In his Sunday night address from the Oval Office, President Obama warned us not to make sweeping generalizations about Muslims in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre. The killers, he said, “account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world.” Hillary Clinton went further saying she objects to the term “radical Islam.” Attorney General Loretta Lynch critically noted a “very disturbing rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric.” While Clinton’s remark was inane, the positions voiced by Obama and Lynch made good sense.
If it is wrong to make sweeping generalizations about Muslims based on the criminal behavior of a small percentage of Muslims, why is it acceptable to make sweeping generalizations about priests based on the criminal behavior of a small percentage of priests? From studies done by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, we know that from 1950 to 2002, 4 percent of all Catholic priests had an accusation of molestation made against them. Of that number, roughly half—2 percent—were ever substantiated. We also know that 3.5 percent of priests accounted for 26 percent of all the victims. Furthermore, Philip Jenkins notes that “Out of 100,000 priests active in the U.S. in this half-century, a cadre of just 149 individuals—one priest out of every 750—accounted for a quarter of all allegations of clergy abuse.” Consider more recent data: In the last 10 years, an average of 8.4 credible accusations have been made against roughly 40,000 priests in any given year.a
Negative generalizations about priests are back in vogue thanks to all the attention given the movie, “Spotlight.” While the film itself may not be anti-Catholic, it has clearly given rise to the most condemnatory statements about priests, as well as the Catholic Church, in general. Indeed, wild statements claiming the Church has not changed are being made by everyone from those connected to the movie to film reviewers and pundits. That they are doing so with impunity cannot be denied.
If priests were Muslims, elites would be rushing to their defense. Their silence gives cover to the haters.