Fig leaf Removed: Clerical Abuse is NOT Caused by Gay Priests, After All.

Surprised? no, of course not – but this report is still welcome news, because it was commissioned by the US bishops, to whom an interim report has just been delivered.

Some recent history is in order here. In late September, I carried a report that “Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that “available research” showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.” When I investigated this claim for m(Vatican Blame Game, updated) , it turned out that this claim of Tomasi’s was based on earlier research evidence by the same John Jay research institution. But when I read the report itself, I found nothing in it to confirm Archbishop’s conclusions. The fact that this report confirms what the rest of the world knows, is welcome, but not earthshattering. Don’t hold your breath for the bishops to announce that they accept the report, or will act on this finding, or even for them to release the full report when it has been concluded.

The real causes of the problem lie within the church ‘s own structures, as numerous observers have noted: the appalling monopoly and abuse of power, compulsory clerical celibacy, and a deeply flawed, seminary based training system that is a hangover from the middle ages, leaving priests with minimal understanding of human sexuality, their own or anyone else’s. (Reports elsewhere state that this same interim John Jay report concludes that priests with the better training in human sexuality were the least likely to offend).



A preliminary report commissioned by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the clergy sex abuse scandal has found no evidence that gay priests are more likely than heterosexual clergy to molest children, the lead authors of the study said Tuesday.

The full report by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice won’t be completed until the end of next year. But the authors said their evidence to date found no data indicating that homosexuality was a predictor of abuse.

“What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse,” said Margaret Smith of John Jay College, in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.”

The question has been raised repeatedly within and outside the church because the overwhelming majority of known victims were boys. As part of the church’s response to the crisis, the Vatican ordered a review of all U.S. seminaries that, among other issues, looked for any “evidence of homosexuality” in the schools.

Yet, many experts on sex offenders reject any link between sexual orientation and committing abuse. Karen Terry, a John Jay researcher, said it was important to distinguish between sexual identity and behavior, and to look at who the offender had access to when seeking victims.

The bishops commissioned the $2 million study as part of widespread reforms they enacted at the height of the abuse crisis. The scandal erupted in 2002 with the case of one predator priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, then spread to every U.S. diocese and beyond.

Almost 14,000 molestation claims have been filed against Catholic clergy since 1950, according to tallies the bishops have released in recent years. Abuse-related costs have reached at least $2.3 billion in the same period.

At the meeting Tuesday, Bishop Edward Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., asked the researchers whether their study indicated that homosexuality should be considered when evaluating a candidate for the priesthood. In 2005, the Vatican issued a policy statement that men with “deep-seated” attraction to other men should be barred from the priesthood.

Smith said: “If that exclusion were based on the fact that that person would be more probable than any other candidate to abuse, we do not find that at this time.”

The latest findings affirmed previous reports that the rate of clergy abuse has declined steeply since the mid 1980s. Most of the claims being made now involve allegations of abuse from decades ago.

(Associated Press, reported at

This is extraordinary.  It was supposedly on the basis of research by the same John Jay College that a certain bishop recently claimed that the problem in the Catholic church was no worse than in other churches, that the issue affected “only “ about 5% of clergy, and that  the problem had been resolved by eliminating gay men from the seminaries.

I wrote at the time that even a superficial reading of the actual report showed that the bishop’s claims were not substantiated by the research findings..  I look forward to reading more on the current interim report, and even more, to the final report on its publication “late next year”.

Meanwhile, the CNA presents another side to the story:  they report the finding that “the pattern of abuse has not changed.”

Researchers investigating the sexual abuse of minors by clergy presented their interim report at the November assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday. They said new reports of sexual abuse do not alter the pattern of clerical sexual abuse, which peaked in the late 1960s and 1970s before declining in the 1980s.

The CNA make no mention at all of the question of homosexuality as a factor.  If homosexual clergy are not now, as a group, to blame, and nothing has changed since the first report, then presumably they were also not to blame the first time around. Of course, independent and professional observers knew that all along – so why did the bishops insist on scapegoating their gay clergy, and pretending  they were after all the culprits?

Their fig leaf of a cover has been removed, and they stand exposed.


12 Responses to “Fig leaf Removed: Clerical Abuse is NOT Caused by Gay Priests, After All.”

  1. Thom Says:

    Finally. Thank God (in the most literal way possible).

  2. Phillip Clark Says:

    Wow, after all the rumors about the proposed document on “marriage” I didn’t think that anything positive would come out of the bishops meeting. But this is most welcome news! Of course, as of now, all it can be expected to do is perhaps provoke the bishops to consider changing their practice of blindly blaming everything that’s gone wrong in the Church, including the sexual abuse scandal, on homosexuality.

    Perhaps this is just the beginning of a much needed re-evaluation…? Or again, I could be showing my youthful naivety and getting my hopes up… =P

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      The report has to be good news, Phillip (and Thom), but don’t get too excited just yet. This is just a preliminary report to the bishops, not by the bishops. The previous (full) report on the first stage of the research was spun by Archbishop Thomasi into confirmation that the problem was one of homosexual priests, and that the scale of the problem was as great in other denominations – all without any support from the report on which he was supposedly basing his remarks.

      The report finds that there has been “no change” in the pattern of abuse. We need to make sure that by this time next year, there is a clear change in the pattern of response.

  3. eric Says:

    Terence, I’m impressed that they even acknowledge this report! In the war on LGBT folk currently waged by the hierarchy of the catholic church and by conservative christianity in general, honesty, integrity and honor has been largely absent. Perhaps there is hope after all!

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Eric, what bothers me is that is not the bishops who have acknowledged the report, but the press – and even there, very few of them. See the follow-up post I am currently preparing , which will be up shortly.

  4. colkoch Says:

    Three comments. First this is good news, but I have to remember that it’s the John Jay people who stated this not the USCCB.

    Second, there has still been no official acknowledgement that I’ve been able to find anyway, the the abuse of girls and women has been vastly under reported–especially in third world countries. Although I do agree issues of access had everything to do with the number of altar boys reported.

    Third, we won’t know with any accuracy for a long time if abuse rates have really declined because it takes an average of 20-25 years for a victim to process the abuse to the point where they can report it. I’m sure there will be a reduction in numbers because there are fewer priests. I strongly doubt there will be a reduction in percentage of abusers because seminary formation has not appreciabely changed.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Right on, Colleen – remember the source , and this is not even the Bishops’ response. You’re also right on the issue of he women, which I too have overlooked in my written response here. I will come back to that later, as there are important lessons implicit even in the John Jay original study.

      For all that, I suspect that there is something here that is fundamentally important. I don’t for a second believe that, left to their own devices, the bishops will follow up appropriately. all the more reason, then, not to leave them to their own devices. This is, after all, their own report. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to insist that they face up, for once, to empirical, reality-based evidence.

      See my follow-up post, which is almost ready fro publishing.

  5. William D. Lindsey Says:

    I’m struck by how much money they’ve invested over the past few years in blaming the gays for the problem, and how they have gotten structures into place to try to keep gays out of the priesthood as a result.

    So much time, money, and energy wasted chasing down a rabbit hole, while the real problems–clericalism, patriarchy, and church leaders’ abuse of authority–go unattended to.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Bill, agreed. All I can add, once again is to say see my follow-up post (coming), and my earlier responses to comments by Thom (who is right in reminding us to thank God – literally), to Phillip, Eric and Colleen..

  6. Ad Dominum » Blog Archive » Vindication? Not quite yet Says:

    […] more here and here and […]

    Follow this link for some useful additional comment by Thom at Ad Dominum


  7. News Flash: Galileo arrested! #Catholic #LGBT | Spirit of a Liberal Says:

    […] the church will promptly and expeditiously exonerate Galileo.  Or, not as progressive Catholic blogger Terence Weldon suggests: The fact that this report confirms what the rest of the world knows [i.e., that homosexuality is […]

  8. Catholic patriarchs counterattack | Spirit of a Liberal Says:

    […] the church will promptly and expeditiously exonerate Galileo.  Or not, as progressive Catholic blogger Terence Weldon suggests: The fact that this report confirms what the rest of the world knows [i.e., that homosexuality is […]

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