The British public were shocked recently to learn that at least 1,400 vulnerable children were abused in the northern English town of Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, mostly by gangs of Pakistani Muslims. An independent inquiry has found that the origin and extent of the abuse was covered up by a range of public authorities, partly because of fear of being racist or Islamophobic. Braver voices have identified factors within Pakistani culture and Islam which at the very least contributed to the scandal.

Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a Asian commentatory of Muslim origin, said:

“I partly blame their families and communities. Too many Asian mothers spoil their boys, undervalue their girls, and demean their daughters-in-law. Within some British Asian circles, the West is considered degenerate and immoral. So it’s OK to take their girls and ruin them further.”

Why is this matter relevant to readers of a Catholic newspaper? Only the obvious: that sex abuse, often of children by Catholic officials (clergy, religious, and lay professionals), has been both a running story and a scarring wound in the consciousness of Catholics in recent decades. The victims have been our classmates in Catholic schools and altar-boys in our parishes. A Catholic who is unaware or uninterested in this scandal is sorely lacking in the charitable interest he should take in his neighbours.

Many observers have sought (rightly) to discern the specific reasons for clerical sex abuse. The list of suggested reasons are both varied and voluminous. To name but a few: Modernism within priestly formation from the 1930s onwards; lax vetting of seminary candidates; negligent bishops; homosexuality; alcoholism; clericalism; and local factors, such as influence of Jansenism within Irish Catholicism. It is certainly plausible that all these and many other other phenomena contributed their part to the sex abuse crisis.

What, however, is certain is that sex abuse is a phenomenon which has been found in secular and religious environments alike throughout the world. The sex crimes of Muslim men in northern Ireland, of 1970s entertainers, of school-teachers, suburban parents and childcare workers, cannot be laid at the foot of the Church. The scale of the abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile and in Rotherham dwarf the scale of sex abuse attributable to Catholic Church personnel. It is therefore not only unjust but hypocritical for the militant atheists, the degenerate mass media and the sexual rights lobbies to have presented the Catholic Church as the worst and/or the main source of sex abuse in the modern world.

Yes, it is true that ‘the corruption of the best is the worst’. The clergy of the Church, which extols purity of life especially regarding sexuality, are all the more guilty when they violate purity so egregiously. Yet that is to acknowledge that the Church has a far nobler vision of the dignity of the human person than any other institution. It does not prove that that sex abuse within the Catholic Church has been particularly rampant, much less peculiarly Catholic in some strange way. It certainly does not justify the secular witch-hunts, media show-trials, and rapacious litigation to which the limpid Church has been subjected.

Those who have been criticised in the independent inquiry into the Rotherham scandal are refusing to accept responsibility. Contrast this with Pope Francis’s apology in July to the victims of clerical sex abuse. He said:

“Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”

Also, Pope Francis, following the reforming lead of Pope Benedict in this area, has established a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Thus, a sadder but wiser Church has no cause to be supine before a secularised society which produces a Rotherham.