Terry Firma recently raised a provocative question through Hemant Mehta's "Friendly Athiest" channel on Patheos.com: Do all religions—not just Catholicism—produce more than their fair share of child sex abusers?
He says yes. Unfortunately for him, it's just not true. His methodology and logic are flawed. And the general evidence and expert opinions on the subject don't at all suggest religiously affiliated adults are more likely to sexually abuse children than other adults.
But, unfortunately for religious leaders, especially Christian pastors and church leaders, his piece still implicitly raises a damning (and related) question: Why don't we see fewer than our fair share of abuse cases?
We'll explore the latter (and frankly, more important) question in a moment because, per Christ's mandate to protect the most vulnerable in our midst (Matthew 18:6), we're committed to eliminating child abuse.
But first, let's consider Firma's argument.
Because My Google Alerts Say So
As the founder of a blog called Moral Compass, Firma says his question and the resulting conclusion are fair game. He bases this on his daily work throughout the past six months tracking media coverage of child sex abuse nationwide, along with the long-running scandal of abuses within the Catholic Church. Firma cites several examples, including a decades-long cover-up of cases at a high school operated by a Jewish university and numerous articles detailing child abuses in the Islamic community.
Like many of us in media, Firma presumably uses Google Alerts or news databases to help him find these headlines. So surprised was Firma about the regularity of such reports, that he began tagging his blog posts with the faith involved when he published them. By doing so, he says he now sees just as many Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic cases as Catholic ones:
(S)ometimes I almost feel sorry for the Catholic Church, because it's beginning to seem to me that the abuse is widespread throughout the world of religion (and beyond). And I think it isn't just selective perception or confirmation bias.
Except for one problem. It is selective perception. Firma says so earlier in his piece when he acknowledges his six-month review involved "very close attention, every day, to reports of sex crimes by clergy" (third emphasis added by me).
In other words, he's using anecdotal evidence drawn solely from one specific segment of society, not all segments. That simply doesn't work when considering his overarching premise: That religions produce "more than their fair share" of abusers. We're never told quite what "more than their fair share" means, so we're left to assume—relatively safely, I think—that he means more than the rest of the adult population in the country.
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