From the beginning, armchair social-scientists have floated any number of explanations for the Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse crisis. Conservatives blamed gay men. Liberals blamed celibacy. And everyone blamed the bishops.

Now we have a new report on the scandal’s “causes and context” [.pdf], whose results contradict most observers’ pet theories. That may be the report’s greatest value.

Last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the long-awaited study, which was conducted by independent researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. John Jay also produced the 2004 “Nature and Scope” report, which provided information about what had happened—who abused, who was abused, and when. The new study tries to explain why.

The report emphasizes that researchers could find no single cause for the crisis, no single predictor of abuse. Yes, the report identifies characteristics common to abusers (many were abused themselves; many led isolated lives; and, perhaps most important, all of them found opportunities to molest). But most abusers did not have any diagnosable psychological problems, including pedophilia. Most were one-time offenders. And more than three-quarters of priests who abused minors also had sexual contact with adults.

John Jay’s researchers detail a steep rise in incidents of abuse through the 1960s and ’70s, followed by a steady decline beginning in the mid-’80s. That drop-off leads the study to reject claims that either homosexuality or celibacy was at the root of the crisis. After all, if gay priests were to blame, why would the decline in abuse begin as the number of homosexual priests continued to rise? And if celibacy was the culprit, why would abuse incidents drop while mandatory celibacy remained?

Finding no evidence that either homosexuality or celibacy caused the crisis, the report turns to the timing of the spike and of the decline in abuse. Researchers surmise that because the increase in abuse coincided with a rise in other “deviant” behaviors in the wider culture, something about that culture conspired with the seminary training of abuser-priests, helping to produce the crisis of molestation in the 1960s and ’70s. Later, as seminaries became more attentive to “human formation,” and as U.S. culture became more aware of sexual abuse and its long-term effects, abuse incidents decreased dramatically.

That theory hasn’t convinced everyone. Some critics, for example, have pointed out that the rise and fall in abuse seems to track the postwar rise in the number of priests and the post-’60s decline. Fair enough. But others have simply decided to praise the parts they agree with and dismiss the parts they don’t like. For example, Catholic League President Bill Donohue continues to claim the crisis was essentially a “gay problem,” while victims’ advocates have pronounced the study unreliable because the bishops self-reported much of the data. Some have even accused John Jay of allowing those who funded the research—including the USCCB—to dictate its results.

Such critics allege that John Jay cooked the data in order to minimize the bishops’ role in the scandal, or, worse, in order to minimize the suffering of victims. Yet John Jay’s job was not simply to assign blame for the crisis, but to figure out its likely causes. True, the report does not thunder against bishops for their failure to deal properly with abusive priests and to speedily address the needs of victims—although bishops do come in for some deserved criticism. Instead, the researchers have committed an act of social science. Just as it would be a mistake to view the report as an exoneration of church leaders, it would be foolish to dismiss its data as if they reveal nothing about the shape and causes of the crisis.

Still, some issues require further exploration, especially the role of clericalism and the absolute authority of each bishop in his diocese. The report goes to great lengths to explain how the crisis happened, but fails to address sufficiently what made it a scandal—namely, the failures not only of offending priests but also bishops. The epidemic of sexual abuse by priests may be history, but the clerical culture and the unaccountability of too many bishops are not. Most recently, in the wake of a damning February grand-jury report [.pdf], it has come to light that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had been keeping cases of accused priests from its review board (see “The Fog of Scandal”). When the bishops meet in Seattle in mid-June, they’ll have the chance to discuss that and other episcopal failures. They must once and for all reject secrecy—even if it means sacrificing some independence. The hour is late. At stake is nothing less than the trust of their people.

Related: The Church's Sex-abuse Crisis, by Peter Steinfels
Lagging Behind and Another Long Lent, by Nicholas P. Cafardi
Truth or Consequences, by Cathleen Kaveny
A Victim's Defense of Priests
, by Terry Donovan Urekew

From dotCommonweal: David Gibson on the John Jay Report



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Your basic point is well taken:  That social science and logical analysis of real data can help to provide better answers about what happened and perhaps is still happening.  At the risk of belaboring the obvious, however, two points in particular come to mind:  The definition of pedophilia used by the report is non-standard (cutting off at age 10 instead of age 13); this not only brings down drastically the number of cases classified as pedophilia, but also undercuts the overall credibility of the study and its analysis. 

The second point is that the report, probably unwittingly, gives the impression that all this started in the 1960s, when we all know that it is a problem with a much, much longer history.  This older history MUST be unearthed and explored, else we will not understand how we got here and how to move forward.  Something is deeply wrong with our system, and we have not yet figured out what that is, nor how to fix it. 

But to return to your basic point:  If we can reduce our polarization over the issue, perhaps a more logical, data-driven approach will result.  None of us should get so invested in an explanation before the facts that we are willing to ignore those facts and some alternate explanation(s) which they may suggest. 

There are significant questions yet to be asked. The study begs the question in several respects including defining pedophilia, analysis of actual abuse patterns, and the significant number of seminarians and clergy who left either before or after ordination, especially during the 60' and 70's. Many would assert that we lost our best and brightest and settled for mediocre and even the ill-suited. Today's clergy shortages seem to indicate a desperation to ordain and appoint any warm body regardless of qualification or formation or origin to fill the gaps in pastoral assignments. In our diocese, it is now common for a priest to be appointed as a pastor after only three years of service since ordination. More and more foreign born priests are being incardinated and they now are the dominant clergy - a continuing disconnect with the people that does not bode well for the future. Their unfaimiliarity with American culture as well as reluctance to share ministry or work well with laity, especially women, is clearly documented. Are we just substituting one form of abuse for another?

"Yes, the report identifies characteristics common to abusers (many were abused themselves; many led isolated lives; and, perhaps most important, all of them found opportunities to molest)."...."But most abusers did not have any diagnosable psychological problems," is a nonsensical conclusion as these are among the mental and psychological conditions of non-clerical everyday sexual predators of young children, mainly boys. At one time the candidates for the priesthood were screened to weed out those with these or similar existing conditions but such screenings ended or were watered down as the number of candidates declined. This opened the door to the sexual predators who don't just happen to have "found opportunities to molest" but seeks positions. i.e.,teachers, coaches, clerics, counselers that provide the innocent victims and finding "opportunities to molest" suggests an existing pre-condition to molest.  "Finding no evidence that either homosexuality or celibacy caused the crisis," is based on what hard indisputable evidence? Or is this conclusion based on personal interviews and written statements of the truly guilty, hardly credible evidence, or simply a PC non-conclusion, blame it on the hippies, that exonerates all of personal responsibility.So which myths were actually busted?

Actually, the 'Bell Curve' on the 50 year graph is to be expected taking into account the normal length of a human life and the delay in reporting of the abuse due to a person's ability to reckon with (or defend against) the memory and psychological impact of sexual abuse. 

If the cultural climate inside and outside the priesthood is such a critical factor, unless truly effective safeguards were put into place beginning in the 80s, the Church will be facing abuse claims for many years to come, because if the news, media and CDC reports are any indication, at least the climate outside is far worse than before. 

A further thought - The Church leadership and populace seems to have swallowed the 'gay' paradigm and its invented and propagandized concepts: the gay/straight dichotomy, sexual orientation, sexual identity.  These are not biblical.  There is no recognition of more than two sexes nor is there any exemption or exclusion in Scripture.  There is no special category or folk status for people on the basis of their proclivities and inclinations.  There is no approval ever for same-sex sexual acts in Scripture.  For the Church to affirm homo/bi/etc. sexuality disorientations is to approve what God does not, and what science, research, the CDC and police statistics show is correlated with early death, addiction, disease (44X the incidence of STDs, including AIDS) depression, suicide and violence.

Scripture shows us that GOD is the IAM, the Only Identity that is unchanging, and the Identity from which His Word emanates and by which His Commandments are modeled.  God's Word and Commandments describe and produce God's Caracter.  Our feelings and desires and self-concepts do not shape God's Word, but must conform to it.

Scripture shows we gain our identity by our obedience and love for God's will.

Scripture does not recognize any special exemption or category for sexual sin, but lumps all rebellious against God's law and ways in one group - sinner.  (Romans 1:18-32)
Our identity and character is shaped by whom or what we follow, believe, serve, give ourselves to...(this is the definition of worship).   (Jeremiah 2:5, Romans 12:1; II Corinthians 3:18)
We lose our identity when we fail to heed God's Word (James 1:22-25
Jesus said if you love me, you will keep my commandments.  (John 14:15, 23)
Romans 1:32 is a warning against agreeing with or approving of sin.
We find our identity and stability in surrender to God in obedience to His Word and Will - this is the only way of life, joy, rest and peace.

The church not taking a Scriptural stand about the formation of human identity is as wrong as approving sexual abuse against children.

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