Expert Psychologist Looks at the John Jay Report

When the new John Jay report came out in May--lauded in some quarters and lambasted in others--I remember thinking, "I wonder what Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea thinks about it."  Frawley-O'Dea, a psychologist and author, is one of the country's leading experts on child abuse, and was the only psychologist invited to address the historic 2002 meeting of the U.S. bishops in Dallas.  Her book Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Psychoanalytic Perspective, co-authored in 1994, has become a classic text.  In 2007, her book Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, was published; that same year co-edited volume, Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims: The Sexual Abuse Crisis and the Catholic Church, was also released  (Full disclosure: that last book was the result of a conference on sex abuse, in which I delivered a paper that became a chapter in her edited book.)  In short, she's as much of an expert on the topic of child sexual abuse as anyone can be.  So her comments on the John Jay Report on the "Causes and Contexts" of the crisis need to be taken seriously.  She offers her analysis at NCR.  Some of her conclusions:

It is troublesome to me that [Lead investigator Karen] Terry and her colleagues failed to qualify the limitations of the report or sufficiently use qualifying language. Much, not all, of the John Jay source material was data self-reported by bishops, priests and church-operated treatment centers. Self-reports in research are regularly viewed with skepticism because there is no way to validate the accuracy of what is being surveyed. Since we know from grand jury reports and lawsuits that dioceses and provincial officers have been derelict in sharing all that they know about the history of abuse in their domains, Terry should have expressed the potential limitations of self-reported data -- in any research and particularly in this study.

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What the John Jay researchers know about perpetrating priests is also conditional because officials can only supply the records of priests who have been accused. Too often, the research team uses assertive language about the number of abusive priests or the number of victims rather than qualifying these as accused or reported perpetrators and only victims who have come forward. While acknowledging that abuse is both underreported and reported years after the fact, Terry does not convey tentativeness about her findings. There are reasonable, literature-based extrapolations that can be made to conclude that the actual number of victims over 60 years is closer to at least 35,000 than 11,000 and that there are priests who perpetrated but were never accused. In addition, priests already accused may well have had more victims who have never come forward. Terry should have included statements about the significant likelihood that the number of reported victims and of reported perpetrators are both understated.

The same absence of qualification applies to the report’s discussion about recidivism. If many perpetrators are never reported, it is likely that many more are reported only once although they have offended again. When Terry talks about priests who have only one victim, she again should have qualified that with some discussion of probable understatement.

...

John Jay’s assertion that the bishops failed to understand the scope of sexual abuse in the church or the damage it did to victims is not empirically supported in the report and simply is not credible. The Catholic church has had a sexual abuse problem with monks and priests since at least the Middle Ages and there have been numerous canonical and policy documents addressing the issue since then, often cautioning secrecy to protect the institution. In 1984, Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, Fr. Mike Peterson and Ray Mouton were scheduled to present their report to the bishops and were canceled by Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, suggesting an investment in not knowing what was available to be known.

Since Dallas, there have been more than a few reports of bishops keeping accused priests in ministry and, of course, the second Philadelphia Grand Jury Report details ecclesiastical mishandling of sexual abuse since 2002 that is all too familiar. Finally, if bishops really did not understand how terribly sacrilegious and devastating sexual abuse was, why did they work tirelessly to keep it secret? More than the average American man or woman, Catholic officials knew about sexual abuse and chose to protect the church and priests at the expense of souls entrusted to their care.

Read the rest at NCR.

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Charle Reisz
7 years 2 months ago
I appreciate Dr. Frawley-O'Dea's opinion on the John Jay report. As noted in the above article she is a psychologist and author, is one of the country's leading experts on child abuse, and was the only psychologist invited to address the historic 2002 meeting of the U.S. bishops in Dallas.  Honestly I believed the report from John Jay was biased in favor of the RCC which commissioned the report.  Thanks Dr. Frawley-O'Dea. 
7 years 2 months ago
The entire  critique neds to be read, not just the few points Fr. Martin raises.
(Those points are important, however, as they underscore problems that need to be addressed in further studies in several fields.)
Me thinks Mr. Smith doth protest too muc habout ''tone;'' already serious studenys are finding the ritique bot hbalanced and motivating  of further work.
I did no tsee her wishing the report just written by psychologist, but rather a strong call for interdisciplinary study and peer review.
ed gleason
7 years 2 months ago
Dr Frawley-O'Dea mentions that Cardinal Law nixed the Doyle ,Peterson Mouton report in 1984.
The deliverer of 'go away' news to these men was not Law. He had a youngish axillary William Levada from Los Angeles who was on the report evaluation committee, deliver the 'go away' news. Rome's bidding is always rewarded .. yes! 
Tim Lennon
7 years 2 months ago
The John Jay Report acted as an attempt to deflect attention from the responsibility and complicity for clergy abuse.  They have systematically been more concerned with their reputation and hierarchy than protecting children. 

The inaccuracy of the data is legend. Is Philadelphia any different that San Francisco?  What about the Jesuits hierarchy and decades of hidding their head in the sand.  Not only did the bishops not fully report reported cases of abuse they also denied credible accusations. If the statue of limitations prohibited criminal consequence was that reported in the JJ Report?

Clergy abuse was systematic, widespread and taking on historic proportions.  We see by the actions of Cardinals Law and Mahoney, Bishop Finn in KC that there is much to criticize.  But out of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of instances of clergy abuse how many times have the bishops criticized their own?  Cardinals Law and Levada were rewarded.

I was raped and abused by a priest.  The church has denied it; it is not in the JJ Report.  The JJ Report is a fraud promoted to coverup the cesspool of clergy abuse with the image of a rose.  It still stinks.
Chris NUNEZ
7 years 2 months ago
At every Mass of the Catholic Church, one of the first things we do after gathering, is the penitential right. The re-enactment is a reminder that we are all broken and flawed and must remember to strive to be better - which we all know is an impossibility. So that the problem of child abuse should be referred to in the historical context of the church is important. We should have learned, but we didn't. But that the church tried to learn is the reason Peter Damien was raised to sainthood, a 'doctor' of the church who sought to effect its healing. A review of the diagnosis and prescription he offered will show that it was multi-faceted reaching into every level, from governance, to liturgy and more - even into requiring education of would-be priests, and would-be bishops. Thus when Robert Nunz (no relation, I think) asserts "...Those points are important, however, as they underscore problems that need to be addressed in further studies in several fields...." he is pointing in the same direction as is Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea.

In fact, when I've responded to this issue in the past, I've pointed out that three different Jesuit universities convened conferences to explore and address the Crisis in the Church in 2004 (Boston College, University of San Francisco, and Santa Clara University) the subject of child abuse was addressed from a multitude of disciplines, from church governance, through to the field of psychology, and civil law and canon law to name a few.

Ms. Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea's critique in my opinion is fair.


Bill Freeman
7 years 2 months ago
Clergy abuse was systematic, widespread and taking on historic proportions.  We see by the actions of Cardinals Law and Mahoney, Bishop Finn in KC that there is much to criticize.  But out of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of instances of clergy abuse how many times have the bishops criticized their own?  Cardinals Law and Levada were rewarded.

This sounds to me like the definition of an ongoing criminal conspiracy.  As I have stated before, the Bishops will only take this seriously when one of their own (read - another bishop) is indicted, tried and sent to prison.  How possible could Philadelphia’s vicar of clergy be indicted and not Cardinal Bevilacqua? Given his notorious iron-hand control, it is just no credible that he didn't know and condone about every transfer of pedophile priest.

 I say, indict them all, let a jury figure it out. 

Cathy Fasano
7 years 2 months ago
''If the statue of limitations prohibited criminal consequence was that reported in the JJ Report?''
Yes, absolutely ''reported''.  It is a central and highly important characteristic of the data covered in the JJ Report - of the abuse cases in the study which happened between 1950 and 1985, over 85% of them were first reported to any Church authority in 2002 or later.

Tim, if you reported your abuse to the police, or to Church authorities, before the statute of limitations had run out, then you are a unique and rare person.

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