The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Assault
A Snapshot of Nebraska – 2018 – For non-Catholics:
Have you heard that the Catholic Church is full of pedophile priests? Most people don’t know names like Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Cocopalmerio, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell, Monsignor Carlo Capella, Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, Fr. James Poole, or others, but they have likely heard of Boston, Pennsylvania, and other scandals which have led them to the conclusion that Catholic priests are pedophiles. Such a conclusion is extremely inaccurate, but few people want to try and correct the misperception. I’ll try to do that here.
There is a problem in the Church.
There is no question that the Catholic Church has serious problems in the priesthood right now. However, even the most recent news reports such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury findings, show that the abuse of minors is not a current problem. Even the Pennsylvania report lists no incidents of the abuse of a minor since 2002. That is the year the American Catholic Church enacted new policies on how to protect children. I’ve written about this before and you can read about it here.
The current problem is the fact that homosexual men have infiltrated the Church. They have taken jobs in seminaries as teachers and advisors and they are in some main offices of dioceses across the country. These men tend to form networks involving secrecy and support. The Vatican even appears to have a subculture of gay men who protect other homosexuals at high levels of the Church. These protectors appear to be men like Cardinal Cocopalmerio, Monsigner Battista Ricca.
But one thing has become clear to homosexual priests within the past twenty years: They know they cannot touch children and get away with it. The homosexual priests paid attention in the 1990’s and saw what happened to priests who abused minors (most of the victims were teenage boys). Abusers who were still alive went to prison in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Those who were already dead had their names and behaviors exposed for all the world to see. Because of this, the homosexuals took notice, and those who were interested in minors either left, opted not to enter the seminary, or set their tastes on adults. Over 80% of all cases (then and now) have involved homosexuals as the perpetrators. Prior to 2002, it was usually men abusing teenage boys, but since the late 1990’s it has been men abusing adult seminarians and young priests. Therefore, the current problem is with homosexual predation by adult men on adult men.
Some of the homosexual priests who have gotten in have tried to change the Church’s teachings on homosexuality as well, which has encouraged others to be much more open about their homosexuality. This is a very bad thing for the Church, and it appears that Pope Francis and many others in the leadership roles within the Church simply don’t understand the problems this is causing. Many of us are slowly forcing the Vatican to wake up to the real problem. Eventually, things will change, but nothing will change until Church leadership does the terribly politically incorrect thing and accepts the truth that the problem is rooted in the sin of homosexual behavior. It is rooted even more deeply in Satan’s deception, but it is presenting itself as homosexual predation, and it will require a lot of courage to confront this reality.
However, some bishops and the rectors (leaders) of seminaries in the United States do understand the issue and they have actually been cleaning up the seminaries for at least two decades. Even when stories of homosexual networks in the U.S. seminaries come to be known today, they usually involve incidents from two or more decades ago. They also involve adults, not minors. Recent information is only serving to clean up the seminaries even further.
The Church has officially restricted homosexuals from entering the seminary since 2005, and some seminaries were doing it before that. This helps, as long as the leaders of the seminary know or can be informed that a candidate struggles with same-sex attraction. All seminarians currently go through psychological testing before they are admitted to the seminary. Certainly some unqualified candidates are still slipping through and some of them are still being ordained priests, but much less frequently than in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
For some perspective, it is helpful to acknowledge that there are obviously public school teachers, public school coaches, youth league coaches, ministers, youth group leaders, etc… who struggle with same-sex attraction, and who are involved in the daily lives of American children with little or no concern by most people. Simply being a homosexual does not mean that the person is going to abuse a child. However, the experience of the Catholic Church is that over eight out of ten cases of molestation of minors and adults, involve a male abusing another male. This is by definition, homosexual. Is it possible that putting homosexual men in positions of authority over young males can lead to the victimization of the younger male? It seems reasonable to conclude as much. Therefore, by reducing the number of homosexual priests, the Church is likely taking a significant step toward the protection of children, teenagers, seminarians, and young priests. One could reasonably conclude that other faith traditions, public schools, and society in general, would be wise to follow suit, but as yet, this has not been the practice. While the evidence shows that more minors are victimized in their home, in public schools, and in youth activities, than in the Catholic Church, it is something we should study more deeply if we truly care about children.
What do the facts actually show?
While there is no question that a Catholic priest could harm a child and that from time to time, it still happens, I thought I’d look through some news stories about k-12 student who were molested in the past year. If the Catholic faith is the real problem, I should have found some mention of it in the news, because the media is extremely diligent to cover any and all stories about Catholic priests who break any law. In fact, it is even news when a Catholic priest has not broken any laws but has violated a rule only found in the Catholic Church.
In order to keep my research manageable and within reasonable parameters, I kept the search to Nebraska, and looked for all cases in which a priest, minister, teacher, or coach, was arrested, charged, or convicted of assaulting a student in 2018. Here is what I found:
- December 2018, Hastings Public Schools paraeducatorJenny Ramos-Sotelo had initiated a romantic relationship with a 6thgrade boy. Police arrested her and charged her with enticement of a minor. The school fired her.
- December 2018, Former assistant principalat Millard South High School, Matt Fedde, was sentenced 18-24 years in prison on 2 counts of first degree attempted sexual assault of a student.
- December 2018, Gregory Sedlacek, of Omaha, was arrested after sexually assaulting a 7-year old girl on the playground of a public grade schoolwhere he was teaching. Police suspect he assaulted at least four other 1stgraders, but the investigation is not yet complete.
- December 2018, Bradley Hegemann, a teacher at Hartington Cedar Catholic, was arrested for sending explicit social media messages to five students at Scribner-Snyder high school where he used to teach.
- In November 2018, Omaha middle school teacherAmy Nowaczyk was sentenced to two years in prison for sexually assaulting a 13-yr old student.
- November 2018, Crete high school teacherMatthew T. Hoffman, was sentenced to two years in jail and fined him $2,000 — the maximum the maximum allowed by law on two misdemeanor sexual assaults of “protected individuals”.
- October 2018: Greg Stephen, a prominent basketball coachwas arrested for sexually exploiting and abusing at least 400 boys over the course of several years. Although this is an Iowa case, the guy has connections to Nebraska coaches and athletes and it is conceivable that some of the exploitation took place in Nebraska or involved athletes from Nebraska.
- September 2018, Bellevue paraprofessional educatorRosie Davis was arrested for the sexual assault of a student in 2014-2016 when the student was 14-16 years old.
- September 2018, William Nelson of Norfolk, the son of a ministerwas sentenced to 20-25 years in prison for sexually assaulting a minor.
- August 2018: Omaha volleyball coachDan Martin was arrested on charges of 3rd degree sexual assault of a child.
- August 2018: Marcus Perry, the Lincoln High School girls basketball coach, was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a Lincoln High student and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
- June 2018, Brandon Stickley, a teacherat Loup City, Nebraska was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in an online sting.
- May 2018, the state revoked the teaching certificate of Brooks Wells who had been a longtime substitute teacherat Grand Island Public Schools. The basis for the revocation was a romantic relationship he started with one of the students he taught. The student was a senior at the time, so there were no criminal charges. Wells was married at the time.
- May 2018: A former First-Plymouth Church youth leader, Taylor T. Martin, was arrested for making an inappropriate advance on a 12-year-old boy at the church.
- May 2018: Christ Community Church (Omaha) youth ministerKlint Bitter was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to sexually assault a teenager at the church.
- April 2018, the State Patrol arrested John Hoffman, a Bloomfield Nebraska, math teacheron suspicion of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.
- April 2018: Retired Methodist ministerDavid Holmes was charged with the 1stdegree sexual assault of a Bellevue Nebraska teenage boy.
- April 2018: Pastor Larry Mullins, of the Apostolic Christian Ministries of Nebraska City was charged with sexually assaulting a 10-yr old girl in his church.
- February 2018, Paula Sissel, superintendent of Oshkosh Public Schoolswas charged with misdemeanor assault of an 8-yr old student, however she was later found not-guilty.
- January 2018, Kyle Ewinger, a former teacher and coachwho is 6’7” tall and weighs 270lbs, was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of the then 9-year-old son of an Omaha woman he had been dating in 2012 and 2013. He was caught with two other young boys while teaching in Iowa and may have assaulted numerous others. He was sentenced to 55-85 years in prison.
In all, there are at least 19teachers, coaches, and non-Catholic ministers who were arrested, charged, or convicted of some form of sexual crime against a Nebraska k-12 student in 2018. No Catholic priest in Nebraska was arrested, charged, or convicted of any such crime in 2018.
Does the Catholic Church help predator priests by moving them around?
One could claim that the Church is hiding perpetrators, but you would be completely wrong in saying that. First, the Lincoln Diocese (and most others across the country) have established an anonymous tip line where a 3rd party takes calls from anyone who wants to give information about any abuse. Information of crimes are then turned over to law enforcement and violations of Church rules which are not also violations of civil law are handled by the Church. Secondly, the Lincoln diocese and many other dioceses have set up an independent board of non-priests who will investigate any claims of inappropriate behavior by a priest. Finally, the Nebraska Attorney General has collected the files of all three Catholic dioceses in Nebraska and is conducting a thorough investigation of all priests who have ever worked in the state. Approximately 38 other states are doing the same thing. The Nebraska AG will find cases of child abuse, but those cases will be from many years ago, at least prior to 2002 and more likely from the 1970’s and 1980’s.
We also know that teachers, coaches, and non-Catholic ministers move around quite a bit as well. Some of those who have not been model employees benefit from past employers who do not share damaging information about them with prospective employers. If they choose not to list a former position on their resume, or if a former employer neglects to warn a future employer that the applicant may have a problem, it is up to the new employer to figure that out and to perform their due diligence as to why there was a gap in employment or why a former employer has not given a glowing recommendation.
One of the above cases (#3) involved a former seminarian who had been dismissed from the seminary after a former employer (a school) informed the diocese that he had been “let go” from employment because he had violated boundaries with students. After being dismissed from the seminary, he took a job at a public school in Omaha. Of course he didn’t disclose any of this on his resume and the public school hired him. The Archdiocese of Omaha had no idea he had taken a job in the public school system so they couldn’t warn anyone about him. Another case involved a teacher at a Catholic school (#4), but his prior employer, a public school, apparently did not warn the new employer about any problems if they had experienced any with him at their school. In almost all the other cases listed above, the perpetrator had a history of employment with at least one prior employer.
The days of transferring priests to new parishes or locations in order to get them away from past victims is a dead practice. It used to happen and everyone knows about it. If there is one group in society which is under a microscope today is is Catholic priests. Therefore, it would not be a successful tactic of evasion anymore. However, in the secular world, it can still work because a teacher, coach, or ministers job history and future jobs are not as traceable as a Catholic priest’s is.
If Catholic priests were allowed to marry, this would not be a problem.
This is a common statement by people who clearly do not know the facts. Now that you have read this far, you might already realize that all 20 of the perpetrators in cases referenced above were either married or absolutely free to marry. Yet they still chose to victimize somewhere between 1 to 400 k-12 students. Jerry Sandusky was married. Dr. Larry Nassar was married. You get the point, right?
Do professional child protection advocates agree that the Catholic Church is the #1 problem?
If the Catholic Church was the problem, there would have been a large number of priests arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime against a minor in Nebraska in 2018, but there were none. Zero.
The fact is, a student is more likely to be sexually abused by a teacher, a coach, or a youth group/program leader, than any other profession or field. Additionally, a child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a relative than a teacher or a coach. Most sexual abuse of children occurs in a residence, typically that of the victim or perpetrator. 84% of sexual victimization of children under age 12 occurs in a residence. Even older children are most likely to be assaulted in a residence. 71% of sexual assaults on children age 12-17 occur in a residence. Children in rural areas are apparently more likely to be victimized than children who live in metropolitan areas. Most assaults happen due to lapses in parental supervision due to unfit parenting, divorce, separation, substance abuse, mental illness, etc… 
Where should our focus and our concerns truly be?
No one should ever be victimized sexually, or in any other way, especially by someone who holds themselves to be a Christian, and especially a Catholic priest or bishop. So even with disturbing news about the dioceses in Pennsylvania, and even with news about bad priests and bishops across the world, it is a mistake to label all priests and the entire Catholic Church as evil, especially if you choose to ignore the fact that the rest of society is molesting, injuring, and mistreating children at much higher rates than we see in the Catholic Church since 2002.
If a person insists on ridiculing Catholics in spite of the fact that most child abuse happens in private homes, at the hands of family members and close friends of families, in public schools, in youth sports programs, and in many other non-Catholic settings, then their concern is not really about children, their agenda is simply anti-Catholic. Bigotry may make such a person feel good temporarily, but it is not a permanent fix for a more deep-seated issue. A person who insists that the Catholic Church or that priests are the problem, should spend a considerable amount of time figuring out why they believe this in spite of the clear evidence that they are wrong.
What about faithful Catholics? Why remain Catholic?
Given all of the disturbing news lately, it is reasonable to wonder why a person would still remain a faithful Catholic. The answer is, the sinfulness of human beings does not change God. The teachings of the Church are still true, even if every Catholic fails to live by those teachings. The fact is, immoral behavior, child abuse, dishonesty, selfishness, greed, and all the other sins which make life difficult, are everywhere in our culture. We have it in all the churches, all the schools, all the businesses, on all the farms and in every neighborhood. Where else can we go to keep our children safer than they are in the average Catholic school or Catholic parish? Nowhere.
The way we protect our children is by the way we live. First, we protect them by simply staying married. According to people who work with child safety, family structure is the most important risk factor in child sexual abuse. Children who live with two married biological parents are already at low risk for abuse. Children living with only one parent are twice as likely to be sexually abused. Children living without any parent (foster children) are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than children that live with both biological parents. Children who live with a single parent that has a live-in partner are at the highest risk level: they are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents.
Parents should not leave their child alone with individual adults. Parents need to talk about things like appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity. Parents must be close to their children and children need to trust their parents, so they can talk about things happening in the family, in school, among friends. Sleepovers at friends houses should be extremely rare if not nonexistent. What good comes after midnight anywhere? That time is for sleeping in your own bed, and a child should wake up in his or her own home every morning if at all possible.
In addition to talking about things going on within our family, at school, and with friends, parents need to talk about faith, virtue, and the culture. Families need to read the Bible together, pray together and go to Mass together. Parents must not only talk about these thigns, we need to model virtues for our children to see. Nobody has a greater influence on a child than the parent.
Why are Catholics still suffering discrimination in this day and age of political correctness?
The fact is, people often dislike the Catholic Church because of the bad behavior of Catholics in the past or the bad behavior of Catholics they know. That is unfortunate, but it is also like saying that the 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, and 1997 Cornhusker football teams were horrible because many of their players were not All-Americans and some of their players never started a college game in their entire career. No, we look at great teams, great businesses, and other great organizations because of their strengths, not their weaknesses. I’ve run across a number of pretty unimpressive non-Catholic Christians as well, but I don’t judge all non-Catholic Christians according to the worst examples I’ve seen. The world has also suffered some horrible atheists such as Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, but we never label every atheist as a mass murderer.
The fact is, we are all sinners. But Jesus created a Church for all sinners, founded it on Peter, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide it. Since the very beginning, all the official teachings of the Church have been proven true by Scripture, logic, history, and science. The Church offers all the tools a person needs in order to navigate a lifetime of traps and tricks of the Devil, if we choose to avail ourselves of those tools. Faithful Catholics have chosen to use the tools offered and you are welcome to join the Church in order to do the same if you wish. That decision is solely up to you, but you should not let the bad behavior of some very bad Catholics influence you on that decision. Whether it is the terrible behavior of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a priest who abused a minor, or a sinful Catholic you know at work, it should not impact your relationship with God.
You should be reasonable which means you should accept the facts as they are. A small portion of priests are terrible sinners. A larger portion of humanity are terrible sinners. The Church, even when led by fairly inept leaders, has still been able to protect children better than all other major institutions in the United States. Those are the facts.
I did not include Greg Stephen in this number even though he is included on the list.