RNS Exclusive: Report spreads blame for Catholic sex abuse

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NEW YORK (RNS) Nearly a decade after revelations of widespread sexual abuse of minors rocked the Catholic Church in the U.S., a comprehensive report on the scandal is set for release on Wednesday (May 18), hoping to provide answers about a crisis that has raised myriad questions despite years of attention. Was celibacy to blame […]

  • Frank

    You fail to mention that the definition of a pedophile used in the report uses the threshold age of prepubesence as 10 and under. However, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies prepubesence as 13 and under, an age that would significantly increase the number of pedophile priests in the data.

  • Virginia McLaury

    I disagree with your reasoning that the 60’s and 70’s had anything to do with priests who raped young boys. That was a wild period but had nothing to do with priests going after boys.

  • Stephen Bailey, Ed.D.

    The report cites the social upheaval of the 1960’s as a cause of sexual abuse by priests. What’s their data? Was there a similar increase in sexual abuse of children by other males? Was there an increase in incidence or an increase in reporting? I hope the full report will give more details as to the methodology of their study. As we all know, the devil is in the details.

  • TonyB

    Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald warned Catholic bishops in the U.S. and the Vatican of the dangers of pedophile priests starting in the 1950s and through the 1960s, according to an article published by The National Catholic Reporter NCR) and copies of correspondence to that effect, on 30 March 2009.


    Fr. Fitzgerald was the co-founder of Servants of the Paracletes and Via Coeli, an order and facility respectively) in New Mexico, U.S., which ministered to priests suffering from alcoholism. Increasingly, pedophile priests were recommended as well for treatment or advice, pursuant to the goal of their resumption of priestly duties. Fr. Fitzgerald, in his letters, vigorously opposed the idea of releasing pedophile priests back into ministry with the laity, asserting that they were not treatable.

    Instead, he strongly advised that they should be laicized and held on an isolated island (which he put a down payment towards buying).

    That article is extremely important because it shows that at least some bishops in the U.S. and clearly the Vatican were warned –as early as the 1950s– about the dangers of pedophile priests and how they were untreatable. It also shows that at least some bishops in the U.S. knew this and failed to adequately respond. And, it happened before Vatican II and the 1960s: thus countering the innuendo by some that the pedophile priest scandal was simply a result of sexual excess in the 1960s and thereafter.

  • CHC

    As a practicing Catholic who works for the Brooklyn Diocese, I absolutely agree that more should have been done by the Church to stop sex abuse by priests. The Catholic Church failed to protect the most vulnerable among us. However, it must also be said the Church has done more in recent years to address sex abuse of minors than virtually any public organization or government. There is much work to do to rebuild trust. And from my eyes, the Church in Brooklyn is doing everything it can.

    I pray that these same advocacy groups (and government officials) who correctly criticized the Church’s handling of abuse cases will also tackle sex abuse in public schools and the public workplace with the same aggression. This way, our nation can move together to create a safe environment for everyone.

  • CHC

    In response to TonyB: your point is well-taken. Certainly Fr. Fitzgerald’s ideas were correct and ahead of its time. However, we must also take into account 2 important factors:

    1) Media did not travel quickly in the 1950’s or 60’s. We did not have the internet, we did not have hundreds of TV channels. Our world was not as connected as it is now.

    And 2) Fr. Fitzgerald was one person. And there were many other (wrong) opinions out there. Unfortunately, many of these opinions were listened to.

    I think those 2 factors, combined with a somewhat “naive” world which was changing dramatically in the 50’s & 60’s, made it very difficult for Fr. Fitzgerald’s “voice crying out in the wilderness” to be heard on a large scale.

  • Stephen Bailey, Ed.D.

    Will you provide or tell me where I can get a copy of the report by the John Jay researchers?

  • RLM

    Where can the public get a copy of this report to read? Also, Frank is right on regarding the age designation aspect of his comment – why the disparity?

    Also, was any comparison done as to the psychological mindset and personality of a pedophile as compared to the demographic of men and women attracted to the lifestyle of a priest or nun? Should this be a consideration at all?

    consideration of power relationships?

    I am also curious to see if the report takes into account the culture of sex and sexual philosophy held by the Catholic Church – that is the normal valuable presentation regarding sex and sexual relations.

    I have many questions left unanswered myself.

  • CHC
  • Fred

    Your ‘exclusive’ is published in the NYT.

  • Stephen Bailey, Ed.D.

    The report is written more from a legal than from a psychological perspective. The pedophilic personality traits of the priests were not thoroughly studied. This study as it is reported smells of just another cover-up. As I heard so often as a graduate research ssistant at Columbia, “our data rest squarely on our conclusions”.

  • Nancy Kallitechnis

    While it is important that the report and the author of this article mention that the Catholic church and police have a similar pattern of hiding sexual abuse within their organizations, I disagree with the opinion that it is the hierarchical structure of those institutions that is the main cause. Perhaps the most important similarity between the Catholic church and the police is that that they are overwhelmingly male-dominated and it is in the nature of male-dominated institutions to promote domination of male over female in all its forms. Sex abuse, the act of invading another’s spiritual core, is a form of penetrating domination of male over female regardless of the sex of the perpetrator or victim, but it is important to note that the vast majority of victims are women and girls and the vast majority of abusers are male. It seems likely that hierarchical institutions that give equal power to male and female would suffer significantly less or no sex abuse.

  • Mr. R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

    This report adds to our knowledge, but also poses some fundamental unanswered questions. For wholly inexplicable reasons, the age of abuse ran from circa the mid 1960s to mid 1980s. Yet, before, during and after this time frame, the conduct was universally recognized as both a mortal sin, the central concern of the church, and a serious crime, the central concern of the state. The interval between commission of the acts and disclosure was, in the vast number of cases, decades, which far exceeded the statute of limitations. Hence even civil actions and sanctions/settlements were non existent or minimized.

    However, the greatest weakness of the report is silence on the moral behavior of the clergy and hierarchy. The Church hierarchy utterly failed in policing enormous evil within its most senior moral warriors. Archbishops and Bishops either knew, or should have known that children were being savaged, yet effectively did nothing to stop grave evil, by senior priests, for decades. The inevitable conspiracies of acquiescence, and silence, by bosses, is the worst defect. The seal of confession prevents earthly societal knowledge, but from known facts the organization’s executives failed their most basic responsibility, protect the young. Yet not one boss was sanctioned. The smoke of Satan did indeed enter the sanctuary. Trust was grossly betrayed, and thus the outstanding question, will it reoccur again, remains unanswered.

    The other reported fact, that among all institutes who care for kids, only the Catholic Church has done any organization-wide effort to stop this ongoing, and hideous abuse of children, is deeply troubling.

    God protect our children.

  • Bill Wilson

    The bishop’s paid, in large part, for the report and selectively provided the data on which it is based. Why would anyone in her/his right mind find it credible?

  • David,

    I caught your interview on this report on Public Radio in San Diego. First of all, you say that “John Jay is the Gold Standard in Criminology” This issue transcends Criminology, which this school is far from the most respected. Chriminolgy is the confluence of sociology, psychology and anthropology….among many other disciplines. John Jay has a narrow focus, and seems to have missed some pretty pasic concept of reseach, such as the ideal of “validity” how a given survey maps to reality. Reports of Homosexuality are not neccesarily congruent with Homosexuality, however described.

    In your interview, you seemed to have gotten stuck on a term to use for the sexual offenses by the priests, so you used the words, “slept with” Whatever happened between Priests and their juvinile charges, sleeping was not envolved. It’s a poor choice to use this archaic and confusing term. Some children sleep with their siblings because they don’t have separte rooms, or even separate beds. If you were trying not to be accusitive, you tried to hard, and the results were downright silly.

    When we deal with adult issues, we have to use adult terminology, and if some people are offended, then that’s the cost of dealing with difficult issues.