Abuse: Archbishop Tomasi’s figures, revisited

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.


9 Responses to “Abuse: Archbishop Tomasi’s figures, revisited”

  1. William Lindsey Says:

    Wonderful analysis, Terry–yeoman’s work, and very necessary work for this discussion.

    You’re ahead of me. I was going to recommend that you post your comments on my blog as an article on your blog. Not that I want to intrude on your blog, but just to let you know how valuable I think this work is, and to encourage you to continue it. You bring a background, with your work in marketing analysis, that few of us have, as we look at the John Jay study.

  2. Jayden Cameron Says:

    I have to construct this comment from memory, but some years ago I read several major works on the abuse crisis in the church, among them ‘Sins of Our Fathers’ – or so I thought until I did an Amazon.com search and came up with a murder mystery novel, so now the name escapes me. In any case, both books referred to the analysis of Dr. John Moody of Johns Hopkins University, the preeminent authority in the US at the time on ‘pedophile relations’ and a major consultant by both parents and hierarchy for the abuse crisis litigation. Dr. Moody’s judgement about the falling away of cases of reported abuse after the 80’s was this. Most cases involved priests who had come through the seminary system in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s (and 60’s). What happened then to change this? Moody’s conclusion was this – after Vatican II, many seminaries in the US became more openly accepting about gays in ministry, gay seminarians were then able to come out of the closet, there were even seminars and therapy sessions in some seminaries helping gays and all seminarians come to terms with this phenomenon, and as a result the climate became far more healthy, thereby facilitating the normal process of acceptance and integration of one’s gay sexual identity. This integration led to the normal maturation process where by one’s normal sexual attraction is towards those of one’s age group. This is the primary reason, according to Moody, as to why cases seem to drop off significantly after the 80’s (though not altogether). Gay priests before this time had to internalize a great deal of self-hate, absorbing the church’s judgment that their orientation was ‘an abomination’ (the term used through the 30’s and 40’s) or ‘an objective disorder’ and then they had to further internalize the obligation to preach this doctrine to others. For a few vulnerable gay men this proved to be too much of a challenge to their weakened self-esteem, so through repression their sexuality ‘disassociated’, cut itself off from the total personality, and free floated as it were, cut off from healthy integration and from the connection with ethical conscience. And this disassociation created a profound void at the center of their being, a yawning emptiness which in term spawned a powerful compulsion to fill it by attachment to sex objects that corresponded roughly to an image of youthful maleness. Hence Moody’s term of ‘dissociative personality disorder,’ much of the blame for which Moody placed squarely at the feet of the Church’s pernicious doctrine on homosexuality. Of course the church has ignored Moody’s analysis and instead promulgated rules that have slammed all the closet doors shut again, thereby creating the conditions that helped to precipitate the crisis in the first place (though fortunately gay men and women are far more sophisticated in their awareness and knowledge these days and would not be so easily wounded by the pathology of Catholic doctrine on homosexuality). Sorry for the rushed comment. A more proper response would have to include an in depth study of Moody’s work.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Thanks, Jayden. I think the seminary system itself is crucial. Other writers have blamed celibacy and powe structures, but as I read more,I am hoorified at teh seminary system, especially minor seminaries, which gobbled up young boys at age 12 and spat them out yewars later as preists, with absolutley no pyschosexual developmet or normal socialization. These young guys where cajoled into lifelong voes of celibacy wihout any idea what they were committimg to. (The Christian Brothers tried to get me inot one at that age, but my father wouldn’t hear of it. I thank God for my lucky escape.)

      So I suspect that part of the dropoff is due to the disappearance of the mionr seminaries: but unreported crimes, and more realisitic training in the remaining major seminaries, is probably also part of it.

      • Jayden Cameron Says:

        Terence – here’s a comment from my own blog from my closest friend, John, from Jesuit novitiate days. John, who is now a practicing psychotherapist in San Francisco has given me permission to share this:

        When I was a Jesuit Novice, I remember wondering why our teachers and counselors never said anything to us about how to be celibate. They never gave specific practices, be it a mindful practice or a physical activity or something we could do to help deal with the onslaught of feelings and attractions that arose in community. I never heard practical explicit advice on how to be a spiritual being while being a sexual being. I wonder if they thought if they mentioned sex in any way it would be a threat to our celibacy and so they decided silence was the better course. The teaching I remember was simply “don’t think or do anything sexual with yourself or anyone else.” This teaching was not explicit either. It was hidden in phrases like “beware of particular friendships” or in penances such as “permission is granted for flogging yourself.” I think they were setting us up for failure while intending to do just the opposite. As a result, I think many developed abnormal sexual practices.
        I remember scolding the Master of Novices once during a private colloquy about some of the penances we were taught to practice. I was frustrated by my inability to ignore or chase out sexual thoughts or feelings and I was angry that there was so little explicit or direct information about how to do what seemed impossible, only to practice penances. The Master answered me with a long period of silence while looking out the window. Then, in a voice that seemed angry but controlled he asked me to recite the 5 reasons written in our Novice handbook as to why we practiced penance. I had them memorized word for word and recited them back to Fr. Master (one was to identify with Christ crucified on the cross.) He then told me to meditate on them. That was it.
        His answer felt condescending and I remember thinking, maybe he just doesn’t know and so better pretend that the answer is too mysterious for a mere novice to understand. I think that was the closest I ever got to talking with a Jesuit teacher/counselor/director about how to practice the vow of celibacy.
        This was in the late ’60s and I believe that this way of dealing with questions about how to practice the vow of celibacy was pretty much how most spiritual directors handled it.
        This “ignorance” and “repression” and keeping any common sense teaching “hidden” or “off-limits” is most likely one reason why so many priests became sexual predators. Sexual energy doesn’t go away and so instead of talking about it in the light it came out in the darkness. This isn’t to excuse the priests who sexually abused children, teenagers and/or adults. It’s simply to say that the way young men were taught to be celibate did not help them be celibate. Instead, it probably encouraged them to act out in some pretty terrible ways.

  3. Jayden Cameron Says:

    ooops just realized I said ‘sorry’ again. I’ll have to slap myself to keep from doing that!

  4. Martin Says:

    Here’s a correction and a comment.
    Archbishop Sylvano Tomasi is not a Cardinal but the Vatican’s Nuncio to Geneva-based UN agencies. Given some of his advisors, one of whom I know weIl, I’m surprised he’s so confused in his understanding of ephebophilia. He may, of course, simple have regurgitated the misunderstanding propogated by some USCCB statements on these matters.

    Ephebophilia is a strongly dysfunctional sexual and emotional attraction to adolescents, not determined by sexual orientation, but experienced by men and women and can be both heterosexually and homosexually directed. It usually reflects an stunted emotional development in the person concerned, indicating an emotional or psychosexual ‘arrest’ during their own adolescence whereby in their adult years they are only capable of achieving satisfactory (to them) emotional/psychosexual relationships with those of the age at which they themselves ‘arrested’.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Thanks Martin, for the correction. I knew while writing I should have checked that, but was rushed and in the end did not. I will correct.

      Thanks also for the comment – it’s a subject I know nothing about, so appreciate your profesional contribution. It’s good to see you joining in: I hope there will be more.

  5. Mark from PA Says:

    OMG, Jayden, I just read this. So much food for thought. The quote from the one priest was chilling. After reading much I have come to the understanding that it was hard to teach celibacy because a lot of the teachers were not themselves celibate and probably very few were living lives of chaste purity. But in truth, how many physically healthy men are truly living lives of chaste purity? The line “permission is given for flogging oneself”. What exactly does that mean? That sounds pretty sick. It is OK to get sexual release by flogging oneself? It appears that many priests and brothers got their release by sexually or physically abusing children. It is a horror that Church teachings would contribute to and help lead to this.

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      Mark, before I stared investigating these things, I thought like most Catholics, that celibacy was unfortunate because it led to a drop in recruitment, and an increase in priests leaving, but was mostly a matter for the priests themselves. I now believe, on the strength of my investigations, that it is at the heart of the problems facing the church and MUST be changed. It contributes to abuse of children (and adults), contributes to the complete lack of understanding on matters of sexuality, and is tied up with the obsession with centralized power and control – because it gives the clergy as a group the odd idea that there “freedom” from sexual practice makes them somehow more saintly than the rest of us. It doesn’t – it just turns them into twisted closet cases, gay or straight.

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