A major study has been released today examining the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse in the United States.
The study, begun in 2006, was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York and initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. USCCB president Archbishop Timoty Dolan has pointed out
it is a report to
the bishops, not from
The report, entitled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010
, found that "no single psychological, developmental or behavioral characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not."
It dismissed priestly celibacy, the male priesthood, and homosexuality as causes of the abuse crisis. As well, it noted that less than five percent of priests who have been accused of abuse actually display the behavioural criteria of pedophilia.
The study says the highest number of incidents were between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s. It suggests that this may be the result of poor formation colliding with changing societal norms. The report applauded today's increased emphasis on human formation
in seminaries, noting it was a term taken from Pope John Paul II's 1992 Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis
The report says the “peak of the crisis has passed,” and abuse cases "continue to remain low". It says "the church has now begun a system of change," but warns:
... organizational changes take years, and often decades, to fully implement. To fully achieve change in the Catholic Church, all diocesan leaders must be committed to transparency about their actions, ensure that the immediate and appropriate responses to abuse become routine, and ensure that such actions are adopted on a national level by all church leaders.
In their summary, the researchers acknowledge that "no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse" and see the abuse problem as something that is "a serious and pervasive issue in society" as a whole:
It is present in families, and it is not uncommon in institutions where adults form mentoring and nurturing relationships with adolescents, including schools and religious, sports, and social organizations. This study provides a framework for understanding not only the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, but sexual victimization of children in any institution.
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CNS photo/Bob Roller