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I find the articles in the November/December issue of Books & Culture quite well-written and thought-provoking. I was disturbed, however, by the surprising gullibility of Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen in accepting at face value the claims of A. W. Richard Sipe [made in "Sex, Priests, and Power"] about the sexual conduct of Catholic priests. In recent years we have had many examples of the tendency of "progressives" to indulge in wild statistical assertion. We have been told that 10 percent of men are homosexual, that there are several million homeless people in the U.S., and so on. (All of these numbers have been shown to be about ten times too large.)
Such claims are based on several factors: simple innumeracy and inability to think quantitatively, the desire to efface the distinction between the normal and the abnormal or exceptional, and the attempt to manufacture "crises" that would justify radical change. For example, if only a few men beat their wives there is something wrong with them, but if that were the normal practice of husbands, then there might be something wrong with the institution of marriage per se.
Van Leeuwen tells us that Sipe is an ex-priest who wants to remake the Catholic church according to the tenets of scientific materialism and sexual liberalism. But even if he had no axes to grind, his experience as a psychiatrist is likely to have exposed him to a skewed sample of clergy. Even those trained in statistical methods and doing systematic studies of large samples can get wildly inaccurate results by not having a statistically "fair sample" of the relevant population. Kinsey's huge overestimate of the incidence of homosexuality is a well-known example. And Sipe admits that no random or systematic studies of priestly sexual behavior have been done at all by him or anyone else.
The claim that 30 percent of all priests are in ongoing sexual relationships is therefore worthless. While many Protestants might find this figure plausible and see in it confirmation ...