It's Still Not Fixed

In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in Dallas, Texas. One of the issues addressed by this conference was the scandal resulting from the activities of sexually predatory Catholic priests and religious. One of the products of that gathering was the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

I don't know that the charter actually did much to protect children and others from the predatory sexual behavior of some Catholic priests and religious. However, in what has become a routine politically correct response from bureaucratic agencies under heavy pressure from news media and public outcry, the charter did create a watchdog agency, the Office of Child and Youth Protection.

The charter, which was recently revised, includes this interesting bit of information:

The descriptive study of the nature and scope of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the United States, commissioned by the National Review Board, has been completed. The resulting study, examining the historical period 1950-2002, by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice provides us with a powerful tool not only to examine our past but also to secure our future against such misconduct. (USCCB, Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People., © 2005 USCCB)

The results of the John Jay study are available online. The report is published under the wondrously Elizabethan era of The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States. For the purpose of brevity, I shall refer to this document as “the study.” The study purports to provide the results of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by priests and religious during the period 1950-2002:

The objectives of this study were to collect, organize, and summarize information available in Church files about the sexual abuse of minors (children under 18 years of age) by priests and deacons in the Catholic Church of the United States from 1950 through 2002.

Among the data included in this report are detailed breakdowns of allegations against priests and deacons by age and gender of victims, nature of alleged offenses, threats used to compel victims to submit, etc. Analysis of completed surveys returned to John Jay researchers by priests, victims, dioceses, etc., provided the data for this report. In that not all the surveys sent were returned, the data are incomplete.

From the data provided, however, it is evident that Catholic officialdom in America was aware of, and providing care for, priests and religious considered to need treatment for “behavioral problems” during the period 1950-2002. Not surprisingly, the John Jay study informs that, in dioceses and religious communities that returned surveys, the cost of providing treatment for priests and religious with “behavioral problems” amounted to some $33.4 million during the period 1950-2002. During the same period, the respondents spent about $5.5 million on treatment for alleged victims of priestly sexual misconduct. ( Costs to dioceses and religious communities )

The total cost paid in 1950-2002 by responding dioceses and religious communities amounted to $572,507,094.00. (Ibid.)

These “unbudgeted” expenses are generating serious financial difficulties in some dioceses:

The financial fallout continues, too. Latest tallies show U.S. dioceses and religious orders have paid out nearly $800 million in claims and judgments.

• In December 2004, the Spokane, Wash., diocese became the third in the United States - after Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz. - to file for bankruptcy due to mounting sexual abuse claims. In March 2005, the Diocese of St. George's became Canada's first to go bankrupt.
• In January 2005, California's Diocese of Orange agreed to pay $100 million to 90 claimants in the largest sexual abuse settlement in history. The diocese also agreed to release personnel files of those accused of abuse.
• In May 2005, the Archdiocese of Boston announced it was considering reducing retirement benefits for priests to help it cope financially
• In May 2005, the Archdiocese of Boston announced it was considering reducing retirement benefits for priests to help it cope financially
(Clergy Abuse Update, May 31, 2005)

An interesting development following on the heels of the Boston Archdiocese's financial woes involves what appears to be developing into a major confrontation between the archdiocese and Catholic faithful.

Arguing that the Catholic parishes of Greater Boston belong to the parishioners and not to the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, critics of the parish closings said yesterday that they are turning to the judicial system for help after failing to persuade church officials to abandon their plan to shutter scores of local churches.

The Council of Parishes, an umbrella organization representing some worshipers at 15 parishes, said that its members have already filed lawsuits challenging the closings of St. Jeremiah in Framingham, St. James the Great in Wellesley, and St. Albert the Great in Weymouth and that they expect a fourth lawsuit to be filed shortly challenging the closing of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate. (Michael Paulson, Suits argue churches owned by parishioners, The Boston Globe, May 24, 2005, © 2005 The New York Times Company)

Over the years, Catholic apologists and wannabe defenders of the Roman priesthood have repeatedly informed me that the number of sexual offenders in the priesthood is quite small. My informants never were able to tell me the actual number of offending priests and religious, nor how they had arrived at such a number. The John Jay study provides a number of priest and religious against whom allegations were filed in 1950-2002, certainly incomplete, obtained by analyzing returned surveys:

The surveys reported 75,694 diocesan priests and approximately 34,000 religious priests in ministry with 4,392 accused of abuse. If the total of the accused priests (4,392) is divided by the total of all priests in ministry between 1950 and 2002 (109,694), the result is 4%; for diocesan priests only, (3,282/76,694), the percentage is 4.27% and for religious priests, (929/34,000), 2.7%.

Alternatively, the total of priests in ministry estimated by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate is 94,607 between 1960 and 2002. If the number of priests who had no allegations after 1959 is removed (265), the total of surveys for priests and deacons with allegations of child sexual abuse is 4,127, and the resulting percentage is slightly more than 4%. ( Detailed data on prevalence of sexual abuse of youth under 18 by Catholic priests)

The presence of well over 4000 priestly sexual predators within the ministerial priesthood appears to me to represent a significant problem that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America failed to adequately address during the period covered by the study.

Are there now, or have there recently been, sexually active priests in YOUR diocese? According to the information compiled from returned surveys, it seems very likely that the answer to that question may well be affirmative.

A paramount concern for all involved with the study has been the determination of the prevalence of the problem in the Catholic Church in the United States. The survey responses make it clear that the problem was indeed widespread and affected more than 95% of dioceses and approximately 60% of religious communities. Of the 195 dioceses and eparchies that participated in the study, all but seven have reported that allegations of sexual abuse of youths under the age of 18 have been made against at least one priest serving in ecclesiastical ministry in that diocese or eparchy. Of the 140 religious communities that submitted surveys, all but 30 reported at least one allegation against a religious priest who was a member of that community. ( Summary Results: Prevalence of sexual abuse of youth under 18 by Catholic priests and deacons)

Sexual misconduct on the part of priests and religious is not a new problem in the Catholic Church:

Father Thomas Doyle, a canonical lawyer who's testified on behalf of plaintiffs in some 200 sex-abuse lawsuits. . .when Irish monks published penitential books for use while hearing confessions. Several of the tomes, according to Doyle, refer to sexual crimes committed by clerics against boys and girls. One widely used volume, known as the Penitential of Bede, advises clerics who sodomize children to repent their sins by subsisting on nothing more than bread and water for anywhere from three to 12 years. “The reason sexual abuse of minors is in these books,” says Doyle, “is because it was a problem.” (Kristen Lombardi, Failure to act, page 1, The Phoenix.com, © October 5 - 11, 2001)

Clearly, the penitential books failed to bring about the changes needed to correct problems of wrongful sexual conduct among Catholicism's anointed.

But the Church had warnings that it could have acted on long before the problem captured the media spotlight -- years, even, before circulation of "The Manual" in 1985. In 1971, psychiatrist Conrad Baars traveled to the Vatican, where he presented the first of two studies about the US priesthood to the Synod of Bishops, an assembly of bishops from around the world. Baars based his research on 40 years' experience treating 1500 priests. He found that 20 to 25 percent of American clergy members had serious psychiatric problems, while 60 to 70 percent suffered emotional immaturity -- by which Baars meant "an insufficiently developed or distorted emotional life." According to his report, "The Role of the Church in the Causation, Treatment, and Prevention of the Crisis of the Priesthood," these priests often exhibited a "psychosexual immaturity expressed in hetero- or homosexual activity," as well as in "masturbation, sexual impotence or frigidity . . . or sexual exploits." (Kristen Lombardi, Failure to act, page 2, The Phoenix.com, © October 5 - 11, 2001)

In 2001, Pope John Paul II published guidance for handling cases of sexual misconduct in a motu proprio. The charter published by American bishops after their Dallas meeting in 2002 referred to JP2's instruction:

*In accord with Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (SST), article 4 §1, sexual abuse, for purposes of this Charter, shall include any offense by a cleric against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with a minor as understood in the Code of Canon Law, c. 1395 §2 (“A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years [raised in SST to eighteen years which has been the age of majority for the USA since 1994], is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants”) and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, c. 1453 §1 (“A cleric who lives in concubinage or gives permanent scandal by publicly sinning against chastity is to be punished with a suspension, to which, other penalties can be gradually added up to deposition, if he persists in the offense”). (Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Op. cit.)

Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, is available online.

A question that comes up frequently has to do with just how priestly perverts are able to work their will on their young victims. The study suggests possible answers:

In order to get the children to go along with the abuse, many child sexual abusers indulge in what is termed “grooming,” or premeditated behavior intended to manipulate the potential victim into complying with the sexual abuse. Grooming tactics include verbal, emotional and/or physical intimidation, seduction, and the use of enticements such as candy, money, or other gifts. Emotional manipulation and verbal coercion seem to be the most common tactics used by offenders to groom their victims, including doing favors for the victim in exchange for sex and/or emotionally blackmailing the victim into compliance. (The study, Incidents and Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse)

From the foregoing, it is clear that the Catholic hierarchy has been aware of the aberrant sexual behavior of some of its priests and religious for centuries, yet appears to have done precious little to cleanse her clergy of sexual deviants. Certainly, the news media have reported the occasional laicising of a priest or religious; and Father Time has removed others from the priesthood. However, it is hard for me to believe that the problem has been eliminated.

In the end, it might not really matter what the Church knew or didn't know about sexual misconduct among clergy in 1970 or 1980 or 1990. For centuries, it understood one crucial piece of information: such conduct is a moral crime. As Doyle says, "We may not have known how the sexual disorder develops, or how to care for our priests. But we knew about the harm. We knew priests were running loose on our kids."

Everything else, in other words, should have been irrelevant. (Kristen Lombardi, Failure to act, page 3, The Phoenix.com, © October 5 - 11, 2001)

I believe that every Catholic parent, at the least, should become familiar with the information provided in the John Jay study. Those wishing to explore this document will need to have Adobe Reader installed on their computers. This reader may be downloaded, free of charge, from Adobe Systems, Inc.

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