As Pope Benedict XVI visited with victims of sexual abuse by priests in Boston yesterday, the news was again filled with concerns about the widespread and persistent nature of these abuses in the Church.
Indeed, these acts are deplorable and intolerable. But it might also be useful to put in perspective how widespread sexual misconduct by priests is by comparing the problems in the Church with how widespread sexual misconduct is by teachers in schools. I know this is an unpleasant topic, but a recent analysis by the Associated Press suggests that sexual misconduct among male teachers is at least as common as among male priests.
The AP collected information on the number of teachers who lost their licenses between 2001 and 2005 due to sexual misconduct. They find that 2,570 licenses were revoked among a teaching workforce of almost 3 million. They compare this to the priest abuse scandals where they claim that 4,400 priests were accused of misconduct between 1950 and 2002 out of a priest workforce of 110,000.
At first glance it would seem that teacher scandals are much less common than priest scandals, but the priest numbers are of allegations, not license revocations, and are over a 53 year period instead of a 5 year period. If we adjust for the time difference, there were .76 priest scandal allegations per year per 1,000 priests. For teachers there were .17 teacher license revocations per year per 1,000 teachers. But if we further adjust for the fact that more than 9 in 10 teacher perpetrators are male, while all priest perpetrators are male, there were .77 male teachers who lose their license each year for sexual misconduct for every 1,000 male teachers employed.
The rate of sexual misconduct among male teachers is about as high as among male priests. And given that we are comparing license revocations for teachers to allegations for priests, the rate of misconduct among male teachers may be considerably higher than among male priests. As the AP story notes, relatively few instances of teacher sexual misconduct result in a license revocation.
The investigative reporter, Scott Reeder, has also been doing work in this area and is currently documenting the rate at which teachers who are accused of misconduct actually lose their licenses. You can find his reporting here: