Skip to main content

Church Sexual Abuse Statistics

Religious organizations are experiencing a grave issue: cases of sexual abuse and misconduct by trusted leaders. These incidents have devastating impacts on victims and communities, and shake the public’s trust in sacred institutions.

The Catholic Church alone has faced accusations of sexual abuse that date back centuries, while numerous cases of abuse in various religious institutions have come to light in recent years. Sexual abuse statistics reveal that within just one religious organization, there have been hundreds of thousands of child sexual abuse victims.

This article will delve into the prevalence of sexual abuse allegations in three major religious organizations and other religious groups, using relevant data and church abuse statistics.

How Common Is Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church?

The unfortunate reality is that widespread sexual abuse is prevalent in religious groups, and it’s far too common to see offenders abuse their trusted positions.  In many cases, respected religious leaders and esteemed congregation members are accused of sexual abuse and exploitation within their institutions. Such individuals not only take advantage of their positions of power, but also often find themselves protected by the organizations they serve.

Statistics on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are jarring: one survey from Pew Research revealed that about “nine-in-ten U.S. adults—including 95% of Catholics—have heard at least ‘a little’ about recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops.”

As more cases of sexual abuse in churches come to light, there are many church sexual abuse statistics showing the sheer scale of this issue.

For example, the Catholic Church has seen an “avalanche” of child sexual abuse accusations over the past few years, involving abuse that spans decades. For example, in May of 2023 a report by the Illinois Attorney General revealed that “More than 450 adult Catholic clergymen abused nearly 2,000 children in the state of Illinois over a period of almost 90 years.” (These statistics, like most statistics about child sexual abuse, likely present a lower incidence of abuse than has occurred, given the stigma and other challenges that often prevent abuse victims from reporting.)

Other Catholic Church abuse statistics reveal that:

The Catholic Church in Australia has paid over $200 million in compensation to abuse victims. This substantial compensation underscores the magnitude of the issue of sexual abuse within religious institutions and the enduring impact it has on victims.

Since 1950, allegations have surfaced regarding sexual abuse of children aged 10 to 13, perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests. Available data indicates that 80% of these victims were male, highlighting a concerning gender disparity in the abuse of minors by religious figures.

The psychological impact on sexually abused children is profound. The US Department of Justice has found that individuals sexually abused by priests suffer from impacts such as “depression, learned helplessness, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and strength of religious faith.” This research also found there “are often long-term psychological effects of childhood sexual abuse, and the abuse may go unreported for decades.”

Statistics on Child Sexual Abuse in the Southern Baptist Church

Abuse of this nature in religious institutions isn’t just limited to the Catholic Church. Statistical data on abuse within various religious organizations shows that numerous other institutions grapple with similar cases.

For example, the Southern Baptist Church faces a sexual abuse crisis that revealed hundreds of victims. In a bombshell investigation by a third-party group, investigators found about “700 victims, most of them children, were abused by church leaders and staff”.

The report stated that “longtime members of SBC’s Executive Committee worked to silence survivors and kill reform efforts.” Allegedly, leaders of the Southern Baptist Church “kept a private list of abusive pastors and ministers” while publicly claiming for years that this method would not be effective at “stopping predators.” The list named more than 700 offenders, some still working at churches when the report was published.

The former president of Southern Baptist Church himself was accused of sexual assault when an individual came forward. He indicated he “manipulated her into silence” by saying that her accusations would damage the church’s reputation. Four other people corroborated many of her accusations.

This report didn’t just detail the accusations, victims, and abuse. It reveals that leaders in the church failed to implement a comprehensive system for preventing and responding to this abuse, and that leaders “mishandled abuse cases and stonewalled victims for years.”

The Southern Baptist Church, officially called the Southern Baptist Convention, is the world’s largest Christian Protestant denomination, and it’s not the only denomination embroiled in accusations of sexual assault. One study found that “10% of Protestants under age 35 have left the church because they felt sexual abuse and misconduct were not taken seriously”.

Statistics on Sexual Abuse in the Mormon Church

The Mormon Church, a sect of Restorationist Christianity also called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is another religious group grappling with significant allegations of sexual abuse by its religious leaders and members. Mormon Church child sexual abuse statistics reveal numerous instances of sexual misconduct and assault within the organization.

In a notable case, a sexual abuse survivor was awarded a verdict of $2.28 billion against her perpetrator “by a California jury in a lawsuit that also implicated her mother and the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which both parents were active.” The lawsuit alleges the stepfather abused her at events, meetings, and property of the local Mormon Church. The lawsuit claims the victim repeatedly informed church leaders and officials, including bishops, about the alleged abuse. However, church officials reportedly failed to report sexual abuse and allegedly employed intimidation and shaming tactics to encourage her silence.

There is much evidence against the Mormon Church, with many personal accounts of sexual abuse detailed in recent years. In many cases, the abuse happened when the victims were very young, and the trauma can have lifelong effects.

The Mormon Church does have guidelines on “protecting members and reporting abuse” and recognizes that such abuse causes “physical, emotional, or sexual harm.” But many say these efforts are inadequate, and have called for the Mormon Church to do more and take more aggressive steps to protect children from sexual abuse.

Statistics on Sexual Abuse in Other Religious Organizations

Many major religious organizations are also grappling with sexual abuse of minors, as evidenced by statistics revealing such misconduct committed by religious leaders.

Researchers have found “patterns of sexual abuse in religious settings” and have also found that this abuse is distinct from “other forms of manipulation in secular settings.” Perpetrators can also be challenging to identify, because “they rarely conform to a single set of personality or other traits.”

Some of these cases are massive in scale. In 2018, a grand jury report detailed how church leaders in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania shielded hundreds of Catholic priests accused of abusing more than 1,000 young victims. These victims were “identifiable from the church’s own records”. This report also found that the diocese’s main goal was not to help children, but to avoid scandal.

There are shocking sexual abuse statistics involving the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. In 2019, an investigation by the Associated Press found that “nearly 1,700 priests and other clergy members” that the church “considers credibly accused of child sexual abuse are living under the radar with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement.”

The investigation highlighted how these religious leaders and clergy members (sexual offenders) seamlessly integrate with society, and found examples of perpetrators working as teachers, living next to playgrounds, and fostering children.  Some were even involved in counseling survivors of sexual assault. The investigation also found that many have committed dozens of crimes, “including sexual assault and possession of child pornography.”

Church Sexual Abuse Victims Deserve Justice

The alarming statistics on sexual abuse issues within religious organizations highlight the extensive scope and scale of this problem. Far from being a problem of the past, many cases reveal that such abuse is not being addressed with the necessary gravity, and abuse continues to this day.

The pervasive nature of sexual abuse in religious settings is deeply concerning, with profound and lasting consequences for its child abuse victims. It is imperative that church groups take decisive action to confront this challenge and work to prevent sexual abuse. These institutions have a responsibility to protect individuals from sexual abuse and implement preventive measures within their own organizations.  Where institutions fail to take the initiative to implement change, legal actions by victims can create powerful outside pressure for reform and hold sex offenders accountable.

At Crew Janci LLP, our mission is to help survivors of sexual abuse find healing, help, and justice. ‘We understand that it takes courage and strength for victims to come forward, and we are committed to providing victims with the support and expert legal guidance they need. If you or someone you love has been a victim of clerical abuse, please contact us today.

This article presents statistics from trusted sources and includes additional insights which represent the opinions of Crew Janci. Please note that the content provided in this article should not be construed as legal advice.

Peter Janci

Peter has represented more than one hundred victims of sexual abuse over nearly a decade. In Spring of 2010, Peter Janci served as part of the Plaintiff’s trial team in Kerry Lewis v. Boy Scouts of America — a child sexual abuse trial in Portland, Oregon that resulted in a $19.9 million verdict for the Plaintiff. Peter has tried a number of jury and bench trials, in addition to representing clients at arbitration and meditation. Peter has also helped obtain dozens of other significant settlements for other survivors of sexual abuse.