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Catholic Culture Overview

Do 'child-protection programs' increase your confidence?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 25, 2016

In the last 12-month period for which full statistics are available, the US bishops spent a bit more than $49 million on child-protection programs

That's a whole lot of money. Imagine how many parishes and parochial schools you could re-open, how many teachers and nurses and catechists you could pay, how many poor families you could help, with $49 million. 

Sure, it's better to spend $49 million avoiding sexual abuse rather than $3 billion settling lawsuits brought by abuse victims. But is that the relevant comparison? Is there any persuasive evidence that the "child-protection programs" have actually protected children from abuse?

Yes, I know; the number of sex-abuse complaints has been dropping at the same time that the "child-protection" budget has been soaring. If you tend to slip into the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy, that correlation might be good enough for you. It shouldn't be. There are many other good reasons for that decline in complaints. The cases registered in the past decade represented a backlog of complaints that had built up for several decades. Most of the people who had complaints have now registered them. And certainly people are much more aware of the options available to sex-abuse victims and the urgency of curbing predatory behavior. But is that awareness the result of the child-protection programs, or is it more directly attributable to years of intense media coverage?

If the child-protection programs functioned like a shield, making young people invulnerable to abuse, they would be worth the cost. But they don't. The $49 million price tag reflects the cost of training materials (of questionable value, but that's another story) for students and parish volunteers, and the bureaucratic rigmarole involved in doing background checks on everyone from the CCD teacher to the janitor to the soprano in the church choir. 

Now that you know $49 million is being spent in a year—and that cost is rising—do you feel confident that the children are safer? Suppose all the child-protection programs were phased out, but you had 100% confidence that your pastors would do the right thing: would you feel less confident, or more?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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