Thursday, 19 May 2011

Controversy as report into US Catholic child abuse blames 1960s "deviance"

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A report into child abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States, commissioned by Catholic bishops and conducted by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, has caused controversy over the conclusion that the high incidence of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was linked to the social changes of the time.

Unveiling the report yesterday, the principal researcher, Karen Terry suggested the crisis had peaked several decades ago. "The increased frequency of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time. Social influences intersected with vulnerabilities of individual priests whose preparation for a life of celibacy was inadequate at that time."

In the report, which can be viewed in full as a PDF, this deviance is outlined as follows:
"The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in American society generally. This increase in abusive behavior is consistent with the rise in other types of “deviant” behavior, such as drug use and crime, as well as changes in social  behavior, such as an increase in premarital sexual behaviour and divorce."
By contrast, internal aspects of Catholicism, such as celibacy, are not considered to have played a key causal role:
"Features and characteristics of the Catholic Church, such as an exclusively male priesthood and the commitment to celibate chastity, were invariant during the increase, peak, and decrease in abuse incidents, and thus are not causes of the 'crisis'."
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which represents victims, has reacted angrily, describing the report as "garbage":
"Two academics, paid by bishops and using information from bishops reach the conclusions bishops desperately want to reach themselves.

The Catholic hierarchy wants us to believe that the abuse of children by clerics is ‘situational.’ It's not. It's systemic. And most important, the tragic continuing cover up of those crimes, by bishops, is even more systemic. But the bishops report will give them even more reasons to avoid tough questions and take decisive steps to make children safer, expose the truth, discipline wrong-doers and stop the abuse.

The document is yet another reminder of the sad, simple truth that keeps getting overlooked here: no institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy. The report is a clarion call to police, prosecutors, lawmakers and judges to end decades of dangerous deference to church officials and start reforming secular laws so that those who commit, ignore and conceal child sex crimes can be held responsible for the devastation they cause."
While the report does not blame the Church for producing abusive priests, it is critical of the manner in which dioceses responded to the crisis. “What is clear to us was that in many cases the bishops did respond, but they were responding to their priests,” Terry told reporters yesterday. “They were looking to help the priest, to treat the priest, to help him overcome his sickness. What they did not do was focus on the victims and the harm to the victims.”
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