That, in a nutshell, is the reason for the child sexual abuse scandal by Catholic priests that has unmoored the Roman Catholic church in the US and around the world for the past years — that is, if you have faith in the findings of a five-year study commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and is to be released on Wednesday; the New York Times received a copy of the report in advance. The study found the following to be the answer for the scandal, as reported in the New York Times:
…the abuse occurred because priests who were poorly prepared and monitored, and were under stress, landed in the midst of the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s. Known incidents of sexual abuse of minors by priests rose sharply during those decades, the report found, and the problem grew worse when the church’s hierarchy responded by showing more care for the perpetrators than the victims.
The “blame Woodstock” explanation is the one same floated by bishops and Pope Benedict XVI since the church was engulfed by scandal in the United States in 2002 and in Europe in 2010.
Or as the National Catholic Reporter puts it:
The huge spike 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.
That is, the Catholic Church is blaming “the culture” and societal forces external to the Church for causing case after case after case after case of sexual abuse of children that has engulfed the Church; that has bankrupted dioceses who have been ordered to pay settlements to victims of priest sex abuse in Milwaukee, Delaware, Spokane and throughout the US; and that has led many to ask, what kind of a Church is this?
The study’s researchers also observed that “it was not possible for the church, or for anyone, to identify abusive priests in advance” based on “psychological characteristics.” As the National Catholic Reporter notes, the report says that neither homosexuality nor celibacy were reasons for the sexual abuse scandal.
The New York Times singles out one finding that is among the “most counterintuitive”:
…the report says that fewer than 5 percent of the abusive priests exhibited behavior consistent with pedophilia, which it defines as 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,’” the report says.
This finding is likely to prove controversial, in part because the report employs a definition of “prepubescent” children as those ages 10 and under. Using this cutoff, the report found that only 22 percent of the priests’ victims were prepubescent.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies a prepubescent child as generally age 13 or younger. If the John Jay researchers had used this cutoff, a vast majority of the abusers’ victims would have been considered prepubescent.
The study is entitled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2002.” Because the report is based on data provided by the church’s dioceses and religious orders, victims advocates have already “attacked the report as suspect.”
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