Study: Changes Of 1960s Behind Abuse Crisis Commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the five-year study finds neither homosexuality nor celibacy at fault. Critics take issue with placing blame on what they call the "Woodstock defense," as well as the study's decision to define pedophilia as abuse only of those 10 or younger.
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Study: Changes Of 1960s Behind Church's Abuse Crisis

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Study: Changes Of 1960s Behind Church's Abuse Crisis

Study: Changes Of 1960s Behind Church's Abuse Crisis

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Why did the Catholic Church experience a sex abuse crisis? There are no simple answers, according to the results of a five-year study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

But NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports that the answers the report does provide are unlikely to satisfy the church's critics.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Karen Terry, the principal investigator of the John Jay study, wants to debunk some myths. First, she says...

Dr. KAREN TERRY (John Jay College of Criminal Justice): Homosexuality is not a cause of this sexual abuse crisis.

HAGERTY: After conducting surveys, seeing files and interviewing clerics, Terry says the researchers found that men who self-described as gay were no more likely than heterosexuals to abuse children. Rather, this was a crime of opportunity. Troubled priests had more access to boys and girls, particularly in the 1960s and '70s when the number of cases spiked.

Second, she says...

Dr. TERRY: Celibacy itself is not a cause of the abuse crisis.

HAGERTY: Priests have been celibate for more than a thousand years, says Terry, so that cannot explain why they became more abusive beginning in the '60s, nor why there were fewer reports beginning in the 1980s. In fact, Terry says that nothing, not psychological exams, not intelligence tests, not developmental histories predicted which priests would become abusers.

So what does explain the rise in abuse? A major reason, she says, was the 1960s.

Dr. TERRY: There's the sexual revolution. There's an increased amount of drug use. There an increase in crime. There's an increase in things like premarital sex, divorce. In a number of social factors there is change. And the men who were in the priesthood are affected by these social factors.

HAGERTY: Terence McKiernan calls that the Woodstock defense.

Mr. TERRY McKIERNAN (President, A lot of us went through the '60s, and very few of us reacted to the pressures of that interesting decade by sexually abusing children.

HAGERTY: McKiernan heads the watchdog group He believes the report, which was commissioned and overseen by the church, is flawed top to bottom. But what gets McKiernan really mad is this central finding of the report.

Again, investigator Karen Terry.

Dr. TERRY: This is not a problem of pedophilia.

HAGERTY: The researchers define pedophilia as abuse of anyone 10 or under, and by that definition, only 22 percent of the cases fall in that category. But McKiernan notes that the American Psychiatric Association puts the line at anyone under 14.

Mr. McKIERNAN: And in fact, when you draw the line in the correct place, it turns out that 60 percent of the victims were aged 13 or younger.

HAGERTY: However, you define it, Karen Terry says that once the church recognized the scope of the problem, it addressed it. Beginning in the early 1990s, she says, bishops set up systems to prevent abuse and better screen problem clerics. So now, she says...

Dr. TERRY: The abuse crisis is over, but the response to the abuse continues, and there has to continue to be accountability and transparency from the bishops to address this problem.

HAGERTY: She says some dioceses are better than others, but overall, they have made great progress.

But David Clohessy, at the victims group SNAP, says how do we know the crisis is over? It can take years for a victim to muster the courage to come forward, and he says the bishops aren't always forthcoming about the number of abusive priests in their dioceses.

Mr. DAVID CLOHESSY (National Director, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests): Every single time there's an independent look at clergy sex crimes, whether it's a prosecutor or a grand jury or a governmental investigation, the percentage of accused child-molesting clerics jumps dramatically.

HAGERTY: He points to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Earlier this year, a grand jury report found that 37 priests who had been accused of abuse were still serving in active ministry. Soon after that, the archdiocese suspended 26 priests.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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