Study: No Single Cause of Clergy Abuse in US

Says Crisis Is Historical Issue; Notes Sharp Decline After 1985

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- A study on sexual abuse by clergy in the United States concludes that neither celibacy nor homosexuality can be pinpointed as the cause for the crisis, and that the problem is largely a historical one.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the study today by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, which is the second of two reports completed by the college.

The first -- "The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States 1950-2002" -- was published in 2004 and focused on the description and extent of the problem.

The second is titled "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010," and it sought to understand why sexual abuse of minors by clergy took place.

The study, which integrated research from "sociocultural, psychological, situational, and organizational" perspectives, concluded that "no single 'cause' of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests is identified as a result of our research."

"Social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s manifested in increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and also among priests of the Catholic Church in the United States," it explained. "Organizational, psychological, and situational factors contributed to the vulnerability of individual priests in this period of normative change."

The study also noted "the historical time period of the problem: the increase in incidence until the late 1970s and the sharp decline by 1985."

The report added that while it could find no "specific institutional cause for the increase in incidence," there were factors specific to the Catholic Church that "contributed to the decline in the mid-1980s."

"Analyses of the development and influence of seminary education throughout the historical period is consistent with the continued suppression of abuse behavior in the 21st century," it said.

Protecting children

Karen Terry, John Jay's principal investigator for the report, underlined in a statement released by the U.S. bishops that "the bulk of cases occurred decades ago."

"The increased frequency of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time," she said, adding that "social influences intersected with vulnerabilities of individual priests whose preparation for a life of celibacy was inadequate at that time."

Noting the specific factors that led to a decrease in incidences of abuse in the Church, Terry noted that the development of human formation elements in seminary training could be linked to fewer current cases in the United States.

She also added that the number of incidences decreased more rapidly within the Church than within society in general.

Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, who chairs the USCCB Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, found hope in the report, as it shows that "what we are doing works" in addressing child sexual abuse.

He said that the inability to predict individual sexual deviance "makes the safe environments programs valuable and necessary."

"The Catholic Church has taken a position of zero tolerance of any cleric who would sexually abuse a child," the bishop added. "Such a position protects children. But it also protects the tens of thousands of priests who have suffered greatly in this crisis, all the while quietly serving with honor and self-sacrifice every day of their lives."

"The shame of failing our people will remain with us for a long time," said Bishop Blase Cupich. "It should. Its sting can keep us resolute in our commitments and humble so as to never forget the insight we came to nearly a decade ago in Dallas. We cannot do any of this on our own."

In 2002 in Dallas, in response to the sexual abuse crisis, the U.S. bishop adopted The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which has since guided the response in dealing with sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

A model

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement released earlier today that the report "adds valuable insight and understanding to how and why the crime and sin of sexual abuse occurred in the Catholic Church."

He reiterated that the report is not a result of the research of the USCCB, but rather of the John Jay College, and that the bishops in the United States have "been noted as the first group anywhere to contract a professional agency ... to examine the 'causes and contexts' of this scourge."

"The report makes clear that the vast majority of sexual abuse occurred during the 1960's through 1980's, even as it examines the various conditions that led to this abuse," he said. "It also concludes that the incidence of sexual abuse of minors has declined sharply in the Catholic Church since 1985."

He said that the results of the report coincides with the experience of the Archdiocese of New York, as the reports it receives of abuse "are almost exclusively from decades ago."

"This does not minimize the damage done to the victims of abuse, as I once again offer an apology to anyone who may have been harmed by a priest or any other person acting in the name of the Church, however long ago," he added.

"The study also points out that there was no single cause that led to the sexual abuse crisis. Neither celibacy, as some have suggested, nor homosexuality, as others have claimed, have been found to be a reason why a person would engage in sexual abuse of a minor," he continued.

"Providing safe environments for our young people is perhaps the most important way to prevent sexual abuse," Archbishop Dolan said.

"Earlier this week, the Holy See released a circular letter to bishops' conferences around the world, urging them to develop polices for dealing with sexual abuse within their own countries," he concluded. "The letter outlines such steps as listening to and caring for the victims of abuse, creating safe environment for minors, proper formation of priests, cooperating with civil authorities, and taking proper care of priests who have been accused of abuse.

"It is my hope that the experience of the Church in the United States, as illustrated in this study, might help serve as a model, not only for the Church in other countries, but for all of society which is still learning how to deal with the awful problem of abuse."

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On ZENIT's Web page:

Archbishop Dolan's statement: www.zenit.org/article-32604?l=english

On the Net:

The complete report of John Jay College: www.usccb.org/mr/causes-and-context-of-sexual-abuse-of-minors-by-catholic-priests-in-the-united-states-1950-2010.pdf