A response to Dave Pierre’s book on falsely-accused Catholic priests

Re: “Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories” by Dave Pierre

On 7th January 2012 the website of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests published a long interview with the author of this book.  Subsequently, on the ACP website on March 9th, under the heading ‘News for ACP members’, a contributor to the site made a comment strongly recommending the book.  He related how it details “how in one American Diocese over a third of accusations were found to be false”.

This conclusion is likely to have been drawn from a chapter of this book entitled ‘Hard Data’.  There Dave  Pierre recounts how in Aug 2011 the Boston archdiocese listed 53 priests who had been removed from ministry on foot of abuse complaints over several decades.  He then relates that the diocese had also posted a list of 25 priests against whom allegations for the same period had been found to be unsubstantiated.

Mr Pierre then writes:

“With these two numbers one can arrive at the figure of false accusations being at 32 percent.”

This figure is apparently derived by adding 25 to 53, to make 78, and by then calculating 25/78 x 100 =32.05.

If so Mr Pierre has made at least three mistakes in arriving at this conclusion.

First, a total of 250 priests were the subject of abuse allegations in Boston in this period.  So, of those 250 accused priests, if allegations against 25 priests were found to be unsubstantiated, then 10%, not 32%, of the total of accused priests, were the subject of allegations deemed unsubstantiated by the diocese.

Second, in the child protection regime in the US, abuse allegations are categorised as follows: (a) substantiated, (b) unable to substantiate; (c) false.  ‘Unable to substantiate’ simply means that the matter is unclear — one cannot confirm or disprove.  It is therefore not correct to conclude from the figures given by Mr Pierre that even 10% of accused priests in Boston were victims of false allegation.

Third, in concluding that a given percentage of falsely accused priests translates into the same percentage of false allegations, Mr Pierre does not allow for the probability that innocent people will be the subject of far fewer allegations per head than true paedophiles.  In fact, as paedophiles commonly have multiple victims there could easily be a situation where in the case of ten accused  people there could be a total of thirty allegations.  By Pierre’s method of computation, if one of those ten had been found to be falsely accused, the rate of false allegation in this case would also be 10%.  But what if there had been only one allegations against the person found innocent and a total of 29 allegations against the nine who were guilty?  The true rate of false allegation here would in fact be 3.3%.

If the Boston archdiocese has published data for the total of abuse allegations made, and the total of allegations subsequently deemed to be false, why did Mr Pierre not use those figures?  If it hasn’t, why did he conclude that he could reliably compute the percentage of allegations deemed false in Boston?

Careful studies of the actual rate of false accusation in the US, using real data, have always arrived at an even lower figures.  For example, the comprehensive John Jay study of Catholic clerical child abuse in the USA of 2004 put the figure at 1.5%.

A US child protection professional, Gary Schoehner, comments to me on that latter figure for false allegation as follows:

“Even the John Jay 1.5% has been challenged.  The criteria for determining that they were “false” is not standard and it was made by the dioceses themselves.  What is astonishing is that across the country so few are discounted, even by the Catholic Church.”

On this same issue the US Conference of Catholic bishops posted a bulletin this year, to be found at:


At # 46 of this bulletin the following will be found:


“Did You Know?

Children Do Not Lie About Abuse

Most children are not lying when they say that they were abused. Less than 5% of all allegations are intentionally false. It is more likely that children will refuse to tell about abuse than to lie about abuse. Several studies estimate that only about 6% of all children report sexual abuse by an adult to someone who can do something about it. The other 94% do not tell anyone or talk only to a friend. (And they swear their friend to secrecy.)”

~*~ Finally, in February of this year Fr Stephen J Rossetti – who is a consultant to the US bishops on this issue – informed a Vatican symposium on clerical child abuse as follows:

”There are false allegations to be sure. It is critical that we do all that we can to restore a priest’s good name once it is determined that the allegations are false.  …. decades of experience tell us that the vast majority of allegations, over 95 per cent, are founded. There is little benefit, and much to be lost, for a person to come forward and to allege that he or she was sexually molested by a priest.”

The rest of Mr Pierre’s book needs to be subjected to similar scrutiny – if anyone else has time to spare and money to spend.

Sean O’Conaill http://www.seanoconaill.com

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  1. Sean, thank you for that excellent critique of part of Dave Pierre’s book. I, too, read the interview on this website in January and felt very uncomfortable with the whole slant of what he was saying. I firmly believe that the only decent and reasonable way forward for us is to continue to humbly acknowledge the full extent of the whole horrible scandal. There is now a tendency for the ultra-conservatives, and some not-so ultra conservative, to try to downplay the real extent of clerical sex-abuse of children. And, you know the propaganda is effective to the extent that I found myself actually surprised when I read in the Tablet a few weeks ago the contribution made by Mgr. Stephen Rossetti, the American psychologist who has worked extensively with abusers, at the recent symposium in Rome in which he stated that “more than 95% of complaints were well founded”. The mis-information that roughly a third of complaints were false had seeped into my subconscious mind.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    I saw Archbishop Martin tear up in an interview as he recounted meeting a person who told of being raped by a priest when aged 8. What I found objectionable is that this leaves the impression that the priests mentioned in the Murphy report were typically rapists of children. Would it not be more correct to think that the typical offence was molesting adolescents? The tendency to maximize and demonize is the mark of a witch-hunting mentality.

  3. Viv Kennedy says:

    Children don’t lie about child sex abuse, but I am not too sure about adults. I am an atheist, but I reckon Dave Pierre has a point re bias in media.

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