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Final John Jay report to US bishops: no single cause for abuse

May 18, 2011

Vision Book Cover Prints

A final report on the sex-abuse scandal, prepared for the US bishops, has found no single factor responsible for clerical abuse.

"The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in society generally," says the independent report. The study finds that some priests were unprepared for the pressures brought on by the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, especially the influence of sexual revolution. The study specifically rejects claims that the sex-abuse problem was fueled by clerical celibacy or by homosexuality within the ranks of the clergy.

The 300-page report entitled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950- 2010, prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was released by the US bishops' conference on May 18. The Causes and Context study is the second major report prepared by John Jay for the US hierarchy. The 5-year study was commissioned by the American bishops, at a cost of $1.8 million.

The study notes that sexual abuse by priests reached a peak in the 1960s and 1970s. The John Jay report notes the turmoil of that era, and suggests that some priests were caught up in forces of the sexual revolution. Many early reports on the John Jay study have scoffed at that analysis, calling it the "blame Woodstock" explanation for the abuse crisis.

The John Jay study rejects two common attempts to explain the outbreak of sexual abuse: the liberal claim that celibacy is responsible and the conservative suspicion that homosexual priests are to blame. In fact, the John Jay report notes, the incidence of sexual abuse began to decrease in the late 1970s, at a time when--according to the study--the number of homosexual priests was rising. Thus the report finds that an increasing acceptance of homosexual priests was associated with "a decreased incidence of abuse--not an increased incidence of abuse."

The Causes and Context report concludes that the overwhelming preponderance of young male victims reflects the fact that abusive priests had more access to boys than girls. On the other hand, the John Jay study notes that only about 5% of the priests who abused children could be classified as true pedophiles, since most of the victims were not young children. While true pedophiles typically show no preference for boys or girls, the statistics show that adolescent boys formed the largest group of abuse victims.

The John Jay report praises the American Catholic hierarchy for taking steps to protect children from abuse, and asserts that "safe environment" programs will make it easier to identify and punish abusers in the future. The study does not directly address the fact that in the scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, many abusers were identified, but not disciplined.

Nor does the John Jay study address the lingering questions about the credibility of the American bishops, who remain responsible for implementing their own sex-abuse guidelines. David Clohessy of SNAP, the sex-abuse victims' group, was dismissive of the study. “Predictably and conveniently, the bishops have funded a report that says what they’ve said all along, and what they wanted to hear back,” he charged.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan on New York, the president of the American bishops' conference, showed some sensitivity to the early criticism of the report, emphasizing that the study was not done by the bishops themselves. Complaining that some critics have chided the bishops for the report, the archbishop said: "Once again, they are not our conclusions at all, but those of an acclaimed academic institution specializing in this sensitive area."


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Show 11 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: impossible - May. 21, 2011 5:33 PM ET USA

    Folks, please don't drink the Kool aid. It wasn't so much a pedophilia problem as it was the abuse of post-pubescent males by homosexual priests. I know that isn't the politically correct thing to say, but reality is what it is. I heard that Bill Donahue of the Catholic League is coming out with a twenty or so page comment about this subject. I look forward to seeing some truth instead of the $2,000,000 puff piece and the usual episcopal babbling.

  • Posted by: - May. 19, 2011 11:51 AM ET USA

    In the America article by James Martin SJ linked above, he makes the oft-heard argument that gay does not equal pedophile, and in so doing obfuscates the facts. The report and Martin would have us believe that 80% of the cases involve homosexual abuse of teenage boys, but most of those crimes were committed by self-identified heterosexual priests. That Martin ignores this central point indicates either a gross error in analysis or a cynical ignorance as repulsive as any enabling bishop.

  • Posted by: - May. 19, 2011 11:28 AM ET USA

    Let me get this straight (no pun intended): 4 of 5 victims were teenage boys. Their abusers weren't homosexuals, just bisexuals who wanted to abuse any kid they could find, girl or boy. Easier access to boys explains the victim gender disparity. The more self-identified homosexuals in the priesthood, the fewer incidences of abuse. So, if the objective is to eliminate clergy sex abuse of kids, the Church should ordain ONLY homosexuals and give them unlimited, unsupervised access to boys. Got it.

  • Posted by: - May. 19, 2011 8:01 AM ET USA

    Yes, only a PhD could conclude what these over-educated goofballs did. Who paid for that, us churchgoers? I will do a correct study for half the price that was paid to these jerks. Sorry for the names, I'm just so mad; bad enough the homosexuals did it, now there's a coverup!

  • Posted by: New Sister - May. 19, 2011 12:52 AM ET USA

    Normnuke - correction: over **90%** of the abuse was homosexual (male on male). Over 80% was male (adult) on TEEN male...and the study does not count the male victims 18+ years old, which may number in the thousands (seminarians, monks, etc.). The so-called "reasoning" that ascribes this statistic to "lack of access" to females only demonstrates further: the USCCB is a liberal activist organization.

  • Posted by: Obregon - May. 19, 2011 12:28 AM ET USA

    The report concludes, "The study specifically rejects claims that the sex-abuse problem was fueled by clerical celibacy or by homosexuality within the ranks of the clergy." Either our bishops are blind or the report is hopelessly flawed. The abusers did not have sexual relations with girls or grown women but with boys, and if that does not involved homosexual activity, I don't know what does. This report will further damage the credibility of the bishops and the Church on this issue.

  • Posted by: garedawg - May. 18, 2011 11:16 PM ET USA

    There have been times in my adult life when I've had to live in celibacy. I am not cut out for the celibate life, but I sure did not find myself looking at young men!

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - May. 18, 2011 11:02 PM ET USA

    What ever the reasons for the abuse, the SNAP people are not going to be mollified. The victims have been ill-treated initially, and can't get past it. The Church will have to live with this fact. I have no use for that calloused indifferent hierarchy, either.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - May. 18, 2011 10:45 PM ET USA

    Yes, Woodstock caused the problem! This report is not credible. John Jay didn't have the courage to deal with the homosexual nature of the abuse which is the elephant in the sacristy.

  • Posted by: - May. 18, 2011 8:13 PM ET USA

    More than 80% of the cases of abuse were homosexual. Moreover, the priests who assaulted little boys went on to assault more little boys. Priests who assaulted little boys didn't assault little girls. Hey, of course the problem is not homosexual priests. It's global warming.

  • Posted by: - May. 18, 2011 6:31 PM ET USA

    I have been in the military and elsewhere where I had more "access" to males than females: and yet I was not attracted to them. That's because I'm heterosexual. Only a PhD could conclude that there is no link between homosexual acts and homosexuality.