A new, big report is out from John Jay College on the Catholic child abuse crises, looking specifically for causes. The report is cost almost two million dollars, half of which was paid by the Catholic Bishops but another chunk was paid for by the government. The study relied on data reported by the Church itself. The study itself hasn't been released, but Religious News Services and the New York Times were able to examine a copy.
The study says that the common causes that people blame - homosexuality, celibacy, and pedophilia - weren't the causes of the crimes. It says that sexual orientation wasn't statistically related to child abuse, which professional homophobe Bill Donohue decried: "The authors go through all sorts of contortions to deny the obvious - that obviously, homosexuality was at work."
The report says that pedophilia, or an actual attraction to prepubescent children, was only at work in about 4% of cases. It also eliminates celibacy as a possibility because it "remained a constant throughout peaks and valleys of abuse rates, and priests may be less likely to abuse children today than men in analogous professions." I'm wondering what those analogous professions are.
So what did cause the crisis? According to the report, which I don't have in front of me and can't go into much detail on: stress, power, and Woodstock.
The "situational" nature of the abuse by clergy is comparable to that of police officers who brutalize people, the authors write. The stress of the work, the perils of isolation and a lack of oversight are factors that contribute to "deviant behavior."
With fewer and fewer priests available to minister to growing numbers of American Catholics, the Catholic bishops will be forced to do a better job supporting priests and providing respites from their often grinding schedules. That would likely necessitate a larger role for the laity and women--an issue fraught with controversy.
The John Jay researchers take pains to credit the hierarchy for making important strides in combating child abuse--an assertion victim advocates will strenuously dispute--and they point out that society as a whole was only slowly coming to understand the nature of child abuse as U.S. dioceses were swamped with cases.
At the same time, however, researchers note the bishops' abysmal track record in so many tragic instances, and say church leadership was reflexively defensive and self-protective--behavior that fits a well-defined pattern of crisis management in large institutions.
Indeed, the authors convincingly argue that the clerical culture that fostered and concealed deviance by priests is remarkably similar to the law enforcement culture that allows police brutality. The church, like the police, is a hierarchical organization that operates in a decentralized way, with each department (or diocese) an authority unto itself and not inclined to open itself to oversight.
The Times provides more information about the sexual revolution aspect of this explanation:
Instead, the report says, the abuse occurred because priests who were poorly prepared and monitored, and were under stress, landed amid the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and '70s.
Known occurrences of sexual abuse of minors by priests rose sharply during those decades, the report found, and the problem grew worse when the church's hierarchy responded by showing more care for the perpetrators than the victims.
I don't get it - there are lots of professions that are stressful that don't lead people to molest children. There hasn't been a string of child abuse scandals involving air traffic controllers, for example.
And I don't see why the response to stress would be child molestation. Why not drugs or sex with adults or oversleeping or any of the other ways people deal with stress?
I do get how hierarchy and power can perpetuate child abuse and how concerns about the image of the Catholic Church as well as respect for priests on the part of law enforcement officers can keep child molesters in the priesthood, but that doesn't explain why fully 5% of American priests (according to the study; one victim advocate quoted in the Times says the real number is certainly higher) were molesting children in the first place.
The study compares the situation to police brutality, how a small, hierarchical structure in a high-stress field seeks to cover up abuses of power, and it's great that major media outlets have to now at least get the fact that police brutality isn't just a few bad apples out there. And it's true that police departments are in desperate need of more oversight, like parishes are. But there just aren't as many police officers out there molesting children because of the stress of their jobs.
Either way, this isn't the last we'll be hearing of this report, and at least it's yet another study that takes the blame away from gay people, the church's favorite scapegoat.