I promised that the next post would examine the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s 2011 study, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States 1950-2010,” henceforth JJS. This study was commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] in 2002 at the time the Dallas Charter was written, the present guidelines for safe practices in Catholic dioceses across the country.
The JJS is a true research study produced for analysis and policy making. It was not intended as a narrative per se, and I included the link primarily for the historically curious, mental health professionals, and those in any field who might find such a study useful in his or her field. If you do tackle the document, remind yourself that its researchers are criminal justice professionals and not theologians. [John Jay College is not a religiously affiliated institution.] The study was commissioned to examine a crime, so to speak, and it can only go so far as its discipline and evidence permits in its treatment of how Catholic faith and practice impacted the events of the twentieth century, but it cannot ignore Catholic teachings and practice, either.
Rather than make you slaves of my sole reactions to the report, I have included links to several commentaries on the study which are written for the public. The first is the USCCB’s own public statement on the reception of the document. If you search the “deep net” you will find considerable speculation that the USCCB edited certain portions of the report for its own varied reasons, most famously by stretching the use of the term ephebophilia to include younger children and thus, technically speaking, both reducing the number of clinical victims of pedophilia and making this crisis more of an issue of homosexuality, men preying on pubescent-age boys. I understand the thinking behind that in this regard: The Cardinal McCarrick debacle has made it “respectable,” so to speak, to publicly discuss an issue that has simmered just below the surface for years, the large number of homosexual clergy and its impact upon the Church as a whole.
Since the homosexuality question is now part of the public discussion since the summer, I included a link to the controversial President of the Catholic League, William A. Donohue, in which he argues in 2012, straightforwardly, that there is direct cause and effect between the abuse crisis and homosexual clerics that the JJS softened or ignored altogether. I post this with no pleasure, but because I think many Catholics privately agree or sympathize with his line of thinking. Along these lines, the Catechism, in its treatment of homosexuality is not particularly helpful. [Para. 2357: “Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.”] This confuses actions with orientation; there are many devoted and celibate homosexual men and women serving dioceses and religious orders. A homosexual does not sin by a same-sex orientation. I do not agree with Church pronouncements that same-sex inclination [not behavior] is “intrinsically disordered.” We honestly don’t know God’s intentions and there is no independent evidence to make assertions as recent Catholic teaching instruments evidently feel free to do.
Perhaps the best critique of the JJS, and probably the one worth the investment of time is Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea’s 2011 analysis, “The John Jay Study: What it is and what it isn't” from National Catholic Reporter. O’Dea’s analysis is critical in the right places and is eminently readable with a minimum of obscure language, the same kind of crisp composition found in the Pennsylvania Report. If you read this account, take a piece of paper and write down how you think the author would have rewritten her treatment in September 2018! Remember, the JJS was released seven years before the Pennsylvania investigation findings.
The JJS cautions in its opening sections that this study is historical in nature. If the year 1950 is the opening benchmark, the crimes of perpetrators involve priests ordained as far back as 1925. A competent study would need to examine the seminary training and screening of candidates dating back at least to World War II and examine the seminary emphases as they have evolved into the twenty-first century. The study details this evolution very well, noting the pre-Vatican II seminary treatment of celibacy as something of a marine-like steely self-control, through the post-Council’s emphasis upon celibacy as a freeing up of one’s self from relational obligations in order to best serve the people of God, to the 1980’s emphasis—introduced by Pope John Paul II—of the healthy integration of spirit and body, in his famous “Theology of the Body” talks and his 1992 instruction Pastores vobis dabo [“I will give you shepherds”] on priestly formation in seminaries.
The study focuses attention upon those who fall into grave crimes against children against the backdrop of their training and external influences. Here the JJS runs into the logjam of a variety of causes which still bedevil the mental health community, from the Freudian model of grossly underdeveloped ego—an insecure adult whose dysfunctions lead him to avoid other adults and consort with children with no particular preferences for boys or girls—to the “CSI” description of pedophilia as a “crime of opportunity.” The Pennsylvania report and dozens upon dozens of case files speak of “grooming behavior” and “working one’s way into a family,” particularly a vulnerable one where the dad is absent, for example. This sounds much more premeditated and requires cunning and skill—the kinds of things I would expect from an individual with antisocial personality disorder. Unraveling a clearer diagnostic picture would help the Church and society, but I can’t see where we are closer to this now than we were in the 1980’s when I researched the subject at Rollins College.
One of the hypotheses of the JJS is the impact of American secular society after 1960. A graph of abuse reports will show a rapid rise in incidents of clerical abuse beginning in the 1960’s and peaking in the early 1980’s, declining significantly thereafter. The JJS notes that the Catholic problem correlates to other factors that jumped significantly in the 1960’s: crime, drug use, and divorce, along with greater tolerance for what had been taboos in American life, such as premarital sex and homosexuality. The Woodstock Festival, a “pharmaceutical event” as the late Senator John McCain humorously referred to the1969 concert, would never have taken place in 1959.
Researchers of clerical child abuse find 1970 to be the “ground zero” time of the abuse crisis. Priests ordained in this calendar year have the highest incidence of credibly reported abuse claims. In its own reporting The New York Times and other publications would refer to the relaxation of 1960’s moral concerns reported in the JJS as the “Woodstock Syndrome.” However, I saw little in the report addressing the drastic changes in seminary discipline in the direction of “relaxing the rules.” I was a student in a major seminary from 1969-1974; the seminary I left in 1974 was a much different place from what I entered in 1969. From my own experience I would have to say that there is something to the theory that societal changes in the 1960’s impacted seminarians and priests, but there are no precise markers except for one: a massive exodus of seminarians and priests.
O’Dea’s essay in the National Catholic Reporter cited above enumerates the many conclusions and recommendations of the JJS study and highlights and/or critiques all its major conclusions far better than I can in this limited space. Rereading O’Dea’s opus does explain one key question: why has the JJS enjoyed so little attention in the seven years since its study? One possibility is that the data available to researchers was screened beforehand, perhaps not systematically but with an eye to reducing public outrage. The fact that the Pennsylvania Report of 2018 was ‘so shocking to the Catholic psyche was the standing of its investigators as employees of the state’s justice system and independent jurors with subpoena power. In other words, outsiders. The USCCB paid $1.8 million for a 2011 report that gave cover for many church leaders to yell “barracuda” when they should have been yelling “shark.”
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