Catholic Priests: Some Facts Related to the Roman Catholic Church
Catholic priests currently number over 400,000 worldwide. Of these, approximately 65% are considered diocesan priests (assigned to specific parishes within geographic regions) and 35% are considered religious priests (not necessarily assigned to a specific church community). It is now estimated that there are over 1 billion Roman Catholics in the world, representing over 17% of the global population. Although there is no church wide census, and there are various criteria for determining membership, scholars now estimate that Roman Catholics comprise nearly fifty percent of all "Christians" in the world. In 2001, there were approximately 63.7 million Roman Catholics in the United States.
Catholic Priests: The Recent Scandal
Catholic Priests are facing a dramatic moment in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. It seemed like only yesterday when we heard about the initial allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic priesthood that were surfacing in the Boston area. Since that time, over 300 lawsuits have been filed in the United States. This scandal has shaken faith in the Roman Catholic Church, and raised questions about basic tenets of the priesthood, including the vow of celibacy and the ordination of women. These allegations are especially disturbing for three reasons. First, parents trusted these men with their teenagers and children in the parochial education system, as well as in church service. That trust has been severely damaged. Second, the Catholic Church leadership has known of these abuses for years, yet it took a public outcry in order for them to be motivated to take remedial action. Third, Jesus Christ spoke specifically about the victimization of innocent children:
"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea"
(Matthew 18:6 KJV).
Catholic Priests: A Difficult and Unfolding Issue
There are many wonderful Catholic priests who have dedicated their lives to God and their church community. This is not a priest-bashing essay, but rather, a reminder that none of us are exempt from our sinful nature, even the "clergy." This is not just a "Catholic problem". In fact, many believe that there's another "story to unfold" that is just as far-reaching as the scandal within the priesthood. Specifically, there is no reason to assume the rate of child sexual abuse to be greater among Catholic clergy than among Protestant clergy. For instance, in California alone during 2001, there were six convictions involving Protestant ministers and sex-related crimes with minors. There are approximately 46,000 Catholic priests in the United States and 300 cases filed to date, which is under .7% of the priesthood. There are approximately 324,000 Protestant churches in the United States. If the math is correct, the number of cases among Protestant denominations could potentially dwarf the size of the Catholic scandal.
What does all this mean? Why are we focusing on this terrible tragedy? It has nothing to do with Catholicism, Protestantism, or the truth of Christianity in general. It is a humbling reminder that we live in a fallen world, a world prone to sin and deceit - a world not in need of organized religion, but a world in need of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ Himself.
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