Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture

National Review Online | Published on

By George Weigel

Print Friendly


The American narrative of the Catholic Church's struggles with the clerical sexual abuse of the young has been dominated by several tropes firmly set in journalistic concrete: that this was and is a “pedophilia” crisis; that the sexual abuse of the young is an ongoing danger in the Church; that the Catholic Church was and remains a uniquely dangerous environment for young people; that a high percentage of priests were abusers; that abusive behavior is more likely from celibates, such that a change in the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy would be important in protecting the young; that the Church's bishops were, as a rule, willfully negligent in handling reports of abuse; that the Church really hasn't learned any lessons from the revelations that began in the Long Lent of 2002.

But according to an independent, $1.8 million study conducted by New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and released on May 18, every one of these tropes is false.

One: Most clerical abusers were not pedophiles, that is, men with a chronic and strong sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children.Most of those abused (51 percent) were aged eleven to fourteen and 27 percent of victims were fifteen to seventeen; 16 percent were eight to ten and 6 percent were younger than seven. Males between eleven and fourteen account for more than 40 percent of all victims. Clerical ephebophilia (a sexual attraction to adolescents, often boys) was clearly a serious problem. But to label this a “pedophilia crisis” is ignorant, sloppy, or malicious.

Two: The “crisis” of clerical sexual abuse in the United States was time-specific.The incidence of abuse spiked in the late 1960s and began to recede dramatically in the mid-1980s. In 2010, seven credible cases of abuse were reported in a church that numbers over 65 million adherents.

Three: Abusers were a tiny minority of Catholic priests. Some 4 percent of Catholic priests in active ministry in the United States were accused of abuse between the 1950s and 2002. There is not a shred of evidence indicating that priests abuse young people at rates higher than do people in the rest of society. On the contrary: Most sexual abuse takes place within families. The John Jay study concludes that, in 2001, whereas five young people in 100,000 may have been abused by a priest, the average rate of abuse throughout the United States was 134 for every 100,000 young people. The sexual abuse of the young is a widespread and horrific societal problem; it is by no means uniquely, or principally, a Catholic problem, or a specifically priestly problem.

Four: The bishops' response to the burgeoning abuse crisis between the late 1960s and the early 1980s was not singularly woodenheaded or callous. In fact, according to the John Jay study, the bishops were as clueless as the rest of society about the magnitude of the abuse problem and, again like the rest of society, tended to focus on the perpetrators of abuse rather than the victims. This, in turn, led to an overdependence on psychiatry and psychology in dealing with clerical perpetrators, in the false confidence that they could be “cured” and returned to active ministry—a pattern that again mirrored broader societal trends. In many pre-1985 cases, the principal request of victims' families was that the priest-abuser be given help and counseling. Yes, the bishops should have been more alert than the rest of an increasingly coarsened society to the damage done to victims by sexual abuse; but as the John Jay report states, “like the general public, the leaders of the Church did not recognize the extent or harm of victimization.” And this, in turn, was “one factor that likely led to the continued perpetration of offenses.”

Five: As for today, the John Jay study affirms that the Catholic Church may well be the safest environment for young people in American society. It is certainly a safer environment than the public schools. Moreover, no other American institution has undertaken the extensive self-study that the Church has, in order to root out the problem of the sexual abuse of the young. It will be interesting to see when editorials in the New York Times and the Boston Globe demand in-depth studies of the sexual abuse of the young by members of the teachers' unions, and zero-tolerance policies for teacher/abusers.

So: If the standard media analytic tropes on clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States have been proven false by a vigorous empirical study conducted by a neutral research institute, what, in fact, did happen? Why did the incidence of abuse spike dramatically from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s? The John Jay researchers propose that the crumbling of sexual mores in the turbulence of the sexual revolution played a significant role. As the report puts it, “The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in American society generally. The increase in abusive behavior is consistent with the rise in other types of ‘deviant' behavior, such as drug use and crime, as well as changes in social behavior, such as an increase in pre-marital sexual behavior and divorce.”

This is not the entire picture, of course. A Church that was not in doctrinal and moral confusion from the late 1960s until the 1978 election of John Paul II might have been better armored against the worst impacts of the sexual free-for-all unleashed in the mid-1960s. A Church that had not internalized unhealthy patterns of clericalism might have run seminary programs that would have more readily weeded out the unfit. A Church that placed a high value on evangelical zeal in its leadership might have produced bishops less inclined to follow the lead of the ambient culture in imagining that grave sexual abusers could be “fixed.” All that can, and must, be said.

But if the Times, the Globe, and others who have been chewing this story like an old bone for almost a decade are genuinely interested in helping prevent the crime and horror of the sexual abuse of the young, a good, long, hard look will be taken at the sexual libertinism that has been the default cultural position on the American left for two generations. Catholic “progressives” who continue to insist that the disciplinary and doctrinal meltdown of the post-Vatican II years had nothing to do with the abuse crisis might also rethink their default understanding of that period. The ecclesiastical chaos of that decade and a half was certainly a factor in the abuse crisis, although that meltdown is not a one-size-fits-all explanation for the crisis and the way it was handled.

The John Jay study is less than illuminating on one point, and that is the relationship of all this to homosexuality. The report frankly states that “the majority of victims (81 percent) were male, in contrast to the distribution by victim gender in the United States [where] national incidence studies have consistently shown that in general girls are three times more likely to be abused than boys.” But then the report states that “the clinical data do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity or those who committed same-sex sexual behavior with adults are significantly more likely to sexually abuse children than those with a heterosexual orientation or behavior.”

The disconnect, to the lay mind, seems obvious: Eighty-one percent of the victims of sexual abuse by priests are adolescent males, and yet this has nothing to do with homosexuality? Perhaps it doesn't from the clinicians' point of view (especially clinicians ideologically committed to the notion that there is nothing necessarily destructive about same-sex behaviors). But surely the attempt by some theologians to justify what is objectively immoral behavior had something to do with the disciplinary
meltdown that the report notes from the late 1960s through the early 1980s; it might be remembered that it was precisely in this period that the Catholic Theological Society of America issued a study, Human Sexuality, that was in clear dissent from the Church's settled teaching on fornication, self-abuse, and homosexual acts, and even found a relatively kind word to say about bestiality. And is there no connection to be found between the spike in abuse cases between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s, with its victimization of adolescent males, and the parallel spike in homoerotic culture in U.S. Catholic seminaries and religious orders in that same period? Given the prevailing shibboleths in the American academy (including the Catholic academy), it may be that no clinically or statistically demonstrable linkage will be found, but it strains credulity to suggest that there wasn't a cultural connection here, one that bears serious reflection.

Empirical evidence is unlikely to shift the attention of the mainstream media or the plaintiffs' bar from the Catholic Church in this matter of the sexual abuse of the young. It would be a good thing for the entire society, however, if the defenders of the sexual revolution would take seriously the question of the relationship between their commitment to lifestyle libertinism and this plague. If the John Jay study on the “causes ands context” of clerical-sexual-abuse problems in the Catholic Church prompts a broader public reflection on the fact that the sexual revolution has not been, and is not, cost-free, and that its victims are often the vulnerable young, then the Church will have done all of American society a signal service in commissioning this study that looks into its own heart of darkness.

- George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His book on the abuse crisis,The Courage To Be Catholic, is available from Basic Books.

Trackbacks

  1. Hermes Bags says:

    Hermes Bags…

    Time will not let me forget you, only habit without you.\nHermes Bag Outlet Check back often for the latest models, keeping in mind that they are Hermes Birkin 35 the finest imitation among replica watches. Being low priced one can gift these replica …

  2. Ray Ban RB2140…

    I think this is one of the most significant info for me. And i am glad reading your article.\nRay Ban sunglasses are fashionable for women to wear in the summer, beautiful, when you are driving a car in the summer, wearing Ray Ban sunglasses you will …

  3. Hermes Online Outlet…

    They are excellent! Accurate to size. Prevent thinking about these folks & obtain thesefolks. Really worth every dime!\nBuy Cheap Hermes Handbags Outlet Online…

  4. Ray Ban Outlet Sale…

    Just a quick note to let you know that I appreciated your insights about the topic. Quite helpful for what I am interested in these days.\nRay Ban sunglasses defensive glasses varieties have a the CLOS tendency to prevent the attention of the surround…

  5. Ray Ban Outlet Sale…

    I am going to share this with my facebook friends. Thanks a lot.\nRay Ban sunglasses are fashionable for women to wear in the summer, beautiful, when you are driving a car in the summer, wearing Ray Ban sunglasses you will get a better visual experien…

  6. ibgqrq says:

    ibgqrq…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  7. http://dressesaui.exblog.jp/

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  8. I like your blog…

    How do I know if a WordPress theme supports a subscribe option?…

  9. izljgvp says:

    izljgvp…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  10. Trackback says:

    Great…

    I’m wanting to look at blogs containing music I like, but sifting through all the detached, outdated and crap blogs is a hassle.. I know there are thousands of blogs, is there a good resource to seek out the preferred ones?….

  11. Trackback says:

    Great…

    A computer program called Antivi took over my computer. How do I get rid of it?…

  12. Trackback says:

    Funny…

    What is the easiest way to make money off of my blog posts?…

  13. More says:

    Like it…

    Hi I’m interested in computer courses to study, today I spoke to someone from one of the unis I was interested in one of the courses were more about designing and the other practical and more technical fixing and support the system. I’m really intere…

  14. cheap paul smith polo…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  15. Google says:

    Google…

    Although sites we backlink to below are considerably not related to ours, we really feel they’re truly worth a go via, so possess a look….

  16. onyxiens polo…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  17. Trackback says:

    Maybe……

    I have a blog that’s private, so no one else sees it, but I still want to make it look nice. How can I personalize my blog without fucking it all up?….

  18. paintless dent removal training…

    [...]Every as soon as inside a even though we opt for blogs that we study. Listed beneath would be the newest web pages that we decide on [...]…

  19. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]here are some hyperlinks to web-sites that we link to for the reason that we consider they’re really worth visiting[...]…

  20. Израиль…

    [...]we like to honor numerous other net internet sites around the net, even though they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages really worth checking out[...]…

  21. amc inc says:

    amc inc…

    [...]we came across a cool web site that you might appreciate. Take a look for those who want[...]…

  22. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]Here is an excellent Blog You might Find Exciting that we Encourage You[...]…

  23. cordless power drill reviews uk…

    [...]Here is an excellent Blog You may Obtain Fascinating that we Encourage You[...]…

  24. LQ057V3DG01 says:

    LQ057V3DG01…

    [...]usually posts some incredibly intriguing stuff like this. If you’re new to this site[...]…

  25. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]always a major fan of linking to bloggers that I like but really don’t get a good deal of link really like from[...]…

  26. eyelash extensions studio city…

    [...]please check out the websites we comply with, including this one particular, because it represents our picks from the web[...]…

  27. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]the time to read or take a look at the content material or web-sites we have linked to below the[...]…

  28. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]we prefer to honor quite a few other world wide web websites around the web, even if they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Underneath are some webpages worth checking out[...]…

  29. seo-superior.com…

    [...]usually posts some very fascinating stuff like this. If you are new to this site[...]…

  30. thingstodoinbruges.com…

    [...]that is the end of this write-up. Here you’ll come across some internet sites that we feel you will enjoy, just click the links over[...]…

  31. THREESOME PORN PICS…

    [...]Here are a few of the web-sites we suggest for our visitors[...]…

  32. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]always a huge fan of linking to bloggers that I appreciate but do not get a lot of link appreciate from[...]…

  33. paintless dent repair online…

    [...]Here are several of the websites we advocate for our visitors[...]…

  34. paintless dent removal training…

    [...]usually posts some very exciting stuff like this. If you are new to this site[...]…

  35. my talking tom cheats android…

    [...]we like to honor lots of other world-wide-web sites on the internet, even though they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Underneath are some webpages really worth checking out[...]…

  36. weekly sheersha…

    [...]that would be the finish of this article. Right here you’ll locate some web sites that we consider you’ll value, just click the hyperlinks over[...]…

  37. childrens bedding…

    [...]please go to the sites we follow, which includes this one, as it represents our picks in the web[...]…

  38. Trackback says:

    Good info…

    How do I copy my WordPress blog onto my computer so I can locally edit and try out plugins before publishing?…

  39. ukrailsim sale…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  40. become a minister…

    [...]very few websites that come about to become in depth beneath, from our point of view are undoubtedly very well worth checking out[...]…

  41. http://www.Redwoodbridges.com...

    [...]Here are a few of the web sites we advise for our visitors[...]…

  42. Trackback says:

    Good info…

    I’m trying to find out what the most popular blogs are when it comes to news and views and cell phone stuff…..

  43. how to find a facebook password…

    [...]Every as soon as in a while we select blogs that we read. Listed beneath would be the latest sites that we select [...]…

  44. Trackback says:

    Thank you…

    How do you start a blog? How do you get your own blog site or page?…

  45. paypal says:

    paypal…

    [...]check below, are some absolutely unrelated internet websites to ours, even so, they’re most trustworthy sources that we use[...]…

  46. Nike Shoes Outlet UK…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  47. paintless dent removal training course…

    [...]Sites of interest we’ve a link to[...]…

  48. paintless dent repair…

    [...]please visit the web-sites we stick to, like this 1, because it represents our picks through the web[...]…

  49. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]please visit the sites we follow, which includes this one particular, as it represents our picks from the web[...]…

  50. black iphone 5 unlocked cheap…

    [...]very few internet websites that happen to be detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly very well worth checking out[...]…

  51. Ralph lauren Skjorter…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  52. Good info…

    What are some extensions known to slowdown firefox browser?.. Which one can make firefox the more slower?.. Can you tell me some of them?….

  53. CPA minneapolis bloomington…

    [...]although websites we backlink to beneath are considerably not related to ours, we really feel they are in fact worth a go via, so have a look[...]…

  54. Ralph Lauren Skjorta…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  55. as they tend to deliver wordy descriptions…

    which encapsulate all requirements.proposalsa proposal is a suggestion for a project, and can run into thousands of pages for highly complex work. the author’s job is to create a platform on which the proposal can be evaluated and will usually need…

  56. Trackback says:

    Funny…

    The first piece is geotagging each blog post on some sort of map… The second piece is meshing those points on a map with other people. Essentially we’d like several members of our team to provide updates regularly and post their locations to the sam…

  57. the post should be in a simple,…

    easy to understand language.one thing that makes a post interesting is its uniqueness so try to be different in your writing.layoutalways remember that when you copy and paste from other sources, the post loses its originality and gets boring for the…

  58. paintless dent repair training…

    [...]that will be the end of this write-up. Here you’ll come across some web pages that we think you’ll value, just click the links over[...]…

  59. escorts las vegas…

    [...]we came across a cool web page that you simply might love. Take a look if you want[...]…

  60. book of ra tricks…

    [...]although web-sites we backlink to beneath are considerably not connected to ours, we really feel they may be really worth a go by way of, so have a look[...]…

  61. http://www.kclc.net/

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  62. Fertility Hypnosis…

    [...]that will be the end of this post. Right here you’ll discover some websites that we believe you will value, just click the hyperlinks over[...]…

  63. Tagesdeals – Kosmetik Tagesdeals…

    [...]always a significant fan of linking to bloggers that I like but do not get lots of link enjoy from[...]…

  64. Charms says:

    Charms…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  65. Trackback says:

    wow thats great…

    How to make a select category on wordpress use a different domain?…

  66. thomas sabo schmuck onlineshop…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  67. Free Movie Torrents…

    [...]we like to honor a lot of other net web sites around the web, even when they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages really worth checking out[...]…

  68. cheap ralph lauren…

    Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture – Ethics & Public Policy Center…

  69. than any program…

    or promotion method….

  70. paintless dent removal training…

    [...]Every once inside a while we pick blogs that we study. Listed below would be the most up-to-date web-sites that we pick [...]…

  71. paintless dent repair courses…

    [...]the time to read or visit the material or websites we’ve linked to below the[...]…

  72. Imc9AElKLy says:

    Whispering Misty…

    So sorry you can expect to skip the workshop!…

  73. title loans phoenix…

    [...]the time to study or go to the content or web-sites we’ve linked to below the[...]…