The most comprehensive investigation into sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church is out. The study, conducted over the course of five years by Karen Terry and others at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, reached several conclusions about the cause and nature of the sexual abuse by priests. Among the findings:
Most Abusive Priests Weren’t Pedophiles
According to the report, only a tiny percentage of priests who sexually abused children exhibited recognized psychological traits and behaviors consistent with a clinical diagnosis of pedophilia.
Since over 95 percent of the abused children were 11 or older, the report concludes: “It is inaccurate to refer to abusers as ‘pedophile priests.’” Had the researchers used a different age criterion for “prepubescent” (the American Psychiatric Association suggests 13), the number of pedophiles would have been higher. Still, the majority of victims were between the ages of 11 and 14, and half of the victims were 13 or older.
1960s Sexual Culture Created Abusers
The researchers were unable to pinpoint a specific genesis of the abuse, and said that the epidemic of child molesting priests was unforeseeable. The report blamed the sexual revolution and the sexually permissive culture of the 1960s and 1970s for the child molestation.
This argument has been made before. In a Dec. 20, 2010, speech, Pope Benedict said that though the church accepted some responsibility for the abuse, the Catholic priests were merely products of a culture steeped in perversion and that their actions must be seen in light of “the context of these times. … There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society.”
Without citing a source for his information, Benedict claimed that as recently as the 1970s, “pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” and therefore was not necessarily seen as wrong or inappropriate by many priests.
Ronald Lindsay, president of the nonprofit educational organization Center for Inquiry questioned this logic in a recent blog called No Faith Value:
“Does this mean that some priests listened to too many renditions of songs like ‘Love the One You’re With’ or ‘Magic Man?’ This finding seems questionable on a number of different levels, besides its sheer implausibility. First, hundreds of millions of individuals had their characters formed during the 1960s and 1970s. Few of them had sex with minors. Moreover, isn’t the Church supposed to be an institution that emphasizes individual responsibility? Putting the blame on a ‘permissive culture’ seems to be a convenient way to avoid accepting and assigning responsibility.”
The report also concluded that the peak of sexual abuse is over. Other research, such as that done at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire and elsewhere, supports the conclusion that child sexual abuse overall (including by priests) has declined significantly over the past two decades. The report did not hold bishops responsible for the Church’s systematic cover-up of the sexual abuse, in which priests were rarely reported to authorities but instead shuffled among ministries when allegations arose.