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Celibacy does not explain priestly abuse, says report

By on Thursday, 19 May 2011

Karen Terry, principal investigator for the John Jay College report, speaks during a press conference (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Karen Terry, principal investigator for the John Jay College report, speaks during a press conference (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Because potential sexual abusers of children cannot be pinpointed through “identifiable psychological characteristics,” it is “very important” to prevent abuse by limiting the “situational factors” associated with it, according to a long-awaited report on the causes and context of sexual abuse by priests in the United States.

The report, released in Washington yesterday, said there was “no single identifiable ’cause’ of sexually abusive behavior toward minors”. It encouraged steps to deny abusers “the opportunity to abuse”.

Entitled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010″, it reports the findings of a study mandated in 2002 under the US Catholic bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”.

The charter, adopted by the bishops during a historic meeting in Dallas, created a National Review Board and directed the lay consultative body to commission studies of the abuse problem’s “nature and scope” and its “causes and context”. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York conducted both studies.

The nature and scope study appeared in February 2004. The causes and context study commenced in 2006.

The new report addressed several misperceptions about the sexual abuse of minors by priests. It said:

- Priestly celibacy does not explain this problem. “Constant in the Catholic Church since the 11th century”, celibacy cannot “account for the rise and subsequent decline in abuse cases from the 1960s through the 1980s”.

- Despite “widespread speculation”, priests with a homosexual identity “were not significantly more likely to abuse children” than heterosexual priests. Sexual “identity” should be differentiated from “behaviour.” A possible reason so many male children were abused is that priests had greater access to them.

- Less than five per cent of priests with abuse allegations exhibited behaviour consistent with pedophilia. Few victims were prepubescent children.

Seventy per cent of priests referred for abusing a child “had also had sexual behaviour with adults”, the study found. The majority of priest-abusers did not “specialise” in abusing “particular types of victims”.

The new study’s goal was to understand what factors “led to a sexual abuse ‘crisis’ in the Catholic Church” and “make recommendations to Catholic leadership” for reducing abuse, the John Jay College researchers explained.

They said their report also “provides a framework” for understanding “sexual victimisation of children in any institution” and how organisations respond.

No other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse like this one, they said.

Priests who abused children were not carbon copies of one another. The report said they constituted a “heterogeneous population”. The majority “appear to have had certain vulnerabilities”, such as “emotional congruence to adolescents” or difficulty interrelating with adults.

Some priest-abusers were abused as youths. “Having been sexually abused by an adult while a minor increased the risk that priests would later abuse a child,” the report said.

The stress priests may experience at transitional moments – moving from seminary to parish life; transferring to new parishes; becoming pastors – was cited as a factor that can increase “vulnerability to abuse”.

The report indicated that “situational stressors” do not cause abuse, but may serve “as triggers”. High alcohol consumption during stressful times can lower inhibitions, it noted.

“The peak of the crisis has passed,” the report observed. It said the Church “responded”, and abuse cases decreased substantially.

A “system of change” has begun in the Church, according to the report. However, it said, “organisational changes take years, and often decades, to fully implement”.

The report called sexual abuse of children “a long-term societal problem,” one “likely to persist, particularly in organisations that nurture and mentor adolescents”. It said diocesan leaders “must continue to deal with abuse allegations appropriately”.

Priest-abusers represented only a small percentage of all priests. The researchers judged it “neither possible nor desirable to implement extensive restrictions on the mentoring and nurturing relationships between minors and priests, given that most priests have not sexually abused minors and are not likely to do so”.

Because so many abuse cases first were reported to authorities in the early 2000s, some people suspect the abuse remains “at peak levels”, the report said. The reality is otherwise.

Sexual abuse of minors by priests “increased steadily from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, then declined in the 1980s and continues to remain low,” the report showed. “Most abuse incidents occurred decades ago.”

And “the majority of abusers [70 per cent] were ordained prior to the 1970s,” the study noted; forty-four per cent of those accused entered the priesthood before 1960.

Social factors influenced the increase of abuse incidents during the 1960s and 1970s, the report said. It found this increase consistent with “the rise of other types of ‘deviant’ behaviour, such as drug use and crime”, and changes in social behaviour such as the “increase in premarital sexual behaviour and divorce”.

Those generations of priest-abusers also lacked “careful preparation for a celibate life”, the report noted. Moreover, they failed to recognise the harm done to victims.

Awareness of the harm of sexual abuse to children grew in society and the Church during the 20th century’s last decades. An increasing reluctance over time to reinstate priests in parishes after a first accusation may reflect the growth of this awareness, the report suggested.

In the 1990s, it said, “the failure of some diocesan leaders to take responsibility for the harms of the abuse by priests was egregious in some cases”.

The report accented the critical role of what today is called “human formation” in seminaries. It said a gradually intensifying focus on human-formation concerns coincided with a decline of abuse cases.

Human formation addresses matters such as the future priest’s relationships and friendships, his self-knowledge, integrity and celibate chastity. The report recommended that human formation continue after ordination.

The report said “personality tests did not show statistically significant differences on major clinical scales” between priest-abusers and others without abuse allegations.

Nonetheless, it said screening tools remain “critically important” for identifying “other psychological problems not necessarily related” to abuse of children.

Removing opportunities to abuse children, making abuse more difficult and increasing its risks are among prevention steps the report recommended. Excuses priest-abusers make need to be recognised for what they are, it advised.

The report affirmed the safe environment programmes implemented throughout the Church in the US. These programmes educate potential victims, abusers, parents and others, increasing the likelihood that abusers “will be identified” and “have more to lose”.

Priests need “outlets to form social friendships and suitable bonds with age-appropriate persons”, the report said. It encouraged attention to priests’ health and well-being, including factors such as stress.

It recommended that dioceses periodically evaluate priests’ performance. Evaluation is “an established element of most complex organisations”, it noted.

The Church has taken many steps “to reduce opportunities for abuse”, the report said. It recommended that these efforts “be maintained and continually evaluated for efficacy”.

  • Lefty048

    so it was caused by rock n roll? 

  • Anonymous

     More likely to have been caused by the aftermath of Vatican II when clerical discipline slipped.

  • Lefty048

     this has gone on for centuries. where did homosexual men go who were raised in the catholic religion.  they couldn’t tell their families so they went to the church and found others just like themselves.  a percentage of them were abusers.  the problem was made worse by the heirachy finding out and then for the most part doing nothing because of their secrets.  the reason vocations are low is the gay rights movement.  gay men don’t have to hide in the church anymore.

  • guest

     The abuse was happening well before the 1960s and many of the abuser Priests had themselves been abused having been given to the priesthood at a very young age, by their families. Men with no real vocation, other than being born sons in a large, often poor Catholic families.

  • Anonymous

     and why is the title not ‘Homosexuals did not cause the Abuse crisis?’

  • Anonymous

    sorry did you actually READ the article, or not? 

    ‘priests with a homosexual identity “were not significantly more likely to abuse children” than heterosexual priests.’

  • Lefty048

     i believe that is true but it was the secerecy of their homosexuality which society and especially a catholic society cannot accept which made this problem much worse.   please read paragraph 15 of the article.  it says some of the priest abusers said they were abused.  the doctors have told us that if you are abused you are more likely to abuse.  how many catholics school children went back to their families, brothers and sisters, cousins ,the kids next door and abused them because of their abuse.   it was the secerecy, not telling the laity and relying on the heirachy, the bishops ,cardinals and those in charge which made this problem worse ,

  • Anonymous

    The ability of the top brass in the Church to avoid taking responsibility is a thing of wonder. Houdini must be green with envy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    I  agree that was the case. But they seem to be gradually smelling the coffee.

  • Paul

     “Studies on who commits child sexual abuse vary in their findings, but the most common finding is that the majority of sexual offenders are family members or are otherwise known to the child. Sexual abuse by strangers is not nearly as common as sexual abuse by family members. Research further shows that men perpetrate most instances of sexual abuse, but there are cases in which women are the offenders. Despite a common myth, homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.” (http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/sex-abuse.aspx#)

  • guest

    The problem of hidden homosexuality does not explain the numbers of girls that were abused, it is not homosexuality it is because the priests involved were Pedophiles. It most certainly isn’t due to Vatican II as most of the priests that abused were brought up in the faith Pre-Vatican II, they were the generation that were taught that sex is dirty even with in marriage, that nudity is sinful even in privacy while listening to confessions from the rich and powerful who had affairs, commited murder and were allowed to pay for their forgiveness. They were the generation that was not allowed to talk about sex, to talk about sexual abuse and inflicted their guilt on kids that were helpless. They were thrust into a often lonely existance, which they were pressured into. Vatican II has happened at a time of sexual freedom, which is also a time when people are now talking about child sex abuse, which means these priests can not longer hide.

  • James H

    ‘Despite “widespread speculation”, priests with a homosexual identity
    “were not significantly more likely to abuse children” than
    heterosexual priests. Sexual “identity” should be differentiated from
    “behaviour.” A possible reason so many male children were abused is
    that priests had greater access to them.

    Less than five per cent of priests with abuse allegations exhibited
    behaviour consistent with pedophilia. Few victims were prepubescent
    children.’

    Am I the only one to see the apparent contradiction between those two paragraphs? On the one hand, most victims were teenage boys – not children; on the other, self-identified homosexuals were not more likely to abuse. Right. So the difference between identity and behaviour is telling – abusers don’t think they’re gay, but they certainly act like it!

    Is there anyone who still believes this has nothing to do with homosexuality?

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t consider a priest a stranger. Priests are often friends of the family, and part of the community.

    Cases of abuse in the Church often are through either Church institutions, or through children helping in the Church through being alter-servers etc. In these situations the priest would not be be a stranger – but equivalent status of a friend or family member.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I do. Homosexuality is defined as a sexual attraction towards people of the same sex. That’s the entire definition, and age difference does not come into it. There are homosexuals who are attracted to children, and there are heterosexuals who are attracted to children.  There are homosexuals who abuse children, and there are heterosexuals who abuse children. The sexual abuse of children is damaging and criminal, and it makes no difference whether the abuser and victim are of the same sex or different sexes. Therefore the abuse of a boy by an adult man is not a homosexual matter. It is a pedophile matter. No-one ever says that the abuse of a girl by an adult man is a heterosexual matter, though it happens all the time. There is a double standard among sexually conservative thinkers whereby homosexuality gets repeatedly bracketed with pedophilia, but heterosexuality does not.

    If most of the children abused by Catholic priests are male, this contrasts with the overall societal trend in North America, where, according to the Wikipedia entry on “Child sexual abuse”, “approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children”. I think the Catholic Church would do well to look at its policy of priestly celibacy, which is rare among the world’s religions, and not even Biblically endorsed. It would also do well to look at its stance on sexuality in general, which to me does not seem healthy or educated or wise. Its rigidly conservative approach, which results in celibate and childless priests acting as authorities on sexual and familial matters, has done nothing to stem the tide of lawsuits.

  • Paul

     I think you’re quite right.  

  • Lefty048

    abc news last night said a salesian priest 73 years old in the netherlands was found to be a member of a pedophile organization.  the leader of his order was suprised.  he is 73 how many decades was he doing this?  did anyone else hear about this?  how come when it comes to kneeling or saying mass in latin we get alot of responses especially by william oddie and people like him when this subject comes up they are not here?

  • Lefty048

    abc news last night said a salesian priest 73 years old in the netherlands was found to be a member of a pedophile organization.  the leader of his order was suprised.  he is 73 how many decades was he doing this?  did anyone else hear about this?  how come when it comes to kneeling or saying mass in latin we get alot of responses especially by william oddie and people like him when this subject comes up they are not here?

  • Lefty048

    abc news last night said a salesian priest 73 years old in the netherlands was found to be a member of a pedophile organization.  the leader of his order was suprised.  he is 73 how many decades was he doing this?  did anyone else hear about this?  how come when it comes to kneeling or saying mass in latin we get alot of responses especially by william oddie and people like him when this subject comes up they are not here?

  • Hogwash and Horsefeathers

    Ahem….”Despite widespread speculation, dogs who bark and snarl were not significantly more likely to bite and maul children than dogs who do not bark and snarl. Barking and snarling should be differentiated from actual biting and mauling.”

    Would anyone be willing to make this foolish differentiation? Given the choice between throwing my children into a pen full of barking and snarling canines or one full of peaceful and tail-wagging pooches, I’m going to err on the side of caution and go with the pooches.

    No heterosexual man has a sexual interest in males regardless of how easily they fall into his clutches, but the act of homosexual sex puts the question to rest as to whether one is a homosexual, just as robbing a bank identifes one as a bank robber.  There is no such thing as a homosexual child abuser who wasn’t first a homosexual. It matters not if he wants to identify as one, but if he does, the odds of him abusing are higher than that of the population as a whole.

    With pure homosexuals at less than 1.5% of the general population (3% if you include bi-sexuals), there is no other explanation for the high rate of male victims within the Church.  We must conclude that homosexuals abuse at a much higher rate or that a very large percentage of priests are homosexuals or both cases apply.

    I think the solution is obvious, even if the authors of the study want to play games of political correctness. Let them throw their children to the snarling dogs and differentiate in any silly manner they want.

  • The Moz

    Seems impossible…up to 85% of victims were young boys and 100% of abusers were adult men, yet homosexuality played no part! Hmmm…this is more than a bit of a stretch. Had 85% of the victims been girls I could understand the conclustions.

  • Presbyter fatigatus

    Mmmm….so if 80-90% of young people abused were pubescent girls, would they say heterosexualoity had nothing to do with it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gerry-Oates/100001523185239 Gerry Oates

    The JJ report is something of a red  herring.An institute of criminology is summoned to explore the recent history of child molestation and comes up with generalisations common sense might have suggested anyway.It dismisses some theories thereby giving them publicity i.e. the woodstock excuse (The freewheeling 60s revolution had infected religious men and woman).The idea seems to have been that the Bishops would have a statistical wall map to study as they deliberate over the current crisis.
    My suggestion is that they should pay attention to what the faithful have to say when they gather at a convention to be held in Detroit at Whitsun.The victim support groups will be well represented.

  • Lindi

    The root cause of the sexual abuse of children is LUST !
    The majority of children were boys because they were more accessible to the cleric.
    The age of the child is immaterial – just a question of chance – not of planning by the cleric.Therefore , the question of whether the act stemmed from homosexuality or paedophilia is a red herring.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidHeffron David Heffron

    Yes. You are correct. Their hetrosexuality does having nothing to do with it. They are paedophiles.

    This isn’t about blaming straight people or gays. It’s about an almost insitutionalised structure designed to cover up the actions of sexual predators in order to protect the reputation of the church.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidHeffron David Heffron

    Yes. You are correct. Their hetrosexuality does having nothing to do with it. They are paedophiles.

    This isn’t about blaming straight people or gays. It’s about an almost insitutionalised structure designed to cover up the actions of sexual predators in order to protect the reputation of the church.