What caused the crisis? Key findings of the John Jay College study on clergy sexual abuse
The long-awaited report “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010” provides well-researched answers to key questions about the abuse crisis. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice spent nearly five years conducting this unprecedented study, which was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at a cost of 1.8 million dollars.
The report does not identify a specific definitive cause for the abuse—there is no “smoking gun” for the victimization of thousands of boys and girls by Catholic clergy during the past six decades. There was, rather, a confluence of organizational, psychological and situational factors that “contributed to the vulnerability of priests” during this period that resulted in 4 percent to 6 percent of them committing acts of abuse. Why the other 94 percent to 96 percent of the priests, subjected to the same vulnerabilities, did not offend is not clear and may be beyond the limits of psychological and social research. Factors are not excuses, however, and over-dependence on external influences can lead to complacency in abuse prevention.
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Those who espoused a pet theory as to why priests harmed children may disagree with the report’s findings, and skeptics may question the source data that dioceses provided. Nonetheless, this comprehensive and unbiased look at the most serious problem in the Catholic Church today answers seven key questions and will help its members to understand better what occurred and why.
1. Are all abusive priests pedophiles? Less than 5 percent of priests with abuse allegations exhibited behaviors consistent with pedophilia. This means that this small segment of abusers had an abnormal, primary sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. That does not mean that the other 95 percent of priest-abusers had a normal attraction to adolescents, but merely that the stereotype of the “offender as pedophile” is not consistent with the type of cases that occurred between 1950 and 2010. Regardless of the researchers’ distinction between pedophiles and ephebophiles (that is, between those attracted to pubescent and post-pubescent children), the sexual acts imposed upon the minor children were criminal and not normative by any social or cultural standard.
2. Is it possible to predict which men might abuse minors? The report states that it is impossible to predict which men might abuse minors. There are no individual personality traits that differentiate clergy-abusers from non-abusers and there are no identifiable psychological characteristics that are attributed to abusers. Although priests are a heterogeneous group, there are certain factors (such as being abused as a child) and triggering events (such as high alcohol consumption) that increase a man’s risk for offending. In addition, a majority of abusers appeared to have certain “vulnerabilities” exemplified by, among other things, their “emotional congruence to adolescents or difficulty in interrelating with adults.” Vulnerability may also be the result of stress at transitional moments, for example, when moving from seminary to parish life, transferring to a new parish or becoming a pastor. The study states that this finding is equally applicable to priests trained in the United States and in foreign seminaries. Despite this comparison, given the increasing number of seminarians and clergy who transfer between dioceses and religious communities, additional research regarding the screening of these candidates would be useful.
3. Was celibacy the cause of the sexual abuse crisis? The researchers discount celibacy as a cause of abuse for several reasons. The constancy of required celibacy since the 11th century would have resulted in a greater number of cases perpetrated by a larger number, if not all, of the clergy over time. There is no evidence to suggest that every Catholic priest throughout the ages has sexually abused a minor; to the contrary, most priests have never offended in this manner. Furthermore, the sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States “increased steadily from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, then declined in the 1980s and continues to remain low.” The unchanging rules relating to celibacy would not account for this rise and subsequent decline. It was beyond the scope of this study to determine the total number of clergy who sexually abused adults or had consensual sexual activity with adults, but the challenge of living a celibate life and intimacy deficits can cause men to act out in inappropriate ways.
4. Was homosexuality the cause of the sexual abuse crisis? Despite the fact that 81 percent of the victims of clergy abuse in the United States were males, the report states that homosexuality was not the cause of the sexual abuse crisis. The John Jay College researchers and other researchers of the subject have found no data to indicate that homosexual orientation is a cause or risk factor for abuse of children. Clergy who exhibited homosexual behavior were not significantly more likely to abuse minors than those who did not. Sexual identity is different, of course, from sexual behavior, and the study did not identify the sexual orientation of all the offenders. The report suggests that one reason the majority of victims were male may be that boys were more accessible to the predators than girls. The data show that the percentage of girls who were victims increased after girls were allowed to become altar servers.
Though not stated in the report, the fact that offenders seemed to have more difficulty relating to adults than to young people might explain some of the abuse as “sexual acting out” and “experimentation” with adolescents whom the abusers improperly perceived as their sexual peers. The researchers, however, also correctly point out that it is “not possible nor desirable to implement extensive restrictions on the mentoring and nurturing relationships between minors and priests given that most priests have not abused and are not likely to do so.”
5. What role did formation play in the incidence of sexual abuse of minors? Formation, that is, the manner in which seminarians are trained to become priests, seems to have played a significant role in the likelihood of a man becoming an abuser. The majority of offenders during the 60-year period of the study were ordained prior to the 1970s; 44 percent of offenders entered the priesthood before 1960. Several generations of priest-abusers lacked careful preparation for celibate life, as demonstrated by the fact that 70 percent of them engaged in sexual activity with adults as well as children.
Moreover, these abusers failed to recognize the harm they did to their victims. When most of these offenders were in seminary, the training was focused on academics, theology and spirituality with little attention paid to seminarians’ growth as mature adults. In recent years, formation programs have emphasized relationships and friendships, self-knowledge, integrity and celibate chastity. As seminaries gradually intensified the focus of formation on the “human” aspect of development, the number of incidents of abuse began to diminish.
6. Was there an organizational failure or a failure of leadership that contributed to the crisis? The report bluntly states, “The failure of some diocesan leaders to take responsibility for the harms caused by priestly abuse was egregious in some cases.” Instances of bishops and other church officials who allowed known offenders to be re-assigned to positions where they could continue to have unsupervised contact with children are well known. The study fairly notes that some bishops were “innovators” in dealing with the issue of abuse well before 2002 and some, the “laggards,” were not. Although not cited in the study, the recent grand jury report and criminal charges against a church official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia may reflect a growing awareness by civil authorities as to the serious impact of poor personnel decisions.
7. Did societal conditions contribute to or influence the incidence of sexual abuse of minors? The study found that the increase of abuse incidents during the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with “the rise of other types of ‘deviant’ behavior such as drug use, crime and changes in social behavior such as the increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce.” This finding may be dangerously misinterpreted by some as a “cause” of the abuse. While the sexual activities of clergy members with consenting adults during this time may reflect a sexually liberated society, at no time was the sexual abuse of minors legal, moral or justified. As adult followers of the Catholic faith, these offenders knew, or should have known, that their behaviors violated and injured the young.
The Report’s Recommendations
The researchers note that the “peak of the crisis has passed” in the United States, but they also emphasize that the sexual abuse of minors is a long-term societal problem that is likely to persist, particularly in organizations that nurture and mentor adolescents. As such, the church will have to deal with abuse allegations for many decades to come. The report’s recommendations reinforce the value of the actions undertaken by bishops and religious superiors to prevent future abuse—actions that can and should be replicated in other countries and by other organizations.
The suggested prevention policies focus on three areas: education, situational prevention models and oversight and accountability. The emphasis on “human formation” in seminaries has already been found to be effective in reducing the number of abusers, but continuing education for priests has been lacking. The report encourages bishops to provide the resources needed for lifelong learning for priests and to clearly delineate standards of behavior in keeping with a life of celibacy.
The study also warns that prevention programs must be adaptable to changes in a society where new and unforeseen opportunities for abuse can arise. The safe environment programs underway in all dioceses and many religious communities have already proven successful in heightening awareness of what constitutes abuse and how to avoid it. Zero-tolerance policies, combined with regular evaluations of priest performance, are also critical for preventing boundary violations and harmful behavior.
The researchers urge church leaders to focus on the well-being of their priests and to offer alternate outlets for them to form close bonds with others. This includes allowing clergy to develop social friendships with age-appropriate persons. Bishops and superiors can also reduce stress on priests by providing time for them to participate in support groups and increase their personal contact with others.
Last, the researchers emphasize a need for bishops and other church leaders to be transparent and accountable in reporting and dealing with abuse. Catholics and all who observe the church need to have a better understanding of what has occurred, and is occurring, with regard to allegations of abuse. Compliance reviews and annual reports to the public are essential for this.
The causes and context study provides new and vital knowledge about the crisis of sexual abuse, the horrible acts that occurred and the context in which they took place. It does not obviate the evil of those acts, nor does it take away the pain of the victims or retrieve their innocence. That takes a true shepherd.
I think this America "scoop" should be followed by perhaps a panel of NRB ex members to evaluate the methodolgy, research, and conclusions of the report - that would truly be a bonus!
Who trusts the bishops to give ACCURATE, HONEST figures? Case in point, Philadelphia! We were told "No priests with accusations against them on active ministry" - then in February a grand jury discovers 37! Bishops tell us that 4% of priests were abusers - the actual number counted by www.bishopaccountability.org is closer to 10%!
As for blaming society and "the 60's" - I was raped in 1970 by a priest ordained in the early 1950's - certainly his moral ethics were established in the 40's and 50's. His history of abuse runs from the 50's until 2 months before his death in 2006 at the age of 82! After my rape I reported to my supervisor - another priest in the parish. This was 1970. Nothing happened because he was diagnosed in '57 with a psycho-pathological personality and was STILL playing with mentally ill teen aged girls. He, too, was ordained in the early 50's. By the time the 60's rolled around these two priests were WELL into their 40's - and at that time considered "old" and not part of the "current age."
As for the bishops' honesty in numbers - when I brought my case to Boston I was told "You are the only one" - there were no other accusations against my perp. I got hold of the investigation and found 3 letters dating back to the 90's accusing him of sexual abuse. If the bishop (cardinal) can lie to me as a priest - how much easier to lie to a lay person?
The Hierarchy (all the way to Rome) needs to come clean, be honest, transparent etc. LIST THE NAMES of all perpetrators who have been credibly accused. They cannot be taken to court because of the statutes of limitations. They are still just as dangerous and society in general needs to know about them.
I agree that the wiles of the devil will mean new cunning is needed to protect our kids in society.
I did study extensively and worked in social research studies years ago. It will be useful to know what theoretical framework was used, how the data used was collected, by whom and when, which type of statistical analysis was used, including correlation of factors (which seems it has been done). Conclusions from statistical analysis allow for different interpretations of the results. The scope of the data input is also important if its intenntion is to "forecast the future". I believe long range forecasts are very dubious in a world changing as rapidly as ours at this time. Sociological researh is different from scientific/technological research because the complexity of human beings and the societal influences that change behaviors rapidly.
I don';t believe the sexual revolution is a cause in itself. Abusers' sexual and psychological inmaturity to live a celibate lifestyle seems more likely.
However, I think this study offers good insights into the problem. It would have been really independent if the study would not have been paid mainly by the Bishops. (Did they provide most of the clergy data and information on the abusers?)
All in all, the publishing of the whole report is on tiny step in the right direction.
@ Kathleen McChesney:
Are the data available to psychological researchers, such as myself, for additional analysis?
Norman D. Costa PhD
eXpert Survey Systems Inc
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Are the data available to psychological researchers, such as myself, for additional analysis?
Norman D. Costa PhD
eXpert Survey Systems Inc
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
What Jerry Slevin said!
A few experts in various fields have begun to weigh in on the report here:
Hopefully more will enter into the discussion.
After only an admittedly cursory first reading of the document, my HERMENEUTIC OF SUSPICION antennae have been piqued. First and foremost, I find it troubling that the same institution which sponsored the research to the tune of $1.8 million U.S. dollars was also supplying the numbers and data that were analyzed. (We've been there, done that with BIG TOBACCO, n'est-ce pas?) And I continue to find a curiously concomittant melange of disciplinary jargons such as this one on page 68:
"Priest-abusers managed to stay content with their sinner-self until they were confronted with their abuser-self. It was not until they were identified as an abuser by a victim that they began to come to an understanding of the trajectory of their story. Within the Catholic cultural context of fallibility and the possibility of forgiveness based on confession and remorse, the priest-abuser was often able to use a particular vocabulary of STIGMA MANAGEMENT..."
I'm just wondering how "scientific" this genre of "psycho-theo-socio" prose actually is to trained specialists outside of John Jay?
Now I'm waiting for the non fiction report. I can't believe that the VOTE organization contributed money for the JJ report. What in the name of heaven were they thinking. Who are the members of the VOTF Board that agreed to that?
Can the VOTE organization really believe that the JJ report would not be screwed up by the information the bishops supplied. Was there anything about ACCOUNTABILITY?????
But first things first. Who was allowed to enter and stay in the seminary to become priest? Could the semianry selection criteria have casued, contributed or favored the selction of the wrong people to the priesthood? Were people who would not succeed as priest selected over people who could?
The wrong selection criteria could have a perverse impact on the church. And the 1960s and 1970s was loaded with social experimentation in all organizations incuding the church. Many of these experiments and "liberated" ideas failed very badly.
Were the criteria for selecting who would make a good priest examined? . Did these criteria contribute, cause or favor the selection of people for the priesthood who later would sexually abuse cehildren ? Are these criteria still in effect today?
What goes completely unmentioned in this article is the historic tradition of sexual segregation in the Catholic Church. Although women are allowed to greater roles in the Mass today, the priesthood is still exclusively male, and when most of this abuse took place, the segregation of the sexes was even more severe, with seminaries and monasteries exclusively male, and women relegated to the cloister.
Homosexuality does play a major role as well. As a Gay man myself, I have no problem acknowledging this, since it has a lot to do with the roles Gay men were forced into many decades ago. If you were a Straight Catholic, you were free to date, get married, and have as many kids as possible. If you were a Gay Catholic, you became a priest: It seemed honorable to your family, and it helped deflect uncomfortable questions about girlfriends and marriage.
And for Gay men who went into the priesthood, what wasn't to like? You were exclusively in the company of other (often like-minded) men, you got to debate weighty theological matters, and between the hymns, incense, candles, and fabulous robes, it was just a step away from musical theatre! That, plus the fact that priests are not allowed to marry to begin with, is it any wonder that the priesthood has historically been DOMINATED by Gay men? Throw into the mix a bunch of exclusively male adolescents serving as acolytes and alter boys, and some hanky panky was bound to happen.
If the Catholic Church REALLY wants to make sure that sexual abuse scandals like this don't happen in the future, it will have to rethink rules against marriage for priests as well as the prohibition on women serving as priests. There's simply to reason for this in the 21st century.
However, could not find in the report the names of the three treatment centers whose data was used by Jay and Jay. This could be significant as all treatment centers are not equal.
Recall the number of times we have heard bishops say that they were just going on the recommendations of professionals in returning offenders to ministry. Lots of foggy areas here.
Lots of commenters seemed to be making assumptions about what the report does and does not claim. You should follow the link at the top of the article and go read the full report. A few thoughts:As far as I'm concerned the most fascinating claim about the data is the difference - or more precisely the lack of difference - between the data in 2002 and 2010. The first JJ report was in 2004 and dealt with data through the end of 2002. The typical allegation in the 1950-2002 data was that a boy, born between 1955 and 1965, was abused between 1970 and 1980 by a priest ordained in the 50s. And the victim reported the abuse in 2002. If the issue were a reporting lag, what you would expect to happen is that as the last 8 years has passed, the allegations would be from a new generation of victims, a new generation of priests, in a new era. But they were not - the later allegations were still Baby Boomer victims, Greatest Generation priests, abuse happened in the 70s.
The claims about bishops being overwhelmingly negligent are simply bogus. There are about 9000 claims of abuse which happened between 1950 and 1985. 810 of those cases were reported before 1986. There are 200 or so dioceses in the US. 810 reports over 35 years in 200 dioceses is 1-2 reports per DECADE in a diocese. Given that many bishops don't serve all that long, there were many bishops who did not have a single report. So the screaming accusation that Bishop X was an enabler and an accomplice who moved Fr Pervert from parish to parish as he abused 10 kids is a little much when not one of those 10 kids accused Fr Pervert of anything until Bishop X had been dead for years.This probably won't come out formatted particularly readable, but here is the breakdown of victims by gender and age:
boys 1-7: 3.26%There is enough here to gore everybody's ox. The "post-pubescent boys" canard is clearly a crock - only 1/5 of the victims were of the age to shave or sing tenor/baritone/bass. The largest cohort of victims was 12 year old boys.
boys 8-10: 12.59%
boys 11-14: 43.22%
boys 15-17: 21.38%
girls 1-7: 2.75%
girls 8-10: 3.96%
girls 11-14: 7.55%
girls 15-17: 5.28%
The claims about pedophilia vs ephebophilia are a little more subtle than arguing about the definitions of words... If you have an abuser who abused an 11-yr-old boy, a 16-yr-old boy and a 14-yr-old girl, and also had sexual relationships with 4 adult women - pedophile, ephebophile, homosexual, heterosexual, none of those terms really fit. The terms that DO fit are more like narcissist, lack of empathy, opportunist. The question that they are getting at here is whether safe environment programs have some real chance of working. These programs have as their mechanism reducing the opportunity to abuse kids while increasing the risks of getting caught. If the abusers were mostly irrational psychopaths obsessed with abusing kids, then reducing opportunities and raising risks wouldn't matter much. The other part of "safe environment" programs is testimonies from victims about the harm done to them by the abuse. Sexual abusers typically rationalize their actions by believing that the abuse wasn't that harmful, and the SE classes directly confront that rationalization. Ok, that priest might still skip town with his 30-yr-old girlfriend and $25K from the parish bank accounts, but at least the kids weren't hurt!
When I was growing up in the 50's attending Catholic schools, scandal in the Church was to be avoided at all costs. This mindset was a big factor in the coverup of the abuse. The coverup gave the abusers the idea that they would not be exposed or punished for their behavior. I don't see that this issue was addressed in the report.
At the same time, Catholics put "priests on a pedestal" and that gave potential abusers more freedom to violate the sacred trust placed in them.
Much of the abuse seemed to be homosexual in nature, involving homosexual priests whose sexual development arrested at the teenage level. Most of the abuse was not classic "pedophilia," i.e., abuse involving children. The sad fact seems to be that these abusers used their ordination as a cover for their sexual issues.
It would be useful to compare the percentage of priests who abused youth and children with ministers in other denominations and the general public.
We all know that abuse can and does occur anywhere. Sin is universal. But if the abuse rate among priests was higher that other populations, why not allow married priests, male and female? Not only should it reduce the percentage of priests that may have a predisposition to abuse, it would help restore confidence in the clergy.
I believe bishops have underestimated the negative impact the abuse crisis has had on the faithful. Let's help with the shortage and help restore confidence in our priests by expanding the eligible pool to include those married, male or female. The Church is wasting a lot of talent the longer it waits to take this important step.
We need to cut the crap of political correctness! I am sorry if I hurt some adult feelings when I am trying to protect children.
Perhaps we might give a nod to all the priests who lived as wholesome examples of true men, often sacrificing their energy and time to effectively enhance the lives of youngsters. The Church does so much good in this world that we tend to take it for granted. What institution/organization has done or does more?
I've not read the report - only summaries like this. But it seems that the researchers didn't spend much time on the "why then?" question. Where they do touch on it - number 7. above - Ms. McChesney comments:
"This finding may be dangerously misinterpreted by some as a “cause” of the abuse."
"Dangerously"? What an odd thing to say. Danger to whom? Danger of what?
Not only that, but they had no access to the decades of mental health records of the hundreds of priests who were sent to church-run "treatment facilities" that specialized in predator clerics. If we want to evaluate the mind of the child predator, that is where the researchers need to go.
The only way that victims and the public have been able to access the real data is through the power of the court system.
So, we can discuss the reports findings all we want, as long as we understand that the data is manufactured. The report is a fallacy and it is a failure.
SNAP Western Regional Director
The report is a fraud!
I was raped and abused by a priest when I was 12 until the abuser was caught by another parent. The bishop merely transferred the abuser to a small town with an elementary school. To this day the diocese denies the abuse happened. So if the bishops are systematically covering up abuse how can the John Jay Report be accurate? How can any of the statistics of the Report be true?
The civil grand jury in Philadelphia exposed the lie of the dioceses' continued and current coverup. Even today we find that Bishop Finn of Kansas City covering for a priest taking pictures of naked little girls.
~How can the bishops be credible when they fail to criticize or fail to sanction other bishops found covering up abuse, ie Boston, Philadelphia, LA, KC, etc?
~How can we take seriously the church hierarchy when they reward Cardinal Law with a Vatican position when he fled Boston due to his complicity in endangering children?
~How can we accept the integrity of the bishops when 55 dioceses fail to take even minimum measures to protect children?
~How can you justify a report that fails to demand full disclosure of all the clergy involved in abuse of children and the vulnerable? How can families protect their children when information is hidden?
~Lastly, how can we receive justice within the church given the decades long history of coverup that continues today? Clearly, civil investigation is necessary in every diocese.
Tainted data result in tainted findings.
There's a fair chance that St. Luke's Institute in MD, the Institute for Living in CT, and Southdown in Ontario are the major treatment centers involved in the study. I would be very surprised if JJ used the Servants of the Paraclete facilities in NM and MO, given their dismal record.
Let's look somewhat askance at the bishops' statements about doctors' recommendations in light of significant evidence about the lack of full histories they sent to treatment centers.
Often enough, sexual abuse incidents were deleted:
-9 of Geoghan's 15 allegations were not included;
-Joseph Birmingham's abuse just before admission was left out, leaving only a 17-year old assault on his record;
-one psychiatrist called a bishop an outright liar in a deposition for repeatedly excluding abuse in about half a dozen case histories;
-some bishops showed up telling docs when they wanted a priest to conclude treatment;
-docs complained bps would ignore recommendations, and not follow through on restrictions.
Never assume transparency and integrity in episcopal communications about sexual abuse, where euphemisms and code words abound.
Secondly, neither the Report nor Ms. McChesney make any distinction between abusers and priests who have been merely accused, without corroboration, in the wake of a Church PR disaster in which Church officials felt very motivated to financially settle any and every claim regardless of merit. To gain some perspective on this Report readers should also spend some time at the "Special Reports" on www.TheseStoneWalls.com. Clearly, the putative victim is not always the real one.
I happen to know an interesting story: in 1993 Fr. John Geoghan was evaluated at St. Luke Institute. STL called the Servants of the Paraclete for a recommendation. The SPs recommended that Fr. Geoghan should be placed in one of their facilities designed for long-term custodial care at a bargain basement rate of $1,000 per month. The personnel director for the Archdiocese of Boston at the time was Bishop John McCormack. He is reported to have immediately dismissed the recommendation with a statement that "These facilities are just trying to keep their beds filled." Fr. Geoghan was then reassigned, and that subsequent assignment became the disaster that sparked the scandal of 2002.