Thursday, May 19, 2011

Celibacy In The Clear

Karen Terry of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice releases their report
on the causes of clerical abuse of children

A major study into the causes of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has just been released. Entitled The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States and commissioned by the US Bishops, an objective party, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted the research.   The report is to the Bishops to inform them and so is not a release from the Bishops.

The study, which took five years to complete at the cost of $1.8 million, has yielded some very interesting conclusions, one of which is that neither celibacy nor homosexuality were the cause of the abuse committed by some priests.  This will confound the arguments of those who want to get rid of celibacy and have been using the scandals as their trump card, and it will also confound the argument of those who maintain that homosexuality was the cause - this was too simplistic.

There are a number of causes, the report says, among them various vulnerabilities in individual priests, poor monitoring and stress. The report also points out that to refer to abusing priests as "paedophile priests" is inaccurate since less than 5% of abusers exhibited behaviour consistent with paedophila.   

Interestingly the report finds that the majority of abuse cases occurred in the period from the 1960's to the 1980's - a era when there was a loosening of sexuality morality and efforts to undermine the Church's traditional teachings on sexuality and sin.   It also corresponds with a certain generation of priests, religious and laity who have had numerous difficulties with regard to many areas of the Church's moral and doctrinal teachings.  I am not saying the crisis was caused by this generation - sexual abuse has always been with us and will always be with us - it is an evil which burrows itself into the fallen nature of man and woman.  But it is interesting to note that the worst period of the crisis was in the years a certain approach to faith and morals was in the ascendent.    The report suggests that perhaps some priests were caught up in the forces of the sexual revolution and that may have contributed to the crisis.

The report is a major contribution to our understanding of what has happened in the Church over the past twenty years or so.  Because it has been conducted by an objected party using up to date critical research methods, it carries weight.  Of course the usual suspects will regard it as a cover-up sponsored by the Church - such a position undermines the integrity of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, so we'll see how far those allegations will go (Lesson 1: don't mess with lawyers!).   I say the proponents of the sexual revolution won't be happy either, those that are still alive that is.

Here is the text of the Report.

Some reactions.  Archbishop Dolan of New York, always a sane voice, has issued an official statement.  The New York Times is frantic and trying to undermine the report.   The ever "reliable" Guardian is on the warpath, the sting is hurting it seems.  The Irish Times is struggling to be objective.  And as one would expect, the National Catholic Reporter is trying to distort the findings to blame an "autocratic papacy".  And the Boston Globe is delirious.   As you can see, most of the secular press are not happy - the conclusions were not what they wanted. 

The US Bishops have the done the Church a service in commissioning this report, we can all learn from it.  I hope our Bishops will sit down and read it and digest its contents - with everything else, it will also prove a valuable document in the reform of our seminaries. 


  1. A comment over at sums up how I feel/think about this report.

    ''the statistics show that adolescent boys formed the largest group of abuse victims.''

    ''I have been in the military and elsewhere where I had more "access" to males than females: and yet I was not attracted to them. That's because I'm heterosexual. Only a PhD could conclude that there is no link between homosexual acts and homosexuality.''

    I don't buy the 'access' line myself. It's one that's trotted out regularly.


  2. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has himself stated on TV --- on both RTÉ's Prime Time and BBC Newsnight --- that the serious malhandling of sex abuse allegations in Dublin started in the 1960s.

    According to the Pope: “The Archbishop of Dublin told me something very interesting about that. He said that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly, it was not perfect – there is much to criticise about it – but nevertheless it was applied. After the mid-sixties, however, it was simply not applied any more.

    "The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather a Church of love: she must not punish . . . This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.”

    Commenting on Archbishop Martin's remarks, Joseph Foyle observed: "It seems that around the 1960s a major policy change emerged. In line with the secular anti-punishment mood of the times, it was decided that the defrocking sanction was inhumane and that, instead, rehabilitation should be attempted to enable offenders to continue to work as priests. The policy change backfired when offenders re-offended. That hurt children and blighted lives gravely, cost Dioceses and Congregations hundreds of millions, evoked ‘cover-up’ allegations that undermined Bishops and the priesthood in general, and ushered in our current era of Catholic laity who are effectively priestless."

  3. The Murphy Report into abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese also made note of the slackening standards in the 60s:

    “There is a two thousand year history of Biblical, Papal and Holy See statements showing awareness of clerical child sex abuse. Over the centuries, strong denunciation of clerical child sexual abuse came from Popes, Church councils and other Church sources. A list covering the period 153 AD to 2001 is included in an article by the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These denunciations are particularly strong on „offences against nature? and offences committed with or against juveniles. The 1917 code of canon law decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences. In the 20th century two separate documents on dealing with child sexual abuse were promulgated by Vatican authorities (see Chapter 4) but little observed in Dublin.

    [...]The Commission is satisfied that Church law demanded serious penalties for clerics who abused children. In Dublin from the 1970s onwards this was ignored; the highest priority was the protection of the reputation of the institution and the reputation of priests. The moving around of offending clerics with little or no disclosure of their past is illustrative of this.”


    “As is shown in Chapter 4, canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century. In particular, there was little or no experience of operating the penal (that is, the criminal) provisions of that law. The collapse of respect for the canon law in Archdiocesan circles is covered in some detail in Chapter 4.”

  4. In his Letter to Members of the Council of Priests Bishop O'Mahony rightly criticised Archbishop Martin's lay down and die deference to the media monotone: "You were out of the Diocese for 31 years and had no idea how traumatic it was for those of us who had to deal with allegations without protocols or guidelines or experience in the matter of child sex abuse."

    He also expressed displeasure at diocesan and media acceptance of a "cover up" and points to a Garda investigation, in 2003, which found no sign of interference with evidence and no attempt to obstruct the course of justice.

    He also criticised Archbishop Martin for doing nothing to challenge certain conclusions of the Report, such as the Report’s allowing a 'learning curve' for other professsions, but not for clergy and criticises him for doing "nothing to counteract the statement of the Murphy Report, widely circulated in the media that 'the majority of clergy knew and did nothing'".

  5. Bishop Eamon Walsh expressed similar views in his Letter to the Dublin Priests of 3 Deaneries:

    "[...] The following is an outline of my work in the Archdiocese since 1985:
    Secretary: 1985 - 1990
    From 1985-1987 I was secretary to Archbishop McNamara. The duties were basically
    administrative and secretarial, with no involvement in any personnel issues involving
    child sexual abuse.

    Following the death of Archbishop McNamara, I became secretary to Bishop Carroll,
    when he was Administrator during the interregnum, and, subsequently to Archbishop
    Connell in 1988. As the Report points out, I had no direct role in dealing with child
    sexual abuse cases. When I was given information, following a meeting of a priest
    with the Archbishop, it was only in the context of follow-up action e.g.
    medical/pastoral needs/accommodation. As secretary I was not party to discussions
    between either of the Archbishops and individual priests, regarding allegations of
    clerical child sexual abuse. The confidential nature of the relationship between priest
    and Archbishop precluded that from happening.

    Auxiliary Bishop: 1990
    Regarding my role as Auxiliary Bishop, the Report states in 1.56:
    “There was no clear job description for the auxiliary bishops”. In my appointment I
    was given pastoral responsibility for the deaneries of Blessington, South Dublin and

    In the course of my work with you, if I was approached on a matter of a confidential
    nature, or if I had a concern which had been expressed to me, I brought this to the
    attention of the Archbishop. Archbishop Connell took a very conscientious line in respecting a person’s reputation, and on any other matter he deemed confidential.

    Information given in this way was not shared at meetings with others present. The
    result was that discussions were often held where the full facts of the subject under
    discussion, were not known to all participants. Sometimes the Archbishop himself
    would not have full information. It is very regrettable that clear pathways of
    communication were not effected until after the introduction of the Framework
    Document in 1996. Poor communication led to long-term disastrous consequences.

    This resulted in some offending priests being given appointments on the basis of
    medical assessment, and other professional advice, which indicated that they were fit
    for ministry and/or fit to remain in existing appointments. All of this was done in
    good faith but with appalling consequences.
    The Report covers the years 1976 – 2004. Within that period there have been major
    advances in the understanding of the nature of paedophilia, and the impact of child
    sexual abuse. The absence, particularly during the early years, of the range and
    level of expertise now available meant that bad decisions were made. This does not
    excuse them, but puts them into the context of a different time.

  6. continued...

    While there is no mandatory reporting of complaints for child sexual abuse in Irish
    law, the Archdiocese committed to mandatory reporting since 1996. I am on record
    as advocating this approach since 1990.
    When I was appointed Apostolic Administrator in Ferns I piloted, with the Diocesan
    Team, the inter-agency meetings whereby the diocese, HSE and Gardai met to share
    information so as to inform best practice in dealing with child sexual abuse. The
    Ferns Report commended this pilot scheme and recommended that it be replicated
    throughout the country. Legislation has yet to be passed to give support to this. It is
    the practice at present in the Dublin Archdiocese. My actions as Auxiliary Bishop and
    as Apostolic Administrator could not be described as those of ‘cover-up’.

    Irish Bishops’ Conference

    At National level in 1999 I was appointed Chairperson of the Irish Bishops’ Liaison
    Committee on Child Abuse, which later became known as the Irish Bishops’
    Committee on Child Protection. Through that Committee, the Irish Bishops’
    Conference established the National Child Protection Office in 2001. The Committee,
    under my Chairmanship, commissioned the College of Surgeons to produce a
    comprehensive research study on clerical sexual abuse. The result ‘Time to Listen’ -
    is commended in the Murphy Report. “In this Commission’s view this was a very
    valuable contribution to the debate on child sexual abuse by clergy “(7.47)
    My work in child protection since 1996 assisted me in my appointment and work as
    Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Ferns from April 2002 – April 2006. My work
    there is outlined in the Ferns Report where both Mr. George Birmingham, S.C., and
    Mr. Justice Frank Murphy commended the co-operation they received from the
    Diocese of Ferns and myself. Comment has been made concerning the late discovery
    of documents submitted to the Inquiry, Mr. Justice Murphy "accepted that the
    omission of the documents identified in the course of this further investigation was
    due to a regrettable error on the part of the diocese and did not constitute the
    withholding of co-operation on its part".[...]

  7. Celibacy is about more than just not having sex. It's about learning who are and what you really want out of life. I too believe in being celibate and have created a website and book dedicated to called The Kama Sutra of Celibacy: 101 Ways to be Successfully Celibate. The Kama Sutra of Celibacy is designed to help singles live a successful life of celibacy through practical exercises that addresses the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of celibacy while providing guidance, encouragement and support. Check us out at