US report says clerical abuse not linked to celibacy


A NEW study released yesterday by the US Conference of Bishops argues that neither the all-male celibate priesthood nor homosexuality can be blamed for the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the US Catholic church.

Rather, the report, which is clearly destined to provoke much controversy, argues that the clerical sex abuse plague owes much more to the phenomenon of ill-prepared, inadequately monitored and overworked priests exercising their ministry amid the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s.

For long, church critics have argued that the all-male celibate priesthood as well as the high number of gay priests were key contributory factors to the clerical sex abuse crisis.

This 300-page report, entitled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950- 2010, seems to suggest otherwise, arguing that the reasons for clerical sex abuse are more complex.

Carried out by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, the five-year study cost $1.8 million.

Given that half the funding was provided by the US Catholic Church, with additional monies coming from Catholic groups and foundations as well as from the US department of justice, some critics may well question the objectivity of the researchers.

Nonetheless, this report seems destined to be regarded as an authoritative analysis of the sex abuse crisis, at least in the US.

One of its most controversial findings is the claim that of the nearly 6,000 US priests accused of sexual abuse in the last 60 years, only 4 per cent exhibited behaviour consistent with paedophilia, which it defines as a “psychiatric disorder that is characterised by recurrent fantasies, urges and behaviours about pre-pubescent children”.

In other words, it is not correct to brand all abuser priests as “paedophiles”.

As for the role of homosexuality in the sex abuse crisis, the report admits that gay men began entering the priesthood “in noticeable numbers” in the late 1970s and 1980s but it argues that sexual abuse decreased, rather than increased, as more gay priests joined the church.

The disproportionate number of adolescent male victims, it claims, was about opportunity, not preference or pathology.

Improved seminary training and education and an overall better preparation for a life of celibacy represent key weapons in the fight against clerical sex abuse, the report concludes.

Clerical culture has fostered and concealed deviance by priests in a manner very similar to the law-enforcement culture that allows police brutality. The church, like the police, is a hierarchical organisation in which departments or dioceses are authorities unto themselves, loath to be overseen.

The notion that the sexual and social revolution of the 1960s might have played a role in the sex abuse crisis is not new.

Pope Benedict XVI himself has already stated it, most recently in his “interview” book Light of the World, published last November: “It is obvious that the spiritual situation of the 1970s . . . contributed to this [causing the sex abuse scandals]. Those were the years when the theory was developed whereby paedophilia should be considered something positive.

“Above all, the idea was put about – and it entered into Catholic moral theology – that nothing bad in itself exists, only a relative evil exists.”

The new report has received a favourable reception in the Holy See, with senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi saying: “We’ve always said that the celibate priesthood has nothing to do with it [clerical sex abuse], so this is no surprise to us . . . The non-connection with priestly celibacy and with homosexuality are two very relevant points . . . as is the dateline.”