New York City alone, experts say the rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is ten times higher than that of priests, and these abusers just get transferred around.”

That’s a striking statistical rebuttal, but let’s just say that it doesn’t bear up well under scrutiny. According to the archdiocese, it’s based on a report that found 78 substantiated abuse cases by New York teachers in 2009, and 73 such cases last year. Did Dolan mean that there have been only seven or eight substantiated abuse cases by priests over the past couple of years? 

There are almost 50 times as many public school teachers in New York City as there are priests in the New York archdiocese. If “cases” refers to abusers, then on a pro rata basis 75 public school cases would be the equivalent of 1.5 priest abuse cases; one-tenth the rate would be .15 per year–i.e. almost none. Is Dolan saying that there have been no substantiated cases of priest abuse over the past two years? If there were seven or eight per year, that would in fact be five times the rate of sexual abuse among school teachers.

But the real point is this: Diarmuid Martin would not have given the same response had he been in Tim Dolan’s seat.

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