Skip to comments.Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture. The lessons of an important new study.
Posted on 05/19/2011 7:00:15 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
The American narrative of the Catholic Churchs struggles with the clerical sexual abuse of the young has been dominated by several tropes firmly set in journalistic concrete: that this was and is a pedophilia crisis; that the sexual abuse of the young is an ongoing danger in the Church; that the Catholic Church was and remains a uniquely dangerous environment for young people; that a high percentage of priests were abusers; that abusive behavior is more likely from celibates, such that a change in the Churchs discipline of priestly celibacy would be important in protecting the young; that the Churchs bishops were, as a rule, willfully negligent in handling reports of abuse; that the Church really hasnt learned any lessons from the revelations that began in the Long Lent of 2002.
But according to an independent, $1.8 million study conducted by New Yorks John Jay College of Criminal Justice, commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and released on May 18, every one of these tropes is false.
One: Most clerical abusers were not pedophiles, that is, men with a chronic and strong sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. Most of those abused (51 percent) were aged eleven to fourteen and 27 percent of victims were fifteen to seventeen; 16 percent were eight to ten and 6 percent were younger than seven. Males between eleven and fourteen account for more than 40 percent of all victims. Clerical ephebophilia (a sexual attraction to adolescents, often boys) was clearly a serious problem. But to label this a pedophilia crisis is ignorant, sloppy, or malicious.
Two: The crisis of clerical sexual abuse in the United States was time-specific. The incidence of abuse spiked in the late 1960s and began to recede dramatically in the mid-1980s. In 2010, seven credible cases of abuse were reported in a church that numbers over 65 million adherents.
Three: Abusers were a tiny minority of Catholic priests. Some 4 percent of Catholic priests in active ministry in the United States were accused of abuse between the 1950s and 2002. There is not a shred of evidence indicating that priests abuse young people at rates higher than do people in the rest of society. On the contrary: Most sexual abuse takes place within families. The John Jay study concludes that, in 2001, whereas five young people in 100,000 may have been abused by a priest, the average rate of abuse throughout the United States was 134 for every 100,000 young people. The sexual abuse of the young is a widespread and horrific societal problem; it is by no means uniquely, or principally, a Catholic problem, or a specifically priestly problem.
Four: The bishops response to the burgeoning abuse crisis between the late 1960s and the early 1980s was not singularly woodenheaded or callous. In fact, according to the John Jay study, the bishops were as clueless as the rest of society about the magnitude of the abuse problem and, again like the rest of society, tended to focus on the perpetrators of abuse rather than the victims. This, in turn, led to an overdependence on psychiatry and psychology in dealing with clerical perpetrators, in the false confidence that they could be cured and returned to active ministry a pattern that again mirrored broader societal trends. In many pre-1985 cases, the principal request of victims families was that the priest-abuser be given help and counseling. Yes, the bishops should have been more alert than the rest of an increasingly coarsened society to the damage done to victims by sexual abuse; but as the John Jay report states, like the general public, the leaders of the Church did not recognize the extent or harm of victimization. And this, in turn, was one factor that likely led to the continued perpetration of offenses.
Five: As for today, the John Jay study affirms that the Catholic Church may well be the safest environment for young people in American society. It is certainly a safer environment than the public schools. Moreover, no other American institution has undertaken the extensive self-study that the Church has, in order to root out the problem of the sexual abuse of the young. It will be interesting to see when editorials in the New York Times and the Boston Globe demand in-depth studies of the sexual abuse of the young by members of the teachers unions, and zero-tolerance policies for teacher/abusers.
So: If the standard media analytic tropes on clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States have been proven false by a vigorous empirical study conducted by a neutral research institute, what, in fact, did happen? Why did the incidence of abuse spike dramatically from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s? The John Jay researchers propose that the crumbling of sexual mores in the turbulence of the sexual revolution played a significant role. As the report puts it, The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in American society generally. The increase in abusive behavior is consistent with the rise in other types of deviant behavior, such as drug use and crime, as well as changes in social behavior, such as an increase in pre-marital sexual behavior and divorce.
This is not the entire picture, of course. A Church that was not in doctrinal and moral confusion from the late 1960s until the 1978 election of John Paul II might have been better armored against the worst impacts of the sexual free-for-all unleashed in the mid-1960s. A Church that had not internalized unhealthy patterns of clericalism might have run seminary programs that would have more readily weeded out the unfit. A Church that placed a high value on evangelical zeal in its leadership might have produced bishops less inclined to follow the lead of the ambient culture in imagining that grave sexual abusers could be fixed. All that can, and must, be said.
But if the Times, the Globe, and others who have been chewing this story like an old bone for almost a decade are genuinely interested in helping prevent the crime and horror of the sexual abuse of the young, a good, long, hard look will be taken at the sexual libertinism that has been the default cultural position on the American left for two generations. Catholic progressives who continue to insist that the disciplinary and doctrinal meltdown of the postVatican II years had nothing to do with the abuse crisis might also rethink their default understanding of that period. The ecclesiastical chaos of that decade and a half was certainly a factor in the abuse crisis, although that meltdown is not a one-size-fits-all explanation for the crisis and the way it was handled.
The John Jay study is less than illuminating on one point, and that is the relationship of all this to homosexuality. The report frankly states that the majority of victims (81 percent) were male, in contrast to the distribution by victim gender in the United States [where] national incidence studies have consistently shown that in general girls are three times more likely to be abused than boys. But then the report states that the clinical data do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity or those who committed same-sex sexual behavior with adults are significantly more likely to sexually abuse children than those with a heterosexual orientation or behavior.
The disconnect, to the lay mind, seems obvious: Eighty-one percent of the victims of sexual abuse by priests are adolescent males, and yet this has nothing to do with homosexuality? Perhaps it doesnt from the clinicians point of view (especially clinicians ideologically committed to the notion that there is nothing necessarily destructive about same-sex behaviors). But surely the attempt by some theologians to justify what is objectively immoral behavior had something to do with the disciplinary meltdown that the report notes from the late 1960s through the early 1980s; it might be remembered that it was precisely in this period that the Catholic Theological Society of America issued a study, Human Sexuality, that was in clear dissent from the Churchs settled teaching on fornication, self-abuse, and homosexual acts, and even found a relatively kind word to say about bestiality. And is there no connection to be found between the spike in abuse cases between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s, with its victimization of adolescent males, and the parallel spike in homoerotic culture in U.S. Catholic seminaries and religious orders in that same period? Given the prevailing shibboleths in the American academy (including the Catholic academy), it may be that no clinically or statistically demonstrable linkage will be found, but it strains credulity to suggest that there wasnt a cultural connection here, one that bears serious reflection.
Empirical evidence is unlikely to shift the attention of the mainstream media or the plaintiffs bar from the Catholic Church in this matter of the sexual abuse of the young. If would be a good thing for the entire society, however, if the defenders of the sexual revolution would take seriously the question of the relationship between their commitment to lifestyle libertinism and this plague. If the John Jay study on the causes ands context of clerical-sexual-abuse problems in the Catholic Church prompts a broader public reflection on the fact that the sexual revolution has not been, and is not, cost-free, and that its victims are often the vulnerable young, then the Church will have done all of American society a signal service in commissioning this study that looks into its own heart of darkness.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washingtons Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His book on the abuse crisis, The Courage To Be Catholic, is available from Basic Books.
First of all, many are married. There are plenty of converted Anglican Priests AND many more Eastern Catholic Priests (full communion with the Pope, mostly married, not converts). So the issue is just with the various orders of Priests not allowing it. Over all there is not a prohibition on married Priests. The Church's rule not mine!
I think the historical reason for the prohibition of priest marrying is well understood. We didn't want priesthoods passing from father to son. In fact, if you look at a lot of early church writings it talks about excluding people from being Bishop if their family wasn't in order.
I am Anglican, and we say our church is built on Tradition, Scripture, and Reason. LIke the Catholic Church we hold Marriage as a sacrament. It makes no sense to me to say that Priests can not participate in one of the sacraments. In fact, I don't think it does to Catholics either - they get around this by saying that the Priest is necessary for the sacrament of marriage between two people to occur. So they are participating in the sacrament just not in their own marriage. At least that is what Catholic priests have explained to me. The church is a little schizophrenic on this - because when not talking about Priests being unable to participate it is just said that they are the chief witness and the couple are the givers of the sacrament. My marriage for instance isn't valid according to the Catholic Church (my priest was Anglican).
This tradition is not based on scripture but has a clear historical purpose that is no longer necessary, wasn't universal in the church until around 1000 years ago, and isn't even now universally enforced but is still dictating other major changes to doctrinal believes. Yet, more Catholics support women priests than married priests.
Yup. That sounds about right. They can make up new terms until the cows come home. It doesn't change the fact that these are some seriously twisted dudes.
And that happened in 2010? Somehow I doubt it.
Maybe of the cases (and I’m not condoning the molestation of children) were false and proven so in court. Only a small number of priests were ever found guilty.
You are aware, though, aren’t you that the press hates the Catholic Church? So we get the news (negative news, that is) about the Catholic Church and other abuse cases in other denominations are not reported.
“The Conference, through the Board, commissioned a research group at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York to produce a descriptive study through a comprehensive survey of all dioceses and religious orders in the United States. These surveys requested detailed information about the number of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, the nature of the alleged abuse, responses of Church leaders to allegations of abuse, and many other areas.7 The applicable time period is 1950 to 2002.”
This study was based on self-reporting. That may be why most of the cases involved priests who had died...and why there is a dramatic drop-off in incidents occurring within the last 30 years. Guess no one wanted to report that they had pedophile priests still in their diocese.
The other possible explanation is that the problem is gone - but to conclude that based on this study would be foolish.
And I knowpersonally of at least two priests who were accused falsely.
Does anyone know if the writer is describing confirmed sexual abuse, or some diluted catch all category?
Fact: The John Gay study denied that homosexuality caused the problem.
Do you support this contention?
Have you not noticed that the bishops that Pope Benedict SVI is putting in place in the United States are quite conservative and pro-life.
Are you not aware, either, of the rigorous examination that seminarians undergo? Two day psyche exams, character witnesses galore, personal interviews by many — and these go on for days and days........and then the seminarian gets to study for SEVEN or EIGHT years before being ordained?
Then you should support dealing with the problem instead of running away from it. All priests became suspect and many souls lost the faith.
All of the Baptist information is based on self-reporting, and there has been no Baptist study over ANY time period.
Are you only focused on the Catholics?
“Are you not aware, either, of the rigorous examination that seminarians undergo? Two day psyche exams, character witnesses galore, personal interviews by many and these go on for days and days........and then the seminarian gets to study for SEVEN or EIGHT years before being ordained?”
Won’t help if homosexuals are doing the choosing...
No blog, just the facts:
Sources: Reuters, Munich archdiocese
Then why did you choose to criticize the report?
Prolife? I have my gripes on that as well, but you change the subject. We were discussing the homo-abuse scandals and you avoided my question:
If they are not still in cover-up mode, why do they continue denying the homosexual infestation?
The report and article are a white wash of events.
They both attempt to minimize the evil that occurred.
Set in "FR concrete", too.
I'm not surprised some posters are wetting their pants.
These are precisely the exact points made by the "whack-a-mole" gang on FR, week in, week out and no studies, irrespective of their origins, no statistics, no arguments, are ever going to alter their attitude. Never.........ever. Of course they're going to scream "whitewash".
It's entirely evident by now that the general issue of sex abuse holds little interest for the FR hoi polloi unless the adjective "Catholic" is placed in front of it.
So be it.
The Church is being purified, painfully yet assuredly of this plague and in spite of the lavender mafia and their episcopal enablers, it will be just fine.
The report is flawed but not for the reasons parroted by the compulsive naysayers. It's flawed because it skirts around the issue of homosexuality. It says nothing about the widespread flouting of the Church's own discipline by bishops and seminary rectors concerning who may be ordained. It totally ignores this elephant in the living room, as Weigel states.
The fact that this study was even commissioned suggests that the USCCB is still groping around, hoping to be able to avoid the conclusion which is patently obvious to everybody else. This is their legacy. It's the legacy of AmChurch. The chickens coming home to roost. The American hierarchy thumbed its nose at Rome for decades with the "we'll do it our way" attitude and this is what they got.
It's a fitting epitaph for the AmChurch tombstone.
RE: Source for all of that?? Or are you fabricating it?
I believe TSgt is quoting from Reuters:
Factbox: European Catholic sex abuse cases in 2010
If you look at the bottom of the Reuters article, they cite their sources:
Sources: Reuters, Munich archdiocese
(Writing by Tom Heneghan and David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)