The Guardian - UK May 27, 2011
Child abuse tests how the church relates to the secular world
The Catholic church doesn't help itself by encouraging the idea that the laity and the priestly caste are separate and different
by Catherine Pepinster | Opinion
The question: Is the Catholic abuse crisis over?
The John Jay report into sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics, commissioned by the US church itself, is one of the most comprehensive documents that the church has published anywhere in the world on the sexual scandal that has caused it so much embarrassment and its victims so much grief. The portrait it paints of the abusers themselves are of isolated, vulnerable individuals who had difficulties in bonding with others in normal relationships, who led stressful lives and were likely to have been abused themselves. And as the report itself says:
"Priest-abusers are similar to sex offenders in the general population. They had motivation to commit the abuse (for example, emotional congruence to adolescents), exhibited techniques of neutralization to excuse and justify their behaviour, took advantage of opportunities to abuse (for example, through socialization with the family), and used grooming techniques to gain compliance from potential victims."
So why has there been quite so much outrage about sexual abuse of minors by priests, more than, say, of sexual abuse of minors by scout masters, or doctors, or teachers? Andrew Brown in Comment is free last week put paid to the notion that there are more abusers among the Catholic priesthood than among other groups. So it's not the frequency of occurrence that is the problem. The disgust, I would suggest, is rightly felt in one way because the exploitation and abuse of children is so terrible a deed.
But we also feel that disgust so intensely because we all – not just Catholics, but society at large – expect Catholic priests to be different, to not be so reprehensible in their behaviour. And a major reason for that is that we have all bought into the problem: we have accepted the view that priests are different, that they are in an elevated position from the rest of us, that they are somehow holier. And if they are holier, they are above the usual human frailties. Too many of us assumed that priests would not be capable of such actions, that they should be treated specially and differently from anybody else accused of heinous crimes.
Faith is essential to religion, but this was blind faith. The institution of the Catholic church for years promoted clericalism with this view of the elevated priest above the laity, and it was barely questioned.
In his 2010 letter to the Catholics of Ireland about the abuse scandal, the pope did go some way to acknowledge the situation, speaking of the shame and remorse that he feels. This was also the man who spoke of "the filth in the church" just before he was elected pope. But Benedict's letter also showed the inherent weaknesses of the church's position, suggesting that the solution was greater spiritual devotion of the faithful. While he did acknowledge the role of clericalism, at least in the Irish context, he also shifted blame for the crisis on to secular culture as well.
For the Irish Catholics who love the church – and indeed those elsewhere who love the church – the idea that the clerical abuse crisis might be down to their lack of devotion is deeply depressing. As to the idea that the secular culture might be the cause – a view also promoted by the John Jay report – it is hard to understand why the church would come to this conclusion. For while the report concludes that the rise in abuse cases mirrors changes in American society in the 1960s and the 1970s – the"Woodstock era" of increased sexual permissiveness – it also reveals that 70% of abusers were ordained before the 1970s, that more abusers were educated in the seminaries in the 1940s and 1950s than any other era, and that abuse cases have tailed off. So an external permissive culture seems unlikely to be a cause.
The sex abuse crisis is a test of the church's relationship with the secular world. Blaming the outside for its internal ills won't help. Nor will encouraging the idea that the laity and the priestly caste are separate and different. The laity helped blow the whistle on what the church was keeping secret. When Catholics hear sermons about Doubting Thomas, who wouldn't believe until he saw the evidence of the risen Christ with his own eyes, he is not usually described as a man to be admired. But the sex abuse crisis shows us that Doubting Thomases, if they demand the evidence others keep hidden, are our heroes.
Catherine Pepinster is editor of Catholic weekly The Tablet
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Callenging the John Jay Report
A law professor and victim advocate on blaming the Sixties for child sex abuse
By Marci A. Hamilton | GOD VS GAVEL Column
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
RE: Application for Grant to Write a Sequel to the John Jay Sixties Report
I can only imagine how you, the Conference, and John Jay himself are feeling after the public hee-hawing in response to your announcement last week that the Sixties era was responsible for your child sex abuse challenges. The cartoons, like the one by Tony Auth in the Philadelphia Inquirer, were short on empathy for your herculean efforts.
I noticed you paid about $1 million for this Report (and you solicited some serious funds from outside groups, including the federal government), so the national LOL in response has to hurt.
Speaking as a professor, I believe that the John Jay Report, otherwise entitled The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, lacks sufficient historical support for this breakthrough in explaining how an institution that started with Jesus Christ could become the global leader in child endangerment.
You obviously take the John Jay academics' Sixties thesis seriously as it appeared in your press releases about the Report; maybe the problem is that the Report just wasn't long enough. So I think you should consider doing a sequel to buttress your arguments about the Sixties.
I know that we have had our differences in the past, but now that I see the sincerity of your drive to protect children, I just can't let this opportunity pass.
Here is a summary of the promising avenues of research I would pursue for you as soon as you send me a check. Each one provides a new insight to help you (and the world) understand the men under your care and just how difficult it is for the bishops to handle this problem.
The Sixties were not just a permissive era when everyone was doing drugs, having sex, and listening to rock and roll.* There were many social influences that might help you as you try to explain the victimization of the Catholic bishops who have had to carry the cross of child sex abuse by priests.
Each of the following four cultural landmarks deserves further exploration. Once you have approved my grant application and paid in full, I will apply the tried and true research methods followed by the John Jay team to definitively link this cultural phenomenon to your problems.
- 1960 Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was released. My educated guess is that most seminarians and priests started out the Sixties scared stiff. Or at least terrified of showers and motels. That can really affect your judgment.
- 1966 Star Trek aired on television for the first time. Once Star Trek(and Spock in particular) made it imminently plausible that extraterrestrials exist—and can be more rational than humans—what man of God would not be concerned? Spock's irresistible 7-year-itch had to be a blow to any man contemplating a life without sex.
- 1967 The first Super Bowl. The beginning of the end of Western civilization.
- 1969 Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. As you may know, the Church once persecuted Galileo for saying that the earth was not the center of the universe. This reminder that the Church was once wrong about the basic order of the universe could have led any seminarian, priest, or bishop to doubt everything that is right and good.
It is my expectation that as I investigate these cultural links to your organization, I will be able to add significant cover for you and your fellow bishops who even today do not call the police when you learn of abuse by your employees.
If this grant application is rejected, which would be deeply disappointing, I would like to make one modest proposal to aid you as you recover from the humiliation of the John Jay Woodstock Report, as some have dubbed it. Do you want to regain the respect you have squandered? Become the victims' ally for justice. If you don't know what that requires, ask them. (That is not the same thing as asking your lawyers or your high-priced PR guys and gals what to do next.) But you and I both know you are fully aware of what you should do. You just haven't done it yet.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I was a kid in the Sixties, have never done a single illegal drug, including marijuana, never thought "free sex" was a good idea for anyone, and grew up liking country music as much as rock and roll. But this application is made in my capacity as an academic, not as someone who "lived" the phenomenon. I suppose this explains in part the fact that I have never abused a child or covered up anyone else's abuse of a child?
Hamilton's column, "God vs. Gavel," is published every Thursday. Subscribe via email or RSS.
Last week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a report called “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010” (.pdf), a companion to their 2004 report, “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, 1950-2002“. Both reports were compiled by the research team at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York at the request of the USCCB’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board, a group of prominent Catholic laity (both the OCYP and the NRB were created by the USCCB after the 2002 adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People). It is important to note that, although the research was carried out by the John Jay College, the UCCSB had the final say on whether or not to authorize publication of the report.
Before I read the newly-released report, I tried to be as charitable and optimistic about it as possible, with the thought that “well, this is better than nothing”.
After finishing the report, though, I can say with certainty that both my charity and my optimism were unwarranted. I was wrong. Very wrong. This report isn’t better than nothing. It’s a major setback in the movement towards Church accountability.
In the hope of counteracting some of the report’s detrimental effects, I want to offer some summary and analysis of its methodology, data, and conclusions. The report itself is very long (143 pages), but you can get an overview of its findings by reading its brief “Executive Summary” and/or The New York Times‘s recent article on the report.
First, I want to explain why this report’s findings are neither credible nor insightful:
1. The conflict of interest created by the funding. For example, a recent news report said that “[m]ore than half of the $1.8 million cost for the nearly 150-page report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the ’causes and context’ of child sex abuse by clergy came from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops”. Yes, the USCCB donated $918,000 of the report’s $1.8 million cost. However, such news reports should also explain that the majority of the remaining funding came from organizations that are either explicitly Catholic-affiliated or that have histories of funding Catholic activities and advocacy (the Knights of Columbus, the Raskob Foundation, Catholic Mutual Group, Sisters of Charity Ministry Foundation, the Luce Foundation, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the St. Joseph Health System, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, The Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Daughters of Charity Foundation/Province of the West).
So, this is a study that was commissioned by the USCCB (who retained “authorization” rights over publication of the final report) and that was funded almost entirely by Catholic or pro-Catholic organizations. Conflict of interest doesn’t get much more blatant than that.
2. Limited and untrustworthy data. In addition to reusing much of the information from the Nature and Scope study, the researchers explain that:
The primary data sources for the Causes and Context study are as follows: (1) longitudinal analyses of data sets of various types of social behavior (for example, crime, divorce, premarital sex) over the time period to provide a historical framework; (2) analysis of seminary attendance, the history and the development of a human formation curriculum, as well as information from seminary leaders; (3) surveys of and interviews with inactive priests with allegations of abuse, and a comparison sample of priests in active parish ministry who had not been accused; (4) interview and primary data from the 1971 Loyola University study of the psychology of American Catholic priests; (5) surveys of survivors, victim assistance coordinators, and clinical files about the onset, persistence, and desistance from abuse behavior; (6) surveys of bishops, priests, and other diocesan leaders about the policies that were put in place after 1985; and (7) analyses of clinical data from files obtained from three treatment centers, including information about priests who abused minors as well as those being treated for other behavioral problems (2).
These sources are acceptable but insufficient. They aren’t an adequate substitute for independent outside analysis of and inspection of Church data. Had the Church been willing to provide access to data that was not self-reported, then each of the above-mentioned sources could have provided additional useful information for the study. On their own, though, they’re just not enough.
As the report explains, this problem began with the Nature and Scope study:
…the USCCB wanted to know the extent of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church on a national level from 1950-2002. Any method of data collection on a project of this scope has limitations. The John Jay College researchers determined that it would be impossible to gather an adequate sample—there was simply not enough known about the problem nationally. It was decided that the best method to study this problem was to conduct a “census,” or to collect comprehensive information from the records of every diocese, eparchy, and religious institute in the United States. Though this method had restrictions, these files provided a wealth of information regarding the abusers, minors who were abused, and the financial cost of the individual cases (7).
Here, the researchers fail to justify the substitution of a “census” of self-reported data for an actual adequate sample and fail to explain the highly problematic nature of self-reported data, beyond mentioning that it “had restrictions”.
If it is true that it would have been impossible for the researchers to “gather an adequate sample”, then the researchers should have acknowledged that they needed to wait until such a sample could be gathered and should have refused the USCCB’s request. Instead, though, they chose to engage in a time-consuming and expensive study that would, ultimately, fail to provide any credible findings or useful suggestions for reform.
The fact that much of the data from the Nature and Scope study was reused in the Causes and Context study (2) is one of the primary reasons that, like the Nature and Scope study, the Causes and Context study was not worth undertaking.
Throughout the Causes and Context study, the researchers blindly accept the truth of the Church’s self-reported data. This is both troubling and dangerous, particularly when it comes to Church officials’ claims that they were not made aware of incidents of sexual abuse by priests until many years after they occurred. For example, the researchers assert that:
Despite data indicating that the incidence of abuse rose steadily between 1950 and 1980 and fell sharply by the mid-1980s, most of these events were unknown to civil authorities or church leaders before 2002 (27).
In 2002, the public response was focused on the leaders of individual dioceses and then on the collective hierarchy of the Catholic Church. What this outpouring of pain and indignation failed to accommodate was the temporal disjunction between the historical occurrence of these incidents of abuse and the emerging knowledge by Catholic leaders of the extent of the abuse (75).
yet their only evidence for this claim of “temporal disjunction” is the dioceses’ self-reported data. Even a cursory glance at the history of the Church’s response to the sex abuse crisis illustrates just how dubious this claim is. One such example can be found in the case of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. In late 2009, after years of refusing to release sealed documents pertaining to cases of sexual abuse by priests (fighting it all the way to the Supreme Court), the diocese ran out of legal options and was forced to turn over some of their files. As suspected, these documents contain evidence that Cardinal Edward Egan, previously Bishop of Bridgeport, knew about various allegations of abuse at the time of or shortly after their occurrence, but, instead of reporting these allegations to law enforcement, decided to handle the issue “internally”, potentially endangering more children in the process.
And Egan wasn’t merely “a bad apple”. Church leaders in dioceses all over the United States (89) chose to handle sex abuse allegations “internally”, which is a clear indication that, like Egan, many Church leaders indeed did know about cases of abuse at the time of or shortly after their occurrences, despite their self-reported assertions to the contrary.
Additionally, the researchers assert that:
There was no clear indication…of the bishops’ or other diocesan leaders’ understanding of the extent of harm resulting from sexual abuse. Although this lack of understanding was consistent with the overall lack of understanding of victimization at the time, the absence of acknowledgment of harm was a significant ethical lapse on the part of leadership in some dioceses (119).
Here, they researchers acknowledge an “ethical lapse”, yet refuse to place the blame where it belongs: on the abusers and on those who engaged in a cover-up of their behavior. Instead, the researchers claim that, in the 1960s and 1970s, American society as a whole didn’t understand how damaging and harmful child sex abuse was, and that the Church leaders of this time thus couldn’t possibly have known the proper course of action to take in response to an allegation of abuse.
Ultimately, despite the extremely problematic nature of their data, the researchers insist that:
The Causes and Context study provided a unique opportunity to collect robust, rich, and multifaceted data on the sexual abuse of minors over a sixty-year period. Seven sources of quantitative and qualitative data were analyzed, and the findings support a consistent set of conclusions. This convergence of findings provides confidence in the data, which can then serve as a base for creating policy recommendations (118).
This failure to acknowledge the highly flawed nature of the data in question indicates that the researchers are not credible and that the Causes and Context study’s conclusions are, for the most part, neither trustworthy nor deserving of serious consideration.
Next, let’s look at two of the major problems of and flaws in the report’s methodology and conclusions:
1. One of the most egregious aspects of this report is that the researchers arbitrarily redefine “pedophilia” as sexual abuse of victims that were ten years old or younger at the time, despite the fact that the DSM sets the cutoff age at thirteen. Defining it as “ten years old or younger” allows the researchers to make claims like:
Less than 5 percent of the priests with allegations of abuse exhibited behavior consistent with a diagnosis of pedophilia (a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent fantasies, urges, and behaviors about prepubescent children). Thus, it is inaccurate to refer to abusers as “pedophile priests” (3).
It is worth noting that while the media has consistently referred to priest-abusers as “pedophile priests,” pedophilia is defined as the sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Yet, the data on priests show that 22 percent of victims were age ten and under, while the majority of victims were pubescent or postpubescent (10).
… whereas if they had stuck to the DSM‘s guidelines (age thirteen or younger), most of the priest-abusers could legitimately be called “pedophiles”, as ”[m]ost sexual abuse victims of priests (51 percent) were between the ages of eleven and fourteen, while 27 percent were fifteen to seventeen, 16 percent were eight to ten, and nearly 6 percent were under age seven” (10). In other words, if the researchers had used the DSM‘s guidelines, the percentage would jump from 22% to almost 73%.
Arbitrarily changing the age from thirteen to ten was a very sleazy and duplicitous move, and, unfortunately, many media outlets will most likely report the “5%” and “22%” figures without explaining the study’s authors’ arbitrary redefinition of “pedophilia” (see this CNN story for an example). “Pedophilia” is a word that evokes strong feelings in many people, and, without this explanation, most media consumers will be left with the impression that the Church’s sex abuse crisis isn’t nearly as horrible or widespread as they had previously thought.
Frustratingly, the researchers do not explain why they chose to redefine “pedophilia”, saying only that: “[f]or the purpose of this comparison, a pedophile is defined as a priest who had more than one victim, with all victims being age eleven or younger at the time of the offense” (34).
Even more egregious, though, is the researchers’ attack on any media outlet or individual who accepts the standard definition of “pedophile”:
Media reports about Catholic priests who sexually abused minors often mistakenly have referred to priests as pedophiles. According to the DSM IV-TR, pedophilia is characterized by fantasies, urges, or behaviors about sexual activity with a prepubescent child that occurs for a significant period of time. Yet, the Nature and Scope data indicated that nearly four out of five minors abused were at least eleven years old at the time of the abuse. Though development happens at varying ages for children, the literature generally refers to eleven and older as an age of pubescence or postpubescence (53).
I’m both horrified and perplexed by the researchers’ arbitrary and unexplained redefinition of their study’s primary topic. Remember: their redefinition of “pedophile” allows them to claim that only 22% of priest-abusers were “pedophiles”, whereas, if they had used the DSM‘s definition, that percentage would jump to almost 73%. Media consumers who hear the figure of 22% reported without context will, most likely, assume that it is based upon the standard (DSM) definition, and, as a result, will develop a highly inaccurate understanding of the realities of the Catholic sex abuse crisis. Because of this, I don’t think it’s uncharitable or unreasonable to call into question both the credibility of and the integrity of the researchers.
2. The researchers attempt to place some of the blame for the sex abuse crisis on the failures of seminaries to fully prepare priests for the social changes that accompanied 1960′s and and 1970′s culture, focusing on “the impact social changes in the 1960s and 1970s had on individual priests’ attitudes and behavior and on organizational life, including social stratification, emphasis on individualism, and social movements” (7).
For example, the researchers assert that, according to their data:
[T]he problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests peaked in the 1970s, with a decline by the mid-1980s in all regions of the Catholic Church in the United States. Though more cases of sexual abuse continue to be reported to dioceses today, almost all of these allegations are of abuse that occurred decades earlier (46).
then proceed to attempt to connect this supposed “peak” in sexual abuse cases (again, remember that all of this data comes from the “censuses” they sent to the dioceses) to the concurrent shift in cultural norms/”social indicators” (36) and rise in “deviant behaviors” (46), primarily “divorce, use of illegal drugs, and crime” (36), arguing that: “[t]he documented rise in cases of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s is similar to the rise in other types of “deviant” behavior in society, and coincides with social change during this time period” (46).
This argument indicates that the researchers need to be reminded of two things: that correlation does not equal causation, something that they either do not understand (doubtful) or actively chose to ignore, and that equating divorce with the “use of illegal drugs” and “crime” and the sexual abuse of children is problematic, to say the least.
Their attempt at justifying this argument is both pathetic and painfully convoluted:
Sexual abuse of a minor by a Catholic priest is an individual deviant act—an act by a priest that serves individual purposes and that is completely at odds or opposed to the principles of the institution. Divorce is an act also made for personal reasons that negates the institution of marriage. Illegal drug use and criminal acts violate social and legal norms of conduct, presumably at the will of the offender. The recorded or reported incidence of each of these factors increased by 50 percent between 1960 and 1980. If the data for the annual divorce rate are compared to data for the annual rate of homicide and robbery, the time-series lines move in tandem. From stable levels in 1965, the rates increase sharply to a peak at or soon after 1980 and then begin to fall. This pattern is indicative of the period effects that can be seen in the Nature and Scope data on the incidence of sexual abuse by priests (36-7).
Yet again, it bears repeating that both this claimed “peak” in sexual abuse cases (which forms the crux of their argument that the sexual abuse crisis was a “historical problem” (2)) and the argument that “period effects” are partially to blame for this “peak” are supported only by extremely limited and inherently untrustworthy data.
All of this grasping at straws serves only one purpose: to deflect guilt away from the perpetrators and those who engaged in covering up their acts.
Even more disturbing and baseless is the researchers’ claim that one cause of this “peak” in sexual abuse cases between the 1960s and the 1980s is that, until recently, seminaries failed to provide a “human formation” (41) curriculum consisting of “the training in self-understanding and the development of emotional and psychological competence for a life of celibate chastity” (5) and providing “a clear delineation of behavioral expectations appropriate to a life of celibacy” (120), asserting that: “[p]articipation in human formation during seminary distinguishes priests with later abusive behavior from those who did not abuse. The priests with abusive behavior were statistically less likely to have participated in human formation training than those who did not have allegations of abuse” (3).
Defending this assertion and attempting to connect it to the supposed “peak” in sexual abuse cases required the researchers to employ painfully convoluted logic including, once again, the “correlation equals causation” fallacy:
Human formation in seminary is critically important. The drop in abuse cases preceded the inclusion of a thorough education in human formation, but the development of the curriculum of human formation is consistent with the continued low levels of abuse by Catholic priests (118).
Men ordained in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s did not generally abuse before the 1960s or 1970s. Men ordained in the 1960s and the early 1970s engaged in abusive behavior much more quickly after their entrance into ministry (3).
In other words, the researchers believe that the vast majority of priest-abusers, whether they attended seminary in 1930 or in the early 1970s (or any time in-between), committed their crimes during the 1960s and 1970s (the time they refer to as the “peak”), and that this is primarily due to the fact that their seminaries failed to provide these priest-abusers with a proper “human formation” curriculum.
All of this begs the question (one that the researchers completely ignore): why would any priest have to be taught (in a “human formation” curriculum or otherwise) that it’s never acceptable, ethically or legally, to sexually abuse a child? According to the researchers, we should unquestioningly accept their baseless assertion because, without a proper training in “human formation”, these priest-abusers were unable to understand “appropriate forms of closeness to others” (121) and that certain behaviors are not “appropriate to a life of celibacy” (120).
The fact that the researchers completely ignore this question, this 500-pound elephant in the room, is egregious and unacceptable, and is yet another indicator of this report’s uselessness.
Sometimes I think that I should stop writing about this issue, as I’ve written about it so many times before and it’s quite difficult not to repeat myself. But I can’t and won’t shut up about it, and neither should you. The day that we stop writing and talking about it is the day that the Church wins this fight.
Time and time again we have seen that the Church will do whatever it takes to downplay and/or cover up their failings and crimes. They have shown their willingness to fight dirty, and one of the most useful and effective tools in their arsenal is their dominance of the discourse and conversation (both in the media and elsewhere) about these issues. The Causes and Context study is a textbook example of this: when the media reports its “takeaways” without providing context, they are, in effect, doing the Church’s face-saving dirty work for them.
No, we must not shut up. We must not allow the Church to dominate the discourse. Speak out in whatever ways you can. On its own, what you or I say or write may not have any effect on the Church or the discourse surrounding this issue. Taken as a whole, though, our words provide a clear indication that there are many of us who will neither blindly accept the Church’s domination of the conversation nor quietly sit by while they evade justice time and time again.
Don’t shut up, even when you feel like you’re repeating yourself. It took me a while to realize that the reason I’ve sometimes been repetitive when writing about this is that the Church itself has repeated the same crimes and the same institutionally sanctioned cover-ups over and over again. They repeatedly refuse to admit their culpability or to face legal punishment when appropriate. And, most importantly, they repeatedly deny outsiders access to their files that contain information on the sexual abuse of children and the cover-ups of that abuse.
Until the day that they allow that access, until the day that the light of public scrutiny is finally able to illuminate and reveal the darkest and most disturbing aspects of the Church, we owe it to the victims to never, ever shut up.
I won’t shut up, and neither should you. The day that we stop fighting back is the day that they win.
Let’s make sure that day never comes.
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Note from Perry Bulwer - May 30, 2011
Catholic League President Bill Donohue also wrote an analysis of the John Jay report, but at 24 pages it is too long to post here. In the intro he refers to it as a "critical analysis", but it reads more like an apologia. That intro also states that "... Donohue has written many articles on priestly sexual abuse and has discussed this issue on a number of radio and television shows."
The Catholic League downplays the evils of child abuse
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Three victims respond to new church abuse report
Statement by Barbara Blaine, SNAP President, May 18, 2011
It's 'garbage in, garbage out.' Two academics, paid by bishops and using information from bishops reach the conclusions bishops desperately want to reach themselves.
The Catholic hierarchy wants us to believe that the abuse of children by clerics is 'situational.' It's not. It's systemic. And most important, the tragic continuing cover up of those crimes, by bishops, is even more systemic. But the bishops report will give them even more reasons to avoid tough questions and take decisive steps to make children safer, expose the truth, discipline wrong-doers, and stop the abuse.
The document is yet another reminder of the sad, simple truth that keeps getting overlooked here: no institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy. The report is a clarion call to police, prosecutors, lawmakers, and judges to end decades of dangerous deference to church officials and start reforming secular laws so that those who commit, ignore, and conceal child sex crimes can be held responsible for the devastation they cause.
* * *
Four fallacies in new bishops abuse report
Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)
Predictably and conveniently, the bishops have funded a report that tells them precisely what they want to hear: it was all unforeseeable, long ago, wasn't that bad and wasn't their fault.
It gives bishops even more reasons avoid doing what they clearly want to avoid: questioning celibacy, married priests, secular laws, serious reforms or their own virtually limitless power as kings in a medieval monarchy.
Here are four of the most crucial fallacies in the document:
- The crisis is and was unforeseeable, the report claims, because child molesters don't have forked tongues or devil tails and can't be easily detected. Fair enough. But the report essentially dodges the crucial question: Why don't bishops quickly out and oust child-molesting clerics the first time they sexually assault a child? (And why then, if predators can't be spotted in advance, do bishops tout their alleged seminary "screening" processes as panaceas?)
- The crisis was long ago, the report claims, because the bishops say so. Never mind the fact that only a handful of five and ten year olds march down to the police station and promptly report their own victimization, so it's dreadfully misleading and dangerous to assume clergy sex crimes have gone down in recent years.
- The crisis isn't all that bad, the report suggests, because many of the kids who are or were violated had experienced puberty. Never mind the fact that child sex crimes, no matter at what age, are always illegal, immoral and hurtful. So the hair-splitting between pedophiles and ephebophiles (a distinction that seems to matter to few besides bishops) is, for the most part, at best irrelevant and at worst distracting.
- Most important, the crisis isn't bishops' fault, the document implies. It was what the New York Times calls the "Blame Woodstock" defense. At best, this is naïve. At worst, it's deceptive. There are at least three reasons why it may appear to some that abuse 'peaked' in the 60s and 70s. The first is that victims during those years are old, strong, smart, healthy, and desperate enough to finally be able to report their horrific pain. The second is that bishops are much more willing to disclose clergy sex crimes that are beyond the reach of the criminal and civil justice system than more recent clergy sex crimes that could result in prosecution and litigation and embarrassment. And bishops are more willing to acknowledge child felonies committed under their predecessors than themselves.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the bishops' 'take-away' here is: "We don't have to change a thing." Thankfully, most people realize that's nonsense. Most people understand that a feudal system lacking any 'checks and balances' is inherently unhealthy and that a culture premised on sexual abstinence and secrecy and self-perpetuation is inherently problematic.
Finally, David Gibson writes that the apparent jump "in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s, the authors found, was essentially due to emotionally ill-equipped priests who were trained in earlier years and lost their way in the social cataclysm of the sexual revolution."
Lost their way? Please! The writing on the wall seems clear: We fear that bishops are going backwards and laying the groundwork to recycle and restore proven, admitted, and credibly accused child-molesting clerics to ministry. Because, if those child sex offenders merely "lost their way," they can clearly be "rehabilitated," right?
Countless times over the past decade, bishops have claimed, "We used to be naïve about abuse. Now we understand it better." But if that's the case, how can they, or anyone, attribute heinous, repeated sexual assaults on innocent, vulnerable kids as some priests "losing their way."
* * *
New bishops document on abuse released; SNAP responds
For immediate release: Tuesday, May 17
Statement by Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach CA, western regional director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (949 322 7434, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Little in this document is really new. Not surprisingly, it confirms the same tired, self-serving rationalizations that bishops began trotting out years ago. This report is the latest, and perhaps most shrewd, effort by bishops to shift blame and make excuses. They're counting on us having short memories and being swayed by the patina of academic respectability.
As the AP reports, the document says that "homosexuality, celibacy, and an all-male priesthood did not cause the scandal." What did and does cause this crisis is clear - timid, self-serving bishops who are obsessed with their comfort and reputations, so they work very hard to keep clergy sex crimes and cover ups covered up.
As the New York Times reports, "The researchers concluded that it was not possible for the church, or for anyone, to identify abusive priests in advance." But the real question is: Why was and is it not possible for bishops to quickly oust predators once they started molesting? That's what really needs to be addressed.
As the AP reports, the report claims abuse "peaked in the 1970s," then began declining. This is perhaps the most absurd and damaging assumption. All but a few victims are only able to report child sex crimes decades later. Because of this inevitable lag time, it's irresponsible to pretend anyone has any real sense of how many clergy sex crimes happened in recent years or are happening now.
Bishops desperately want us to believe that their long-standing, deliberate, repeated recklessness, and deceit were just simple "mistakes" because they just "weren't aware of" or "didn't understand" abuse. That is deceit heaped on more deceit. Even more, they want us to fixate on abusive priests, not callous bishops.
Bishops are highly educated men with extensive staffs and resources. But even high school dropouts have, for decades, known that child sex abuse is wrong, illegal, and hurtful. Even teenagers know that we are to call police and prosecutors. But bishops didn't call the police about abuse. And most still don't call the police. And the Vatican doesn't require them to call the police.
How much bishops knew about the causes or treatment of pedophilia is irrelevant. For decades, every one of them knew it was illegal. And nearly every one of them endangered kids by refusing to call the police or tell the truth. Nearly every one of them protected known and suspected child molesters instead of protecting children. Nearly every one of them used their position of authority and power to keep victims silent and marginalized.
What needs to be studied, but bishops ignore, is the inexcusable and on-going cover up of clergy sex crimes by top Catholic officials.
Wrongdoers often childishly point to other wrongdoers, saying "See, they're naughty, too." Such bald-faced diversionary finger pointing may be smart public relations, but it's morally irresponsible.
We don't need Catholic officials to distract us about other individuals or institutions that have mishandled child sex crimes and cover-ups. We need Catholic officials to seriously reform their own institution and stop current and future child sex crimes and cover-ups. It's unseemly for bishops to spend parishioner donations on a document designed to restore bishops' shattered reputations when true reform, transparency, and child safety do not cost a nickel.
We don't need Catholic officials to distract us by splitting hairs about whether most child molesting clerics are pedophiles or ephebophiles.
Bishops brag that they have adopted policies and procedures. Recent developments, however, show how worthless those policies and procedures are:
In February, a Philadelphia grand jury found that 37 priests with credible allegations of abuse or inappropriate behavior towards minors were still in active ministry, despite the fact that just days earlier Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali said that no priest with credible accusations were working in the diocese. Five men (four priests and a teacher) were criminally charged, including the monsignor who was responsible for covering-up for predator clerics.
That grand jury concluded that the archdiocese "continues to engage in practices that mislead victims, that violate their trust, that hinder prosecution of their abusers, and that leave large numbers of credibly accused priests in ministry" and the policies and practices allegedly "designed to help victims (are) instead helping the abusers and the archdiocese itself."
In New Jersey, a Catholic school employee (Jose Feliciano) was accused of improper sexual contact with a child and murdering a priest. Just weeks ago, it was revealed that, along with one third of the other parish employees , the alleged criminal was never fingerprinted or subject to a background check.
In Kansas City, a priest named in two child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits within the past six months remains in a parish. (Fr. Michael Tierney)
In Fresno, a priest deemed guilty by a jury of molesting a boy remains in a parish. (Fr. Eric Swearingen)
In St. Louis, a priest who's been accused three times of molesting at least three boys (none of whom know one another) is still in ministry (Fr. Alex Anderson)
In Stockton, a judge has ruled that there is enough evidence to schedule a July civil sex abuse trial against a priest who is still in active ministry (Fr. Michael Kelly)
In Wyoming, a bishop against whom at least six child sex abuse lawsuits have been settled remains a bishop. (Bishop Joseph Hart)
In March in Boston, Cardinal O'Malley's delegate said that there were 40 priests who have been accused of abuse but never named publicly. To date those names still remain secret.
Last year in New Jersey, a Catholic chaplain was ousted from his hospital job after a newspaper disclosed that he had been found guilty of molesting a boy in a criminal case in 2003. Although the verdict was overturned on a technicality, a judge ordered that the priest not be allowed around minors unsupervised (Fr. Michael Fugee), but Newark's archbishop quietly put the offender in a hospital anyway.
Child molesters gravitate toward jobs involving kids. Institutions tend to protect themselves. So the Catholic hierarchy doesn't stand out because of child molesting clerics. Its stands out because of complicit bishops.
Here's the bottom line: Other institutions have also mishandled abuse. None, however, ignores and conceals child sex crimes like the Catholic hierarchy. Other institutions must do more to better protect kids. The Catholic hierarchy must do much, much more.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259,email@example.com), Barbara Dorris(314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell,SNAPdorris@gmail.com)
AlterNet - June 6, 2011
Blame the '60s? The Catholic Church's Latest Shameless Ploy
Pedophilia isn't a social habit that one adopts. It's a sickness. Deal with it. Honestly.
By Jim Hightower
I try to avoid religious commentary, but -- Good God! What is it about confession that the Catholic hierarchy can't seem to grasp?
The grotesque epidemic of priestly pedophilia that has roiled the church has been under assessment in a five-year, $2-million study commissioned by our country's Catholic bishops. At long last, the report is out, but not the truth. Instead, the panel concludes that this horror is not the fault of the church, nor even of the abusive priests. Rather -- cue the heavenly music -- the sixties made them do it.
Yes, it's the Woodstock defense. The diabolical theory of this study is that "social chaos" created by the tie-dyed sexual revolution of the 1960s so discombobulated otherwise chaste and honorable men that they used their religious authority to rape 10-year-olds and teenagers.
Dios mio, Lord have mercy. That conclusion is as perverted as what the priests did and as inexcusable as the hierarchy's ongoing denials and cover-ups. Start with the obvious: First, rape isn't about sex; it's a gross abuse of power. Second, I was around in the 1960s, and while I couldn't seem to attract much free love for myself, I can testify that the sexual revolution of the time most definitely didn't even contemplate -- much less advocate -- old men in dark robes molesting children who'd been placed in their care.
The church's report is as silly as the right-wing's current fiction that all would be well in America if only the sixties had never happened. Excuse me, but enormous progress was made in those years by women, civil-rights champions, environmental advocates, and, yes, by American culture itself.
The Pope should shelve the nonsense in this report and lead the world in a new liturgical chant: Pedophilia isn't a social habit that one adopts. It's a sickness. Deal with it. Honestly.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the new book, "Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow." (Wiley, March 2008) He publishes the monthly "Hightower Lowdown," co-edited by Phillip Frazer.
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