Priest and Teacher Sex Scandals in Perspective

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 (updated link to AP story) 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:

11 Responses to Priest and Teacher Sex Scandals in Perspective

  1. Corey says:

    Seems like it would be more useful to figure out how to prevent abuse than to calculate which profession is more evil.

    Besides, since we have no idea what percentage of abuses are reported in either field I’m unconvinced that a comparison has much utility.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Another place to look on the issue of staff misconduct in public schools is, ahem, the study I conducted last year, which found that staff misconduct (including sexual misconduct) was more frequently reported in public schools than it was in private schools:

    That’s OK, Jay, I’m sure you’ll remember to plug me next time. 🙂

  3. Larry Bernstein says:

    I think the real issue is how does an institution deal with sexual misconduct. I assume that public schools terminate teachers that commit sexual abuse, and teachers with a sexual misconduct in their record will have trouble finding work in neighboring school districts.

    One clearly upsetting aspect of priest sexual misconduct is that the Church did not terminate employment with the perpetrators, and the priests who committed the indiscretions were able to find other suitable employment within the Church that allowed for additional sexual crimes.

    Sexual deviancy is part of the human condition. How institutions deal with the sexual misconduct and how institutions try to minimize inappropriate behavior is the point.

  4. There are important differences between typical sexual misconduct by priests and by teachers, but I don’t think it’s the difference in institutional response that Larry suggests. The point of Scott Reeder’s reporting at is that it is actually shockingly common for teachers accused of misconduct not to be fired. Even if they are removed from the school it is sometimes under a legal settlement in which the school promises to provide a neutral reference if the teacher applies elsewhere for a teaching job. As the Church has been accused, schools also have engaged in “passing the trash,” where those accused of misconduct just move on and abuse children again somewhere else.

    One ofhe important differences between abuse by male teachers and priests is that teachers are typically accused of misconduct with high school girls while priests have more often been accused of misconduct with pre-pubsescent boys. They are both very wrong, but we think about them differently.

    While there are significant differences between teacher and priest misconduct, what’s amazing is that the rate of misconduct appears to be in the same league. Given the disparity in attention, that’s surprising.

  5. Dom tomasso says:

    your comparing apples to oranges. A bad teacher to a bad priest,Is like comparing a crooked Judge to a crooked lawyer. Or bad nurse to a bad surgeon. One is more respected, more trusted. When the most trused of them all lets us down, the loss is felt forever.

  6. Hi Dom,

    I don’t make any claims about which is “worse.” They’re certainly both awful. My claim is simply about how common sexual misconduct is among both groups.

  7. […] leraren, dominees en rabbi’s Uit een Amerikaans onderzoek blijkt dat mannelijke leraren even vaak met kindermisbruik geassocieerd worden als – per […]

  8. Dominic says:

    Dear readers and writers,I am not here to compare both professions as many have done but I want reason along with many of you,that, on the case of the priests there are many cases of set-up.People trying to earn money thruogh the wrong route thereby setting the priets up with their famale folk in order to sap cash from the church,s account whereby they are sure that the priest in question never indulge in such stupid act.
    However, many others try to spoil the name of the church by broadcasting false allegations of sexual scandal againt the Catholic priests because of the big name “CATHOLIC” in order to pull to the church down.Those people fail to recognise that there is no amount of allegation against the priests that can draw the church back or pull it down.That’s why the church has its own way of reacting to such bad news.
    So, I’m suggesting that condemning these people involved will not yield any good fruit but rather we should find a way of helping the defaulters and give them that benefit of the doubt to see if they can change to a better life in the society.thanks.

  9. Dominic says:


  10. […] here and here from Jay Greene, who started raising this issue four years […]

  11. alessandrareflections says:

    We need much more public awareness of teacher sexual misconduct. And research needs to be done regarding the profile of teachers, including their sexuality and political views. It would help us answer the question of who is making society not safe.

    It would also be interesting to have data about how many teachers are accused of sexual misconduct to compare that with the CC.

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