Yesterday, the John Jay College research team released their report on the clerical sex-abuse scandal, titled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.” First, hats off to the U.S. bishops for commissioning the report and outsourcing the investigation to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as indeed sexual abuse is a crime against the law, a grievous mortal sin in the Church, and an offense to God.
One myth that is dispelled in the report’s pages is that there are many pedophiles in the priesthood. Of nearly 6,000 priests accused of abuse over the past half-century (only 5 percent of the total number of priests during that period), less than 4 percent of those could be considered pedophiles — that is, men who prey on children. Any percentage is too high, but clearly pedophilia is statistically very rare in the Catholic priesthood. The researchers also note that celibacy is not the root of the problem, and that priests may be less likely to abuse than men in analogous professions.
However, there is still something strange here: The researchers found no statistical evidence that gay priests were more likely than straight priests to abuse minors. The disproportionate number of adolescent male victims was about opportunity, not preference or pathology, the report concluded. But a very high percentage of the abuse (excepting pedophilia) was of teenage boys, and not teenage girls. Is the report telling us that a majority of the abusers were heterosexual priests abusing teenage boys? This strains credulity. I sense an agenda for the homosexual priesthood is behind this conclusion.
The researchers make a convincing argument that there is a clerical culture (though I hope it is waning) that tends to “take care of its own,” not dissimilar to a law-enforcement culture that operates in reflexively defensive and self-protective behavior. It’s an important observation, as it has been pointed our repeatedly that the hierarchy and diocesan curia seemed in many cases to be more interested in shielding and rehabilitating the abuser priest than acknowledging the physical and spiritual devastation of abused children and their families.
The report does make a case for much better formation in the seminary, emphasizing that we must also “do a better job supporting priests and providing respites from their often grinding schedules.”
As this is a secular report and appears scientific and generally even-handed, I think it would be useful for the USCCB to make its own analysis report of this “Long Lent,” as the late Rev. Richard Neuhaus put it. There already has been a relatively recent Vatican investigation of American seminaries, which on the whole seem well on their way to eliminating much of the post-Vatican II doctrinal and liturgical aberrations that were universally rampant from the 1960s until at least the 1990s. I would also hope that bishops, vocation directors, and psychological screeners of possible vocations are looking for quality over quantity in priestly candidates. Unworthy candidates need to be rejected, regardless of supposed pastoral needs.
There also should be much greater emphasis on the physical, psychological, and — most importantly — the spiritual health of diocesan priests. A happy priest is not only a busy priest but, above all, a holy priest. Blessed Pope John Paul the Great is a compelling role model, as is the patron saint of priests, St. John Mary Vianney.