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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

John Jay Study on Causes of Clergy Sex Abuse Misses the Mark

Well, the latest John Jay report is out and I admit I haven't read anything but the executive summary yet. But I plan to even though I expect to be disappointed. The study, contrary to what Cardinal George says about it being hard on the bishops (He hadn't read the report!), pretty much gives them a finger tap on the wrist according to Phil Lawler of Catholic World News. He has plenty to say about the study's shortcomings including two big omission 1) the bishops' failure to deal with known sex abusers and 2) the homosexual nature of the abuse. Here's what he says about #1:
The John Jay report does mention the failures of the American hierarchy—but only in passing, and in the mildest possible terms. The report alludes to a “performance gap” in the reaction to sex-abuse complaints, and then quickly adds that at their meeting in Dallas in 2002, the American bishops admitted that “performance gap” and addressed it.

Yes, in Dallas the American bishops did admit a “performance gap.” They confessed that they had not handled sex-abuse complaints properly, and instituted new standards for handling those complaints. But they did not address their own culpability for the scandal, and they did not set standards for their own future performance.

And here's what he says about #2, the nonsensical conclusion in the study that homosexuality wasn't a major issue:
According to the report, homosexuality was not an important factor in the sex-abuse crisis. But that conclusion seems to be clearly at odds with the evidence presented in the text. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who has treated many troubled priests, commented that that “analysis of the research demonstrates clearly that the major cause of the crisis was the homosexual abuse of males.”
The John Jay report confirms that more than 80% of the victims of abusive priests were males. Most other studies of sexual abuse in the general population have shown that female victims easily outnumber males. Yet in this particular study, the largest group of victims was composed of adolescent males....Although the report does not differentiate between male and female adult partners—an enormous omission—one might speculate that adult homosexual affairs were common among the molesters. Dr. Fitzgibbons has commented in the past that he has never treated a priest who abused children who did not also have adult male sexual partners.

With all that evidence suggesting a strong role for homosexuality, how did the John Jay study avoid the conclusion? The report offers two anemic explanations.

First, the John Jay study notes that the incidence of sexual abuse by priests peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, and then subsided. From interviews with priests, seminarians, and seminary instructors, the authors of the report conclude that active homosexuals became an important influence on seminary life and priestly training in the mid-1970s. “There was no evidence of any significant level of sexual activity among seminaries before the mid-1970s,” the report says. Yet the priests who were ordained after the mid-1970s—that is, after homosexuals became a major influence–were statistically less likely to have abused children.
As an argument that homosexuality was not a factor in priestly abuse, this is a classic example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: the assumption that because something happened after a given event, it must have been caused by that event. There may be many different reasons for the decline in the incidence of priestly abuse; the John Jay report presents a variety of possible explanations. But there is no evidence to suggest that homosexual priests were less likely to be abusers. It is at least equally plausible to speculate that priests trained in the 1970s and thereafter found it easier to identify adult homosexual partners—for relationships that would still be abusive, even if they did not involve children.
Second, the John Jay report offers the generalization that priests had more access to young men than to young women, and that difference would account for the prevalence of male victims. But that explanation is credible only if priests saw young men and young women as equally desirable sexual objects. In my line of work, I have more access to old magazines than to T-bone steaks. Still I never eat magazines, because I do not think of magazines as food. Yes, priests had more access to altar boys than to girls of a similar age. But that access would have been a determining factor only for priests who saw young men as potential sex objects. The John Jay report fails to provide an honest exploration of the role of homosexuality, and thus neglects another key factor in this scandal.
Keep in mind that the bishops financed the study. I hate to be cynical but perhaps that influenced the report. (Hmm...given the data we can argue this way or that way and that way will be much more acceptable to the bishops.) Oh no, it couldn't be that rampant homosexuality in the priesthood (and among the bishops) contributed to the abuse! Horrors, what a thought.

If you're interested in more on this, visit these sites:

Original John Jay Study: Nature and Scope

The John Jay Study part 2: Causes and Context

Phil Lawler's take on the study

More from Lawler on the bishops' culpability


Anonymous said...

Yes, the bishops financed the study to the tune of 1.8 million. I could have told them for a fraction of that, and I would have gotten to the root cause.


Damian P. Fedoryka said...

I am edified by Cardinal George's belated recognition of the failure on the part of the preceding generation of bishops to listen to [or to hear] the voices of clerical abuse victims. I am now waiting for the recognition of a similar failure of the bishops of Cardinal George's own generation in the disregard of the victims of federally funded abortions protected [on an annual basis] by the Hyde amendment and of the victims of the various laws - such as the parental consent/notification laws - regulating abortions. Or do we have to wait for yet a third generation of bishops? These will judge their predecessors for not seeing the injustice to the unborn innocents because they were so intent on hearing the voiceless.

Damian P. Fedoryka