A final report on the sex-abuse scandal, prepared for the US bishops, has found no single factor responsible for clerical abuse.
"The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in society generally," says the independent report. The study finds that some priests were unprepared for the pressures brought on by the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, especially the influence of sexual revolution. The study specifically rejects claims that the sex-abuse problem was fueled by clerical celibacy or by homosexuality within the ranks of the clergy.
The 300-page report entitled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950- 2010, prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was released by the US bishops' conference on May 18. The Causes and Context study is the second major report prepared by John Jay for the US hierarchy. The 5-year study was commissioned by the American bishops, at a cost of $1.8 million.
The study notes that sexual abuse by priests reached a peak in the 1960s and 1970s. The John Jay report notes the turmoil of that era, and suggests that some priests were caught up in forces of the sexual revolution. Many early reports on the John Jay study have scoffed at that analysis, calling it the "blame Woodstock" explanation for the abuse crisis.
The John Jay study rejects two common attempts to explain the outbreak of sexual abuse: the liberal claim that celibacy is responsible and the conservative suspicion that homosexual priests are to blame. In fact, the John Jay report notes, the incidence of sexual abuse began to decrease in the late 1970s, at a time when--according to the study--the number of homosexual priests was rising. Thus the report finds that an increasing acceptance of homosexual priests was associated with "a decreased incidence of abuse--not an increased incidence of abuse."
The Causes and Context report concludes that the overwhelming preponderance of young male victims reflects the fact that abusive priests had more access to boys than girls. On the other hand, the John Jay study notes that only about 5% of the priests who abused children could be classified as true pedophiles, since most of the victims were not young children. While true pedophiles typically show no preference for boys or girls, the statistics show that adolescent boys formed the largest group of abuse victims.
The John Jay report praises the American Catholic hierarchy for taking steps to protect children from abuse, and asserts that "safe environment" programs will make it easier to identify and punish abusers in the future. The study does not directly address the fact that in the scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, many abusers were identified, but not disciplined.
Nor does the John Jay study address the lingering questions about the credibility of the American bishops, who remain responsible for implementing their own sex-abuse guidelines. David Clohessy of SNAP, the sex-abuse victims' group, was dismissive of the study. “Predictably and conveniently, the bishops have funded a report that says what they’ve said all along, and what they wanted to hear back,” he charged.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan on New York, the president of the American bishops' conference, showed some sensitivity to the early criticism of the report, emphasizing that the study was not done by the bishops themselves. Complaining that some critics have chided the bishops for the report, the archbishop said: "Once again, they are not our conclusions at all, but those of an acclaimed academic institution specializing in this sensitive area."