The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes one month after the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York released the second part of its report on the Catholic abuse scandal. The official title is “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950- 2010,” although researchers only gathered data until 2002.
“There is nothing in the report about the bishops who allowed the abuse to continue,” Jezior said, echoing sentiments made by survivors nationwide. “This is more of the same old, same old. They refuse to take responsibility. They believe they are above the law, that canon law is more important.”
Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese was in Seattle for the meeting and unavailable for comment. However, in a statement posted on the archdiocesan website, Coakley said of the report: “We bishops thought it necessary to undertake these studies in order to understand the full extent of the problem and to ascertain whether we are responding appropriately to protect our children and insure that this sort of violation never happens again.”
National advocacy organizations were mixed in their responses. The Rev. Debra Haffner, executive director of the Connecticut-based Religious Institute, said the report was based on “a lack of understanding of child sexual offenders.”
“The abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was heightened by them willingly ignoring the reports and accusations in favor of preserving the church and moving priests to new parishes, rather than requiring treatment,” Haffner told Oklahoma Gazette.
However, Phil Attey, executive director of Catholics for Equality, a political action committee formed on behalf of the LGBT community, called the report “a step in the right direction.”
“Initial reports that the study found no link between the sexual orientation of the priests and the sexual abuse crisis leads us to believe the Vatican and our bishops will stop trying to scapegoat this problem on gay priests,” Attey said. “But whether they’re ready to address the institutional lack of transparency that allowed this problem to continue is not yet clear.”
Coakley did not list bishops or institutional self-protection as contributors to the crisis. Coakley wrote: “The report indicates that the church’s failure to prevent the abuse of minors occurred for a variety of reasons. During the period when most of the abuse occurred, there was certainly a lack of adequate reporting mechanisms. There also was a lack of understanding about the extent of harm inflicted by abuse and an unrealistic confidence in the prospects of an abuser being ‘cured’ through psychological treatment.”
The report also concluded that a relatively small percentage of priests, roughly 4 percent, was involved in any form of abuse, a number that researchers said is consistent with national averages across all vocations. Additionally, the vast majority of abuse occurred during the 1960s and ’70s, a statistical revelation that led John Jay’s principal investigator, Karen Terry, to infer the abuse “was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time.”
Coakley addressed that conclusion in his statement: “Those were years of great turmoil and upheaval both in society and in the church. Societal factors, such as the sexual revolution, increased frequency of divorce, a sharp rise in drug abuse, as well as civil and social unrest all parallel the pattern and time frame of the spike in sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy.”
However, Haffner countered: “The conclusion that that permissiveness of the 1960s and 1970s led to sexual misconduct is reminiscent of that period’s refrain: ‘The devil made me do it.’ “As the report points out, there are multiple reasons that some clergy of all denominations have taken advantage of their positions and engaged in sexual misconduct, including child sexual abuse,” she said. “For some it is power, for some it is access, for some it is a sexual orientation to children, and for some it is a compulsivity and their own damaged sexuality.”
Haffner and Coakley agree that education is key.
“For clergy of all denominations, education about sexuality and sexual misconduct prevention is a critical part of human formation during seminary preparation and through continuing education throughout their careers,” Haffner said.
Coakley wrote: “One of the reasons that may account for the relatively few incidents of abuse in the 21st century has been the great emphasis which seminaries now place on what is called human and spiritual formation. There is a much stronger emphasis on preparing seminarians to live priesthood in a healthy manner and developing a strong affective maturity.”