Mo Dowd, Wrong Again

I am not sure she actually reads more than summary reports on anything, and even if that’s true, I’m not sure she is able to comprehend sentences that do not conform to her worldview, still I am going to take a chance and send Maureen Dowd this piece on what critics and the press got wrong regarding the John Jay study on causality (pdf) and the sex abuse issue within the church.

Dowd, you’ll recall, went full metal mental all over Archbishop Dolan over gay marriage in doing so tried to sneer the study into irrelevance:

In yet another attempt at rationalization, the nation’s Catholic bishops — a group Dolan is now in charge of — put out a ridiculous five-year-study last month going with the “blame Woodstock” explanation for the sex-abuse scandal. The report suggested that the problem was caused by permissive secular society rather than cloistered church culture, because priests were trained in the turbulent free-love era. It concluded, absurdly, that neither the all-male celibate priesthood nor homosexuality were causes.

I noted Dowd’s staggering incoherence here, and couldn’t help wondering if she was betraying a bit of subconscious homophobia:

Putting aside the truth that the most child sexual abuse occurs in the home (or, shhh! the public schools!) at the hands of un-celibate men and women, I wonder if Dowd realizes that in that sentence she sounds remarkably like Bill Donohue of the Catholic league and others who argue that the roots of the sexual abuse issue are grounded in homosexuality.

Now Karen J. Terry, the lead researcher of the John Jay report has a few choice words for those who took this very complicated study and tried to distill it into cutesy soundbites or bumper-sticker-speak:

We studied individual priests who abused, the Church leaders who were responsible for overseeing them, and the broader social context in which the abuse took place.

A study of this complexity does not easily lend itself to an accurate sound bite.

Nevertheless, one early media report in a national paper attributed the explanation of social factors as a “Blame Woodstock” excuse, a phrase that went viral and was cited more than 14,000 times within the next two days.

The truth is, at no point in the report did we “blame” Woodstock or simplify the explanation of the abuse crisis to the “swinging sixties,” as some papers reported.

Another fallacy contained in the early media reports included the “fact” that we did not address the problematic actions of the bishops. Critics suggested that since we relied only on data from the dioceses, the bishops influenced the study findings.

Actually, the data for the Causes and Context study came from seven unique sources―a fact overlooked in most media reports. The data were derived from bishops and priests, victim assistance coordinators, victim advocates, survivors, clinicians, seminaries, historical and court documents.

Many media outlets also accused us of being “puppets of the Church.” Although nearly half of the funding for the study was provided by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Review Board―a group of lay Catholics created in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ―was tasked with overseeing the progress of the report.

The bishops did not influence our findings in any way.

It is also worth pointing out that I am not Catholic, and I have not historically, nor do I currently have, any personal ties to the Catholic Church.

Read it all. And the report, too, is well worth the read.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Kathy Schiffer

    Our little local newspaper also has a “religion reporter” who runs at the mouth, exuding disdain for persons of faith. I can’t imagine he will ever listen to my constructive criticism– better, I think, to report blatant errors to the editor. Over and over.

    It would be so much better to read E. Scalia on the pages of the NYTimes. Perhaps a groundswell of support for the idea from your readers?

  • James

    Homos&xuality is a disorder. Any s&xual act that is inclined towards homos&xuality- is in fact indicative of the disordered inclination of homos&xuality.

    81% of the clergy abuse scandals (were in fact) homos&xu@l in their content. Can most homos&xuals successfully live a life of celibacy in the priesthood? Can most pedoph!les successfully live a life of celibacy in the priesthood? Can men with pederast tendencies successfully live a life of celibacy in the priesthood?

    Are these three distinctions even separate, or are they indicative of a common underlying dysfunction? The lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah is that sinful dysfunction begets more and more sinful dysfunction.

    The only safe measure would be to exclude anyone and everyone with any of these gravely disordered inclinations.

    Better to have too few priests than one bad priest. And one bad priest (in our already crippled Church) is one priest too many.

    If we truly love our Holy Mother Church, we would not expose her to anymore of these horrible risks. She has been soiled enough for one generation.

  • andy

    The fundamental issue is not homosexuality vs. heterosexuality. The report is clear about that – from the above linked report -
    Rather, the findings indicate that abusive behavior could best be explained through an interaction of micro- and macro-level factors. While the patterns of abuse in the Catholic Church are consistent with (though not caused by) patterns of other types of social behavior from the 1960s through the 1980s (when abuse cases peaked), data showed that most of the priest-abusers had problems such as intimacy deficits, an emotional and psycho-sexual maturity level similar to adolescents, and life stressors, as well as inadequate seminary education on how to live a life of chaste celibacy.
    We need to examine the issues that the abusers displayed, and how an organization, in this case the Church can deal with helping seminarians overcome or develop the appropriate levels of maturity etc. I also think that the report overlooked a common problem in the area of abuse – the power paradigm. Many members of the priesthood are in situations of power, not through their choice necessarily, but by virtue of their position – Father. How do we “weed” out those who fall into this area – I do not know if it can be done, but it might be worth investigating.

  • James

    (andy wrote – “Rather, the findings indicate that abusive behavior could best be explained through an interaction of micro- and macro-level factors.”)


    And the most notable “macro level” factor is the 8000 pound elephant in the room:

    81% of the abuse cases were homos&xual in their content. The average victims were adolescent boys between the ages of 12 and 15 years of age. To ignore this very relative (and blatant) statistic indicates a willingness to accept homos&xuality as an acceptable and “normal” inclination of human sexuality. It is not.

    The normal, natural paradigm of Human S&xuality is in fact- heteros&xuality. Anything else is an evolutionary, and biological dead-end. Thus homos&xual inclinations in and of themselves (in whatever form) are indicative of a disordered and dysfunctional nature.

    In fact, often ignored research and clinical experience has indicated that homos&xuality is (to a significant extent) the result of (in your own words): “problems such as intimacy deficits, an emotional and psycho-sexual maturity level similar to adolescents”.

    The very nature of the disordered act- is indicative of the nature of the disorder. To conveniently carve out the homos&xual aspect of the abuse is, myopic, inaccurate, (and with all due respect) disingenuous, to say the least.

  • andy

    With all due respect I think the true disorder is the abuse of positions of power. Abuse of power is not confined to homosexuals nor heterosexuals. It is a condition of humanity.

    A quick note – what you say are my words come from the response of the author of the study. I am not aware of research that says homosexuality is based on to quote the author again “problems such as intimacy deficits, an emotional and psycho-sexual maturity level similar to adolescents”. If there is some and it is peer-reviewed and all that neat kind of stuff please put a reference up so I might read it.

  • James

    andy, to state that this scandal is an “abuse of positions of power” is an interpretive over-simplification of the data that neglects the true motivation. Why were less than 20% of the victims female? The abusers themselves were very gender-selective were they not? The data clearly indicates that this sexual abuse of “power” has a distinctive inclination towards teenage boys- does it not?

    (andy wrote – “I am not aware of research that says homosexuality is based on to quote the author again “problems such as intimacy deficits, an emotional and psycho-sexual maturity level similar to adolescents”.)

    Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons has worked with more homosexuals than anyone else in the psychiatric field. It would be wise to listen to his experience.

  • andy

    I think that to say the data neglects the true motivation is also an over-simplification. A very effective argument could be made that the 80% of children abused were boys is due to availability. During the peak years there were no altar servers who were girls, there was a decline in youth groups where priests had access to young girls and the like.
    I will look at the reference you provided, thank you.

  • James

    I’m sorry andy, I’m not buying the “availability of boys” interpretation. I’ve seen no provable data to support that argument. It rings more of a desired interpretation borne out of a politically-correct social agenda by the good folks of modern academia than actual data-supported analysis.

    In fact, pederasty (the s&xual act between an adult man and adolescent boys) has long been viewed in this context:

    “Anthropologists propose three subdivisions of homos&xuality as age-structured, egalitarian and gender-structured. Pederasty is the archetypal example of male age-structured homos&xuality.

    Anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer distinguishes pederasty from pedophilia, which he defined as a separate fourth type that he described as “grossly pathological in all societies of which we have record.” According to Gorer, the main characteristic of homosexual pederasty is the age difference (either of generation or age-group) between the partners. In his study of native cultures, pederasty appears typically as a passing stage in which the adolescent is the beloved of an older male, who may act as a mentor. He remains as such until he reaches a certain developmental threshold, after which he in turn takes on an adolescent beloved of his own.”


    -a b Sandfort, Theo (2000). Lesbian and gay studies: an introductory, interdisciplinary approach. SAGE. ISBN 076195418X.

    -Greenberg, David F. (1990). The construction of homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 25. ISBN 0-226-30628-3.

    - Geoffrey Gorer, The Danger of Equality and other Essays pp.186–187

  • James

    An important point to my first referenced source:

    Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, has more real world experience treating sexually abusive priests than any other mental health professional out there.

    His credentials are impeccable.

    I might also add this:

    USCCB National Review Board member Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, stated recently: “I’m amazed that this fundamental bombshell” — of the abuse of adolescent males — “has not been the subject of greater interest and discussion.”


  • Barbara Peters

    I did not read the report – but what I understand from the comments and summaries of the study, is that there was no review done as to whether it only appeared that sexual abuse peaked in the 60′s and 70′s because people of that generation felt more comfortable coming forward with their stories and speaking publicly about the abuse they suffered. Even in that generation it took years for people to open up about the horrors they suffered at the hands of priests. I am uncomfortable with the study because I think this is a significant flaw. How do we know abuse was not present in the same levels for decades before the 60′s and 70′s but was just not talked about? Children today are taught early to protect themselves from predators and to report any incident quickly so I hope we never see those levels again in any area of society.

  • carol

    I have to agree with Barbara’s concern, about the willingness to report of earlier generations. Besides the stigma, families could have been hushed up and/or paid off in the 1950s and earlier, much the way rich families paid off the victims of their sons e.g. the Kopechne family. People were not as litigious back then, not ordinary people.

    What adds to this are circumstantional observations from my own experiences, namely the virulent hatred of some older cradle Catholics, who seem to early leave the Church and never look back. Also the equally virulent anti-Catholicism of my long-dead grandfather over the issue of “buggery.” Then, the writings of historian Francis Parkman, who noted that the French priests in No American were long rumored to be pederasts and favored Indian boys. Then there were the Christian Brothers scandals that predate the Woodstock era. I am afraid it goes way back, maybe even to the beginnings.

    I don’t like thinking this, but there it is. I still go to mass every week but I view my Jesuit priests with a gimlet eye. The Province just agreed to a huge settlement and we haven’t even begun to feel the ramifications yet.

  • Manny

    I have never understood what is so special about Maureen Dowd. She’s got a slick caustic voice, but really it’s mostly empty of substance. I don’t even pay attention to her.

  • cathyf

    Barbara — I did read the report, and the delay-of-reporting question was dealt with in some detail.

    First of all, of the abuse that happened between 1950 and 1985, approximately 90% of it was reported in 2002 or later. So there was a long delay in reporting the incidents. If it were simply the passage of time that was responsible for the delay, you would expect that as time passed from 2002 to 2010, the distribution of reports would shift forward in time.

    But it does not.

    The reports in 2002 were overwhelmingly reports by men born about 1955-1965, who reported that priests ordained in the 50′s abused them in the 70′s. If it were simply a delay, we would see the birth dates of the victims, ages of the perpetrators, and dates of the abuse would be — on average — becoming more and more recent as the decade progressed.

    But that did not happen. The 2002-2010 reports are STILL overwhelmingly men born about 1955-1965, who reported that priests ordained in the 50′s abused them in the 70′s.

  • Barbara Peters

    Cathy F – thank you for that information. If I understand what you are saying the report focuses on abuse by priests ordained in the 50′s because there were less reports made about abuse by priests ordained in the decades after the 1970′s. However, I am not talking about abuse that happened after the 70′s when we started teaching our children about the dangers of sexual predators and became more open about talking about abuse and more open about discussing sex in general. I can understand why there are fewer reports of abuse occuring in the 80′s and thereafter. I am wondering if there was any review or thought given to the levels of abuse before the 60′s and 70′s- during the 40′s, 30′s etc. Those individuals are ones who would not have reported the abuse. In other words, how do we know that it was the aubse that peaked in the 60′s and 70′s? How do we know that earlier generations of abuse victims did not or have not remained silent due to their inability to speak openly about the abuse ?

  • cathyf

    The reason that the study was limited to abuse that happened after 1950 is that we simply do not have enough data to do statistical analysis on those older cases. Of the abuse alleged between 1950 and 1985, 90% was not reported until after 2001. For abuse that happened much before 1950 we certainly have the cases that were reported closer to the time that they occurred, and we have reports made recently. But we already know that victims were hugely less likely to report before 2002, so we don’t have any reason to believe, a priori that those ancient reports are any way a representative sample of all of the cases of abuse. And the further in time you are from the decades in question the higher the fraction of the cases where victim, perpetrator and/or witnesses have all died of old age before reaching the 2002 date when victims starting reporting in large numbers.

  • Barbara Peters

    If there is no data regarding the prevalence of abuse before the 60′s and 70′s then there is no data to support the report’s conclusions that the abuse peaked in those decades and no data to support any conclusions as to why the abuse occurred at the rates it occured. That is why I believe the report is fatally flawed.