The National Catholic Reporter released a study saying the cost of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church has cost them $3.99 billion over the last 65 years.The cost of child sexual abuse to the church is an odd thing to research. I have never seen research about the costs of drunk driving for drunk drivers, the cost of murder to murderers, or the cost of child sexual abuse to those who sexually abuse children. Of course, it’s unfair to say the Catholic church is largely an organization of sex offenders; they’re not. But they are the organization leading the fight to keep sex offenders above the law.

If my parents walked through the state capitol building and told legislators “We’ve both played a role in the abuse of a whole lot of kids. We’re sorry, and we’re trying to do better. But we don’t think we should experience consequences for our actions”, the best they could hope for would be to be peacefully escorted out of the building. But this is the approach the Catholic Church has adopted, and it has been met with astounding success. And unfortunately, success at keeping sexually abusive Catholic clergy from experiencing legal consequences protects sex offenders in all other walks of life.

The University of Vermont has looked at the financial consequences of child abuse for survivors, and finds ““The average lifetime cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment is $210,000 (2010 dollars) including $33,000 in childhood health care costs, $11,000 in adult medical costs, $144,000 in productivity losses, $8,000 in child welfare costs, $7000 in criminal justice costs, and $8,000 in special education costs.’  (you can read the whole article here).  These are just direct costs. Using standard personal injury formulas, settlements ranging from $400,000- $1.2 million make sense.

This provides us with a vague idea of what the cost of child sexual abuse is to survivors. What is the cost of child sexual abuse to society though? According to the National Institute of Justice, the cost of child sexual abuse to the nation is $3.4 billion annually.  In 65 years, the Catholic church has paid $3.99 billion, which breaks down to $61,384,615 per year, or 1.54% of the crime’s actual annual cost to taxpayers. Since sexually abusive Catholic clergy are estimated to be responsible for 3% of all child sexual abuse victims, it means the Catholic church is paying a little more than 50% of the damage of it causes directly.

In the Church’s defense, I don’t think any other institution comes close to paying even half of the cost of child sexual abuse to the victims they produce. However, the actual number of children the Catholic Church has sentenced to sexual abuse in the last 65 years is much larger than the number of children who are abused by Catholic clergy, as the Catholic Church is the only major entity that tries to keep offenders on the streets and off the registries.

Sexually abused children rarely disclose their abuse while they are still children. Research shows it takes them an average of about 21 years before they can talk about the crime. And in most states, this means they are automatically barred from the courtroom by a statute of limitations on the crime. Statutes of Limitation make sense for property crime, and harken back to a day when children were essentially their parents’ property. But they make no sense for a crime where it takes victims, on average, over 21 years to talk about it. The average age for a child to experience their first sexual victimization is nine. If it takes 21 years for that nine-year-old to disclose abuse, that means you have a lot of 30-year-old survivors just starting to wrap their minds around what happened. Since most states have Statutes of Limitations on the crime that go into effect around a victim’s 18th birthday, that means a lot of survivors have no chance of a day in court. And that means there are a whole lot of offenders- about 90%0- who never get convicted.

Ostensibly, the National Catholic Reporter calculated these figures to demonstrate that the church is serious about fixing the problem. And on paper it looks like they’ve paid some approximation of their share of the bill.  But by fighting so hard to keep sex offenders on the street, by fighting statute of limitations reform,  they have actually done more damage than any other institution. When states pass statute of limitations reform, dioceses that have acted negligently tend to get sued. And acting “negligent” in this context means things like “recycling” abusive priests and keeping young survivors from seeking justice in criminal court with endless bureaucracy and promises of “we’ll fix the problem, and spare you the pain of a trial”. Statute of limitations reform may not be good for their bottom line, but it allows sex offenders, within the Church and outside of it, to experience consequences. And all claims that the church has changed and is trying to mend its ways ring hollow if the Church is fighting to remain above the law.

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Melanie Blow

Melanie Blow

Executive Director, Stop Abuse Campaign

A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences. Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.

Melanie has an ACE score of 6.

Authors express their own opinions which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Stop Abuse Campaign.