Defend Priests against Bullies


“Yeah, well your priests, like little boys.”

There it is. The slap in the face meant to silence a Catholic and degrade the priesthood.  You would think it had been enough already, but the priest/sex scandal card still gets played, often in comments under articles or on Facebook posts. It has shown up a few times in comments under my articles.

Too often, Catholics cringe and duck out. It was the goal all along of the one who spit out the vitriolic attack; to silence his opponent and chalk up one for the anti-Catholic team.

Should you end it and walk away?  As the saying goes, “Don’t fight with fools, they’ll beat you with experience every time.” But wait, priests act in the place of Jesus Christ. Will you not defend Christ?

Responding to a slam on the priesthood or anything against the Catholic faith is an opportunity to witness to others. I avoid engaging haters in their sport, but to varying degrees, I do respond.  After all, the media’s dogpile on the priesthood has left many misinformed.

The Statistics

Sex abuse of children is epidemic throughout society.  Pedophilia among priests is extremely rare, only 0.3% of the entire clergy (Yes, 0.3% is absolutely still too much.)  This figure was cited in the book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis by non-Catholic scholar, Philip Jenkins.

In the Boston scandal, the media reported that eighty priests were pedophiles, yet ultimately, only four were actually guilty of molesting children. So in spite of the pedophile priest scandal being shameful, it’s nothing like the media has represented it.  The Media has reported that:

* “Catholic priests abuse at a rate far lower than that of other males in the general population.”

*  Most of the reported cases of abuse were an historical anomaly, occurring during a narrow time period from the Sixties to the early Eighties.  The handling of those cases was a reflection of that era, not the Church.  Experts in the field at the time, believed offenders could be successfully rehabilitated. Offenders were sent for treatment, rather than reported to police, which resulted in a temporary spike in recidivism.

* It has been reported that sexual abuse by teachers in public schools is “more than 100 times” that by Catholic priests. Yet there is little reporting on this but old allegations of abuse by Catholic priests keep getting rehashed.

For more detailed statistics and findings see the John Jay report released on May 18, 2011 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York which examined the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. Catholic Church in depth.

It is the most comprehensive study on child sexual abuse ever conducted by a major organization and covered the time period 1950-2010. During that time, 5 percent of the total number of priests during that period were accused of sexually inappropriate behavior and less than 4 percent of those accused could be considered pedophiles — that is, men who prey on children.

Findings included the observation that the Church has addressed this aggressively and “the decrease in incidence of sexual abuse cases by clergy was more rapid than the overall societal patterns.”

According to an article in the secular Psychology Today,

“Overall, the profile presented by the John Jay researchers (who, by the way, are non-Catholics working in a secular state run university) of the typical clergy sex offender in the Catholic Church is certainly quite different than the stereotype typically presented in the press during the past decade.”

Why the Bullying?

Why has the media vigorously attacked the priesthood?  I believe there are several reasons.  Part of it is an anti-Catholic and anti-religion mindset.  Protestant faiths, even if they split from another Protestant church, ultimately broke away from the Catholic Church so that is the Church they tend to discredit in order to defend themselves.  And if one opposes Catholic teaching on contraception, homosexuality or anything else, then the priesthood is a favorite target.

Another reason for the attacks speaks to the true value of the priesthood.  Catholic priests are held in high esteem, above other denominations and occupations. An offending priest is bigger news than when anyone else in society offends.  We expect more from them.   The sensationalizing proves that priests really do hold a special place in our world.

We have greater expectations for the priesthood because it is greater.  Why else, when Hollywood makes a movie on exorcism, it is a Catholic priest that goes head to head with evil?  The Catholic priesthood represents Christ and Christianity in a bigger way than other denominations. Priests bring us the Eucharist and absolve our sins in the place of Jesus during confession.

When it comes to the priesthood, the shockwaves for wrongdoing are much fiercer because of what is represented by them. Even non-Catholics, whether they like to admit it or not, hold priests to a higher standard.

Thus far, when I’ve encountered such attacks, I respond that it’s well documented that there are as much or more abusers in the general population. And any priest that does abuse, behaves in stark opposition to Catholic teaching so it does not represent the Church.  It sometimes silences them and if not, I do not feed the trolls further.

The point is that not only should we defend our priests, but also knowing the facts makes it easy.  But aside from the facts is our witness, loyalty, and courage to our faith.  If Catholics everywhere spoke up (without getting sucked into mud slinging) more detractors would be better informed and less inclined to risk looking like an ignorant bully.

Prayer for Priests

By St. Therese of Lisieux

O Jesus, eternal Priest,
keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart,
where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands,
which daily touch Your Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied their lips,
daily purpled with your Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unearthly their hearts,
sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let Your holy love surround them and
shield them from the world’s contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit
and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and
consolation here and in heaven
their beautiful and everlasting crown. Amen.

Copyright 2014 Patti Maguire Armstrong


About Author

Patti Maguire Armstrong, is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at


  1. Thanks, my brothers a priest and loved by many. I’m a retired teacher. Many times others will talk of how sick Catholic priests are. I have to remind them that the molestation rate is higher amongst teachers and the general population. I believe priests are picked on because of their pro-life conviction when they are not a women and should not get to make that decision about a woman’s body. The GLBT communities also feel they are shunned by Carholics and thus hate priests who represent the church. It’s almost like saying if your gay you molest little boys. It’s crazy ignorance and we do need to defend our priests for the sake of our religion. I enjoyed your article! Keep putting the word out there!!!!!

  2. Recovered catholic on

    The Catholic Church is the bully……..they bullied me for years. They also LOVETo bully government, politicians, and people with” different ” lifestyles they don’t approve of.

  3. Interested that a “recovered Catholic” would come to a Catholic site; obviously to attack. Jesus founded a Church. Anyone reading the early Church Fathers– (those who knew the apostles and the early leaders of Christianity) sees that the practice and teachings were Catholic. The others have veered off course. So if you think the Church is a bully, then you think Jesus is a bully.

    • Recovered catholic on

      Patti, You do know that a whole lot has changed since Jesus founded his church. Most of it many centuries ago. So it’s not fair to say that I think Jesus is a bully. I’m sure he’s not. And and I didn’t just happen upon this site I was directed to it by Rey Flores. Someone who thinks he knows EVERYTHING !!!!!!!!

  4. thomas sampson on

    thank you for printing the prayer for priests by Ste. Therese. I said it for our priest at St Alphonsus in Seattle. A dedicated and caring young priest-that has been frequently verbally attacked.

  5. Why doesn’t anybody in our church ever talk about victims? Why aren’t we rallying around them, supporting them, praying for them, and letting them know we care? Why can’t I find any articles about this on Catholic websites and blogs?

  6. I have seen articles for victims. Here is one: . The reason for my article is that most of the priests are innocent, the Catholic Church has taken more steps than any other denomination to prevent future abuse, Catholic priests statistically offend less than other denominations but the public view is the opposite. Many use this sinful behavior to slam the whole Church and the whole priesthood. So the article was to set the record straight and not to minimize the pain of victims no in any way excuse the horrendous evil of abuse.

  7. What you say is true, but it’s only part of the story. We Catholics (like you and me) do very little to embrace the victims of these crimes and to acknowledge their pain and what their families have been through. It’s not just about the abuse and preventing more abuse, it’s about the actual people who have been harmed. Again, why are we not praying for them every week in Mass as a community? I’ve never heard even one prayer. Shouldn’t we offer the victims the same level of attention as we do the priests? It would make us look much more credible as Catholics to society at large. It’s not just about offering crisis services (although that is better than nothing) it’s about putting our arms around people as a community and letting them know that we care.

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