Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

The New John Jay Report on Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church

The new John Jay Report might surprise you...read it!

Today the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York released and announced at a Washington, DC press conference their long awaited comprehensive research investigation focused on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse in the American Roman Catholic Church. Why should you care?

This report is the most comprehensive study on child sexual abuse of any major organization ever conducted and there is a great deal to learn about this problem from the document, not only about abuse within the Catholic Church but also within society in general, during the past half century. There are many fascinating and even surprising findings for the general reader that paints a picture of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and elsewhere that differs from what you likely know from reading the headlines.

So, what does it say? If you are interested in reading the whole report (or perhaps at least the executive summary, conclusions, recommendations, etc.) check it out for yourself at www.usccb.org/ocyp.

In summary, the report states that clergy sexual abuse of minors in the American Catholic Church is a historical problem with the vast majority of cases occurring from the mid 1960's to the mid 1980's. You might find surprising that 94% of all cases occurred before 1990 and that 70% of clergy offenders were ordained as priests before 1970. They conclude that these numbers, as well as the style and type of abuse is fairly consistent with other large organizations (think public schools, boy scouts, and so forth) with men who had unsupervised and unlimited access to minors during the last half century (and most especially during the 1960's and 1970's).

The report concludes that the vast majority of clergy sex offenders are not pedophiles at all but were situational generalists violating whoever they had access to. Pedophiles, by definition, seek sexual gratification from pre-pubescent children of one gender and target this age and gender group (especially while under stress). Clergy sexual offenders in the Church were more likely to be targeting whoever was around them (and they had unsupervised access to) regardless of age and gender.

The researchers conclude that there is no causative relationship between either celibacy or homosexuality and the sexual victimization of children in the Church. Therefore, being celibate or being gay did not increase the risk of violating children. So, blaming the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church on gay men or celibacy is unfounded.

Overall, the profile presented by the John Jay researchers (who, by the way, are non-Catholics working in a secular state run university) of the typical clergy sex offender in the Catholic Church is certainly quite different than the stereotype typically presented in the press during the past decade.

Continuing to blame homosexual men, celibacy, and believing that the frequency of clergy abuse found in the past (especially committed in the 1960's through the early 1980's) will continue now and in the future is clearly misguided based on these conclusive research findings.

As we move forward we certainly must do all that we can to keep our children safe from harm when they are engaged in any organization (be it the Catholic Church, other churches, schools, sports, scouts, and so forth). Additionally, criminal justice and law enforcement professionals also need to be sure that offenders, when they become known to them, do not have access to kids as well. Catholic bishops and other Church leaders as well as other adults who supervise those who interact with children must take their duties to protect them from harm very seriously, cooperate with civil authorities, and follow well established policies and procedures to maximize safety. No reasonable person would disagree with these goals

The Catholic Church, as well as society in general, certainly must use the very best available research data, such as that provided in this new John Jay report, and the very best practices in clinical treatment, evaluation, prevention,  clinical science, and law enforcement to guide our thoughts and actions. Sadly, hysteria often has ruled the day during the past decade regarding this tragic topic. The responsible use of quality research science, education, and best practices will keep children safe, not strong opinions and emotional hysteria.

So, take a look at the new John Jay report and see what you think.

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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