Cartoon in the April 12 New Yorker: Cheerful old lady saying to priest, “Of course, my confessions probably aren’t nearly as interesting as yours.”

In 2002 alone, the Catholic Church removed 450 US priests from parish duties because of allegations of child molesting. Two years later, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops reported that during the previous half century, 10,667 Americans had come forward to complain of molestations by church clerics, with the number of complaints peaking in the 1970s.

However, most priests accused of child molesting were never prosecuted. Many were merely reassigned to other parishes where some kept right on molesting. Referring to one such case, The New York Times last month reported, “The Vatican’s inaction [was] not unusual.

“Only 20 percent of the 3,000 accused priests whose cases went to the church’s doctrinal office between 2001 and 2010 were given full church trials, and only some of those were defrocked, according to a recent interview in an Italian newspaper with Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the chief internal prosecutor at that office.”

Until recently, most allegations against priests had come from the United States, Canada, and Ireland, but in recent months the scandal has mushroomed with reports of molestations also pouring in from all over Europe and Mexico. Equally disturbing have been new revelations about members of the church’s hierarchy covering up the crimes.

With a growing number of Catholics acknowledging they’ve been victimized, many other victims have come to realize they’re not alone, and this has given them the courage to seek counseling. Here’s an example.

A “Help and Law” line established by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference in 1995 had until this spring been getting an average of 10 calls a year regarding molestations, but in the past three weeks alone, it has received 1,300 new reports, a spokesman told the press.

So what are we to make of legislation proposed in Sacramento that would establish even harsher sentences for child molesters? Does it not target four or five percent (according to church estimates) of our Catholic clerics?

Many people including some prominent Protestant clergymen blame the thousands of molestations on the Vatican’s insistence on priestly celibacy, its ban on openly gay priests, and its refusal to admit women to the priesthood.

In September, the Vatican responded that the percentage of child molesters in the priesthood is no higher than in society as a whole. But the defense sounded disingenuous, for what animates the abuse is sex, not statistics.

Lest we become too focused on one religion, however, let’s also look at a religious movement that frequently seems even more irrational regarding sex: Islamic fundamentalism.

Take the disintegrating country of Somalia where the most-powerful insurgent group is al Shabab, which has ties to al Qaeda. At the moment, al Shabab fighters appear close to seizing control of the capital, Mogadishu.

On Thursday, The Times reported that as al Shabab tightens its grip on Somalia, it is enforcing an ultra-conservative version of Islam that among other things prohibits brassieres because they supposedly create a deception. Women caught wearing bras are being publicly whipped.

Meanwhile across the Arab Sea, conservative Islam’s dress code for women resulted in yet another absurdity earlier this year. As the Huffington Post reported in February, “An Arab ambassador in Dubai has had his marriage annulled after discovering that his bride, behind her veil, was bearded and cross-eyed.

“The couple had only met a few times during their courtship. Each of these times the woman had worn a niqab, an Islamic veil that covers most of the face.

“After the marriage contract was signed in Dubai, the ambassador tried to kiss his new wife. However, as he removed the veil, he was shocked at what he saw. The unnamed ambassador went straight to court to annul the marriage…leaving his wife in tears….

“The Islamic Sharia court annulled the marriage but refused to compensate the ambassador for the estimated 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) in gifts he had bought the woman.”

Appearance is obviously playing too large a role in human society. Here’s another example, this one from the Florida Keys. On March 2, a 37-year-old woman caused a two-vehicle crash by trying to shave her privates while driving. Her ex-husband sitting in the passenger’s seat had been doing the steering.

Why? quoted Florida Highway Patrol trooper Gary Dunick as explaining, “She said she was meeting her boyfriend in Key West and wanted to be ready for the visit.” The trooper went on to comment, “If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it.”