Perpetuating an Urban Legend | Sojourners

Perpetuating an Urban Legend

IN "CATHOLIC Scandal, Ecumenical Solution" (July-August 2002), Rose Marie Berger writes the following: "Philip Jenkins concludes in his book Pedophiles and Priests that while 1.7 percent of Catholic clergy have been found guilty of pedophilia (specifically of boys), 10 percent of Protestant ministers have been found guilty of pedophilia."

I regret to say that the statement is baloney. I never said it, and it's not true!

In Pedophiles and Priests, I was attacking a statistic that claimed that a proportion of Catholic priests were pedophiles on the basis that the sample was worthless, since all the men involved were undergoing psychiatric treatment. Hence, you could not extrapolate that figure to the whole priestly population. In order to demonstrate the foolishness of the argument, I cited another study of Protestant ministers undergoing treatment, which found that 10 percent of them were also pedophiles. By this argument, I remarked—as a reductio ad absurdum—that 10 percent of Protestant clergy were also pedophiles. (By the way, pedophilia is a psychiatric condition, not a criminal offense, so nobody can be "found guilty of pedophilia.")

Every time this 10 percent statement appears attributed to me, I try to debunk it, but these things have a life of their own. I have no idea what the actual proportion of pedophile Protestant clergy is, but I would be amazed if it was more than a fraction of 1 percent.

I hope that clarifies my position. Berger may well be making an excellent point—that there is no evidence that abuse rates are higher for Protestant than for Catholic clergy. But this particular figure is a kind of urban legend.

Philip Jenkins
University Park, Pennsylvania

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2002
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