The John Jay Report: what critics and the press got wrong

The John Jay Report: what critics and the press got wrong June 27, 2011

And there was evidently a lot they got wrong, according to the lead researcher of the report, Karen J. Terry.  She offered the following analysis at John Jay’s online resource, The Crime Report:

Sound bites should not be confused with facts.

By the time we officially released our report (which can be found here) on The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950 – 2010 on May 18, 2011, the media had already seized on incomplete leaks of the report to give it a spin that had only a tangential relationship to what we wrote.

It’s time to put the record straight—and to chart a way forward so that the pattern of abuses we studied is never repeated.

To do that, it’s important to understand the background of the report and what it was intended to accomplish.  Our mandate was to understand what led to the problem of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests from 1950 to the present day.

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.

That’s just the beginning.  Read the rest.

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17 responses to “The John Jay Report: what critics and the press got wrong”

  1. OK. Terry tells us that it was not Woodstock; it was not the Bishops. True pedophilia was rare. OK, so…. what then caused hundreds or priests to sexually abuse teen age boys. Um… it looks to me like the study deliberately avoided asking about the two obvious causes: homosexuality and celibacy. Sounds like the John Jay researchers. Don’t ask the question and you don’t get the answers you don’t want to hear.

  2. Don’t think celibacy is the cause, this was practice since the first century (1Cor 7:32), you would think after almost 2000yrs we would have heard of more issues like this prior to the start of this study which was 1950, I think it was just the product of the degrading culture in the second half of the 20th century, look at the current state of society, young people are more violent and sexually active at a very early age, is this a product of what they see and hear on tv, radio, music, videos, internet, etc.

  3. If celibacy were the problem, we wouldn’t see virtually identical rates of abuse among clergy of other traditions, the overwhelming majority of whom are married. We also wouldn’t see the rates of abuse by priests be so much lower than the rates among the general population (yes, despite the attention in the headlines, the rate is significantly lower for priests), which has a high proportion of married men.

    It’s a tired accusation that simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

  4. I’ve known since before the scandal broke in 2001 that abuse is more common within families, so the cries for an end to clerical celibacy seemed not only suspect, but counterproductive.

    Nobody seems to have mentioned the long standing trope of the sexually deviant priest in English speaking protestant culture that this scandal helps to feed. Just google “Maria Monk”.

  5. When my daughters are safer than then my son’s then it is not too hard to come the conclusion about this. Sort of like the Bible account of Lott offering his daughers to the ‘men” of Sodom. Lott’s daughers were safe in the city, but the young men, or Angels appearing as young men were not. This is the cause of the abuse.

    And we ignore this problem as it continues to get worse in society, as we have just witnessed in NY.

  6. This clarification from a study author is helpful, but still does not address the two omissions mentioned above, homosexuality and mandatory celibacy. That their methodology should focus on psychological characteristics to the exclusion of behavior (i.e. homosexual patterns) seems inexcusable. By itself this omission in an otherwise rigorous research design seems to cry out for an explanation. That is what is feeding the rumor mill. I find the statement about emotional maturity being akin to that of typical adolescents (at that time a common age for discernment of a call to the priesthood) seems plausible, though unfortunate. To some it will raise question about the true ability of an adolescent to credibly make a lifelong vow to control something that is strong enough to guarantee the survival of the species. But what disappoints me about the attitudes of many faithful Catholics in their comments about the abuse crisis, is that they ALSO wish to categorically withold certain possible explanations from scrutiny, such as failures related to mandatory and perpetual vow of celibacy. Both groups appear to take a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach to a subject too important to the Church’s credibility, by excluding either celibacy or homosexuality from the explanatory nexus. Not a sign of hope.

  7. Celibacy is not the issue here. Do you ever read the newspaper? Married rabbis, coaches, scout leaders, teachers and yes, parents are also abusing children every day.
    Seems to me the root cause was sexual immaturity coupled with the fact that in the 1950s and 60s, who was around the clergy more often? Boys or girls? Boys! They became an easy target for the predator. Most of those people never should have been ordained and in today’s world they probably would not.

  8. Interesting, though not particularly surprising, that so many commenters here are inclined to conflate a pedophilia scandal with homosexuality. Blame priests who are gay, and you can manage (I guess) to ignore a culture of clericalism and old-boys networks (bishops and their chancellors feeling sorry for and covering up for abuser priests). Unfortunately, ignoring the real problem — which is not, by the way, the existence of gay priests — and you leave the church open to repeating its past mistakes.

    Tad (#6 above) wrote: “When my daughters are safer than then my son’s then it is not too hard to come the conclusion about this.” Tad, please consider what group comprised the entire population of altar servers prior to about 1990. Any girls in that group? Think about how easy it was for priests with pedophilia issues to buddy up to male servers — invite them to stay after Mass, go on camping trips, even invite them for sleep-overs so they could better “discern a vocation.” (Tough to imagine many parents allowing that, but evidently it was not an infrequent ploy.) They saw boys in need — boys whose fathers were absent or distant, boys who were vulnerable in all sorts of ways, as children often are — and they molested them.

    According to the John Jay study, a full 73% of abuse victims were fourteen or younger. Some people might see that stat and say, oh well, that was just homosexuality at work there. No, not at all. Those boys were kids. Children. An adult preying on a child is a child molester. Writing them off as gay is inaccurate. Those priests who happened to be child molesters could much more easily get away with spending plenty of unsupervised time with boys.

    Can anyone really imagine a priest–in 1955, or 1965, or 1975–being allowed to spend anywhere from three to twenty-four hours unsupervised with girls who were in that same altar boy age group? Priests who wanted to abuse and dominate–rather than act as a grown-up with other grown-ups–picked their victims where they were available: in other words, mostly altar boys and prospective altar boys and prospective future priests, in other words.

    God help us if people turn the tragedy of the abuse scandal into one more reason to bash gay people rather than deal head on with child molesters and bishops who didn’t really give a damn about children’s welfare.

  9. Joe Ivers:

    That their methodology should focus on psychological characteristics to the exclusion of behavior (i.e. homosexual patterns) seems inexcusable.

    Obviously you did not actually READ the report. Which defined the psychological characteristics via behavior.

    Priests who molested 12-year-old boys and also had consensual sexual relationships with adult women were not behaving according to homosexual patterns. Unless you have a very odd definition of “homosexuality”.

  10. Gays like to have sex with underage boys. Stop defending them Steve. We are already seeing the affects of turning our schools over to them. But its ok when one of your fellow teachers does it.

  11. Ray, if you check actual studies on the matter, I think you’ll find that what you say about gays liking to have sex with underage boys is as incorrect as saying that heterosexual men like to have sex with underage girls.

  12. I am not sure that there is anything in the John Jay report that surprised me very much. Colleagues of mine who are closer to this problem than I were able to identify both the sexual immaturity consideration and the issue of the chronology “window” early on.

    A different phenomena — but not unconnected — was the rapid decline of the high-school “minor seminaries.” In the early 1960’s there were four in our area of the Midwest; none exist today. The official reason why the seminaries closed is lack of students/applicants. That has often led to the premature and inaccurate conclusion about “lack of vocations.” Quite the contrary, I do not believe that there was any difference in the ratio or numbers of those actually called to the priesthood by the Spirit. What I do believe is that once those young men actually were in residence at those seminaries, the atmosphere of obnoxious sexual immaturity was something that neither they nor their parents expected. That whole atmosphere issue was suggested in “Goodbye Good Men” but it was the first hand experiences described to me by a former high-school seminarian of that era (now married and a very successful local businessman) which convinced me there was some truth to the accusations.

  13. Ray, I have to tell you this: I take very real offense at your insinuation that am defending ANYONE “hav[ing] sex with underage boys.”

    I defended no such thing. I defended no group engaging in that behavior. I honestly believe you owe me an apology for what you wrote in that sentence.

    If you will reread my post (please), you will see that I called the people who commit sexual abuse — ABUSE, mind you, a crime — “child molestors.”

    In other words, child molestors are NOT synonymous with normal straight or gay people. (By “straight,” in this context, I mean men who seek sexual relationships with adult women. By gay, I mean men who seek relationships with adult men.)

    Nowhere did I say or imply that it is okay for ANYONE (gay or straight) to prey upon underage children. That was completely the opposite of my main point. People who do such things are child molestors (pedophiles). They belong in prison. Please be perfectly clear on this point.

  14. There’s a lot of wisdom in both RomCath #8 and Deacon Norb #13. This comment is about Joe Ivers #7 and his comments on celibacy and I find a great deal of wisdom there as well.

    Many years ago a very wise religious sister in diocesan administration made this statement: “If you really understood what celibacy demands of you, and with full consent of your will, you agreed to it, then whether you — as an individual — are “gay” or “straight” is irrelevant!”

    According to conventional wisdom, the celibate life creates a very comfortable retreat for someone who is homosexual or lesbian. They can live life to the fullest and not be intimidated by caught up in a sub-culture that promotes activities that their sense of right-and-wrong says is clearly wrong. In other words, their “orientation” is accepted at face, but the actions that this sub-culture promotes is not at all part of their experience.

    NOW some authors and commentators have suggested that since Roman Catholic homosexuals and lesbians can be, in fact, attracted to the safety of celibate religious life, then their orientation thus infects those seminaries and houses of formation. That was the logic used by the author of “Goodbye, Good Men.” He built his entire premise upon the fact that the percentage of applicants with homosexual and lesbian orientation is probably sharply higher in seminaries and houses of formation than in the general population.

    Having said that, I am NOT convinced that any of this density of orientation has a clear cause-and-effect with the pedophile crisis of 2002-present. They are separate behavioral issues entirely.

  15. “ignoring the real problem — which is not, by the way, the existence of gay priests”

    Yea, right. LOL.

  16. Ray — either you’re no longer looking at the com box for this entry, or you’re not honorable enough to apologize for what you implied.

    I’ll assume, at least for the time being, that it’s the former. I hope, however, that you will someday learn that when someone disagrees with your take on things (particularly when you have made huge generalizations about a large group of people), that does not mean other folks are defending criminal actions. Your implying that I was condoning criminal acts against children is not only inaccurate, but offensive in the extreme.

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