Catholics React to Survey
Students Share Their Views Regarding a Survey on Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse
By Emily Crownover
The Oklahoma Daily [Oklahoma]
March 9, 2004
Catholic OU students say the outcome of a recent survey on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has not dampened their spirits. They said their perspective comes from looking at the situation from a larger standpoint.
Stephen Pitts, president of the St. Thomas More Catholic Campus Ministry and math and computer science senior, said none of the estimated 1,500 Catholic students have fallen away from the church since the survey was released.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice survey looks at sexual abuse from Catholic priests found since 1950.
"I'm very appreciative that they did the survey," said Pitts. "It's the first step in rebuilding trust."
The Rev. Bill Pruett said he has not noticed any change in attendance at St. Thomas More University Parish. He said he thinks the survey results need to be kept in perspective since the Catholic Church is the only organization that has ever released any hard statistical information about sexual abuse.
"I think that publishing the report raises many issues, but there's nothing to compare it to," he said. "There's no record of how many doctors, plumbers or [Boy] Scout leaders have been accused."
Nearly 11,000 allegations of more than 4,000 priests and other church members have been made since 1950, according to the survey's results, which were published Feb. 27. These statistics came from a 97 percent response rate from 195 dioceses and 142 religious communities nationwide.
In his Archdiocesan Development Fund address, the Most Rev. Eusebius Beltran, archbishop of Oklahoma City, said 10 priests had been accused in the Oklahoma City diocese.
"The report talks about how many priests have been accused, and not how many have actually been convicted," Pruett said. "We know that anyone can be accused of anything."
However, the church takes full responsibility for the survey results.
"It's something we deal with, and we are going to work to make sure this doesn't happen again," Pitts said.
The Wall Street Journal and NBC News conducted a survey that found 64 percent of the public thought Catholic priests frequently abused children. However, in a special report by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the Washington Times found that family, friends and acquaintances composed the largest group of sexual abusers at 28 percent. Some other people found sexually abusing children were grandparents, biological fathers and uncles. Together, these groups totaled 86 percent of cases. The total of accused priests was 4 percent.
Eileen Sullivan, English junior and Sunday school teacher for St. Thomas More, said the outcome of the survey saddened her. But, she said she admires that the church has developed programs for priests, deacons and other church members to prevent these problems in the future. She said the scandal created distrust for those who work with children in the church.
"Every week when I teach the children, I have to worry about having another adult in the room, to prove that I am behaving appropriately," Sullivan said. "There is an encouragement to remain distant from the children, almost to the point of being cold toward them, and this is ultimately what saddens me."
Joy Haney, religious studies sophomore, said it was hard for her to hear about the difficulties of the church, but she believes it's hard for this to affect her faith.
'If you look at the Protestant churches as a whole, there would be just as many instances, but there are so many entities, it just doesn't get as much publicity," Haney said.
Haney said she knows there's nothing wrong with the church institution itself, it's the individual people that caused the problems.
"I think that most Catholic people understand that people fail, priests fail, and we hope they have been dealt with justly," Pruett said.
For the future, students and church members said they hope for improvement in the church and rebuilding from the survey reactions.
Michelle Goodwin, campus minister for the St. Thomas More Catholic Campus Ministry, said she believes more awareness will benefit the church as a whole.
"It makes students aware of the church's willingness to be accountable for actions that were done and to make amends," she said. "I'm very hopeful for the future of the church because of the students that I work with because they hold the torch for the future."
Pruett said he believes good things can come out of the survey's findings that may help improve American society. He said the publicity the church receives from this may point attention to the more prominent abusers of sexual-abuse cases for children.
"If somehow we as a society could get past that reality, it would make this whole experience of the Catholic Church worthwhile," he said.
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