New Report on Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis


BOB ABERNETHY, host: A highly anticipated report on the causes of the clergy sex abuse crisis in the US Roman Catholic Church was released this week by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The lead researcher said no one factor was responsible for the actions of the priests. Both celibacy and homosexuality were ruled out as causes. Instead, researchers found that priests were influenced by societal changes during the 1960s and 1970s, what they called an increase in “deviant behavior.” Several victims groups denounced the report, saying it does not place enough blame on the bishops who covered up abuse.

We discuss the report and the reaction to it with Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service, and Kim Lawton, the managing editor of this program. Kim, is it the case that the report has something in it to make everybody unhappy?

KIM LAWTON (Managing Editor, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly): Well, a little bit. When this crisis here in the United States really hit a boiling point in 2002, a lot liberals in the church said, well, the problem is this all-male priesthood and enforced celibacy, and that’s creating the problem. A lot of conservatives said it’s homosexuality and gay priests and that’s the problem. And this report said it’s not either one of those. But the report did say the social upheaval in the 60s and 70s, and there were critics who didn’t like that sort of blame-it-all-on-Woodstock idea. The report said that in seminaries priests weren’t being trained to handle the new sexual mores of the United States at that time, and there was a lot of stress, and that generated the problem, but that makes a lot of critics frustrated because they say it makes it a sociological problem and not a systematic problem and a spiritual problem within the Church.

John Jay College report on Catholic church sex abuseABERNETHY: And the fact is, Kevin, the abuses happened, whatever the causes.

KEVIN ECKSTROM (Editor, Religion News Service): That’s right. Whether it’s gay priests or celibacy or anything else, the fact is that this happened within in a very particular institution, the Catholic Church, that was incapable for 50 or 60 years of really handling this problem and dealing with it in an effective way, and a lot of times what they did was they shuffled it off to the side, or they said, oh, well, this isn’t really that big of a deal, or we can reassign this problematic priest somewhere else, and this— the way that this problem was handled did not happen in the same way in, say, public schools or boy scouts or whatever. So I think the bishops to their credit and the church to its credit gets—should be acknowledged that this is the widest study that’s ever been done on child abuse, child sexual abuse, but they don’t really quite go far enough, I don’t think, in saying how the church’s own responsibility contributed to it.

ABERNETHY: And there was nothing in the report, was there, about the bishops who moved around the people who were committing these terrible acts?

LAWTON: Well, the report does say that the bishops were part of the problem in that they didn’t deal with it or they spent more time focusing on the priests and not the victims who were being abused. But what the report doesn’t do is then come up with suggestions for dealing with that, for punishments, or for mandatory things that the bishops have to do when this happens, and that’s a frustration.

post02-sexabusereportABERNETHY: Do they have to report to law enforcement?

LAWTON: If it’s a state law, they do. The guidelines set up by the bishops encourage the local dioceses to report allegations to the authorities. But again, it’s not mandatory, it’s not binding and there’s no enforcement mechanism.

ECKSTROM: I think one of the big numbers, sort of one of the hidden numbers, actually, in this report was that only 14 percent of these cases over the 60-year period were turned over to law enforcement. That means that 86 percent of cases were handled internally in the Church, and the big criticism of the Church has always been that they don’t know how to handle it internally. And they say, oh, trust us, we’ll take care of it, don’t worry about it, but they’re not referring these to law enforcement, which is what a lot of people say they should be.

ABERNETHY: Is the problem over? To what extent has it peaked and gone away? There was something in there about …

LAWTON: Yeah, the report says it was a historical problem, and there certainly has been a decrease in the number of cases being reported. However, we’ve seen, we’re seeing right now in Philadelphia, in the archdiocese of Philadelphia there’s a situation going on right now where a local grand jury has suggested that 37 priests who were accused, with credible allegations of abuse, were allowed to remain in their posts, and the lay review boards that have been set up to help the Church monitor this—they were shocked to hear that. So there are clearly still a lot of issues.

ABERNETHY: Kevin, very quickly. Is it over or not?

ECKSTROM: Last year, in 2010, there were just seven cases reported of abuse that was alleged to have occurred in 2010. So, in that case, you are not seeing hundreds of cases of abuse, but what’s problematic for a lot of people is that the Church is not reporting any cases, and they are not releasing the names of accused priests that might encourage of other victims to come forward.

ABERNETHY: Many thanks. Kevin Eckstrom, Kim Lawton.

  • Channah

    It has nothing to do with homosexuality and gay priests . The priests could be straight and even married.

    It is the type of men drawn to the priesthood. These men are pedophiles….no matter what else they are.

  • al nova

    This problem coud happen with any man that has charge over young children. what makes this so bad is the
    the men are church personal. I belive the parents teach the children to report any touching.

  • Boston Padre

    The bishops gave THEIR numbers to the John Jay College — and therefore the results came back just as the BISHOPS had hoped. The problem is that there are discrepancies. The American Psychiatric Assoc. says puberty begins at 13. The report uses the age of 10! A considerable number of the abuse victims were between the ages of 10-13. Therefore, the percentage of “pedophile” activity is lower than it is in reality.

    I was abused in August 1970, nine months prior to ordination. My abuser was ordained in the 1950′s — so at the time he was well into his 40′s — certainly beyond the “woodstock crowd” and certainly well grounded in ethics and morality from teh 40′s and 50′s. He has abuse cases dating from the 50′s clear up to 3 months before his death in May 2006 at the age of 82! He showed no remorse when I was raped, claimed I had asked for it, and informed me that he used to come into my room in the rectory at night to watch me sleep. To this day, some 40 years later, I cannot sleep through the night. I wake up at least once a night.

    The church/hierarchy preach forgiveness — but they do little to show victims there is really any sincerity in their words. The pope came to the USA in 2008 and reprimanded the bishops for “handling the crisis badly.” He ordered them to do all they could for victims. Since then, in EVERY state that has tried to reform the statutes of limitations on child abuse he church has fought tooth and nail to OPPOSE it. They are still caring more for the priest and the “image of the church” than they are about anything else. Isn’t there something in the scripture about serving two masters — God and mammon?

    A handful of dioceses in the US have published a list of the names of priests who have been credibly accused. The statutes of limitations have expired because they are archaic so there is no “day in court” for the victim. Bishops have been known to lie to us. When I first brought my case back to Boston I was told there were no other accusations against Laurano. I got hold of the investigation and found three (3) letters dating back to the 1990′s from kids who had been abused. We are told that there are no priests on active ministry with accusations against them — then look at Philadelphia. And what about those dioceses that refuse to follow the Dallas charter at all?

    The report talks about the lower number of cases being reported. It is well established that it takes a victim of abuse by a person in authority 30-40 years (1) to recognize that they had been abused, (2) to realize that the abuse had a negative impact on their life (drugs, alcohol, suicide attempts, broken relationships etc) and (3) then to be able to bring it forth to talk about it. Abuse that occurred in the 1980′s and later probably won’t come to light for another ten years or more. That is if they are reported at all because a majority of cases of abuse are never reported. The shame is doo deep for the victim to handle, or they fear the rejection of those they tell etc.

    The report did not go far enough and deep enough with REAL numbers the commission discovered ON THEIR OWN and without the influence of the hierarchy. The bishops enabled and abetted the criminal activity of predatory priests. They should be made to be responsible as well.

  • Patrick O’Malley

    This whole issue is a lot simpler than people are making it out to be – keep your kids out of the Catholic church, and keep yourself out, too.

    You can’t trust the Catholic Church.

    The Catholic religion is fine, but the Catholic church doesn’t practice the Catholic religion. They:

    - raped thousands of children in the United State alone, hundreds of thousands worldwide
    - they knew about it, and moved the priests to rape some more
    - they lied about it, and concealed the truth, and caused more children to be raped
    - they ignored the victims

    To this day, they will still fight victims of their own child rape, and avoid paying for their psychological therapy, just to try to save money and keep big, beautiful church real estate.

    Even though God couldn’t make it more obvious that this church doesn’t practice His religion, some people will still be stupid enough to support them and to disregard children. God has proven that this church can’t be trusted, but some people will trust them with their eternity.

    People with brains know you can’t trust the Catholic church – so keep your kids away.

  • Fr. Jim

    “Bishops have the ultimate responsibility when it comes to dealing with sexually abusive priests.”
    That’s the opening line here — and also the main theme of the Vatican’s guidelines — the lay review boards (national and local) are NO SUBSTITUTE for the “wisdom, power and authority of the bishop.” Well, DOH! Isn’t that “wisdom, power and authority of the bishop” exactly what got us into this whole mess for the past decade?

    Clergy abuse is bad to begin with — but then the bishops favored the priest and the “image of the church” in trying to avoid scandal — and in so doing brought more scandal upon themselves and the church. They enabled and abetted these predatory priests in the commission of a crime!

    They now are trying to cover their tails — and are failing miserably. This report uses 10 years and under and the age group defined by pedophiles — yet the American Psychiatric Association define pedophiles and those abusing children THIRTEENS (13) years and younger. A goodly number of abuse cases involve kids 10-13 so this means the bishops can declare a LOWER percentage of pedophile priests. In actuality, thefigure is close to 10% !

    How many victims were told, “You are the only one abused by Fr. X” or how many times did we hear “There are no priests in active ministry with a credible accusation against them. To answer the first question, I would put it at at least 99%; and in reaction to the second questions I simply ask, “What about Philadelphia?” Why, then, should be trust the bishops to be open and honest when dealing with crisis?

    The pope reprimanded them in 2008 for poorly handling the crisis. He then ORDERED them to do all they can for victims. In reaction,since then, they have NOT changed their approach to changing legislation regarding the statute of limitations. Victims oftentimes have to attend ENDLESS meetings and evaluations — for as long as 18 months before some kind of “compromise” is reached. Those few cases that are able to go to court are faced with strong opposition and delay tactics. When all is said and done, and the church has lost all arguments, suddenly they come up with a settlement. The settlement is a bribe so that they do not have to go on the stand and tell the truth about what they knew, when they knew it, and what the did (not) do in reaction to protect children.

    As Peter, Paul and Mary used to sing in the ’60′s — “When will they ever learn?”

  • Hugo V.

    The report seems to be “pointing fingers” rather tan a full search and analysis of the total context of the culture an behavior of the total “church”, society, world conditions and the priesthood. The shortsighted perspective from this learned group is very surprising and disappointing!

  • JDE

    The fact that the report was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wasn’t mentioned.

    “So I think the bishops to their credit and the church to its credit gets—should be acknowledged that this is the widest study that’s ever been done on child abuse, child sexual abuse, but they don’t really quite go far enough, I don’t think, in saying how the church’s own responsibility contributed to it.” – Kim Lawton

    If they don’t admit culpability, how is it at all to their “credit?” The new Missal, described in the other story, contains the phrase, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”. They certainly expect laypeople to be held “accountable” by God, to the point that they feel they have to hammer it in. Apparently, bishops aren’t judged so harshly.

    Bad enough that the hierarchy of the Church doesn’t get it; now they, like their evangelical counterparts, are authoring their own pseudoscience to validate their isolated and anachronistic worldview.

  • +Don Steckdaub

    Frustration is a mild word. This report could have been written without any “research”. People need to be held responsible for their actions no matter their station in life. Otherwise there is no healing for the victims, peretrators, church or the religious community as a while. God bless them all. More soul searching is necessary.

  • mari

    Come on. Abuse is not caused by social changes (I’m sure it has existed since men came to the earth). I doubt it is caused by anything other than the fact that some men have always abused the trust of their communities through sexual abuse. At least the church is coming clean about the history of abuse. No one I know was abused and I remember the priests in my Chicago parish (St.Sabina/St.Sabina School) were wonderful human beings who shared their compassion and knowledge with us.

  • pat

    i reccomend reading the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of the report, which can be found at

    i think if you read this carefuly you will have a much better understanding of the report then from reading these comments.

  • James22

    clearly it was Woodstock that caused the bishops to cover up the abuse, and now causes them to cover up the cover up

  • Jeff

    Interesting that only the US “scandal” is discussed here! It just came to light that in the Netherlands 800 or so Dutch Catholic priests abused about 20,000 children! And this is just one small country among the many countries in which predator-priest abuse has been brought to light (not to mention all those countries in which Catholic churches have many as-yet-unrevealed and vile secrets)! I think if the total worldwide statistics were made public on the front page of prominent newspapers and in the other media, maybe a lot more current parrishoners would finally wake up and run as far away from the Catholic church as possible, as was suggested, very appropriately, I think, from some of those who made the comments above.