Catholic abuse report authors defend findings

Amy Goodstein has a roundup of criticism of the abuse report and the defense put up by its authors of the Woodstock theory.


Karen Terry, the report’s principal investigator and the dean of research and strategic partnerships at John Jay, said Wednesday at a news conference: “The peak of this abuse crisis is historical. That peak is over.”

The report’s conclusion was counterintuitive to many Catholics and abuse victims, because the scandal itself did not peak until 2002 with the revelations that the archbishop of Boston had knowingly reassigned serial abusers to serve in ministries where they continued to have access to young people. That practice appears still to have been at work until very recently, at least in Philadelphia, where a grand jury in February found that about three dozen priests accused of abuse and inappropriate behavior with minors were still in ministry. Bishop Blase Cupich, chairman of the bishops’ committee on the protection of children and young people, said at the news conference that the Philadelphia situation was an “anomaly.”

Among the most controversial findings in the report is the mountain-shaped graph that shows the number of abuse victims climbing through the 1960s, peaking in the 1970s and sharply declining from 1985 onward. The report theorizes that priests coming of age in the 1940s and 1950s, growing up in families where sexuality was a taboo topic, and trained in seminaries that did not prepare them for lives of celibacy, went on to violate children during the social chaos of the sexual revolution.

The report is here. Commonweal has a Question that is on a lot of minds:

I feel a little silly asking this, because it is so obvious that I’m sure it’s already been addressed (either in the John Jay report itself or elsewhere). But, based on the news accounts, the report seems to make a great deal of the spike in reported abuse after the 1960s, using it to attribute the sexual abuse problem — at least in part — to cultural shifts occurring in the broader society. But isn’t it possible that those cultural shifts — which, besides introducing more permissive attitudes towards sex, encouraged greater questioning of authority — led more people to report instances of clerical abuse rather than to an increase in the abuse itself? I’m not even sure how to disentangle the two at such a great temporal distance. In any event, I’m looking forward to reading the report later today. I hope it will answer my question.

See also US Catholic, for example.

Blaming Woodstock was also attacked because it diminishes the fault of bishops in the crisis:

David O’Brien, a historian of American Catholicism at the University of Dayton, said the report, Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, was dangerous because it seemed to exonerate bishops. “This recalls an old tabloid banner headline from an early pre-Boston stage of this crisis: ‘Bishops Blame Society’,” said O’Brien, referring to the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002.

The National Catholic Reporter agrees.

The Rev. Robert Hoatson, a Roman Catholic priest and co-founder of Road to Recovery, is a survivor of sexual abuse himself. He spoke on NPR:

….it’s much of the same regarding any studies or any information regarding the Catholic Church. They tend to look outside of themselves for the answers. The answers are inside. They’re internal. These were crimes committed by pedophile priests and those who covered them up.

This report does not get to the heart of the issue, and the heart of the issue is deceit, cover-up, silence, secrecy and an internal culture that doesn’t let anybody else in.

The reports says, “Celibacy has been constant in the Catholic Church since the eleventh century and could not account for the rise and subsequent decline in abuse cases from the 1960s through the 1980s.” Mark Silk disagrees:

It’s much too simple to pretend that complex phenomena … ecclesiastical celibacy are constants in the life of a society or an institution like the Catholic church. They are variables that interact with other variables.

The website that calls itself the Catholic News Agency disputes the finding that homosexuality was not a factor in the sexual abuse. An extract from CNA’s reaction:

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a top psychiatrist and authority on treating sexually abusive priests, told CNA that he is “very critical” of the findings because they avoid discussing important causal factors in clerical sex abuse cases, namely homosexuality.

Bill Donohue, president of The Catholic League for Religious Liberty, reacted to the notion of accessibility to boys over girls, saying the “there are so few incidents of abuse these days – an average of 8.3 per year since 2005 – that it makes no sense to compare the percentage of male victims at the peak of the scandal to what has happened since altar girls were allowed.”

Fitzgibbons questioned the report’s of use 10 years old as the cut off for puberty rather than the accepted definition of age 13. Liberal critics of the report and victims advocates did as well.

The official Catholic News Service is giving the report and its recommendations blanket coverage. Go to its main page today.

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