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 See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Bellarminite1 - May. 30, 2016 11:17 AM ET USA

    Any progress that's been made has been at the seminary level — where the problem originated. Desperate for priests, too many were allowed through that shouldn't have been. The "child protection" program has been and is purely PR.

  • Posted by: Bernadette - May. 29, 2016 2:31 AM ET USA

    Where does the 49 million come from? And, the 2 billion in payments to victims and families and lawyers? We know it comes from the parishioner in the pew. Ultimately. I find it amazing that no one to my knowledge has ever actually objected to this use of his money. On another point that irks me: why do our shepherds, even pope(s), continue to call the problem pedophilia when it is homosexuality (at least 82% of the cases)?

  • Posted by: wtchurch5213 - May. 28, 2016 10:15 AM ET USA

    You make a great point, Phil. What is the alternative though? What do we do instead?

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 28, 2016 1:34 AM ET USA

    The so-called "child-protection programs" mostly serve to solidify the notion that the Catholic Church is a dangerous place for children, and to bleed the Church financially. They didn't help much in the Chicago Archdiocese where one reverend Daniel McCormack (protege of very reverend Gerald Kicanas) continued to rape little boys long after the "protection programs" were enforced.

  • Posted by: Jim.K - May. 27, 2016 7:58 PM ET USA

    NO! It won't until we get rid of the homosexual priests and nuns in our parishes and the Bishops and Religious Superiors who protect them. While many seminaries no longer accept or recruit homosexuals, some still do. Our Church authorities do nothing about it. Finally, our "Catholic" schools and colleges need to clean house and start teaching sound doctrine from the Catechism of the Catholic Church so our next generation learns the truth. Also, re-print your old articles re: the "Velvet Clergy."

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 26, 2016 4:41 PM ET USA

    I have to admit that I learned a few things from the VIRTUS program that should make any possible perpetrator break a sweat. In fact, I acted as a facilitator for the program for several years, and never will forget the reaction of the individual who was physically unable to fill out the background check materials. Was it worth $49 million? Only if it was your child in danger.

  • Posted by: shrink - May. 26, 2016 2:38 PM ET USA

    The bishops' policy is to child protection just as Freud's theory of the "id" is to human motivation: the policy and the theory each in their own way dilute the concentrated quilt of a few by casting suspicion upon everyone.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 26, 2016 10:25 AM ET USA

    " had 100% confidence that your pastors would do the right thing." That's the point, isn't it, the Catholic way? A familiarity with the statistics on victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse of children reveals the deviancy of the affliction. But we have the secular culture promoting it, the Church acquiescing as she questions whether or not this person or that one is able to commit a sin, excuses for the exceptions to the rule rather than "hateful" "rigidity" in opposing deviancy and sin.