The Cost to the Catholic Church of Clerical Sexual Abuse

The Cost to the Catholic Church of Clerical Sexual Abuse

A recently published academic paper, “Losing my Religion: The Effects of Religious Scandals on Religious Participation and Charitable Giving”, was published in the September issue of the United States “Journal of Public Economics” by the authors, Nicholas Bottan and Ricardo Perez-Truglia. The latter, previously an economist working with Microsoft, was recently interviewed by the “Catholic Reporter”.

On the face of it, this paper by two Chilean economists on the economic effects of Catholic Church scandals in the United States is a bit “heavy” for the average “O” level mathematician! However, the conclusions of the research into 3,000 sexual abuse scandals in US Catholic Church parishes is nothing less than staggering. This is not on account of the costs of the legal fees and settlements alone – which in the last four decades has totalled approximately US$ 3 billion – but the surprise revelation of the report is the ongoing annual decline in charitable donations to Church parishes and Church activities that were directly affected by the abuse.

The analysis revealed that incidents of clerical sexual abuse have had a direct and “permanent” impact on not only charitable giving, but also on “religious affiliation” in those parishes where clerical sexual abuse had been revealed. During the 40 years studied the average “annual” decline (year on year) in charitable giving has been calculated to have been US$ 2.36 billion. That is a total of US$ 94.4 billion! Many Catholics (10%}abandoned the Catholic Church altogether and children were withdrawn from Catholic schools. As a result of the latter, it is estimated that in the period 2002-2010, 23% of the 1,130 Catholic school closures in the United States were directly attributable to abuse scandals.

A re-examination of Catholic affilition in parishes affected by abuse scandals after a 10 year period has revealed that there has been no recovery of the losses in affiliation subsequent to the decline. Furthermore, the research found that those that had abandoned the Catholic Church had not lost their “faith”, but they had simply abandoned the Catholic Church as an “institution”. Many were found by the researchers to be attending services at churches of other denominations.

The abandonment of the Catholic Church as an institution, I deduce, must be attributable to the manner in which abuses cases were handled by the Bishops and Religious Leaders as much as to the incidents of clerical abuse itself. The scenario is now well known: failure to investigate, oaths of secrecy, denial, obfuscation, destruction of documents, failure to report to civil authorities, and the shunting around of paedophile clerics to new parishes where they remained unmonitored and re-offended. The list goes on.

I suggest that the United States experience is not an isolated one. Indeed the United Kingdom group of abused seminarians, known as the “Mirfield 12”, are fully aware that the London Province of the Comboni Missionary Order is suffering. In 2014 I looked at their accounts lodged with the Charities Commission. I was able to deduce that the average income from donations in the period 2008 to 2012 had been in the region of Pounds Sterling1,250,000. In 2013, when the abuses at Mirfield started to break in public awareness, the donations had slumped to Pounds Sterling 877,740. In 2014, the period of maximum public exposure of the sexual abuse that had been perpetrated at the seminary, there was a further decline in donations to Pounds Sterling 624,507. If the United States findings are mirrored in the United Kingdom, the Comboni Missionary Order can expect a further – and even a continual – decline in the level of donations. Ongoing legal actions and the possibility of futher legal cases will maintain the Order in continually hightened Catholic visibility. Given the Order’s high administrative costs and additional “extraordinary expenditure”, this may give rise to the future scenario that the Order’s continued presence within the British Isles is financially no longer viable.

It is interesting to note, as in the case of the United States experience, that a loss of religious affiliation goes hand in hand with a decline in charitable giving. This is clearly not attributable only to the original sexual abuse itself, but also to the manner in which the appropriate authorities have dealt with it. Of course, apart from Battersea and Sunningdale, the Comboni Missionary Order does not operate in specific parishes. Nevertheles, the Catholic public throughout the United Kingdom will already be well aware from press revelations (and no less from this website) that the Comboni Missionary Order, contrary to statements made by Pope Francis and the policies of the British Catholic Hierarchy, have not managed the allegations of abuse well. Indeed, they have flouted Canon Laws, Civil laws, Safeguarding Policies and their own Code of Conduct – in addition to maintaining the public stance that the Victims are “money-grabbing liars”. Things could have been different. The Victims wanted understanding, a hearing and an apology. They got silence – broken only by denials and malignant jibes. The Comboni Missionary Order will reap what they have sewn – and it is already clear that their crop is lessening year by year.

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