Sex Abuse and Gay Priests: Sifting the Data

Grant Gallicho, over at Dotcommonweal--in response to Bill Donohue's having apparently convinced himself that the sex abuse crisis is about gay priests--provides a master class in analyzing the John Jay study data.

Yet Donohue thinks that because 81 percent of the victims were male the real cause was homosexuality. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, Donohue asserts that three-quarters of the victims were postpubescent, noting that the American Pediatric Association says boys start puberty at age ten. In other words, the more postpubescent male victims we find, the more likely it is that we’re looking at a gay problem. Obvious, isn’t it?

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Not quite. First, John Jay researchers did not measure the pubescence of victims. They collected two sets of data about victims. One, the “Cleric Survey,” recorded the victims in the following age groups: 1-7, 8-10, 11-14, and 15-17. Researchers presumed that victims aged 11 to 14 were postpubescent; according to the Cleric Survey, 50.9 percent of victims were aged 11 to 14. That’s why on page 56 of the “Nature and Scope” study the researchers claim that “the majority of alleged victims were postpubescent.” It’s not clear to me why John Jay would make that claim, given that researchers didn’t collect data on victims’ pubescence and that the DSM-IV defines a pedophile as someone with recurrent sexual desires for prepubescent children “generally aged 13 or younger.” The American Pediatric Society actually says that for males the onset of puberty–not its conclusion–usually occurs between the ages of 10 and 14. So why would John Jay presume that victims between 11 and 14 years of age were postpubescent? What’s more, according to the Cleric Survey, nearly 73 percent of victims were 14 or younger. 

Keep reading here.

James Martin, SJ

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David Nickol
8 years ago
As I pointed out in a thread on dotCommonweal last month, the statement that 81% of the victims were male and 19% were female is not exactly what the John Jay Report says, and it doesn't tell as as much as it appears at first glance. What the report actually says is that of the victims WHOSE GENDER WAS KNOWN, 81% were male and 19% were female. 
What needs to be taken into consideration is Table 3.5.3 of the report, which shows that 157 (3.6%) of the priests were accused of molesting both boys and girls, 991 (22.6%) were accused of molesting girls only, and for 429 (9.8%) of the priests, the gender of the young people they were accused of molesting was unknown. That leaves 2,805 (64%) priests accused of molesting boys only. Given that there are estimates that as many as 50% of priests are homosexual, the disparity between what heterosexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals do is not all that great. (This analysis is to be taken with a grain of salt, as is any other analysis of the John Jay statistics that purports to come up with answers to the difficult questions.)
 
The problem of dividing young people up into prepubescent and post pubescent is that a whole category is being skipped: pubescent. This is being taken into account in the draft of the DSM V. See the following:
http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=186
 
Currently, it would appear, many who are sexually attracted to pubescent children (hebephiles) or attracted to prepubescent and pubescent children (pedohebephiles) are being labeled pedophiles. Let me say that I believe the John Jay researchers know what they are talking about when they assert that they see no evidence that homosexuals are more likely to abuse children than heterosexuals. So I don't think it is necessary to try to get gay people ''off the hook'' by classifying as many abusers as possible as pedophiles and then claiming pedophiles are sexually attracted to children and that the reason the victims are largely male is access. Also, I think that approach assumes something we don't know - that those who are attracted to pubescent children are, like true pedophiles, indifferent to gender and attracted only by age. 
 
As I read the draft for diagnosing Pedohebephilic Disorder, by the way, it does not appear to me that a person who has one sexual encounter with either a prepubescent or a pubescent child meets the diagnostic criteria for Pedohebephilic Disorder. 
 
I personally find that there are few solid answers to the big questions either in the John Jay Report or elsewhere, and although I am somewhat guilty of it myself, I think trying to wring significant answers out of the statistics in the John Jay Report is futile. It seems to me very little is actually known for sure about sexual orientation and sexual attraction, and it is a vast oversimplification to divide people into two groups (homosexual and heterosexual) or three groups (homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual) or four groups (pedophile, homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual). I remember one sex researcher saying there are as many sexual orientations as there are people. Of course that doesn't mean there can't be a system of classification, but what we have so far strikes me as extremely inadequate for arriving at significant answers to the question of sex abuse by priests.
Brendan McGrath
8 years ago
If the data were switched, and the majority of the victims were female, would we say that there was a "heterosexual problem" in the priesthood?
Tom Maher
8 years ago
The fact is theat that uniquely the Catholic clergy have four or five times more incidents of sexual abuse than any other known insitiution. Between 6 and 8% of Catholic clergy have abused children. Unfortunaely discussion of the this basic unique fact is fact is avoid.

If the uniquely high rate of child abuse was dealt with the obvious next question would be: what is it about the Catholic clergy as a population that might explain this much higher high rate of child abuse worldwide?

Let's not jump to conclusions about homosexual priests but let's not arbirarily illiminate as a possilbe cause. The two unique characteristics that do come to mine of Catholic clergy is celibracy and the high number of homeosexula priest, sometimes estimated to be as high as 40%. More definitive study is needed before homosexuality is excluded as a factor.
Brian Thompson
8 years ago
Celibacy cannot be the direct cause unless you are suggesting that all that not-having-sex builds up and then "pops" or something. Now, celibacy could be a "hiding place" for those inclined toward aberrant sexualities, but then those aberrant sexualities are the cause, or at least are a risk factor for abuse. And in that case, homosexuality might indeed be on the list. The perpetrator will then go for the children that suit his preferences (male/female, pre/post puberty) to whom he has access. My understanding is that they generally do not groom children who are not what their disorder desires. Pedophiles, as I was taught, don't usually have a gender preference, but once sexual maturity is present, preferences emerge. The post pubescent male victims were victimized by people who suffered from homosexual attraction. Minority though they were, that sexuality is a risk factor (but not an inevitability, there are obviously many chaste priests who suffer from homosexual inclinations).
Jim McCrea
8 years ago
Brian:  one does not suffer from homosexual inclinations; one has them!  The  suffering we experience is from those who continually try to paint us as suffering because of who and what we are, not what they are doing to us.
8 years ago
They are boys,Padre, no matter how you count em. Me thinks you are splitting hairs.

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