How Many Priests?

The Numbers Tell the Story

For over a decade, the Roman Catholic Church has been in deep crisis over the issue of sexual abuse by Her clergy.  That some priests had molested or raped children was indisputable, but just how many had offended?  The numbers are more than a simple matter of statistical curiosity.  While everyone agrees that “one case is too many,” our view of the priesthood must be radically different if misbehavior was (and is) generalized and systematic rather than the responsibility of a couple of notorious rogues.  How many pedophile priests are out there?

Finally, we have the answer to this question, or at least the nearest approach we are going to get.  Under overwhelming public pressure, the Catholic bishops sponsored an independent report undertaken by the highly reputable John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  (The full text of the report, released on February 27, can be obtained online at  At first glance, the numbers sound appalling.  As newspapers and television news programs noted, between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 priests were accused of abuse—a daunting number—and this group was accused of molesting 10,667 victims below the age of 18.  As victims’-rights groups immediately complained, the likelihood that other instances of abuse had gone unreported meant that even these victimization figures might represent...

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