Signs of the Times

John Jay Report Undergoing Revisions

Errors in the report prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy leave unanswered one of the central questions the report was supposed to answer: How did church leaders respond to allegations of sexual abuse? The report has been removed from the World Wide Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops following discovery of errors in the section describing how bishops and religious superiors dealt with allegations of sexual abuse. There is no indication that other sections of the report have significant errors. At press time the report was still available on the John Jay College Web site (

Page 83 of the report contained a graphic (Fig. 5.3.1), showing how bishops responded to substantiated allegations of sexual abuse, but the figure contained erroneous data. The data were meant to show in what percentage of cases the diocese or religious community reprimanded an accused priest and returned him to ministry, or assigned him to medical leave or took no action, etc. But the individual percentages did not match the raw numbers given in the figure.


America discovered errors in the graphic while preparing it for use on the cover of this week’s issue. An official at the U.S. Bishops Conference who was asked why the percentages and the raw numbers in the figure did not match, expressed surprise and referred the questioner to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which prepared the report. Within hours of America’s query, all but the executive summary of the report was removed from the bishops’ Web site and replaced by a notice stating that the report is undergoing final editing and will be available in late March.

Margaret L. Smith, data analyst for the John Jay College research team, acknowledged in response to questions from America that Fig. 5.3.1. showed incorrect data. At press time, no revision was available.

When the John Jay report was released on Feb. 27, the researchers indicated that they had been under a very tight time schedule for completion of the project and that despite rigorously checking the data, we anticipate that some minor errors may remain.

What Are Substantiated Allegations?

Differing definitions of the word substantiated appear to have caused problems for researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice as they analyzed data from the survey questionnaire sent to diocesan officials to collect information on sexual abuse by clergy in the United States. The investigators discovered from notes on the returned questionnaires that respondents had used various criteria for determining whether an allegation was substantiated or not. Some may have taken substantiated to mean credible, others proven beyond a reasonable doubt or something else. No written definition of the term had been provided to diocesan officials by the researchers. In addition, this question was asked only about cases investigated by the diocese, not about all cases.

The report released on Feb. 27 did not contain any information on what percentage of the allegations were investigated by dioceses or what percentage were substantiated, even though these questions were asked in the questionnaire given to diocesan officials.

The principal investigator for the report at John Jay College, Karen Terry, told Catholic News Service that according to the survey data, church officials substantiated allegations against about two-thirds of the 4,392 clergymen accused of sexual abuse of minors during the 52-year time period from 1950 to 2002. Terry said the fact that some of the allegations were unsubstantiated does not mean they were disproved. Margaret Smith, the study’s data analyst, said that the two-thirds figure was based on a combination of factors involving cross-checking with other questionnaires to see, for instance, if disciplinary actions were taken against priests, even though no investigation results were reported.

Data provided to America by John Jay researchers seems to indicate that 65 percent of the allegations were investigated by diocesan officials, and that of this number 65 percent were judged substantiated by those officials, although the survey questionnaire had left the word undefined. The confusion over substantiated adds to the problems of Fig. 5.3.1, which was meant to report the response of bishops to substantiated allegations.

New Directory for Bishops: Promote Rights, Be Model

The modern bishop should be a firm defender of Catholic doctrine, an active promoter of human rights, a father of all to his faithful and a model of personal holiness, a new Vatican document says. The 301-page Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops was prepared by the Congregation for Bishops and approved by Pope John Paul II. Release of the document in Italian was expected in early March and in other languages, including English, shortly thereafter. Catholic News Service obtained an early copy.

The directory, which updates an earlier, similar document from 1973, covers every area of a bishop’s spiritual, pastoral, administrative and public activities. It emphasizes the local bishop’s ties with the pope and the Vatican and the bishop’s crucial role in promoting church communion. It said bishops should make every effort to ensure that the faithful in their dioceses receive church teachings and that documents from the Vatican are transmitted and followed.

At the same time, the directory said, bishops should avoid questioning doctrinal aspects of the authentic or disciplinary magisterium, in order not to damage the church’s authority and their own. It warned that public comments are quickly transmitted by the media and said bishops should pose such questions to the Vatican or other bishops through more reserved channels.

When a scandal occurs, especially if it involves priests, the bishop should act with decisiveness, justice and serenity, taking prompt and proper steps to repair the scandal, help the victim and protect the spiritual welfare of everyone involved, it said. By acting in this way and by living in perfect chastity himself, the bishop will be able to show proper leadership, it said.

The directory said that in judging the suitability of seminary candidates, the bishop may find it opportune to subject the candidate to psychological testing. This should be done only if warranted by problematic cases, it said, because recourse to such methods cannot be generalized and must be done with great prudence, in order not to violate the person’s right to privacy.

On priestly celibacy, the directory said bishops should help priests better understand and respect this commitment in the face of real obstacles posed today. It said bishops should encourage prudence and teach priests to adopt a reserved and discreet attitude when dealing with women, because informality can be misunderstood and result in sentimental attachments.

Reflecting discussions at a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the topic in 2001, the directory stressed the need for the bishop to exemplify holiness and all the virtues preached by Christ. Reflecting Christ, each bishop should be poor and appear to be poor, living a modest lifestyle in keeping with the socioeconomic conditions of his faithful, it said. He should try to eliminate every shadow of vanity from his life, never indulging in favoritism and showing a special concern for those living in humble circumstances, it said. Ideally, the bishop should be sincere, open to dialogue, sensitive to the joys and sufferings of others, friendly and willing to serve.

The bishop should take a special interest in grave forms of social injustice, such as the global gap between rich and poor and various forms of discrimination, and condemn all forms of violence. Faced with these challenges, the bishop is called to be a prophet of justice and of peace, a defender of inalienable human rights, preaching the doctrine of the church in defense of human life from conception to its natural end.

News Briefs

Pope John Paul II has named Mary Ann Glendon, a professor of law at Harvard University, to be president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The appointment on March 9 marks the first time a woman has been named president of one of the 10 pontifical academies, all of which involve groups of scholars who conduct and encourage research on topics of concern to the Catholic Church.

Sister Sara Butler, a member of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, was appointed to the International Theological Commission. She teaches dogmatic theology at the New York Archdiocese’s St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers. She and a German lay woman are the first women appointed to the commission.

French bishops defended their country’s worker-priest movement on the 50th anniversary of its suppression by Pope Pius XII. The bishops said the worker-priest movement had set out to reach the working class, which had become alienated from the church.

The Archdiocese of Boston filed a lawsuit on March 5 against Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co., accusing it of fraud and breach of contract for its refusal to contribute to the archdiocese’s $83 million settlement with some 550 alleged victims of sexual abuse by Boston priests.

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