In my first response to Cardinal Tomasi’s statement on sexual abuse in the Catholic church, I noted that he was quoting figures without reference to the source, so that it was impossible to assess their validity. With the help of a report in Canada’s National Post, and my colleague Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage, I now know that this was a report produced by the John Jay research institute, commissioned by the US hierarchy themselves. As I had noted in a comment on his site that much of my career was spent as a professional market research analyst, I looked forward to investigating this report, Bill invited me to share my assessment of the report. This I did as a follow-up comment, but have since thought that you too, might be interested.
For those who do NOT wish to wade through my thoughts in full, here is the bottom line – the “Management Summary”. It’s worse than you think. These are my remarks, largely copied from the comments box at Bilgrimage.
I have now had a look at the John Jay study, which I have read in full, but without detailed analysis – so my reactions are preliminary and cursory. (I do not feel enthusiastic about doing a more careful analysis).
My key observations are:
1) It is obvious that the whole survey was designed to reflect the concerns of the hierarchy that commissioned it.
2) Those concerns are notably one-sided. (There are detailed reports on the response to the abusers, whether they be treatment or disciplinary, but I did not see a single word about any response to the victims – except in a chapter on financial costs to the dioceses.
3) The reported rate of up to 5% is almost certainly a serious underestimate. It is well known and discussed in the report that sexual crimes are seldom reported – only about 5% are reported to the police. Where the crimes are reported, this is typically many years later: most often 10 -15 years later. There is no simple way (possibly none at all) to even guess the true incidence of real as opposed to reported abuse, but noting that about half of all accused priests had only a single instance documented, a reporting rate of 20% (4 times that for reporting to the police, which seems optimistic to me), would lead to a real rate of something approaching 20 %, but a little under – perhaps 16%?.( The report, although noting the general problems with under reporting, makes no attempt at all to discuss the possible impact this could have had on their own findings.)
4) Also worrying is that the overwhelming majority of cases, the police were not called in – yet a significant portion of the allegations were dismissed with the statement that the accused priest had been “exonerated” – by whom?- or had the cases withdrawn. Why? Were the allegations malicious, or did the accusers simply feel that they were being pressured, or not given a fair hearing, by the ecclesiastical authorities?
5) An important section of the report is devoted to trying to assess the causal factors behind the problem. But here too, the discussion of this specific problem completely ignores the report’s own observations on the wider problem of sexual abuse of minors. The introductory discussion of general causes makes clear that a common situational cause is where the ultimate abuser is deprived of natural, healthy and mature sexual expression: but in discussing the priest offenders, it confines all discussion to personality problems of the individual, completely ignoring the obvious situational factor of enforced celibacy – which most certainly eliminates natural and healthy sexual expression. Nor does it even hint at the factors which could cause the personality problems in the first place, such as excessive concentrations of power and their dehumanising effects, or the pernicious seminary system ( and especially minor seminaries) which so destroy the possibility of natural sexual development and socialisation.
6) One feature of the report that might just be encouraging is the clear sign of a drop -off in allegations after 1980, which might mean that the widespread publicity in recent decades has been having some impact in curbing offenders: or it might just be the natural result of fewer priests being ordained since 1970, coupled with the delay in reporting I described above.