A five-year study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that the tumultuous social climate of the 1960s is to blame for the crisis of priest sexual abuse, and not gay priests, as some critics have alleged.
The New York Times reports on the study to be released Wednesday. The report expands on an explanation some already have proposed to explain why instances of priest sexual abuse of minors increased significantly in the 1960s and '70s.
"But this study is likely to be regarded as the most authoritative analysis of the scandal in the Catholic Church in America," reports the Times. "The study, initiated in 2006, was conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City at a cost of $1.8 million. About half was provided by the bishops, with additional money contributed by Catholic organizations and foundations. The National Institute of Justice, the research agency of the United States Department of Justice, supplied about $280,000."
Among their conclusions, researchers found that it was not possible for the church to identify priests likely to abuse children in advance, as perpetrators exhibit no distinguishing characteristics. The report also found that more boys than girls were abused because priests had more access to boys in the classroom and in activities, and not because the priests were gay. And, the report indicates that fewer than 5% of priests can be described as exhibiting pedophilia, but the researchers used a cut-off age of 10 and under for "pre-pubescent" victims, compared to the cut-off of 13 and under used by the American Psychiatric Association.
"The report notes that homosexual men began entering the seminaries 'in noticeable numbers' from the late 1970s through the 1980s," reports the Times. "By the time this cohort entered the priesthood, in the mid-1980s, the reports of sexual abuse of minors by priests began to drop and then to level off. If anything, the report says, the abuse decreased as more gay priests began serving the church."
Advocates for victims criticized the report, "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2002," for relying on data provided by Roman Catholic Church dioceses and religious orders.