Tracing the Causes of the Abuse

How could it happen? 

The terrible revelations of sexual abuse in Ireland and Germany have confirmed the reality that the abuse of children by clergy is not a phenomenon confined to the United States. Nor, as Kieran Conroy, the bishop of Arundel and Brighton in the U.K., stated recently, is the crisis a media creation. "It is real," he said. "It is a reality." Outrage among the Irish and German public is the predominant, natural and justified response. But buried beneath the shock and anger, especially for Catholics, however, is a searing question: How could this happen?

There is an important resource that may begin to answer this question: the detailed analysis of the roots of clerical abuse in this country, which was conducted by The National Review Board, the group of lay people who researched and reported to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2003. Some questioned the independence of the board, but I think that their situational analysis, carried out by committed and highly qualified lay Catholics, is accurate.


Looking at what the National Review Board viewed as the root causes of the crisis in this country may shed light on what happened in Ireland and Germany and elsewhere. On the whole, the board's analysis is about the most accurate and insightful that we have about the American situation. Of course, these are presented by the board as reasons, not excuses. There are no excuses for these crimes. 

The board asked two main questions. First, Why did so many priests abuse minors in the U.S.? Second, how could the U.S. bishops have dealt with the issue so poorly, or not at all? Regarding the first question, as I far as I understand, roughly 4% of U.S. priests from 1950 to 2000 were accused of abuse. This is slightly higher than that in other professions, including those who deal with children, like schoolteachers. (Most abuse of course takes place within families). But any number is too high and leads to the question of how, especially in a religious organization committed to helping others and living out what Christians call Gospel values, this could happen.

The board answers how so many priests could have been abusive by looking at two causes. (Their responses are in boldface. My own comments follow their points.)

Read the rest here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 6 months ago
I think this problem is more properly understood as hebephilia vs pedophelia.
John Raymer
8 years 6 months ago
The problem is not "why did so many priests abuse minors" but why did the institutional church condone it and protect it. I think the problem is more properly understood as conspiracy from the highest levels to commit and nurture mortal sin.

Yes, abuse occurs everywhere and it is terrible everywhere. But the Church teaches us to place our hope in the Church as the mediatrix of salvation. But now the Church has made itself the mediatrix of damnation - the very Whore of Babylon herself.

As long as the Church is concerned about scandal it cannot follow Christ and will continue to harbor evil. Jesus looked scandal in the eye and walked directly into it, even to death on the cross.

And this situation is not new. As I said in an earlier post, it was discussed in detail by the Lutherans in the 1520's and 1530's and was, along with adultery, the principle reason for the Protestant rejection of clerical celibacy.

Joseph Keffer
8 years 6 months ago
I just learned something.  There are subdivisions of pedophiles so I here cite the definitions from Wikipedia: ''Hebephilia refers to the sexual preference for pubescent individuals; the term was introduced by Glueck (1955).[1] It differs from ephebophilia, which refers to the sexual preference for individuals in later adolescence,[2] and from pedophilia, which refers to the sexual preference for prepubescent children.[3]''
Robert Sauer
8 years 6 months ago
A very thought-provoking article indeed.  I could go in many different directions on this but I’ll limit my feedback to two topics: Cause of the diseased behavior; effect on the Church going forward.
I agree with the findings enumerated in the study as well as your commentary.  I would add some additional thoughts.  I believe the component of (unchecked) power is key, as well.  I am the product ofparochial school, all boys Catholic HS and Catholic University .  It is interesting to note that the reported prevalence of pedophilia among Catholic nuns is almost nil, compared to priests, despite the fact that (I believe) nuns far outnumber priests and certainly have/had greater access and opportunity to commit such acts with students than priests do/did.  While nuns were always an authority figure, they had no power.  All power was invested in priests.  Think about this.  Priests have the power to withhold absolution of your sins and condemn you to damnation, whether deserved or not.  Talk about ultimate power.  So I think the notion that one can do what one wills to do without recrimination is a major factor here.
Go-forward effect
The impact of all this is dire.  More dire than the state of the Church finds itself in even up until now.  I’m uncomfortable in “confessing” this to you but I will tell you that I have not gone to confession in decades, beginning with my preCana experience prior to marriage.  I almost came to blows with the priest who was interrogating me and became hostile because I had the audacity to question his mandates to me on how I was to conduct myself as a husband.  Fortunately, my wife and I were able to find another priest who was not unflinchingly authoritative and dictatorial and we were married without further incident.  The fact is that there is nothing flawless in the universe, save God.  The Church is a very imperfect institution run by very imperfect individuals.  I came to the personal belief, right or wrong, that I was not going to confess my “sins” to a man who I did not know the veracity or moral purity of and I would leave it to God to know my heart.  It infuriates me to know that all the $$$ I dumped into the collection basket throughout my life has gone, to some extent, to pay for lawyers or compensate victims in a nightmare that never should have happened.  Despite whatever screening flaws existed in the Church previously, the priesthood demands the highest of moral standards and there should be zero tolerance all around.  The continuing stonewalling, defiance and apologetics of the Vatican will not satisfy people’s anger at this.  Therefore, I believe confidence, faith and allegiance to the Church will continue to erode.
8 years 6 months ago
I looked over again at all the names on the Review board. Having read what some of them have said in the later years, we need to ask again.  A present day interview of them about where we as Church are on this cover-up issue would be very close to a irrefutable answer.  Molly???
Molly Roach
8 years 6 months ago
Depending on who you read, 4 to 7% of priests were sex offenders.  However 60% of bishops knew about it and moved them around to other parishes, other dioceses, other countries.  It is a feeble defense that the seriousness of pedophilia and the probability of re-offending wasn't known in the 60's, 70's and 80's.  Social workers knew.  My reading is that the bishops were shopping for very specific professional "opinions" about these offenders and they found psychiatrists who had such opinions for sale.   Administrative malfeasance if we're just looking at a leadership structure. A calamitous betrayal of the gospel and the children assaulted if we look further. It is indefensible.  Benedict should resign as should all of the bishops who moved anybody around.  All of them.  They have no credibility left as teachers and they have mocked their position as the successors of the Apostles.  They mock God by their arrogant claim of ignorance and privilege.
8 years 6 months ago
Growing up in the fifties and sixties, I was on course and channeled by my best intentioned mother (''My son the priest'')  for the priesthood.  Altar boy, Catholic Prep (all male), Catholic university (all male), and a busy workload after school left little time for socializing after school.   Having a date with a girl was a special occasion.  My adolescence and the challenges of puberty and sexual identity was on the back burner.  At the age of twenty, away from parentel expectations, I decided against the priesthood.
I believe back then there were others who never experieced a traditional adolescence and entered the priesthood.  This may or may not be a contributing factor to abuse but needs to be considered.  I was around a lot of great priests growing up and I was oblivious to any sexual abuse.  There were a couple of bad apples at prep school who physically abused students in excess.  They would be arrested today but those were the times when you were hit by the priest you deserved it.  I was hit a few times in the face by a man wearing a collar and its something you do not forget.
I am encouraged by Father Martin's explanation of today's screening process for the priesthood.  Its going to a rough road the next few years for the Church with this issue and facing it head on will be best.
Tom Shaw
Betty Clermont
8 years 6 months ago
1) There just are no excuses for the bishops. What normal person who could stop the next child from being raped and/or sodomized with little effort on their part would not do so?
2) I know of no U.S. diocese which spemds more than 5% of its income on works of charity. Bishops were NOT protecting their money from litigation for the sake of the poor, sick and homeless.


The latest from america

Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, comforts a woman while distributing Communion during Mass on Oct. 15 with the Colectivo Solecito near Veracruz, Mexico. (CNS photo/Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame)
The women seeking justice for vanished loved ones in Veracruz, Mexico, won the Notre Dame award for human rights. University President John I. Jenkins co-celebrated a Mass near the unmarked graves of drug war victims.
Jan-Albert HootsenOctober 18, 2018
Salvadorans widely celebrated St. Romero as the Central American country's first saint. St. Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass in March 1980 and remains a reviled figure for some on the political right.
James K. A. Smith has spent much of his energy thinking about alternative communities and the politics of Jesus—about what role Christians should play in the American political project.
Patrick Gilger, S.J.October 18, 2018
While recommitting to help, L.I.R.S. and the U.S. bishops called on the Trump administration to “commit to immigration policies that are humane and uphold each individual’s human dignity.”
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 17, 2018