By way of weekend reading, I'd like to draw your attention to two important articles on the recent John Jay Report on sexual abuse in the Church, this time over at the excellent ABC Religion and Ethics Site.
Why has the media ignored the John Jay study?
The first article is by the site's editor, Scott Stephens, and basically takes the media to task for largely ignoring the report.
He attributes this state of affairs (correctly I think) to the fact that its findings run counter to much of the received wisdom of the secularist and liberal establishment. And he has some deliciously entertaining things to say on the subject.
The John Jay findings
But the substance of the article is a rundown on the study's findings, and a strong defense of it. I'm not entirely convinced by all of his arguments, but he certainly makes some strong points. Here are a few of the key ones:
"First, the study confirmed that the sexual abuse of children by priests is not an endemic or ongoing "crisis" within the Catholic Church. As was already clear from the 2004 Nature and Scope study, there was a sudden and disturbing increase in instances of sexual abuse from 1960, reaching its hellish pinnacle in 1975, followed by a "sharp and sustained decline" from 1985 to the present."
"Using the number of children confirmed each year in the Church - who are thus in contact with priests - as a stable indicator, the report found that cases of abuse have continued to fall from 15 for every 100,000 confirmations in 1992, to 5 per 100,000 in 2001 (that compares to 134 cases of sexual abuse for every 100,000 children in American society as a whole in 2001). In 2010, there were 7 reported cases across the entire Catholic Church in the United States."
But while over 80 per cent of known instances of sexual abuse had occurred before 1985, only 6 per cent had by then been reported. In fact, over one-third of all incidents of abuse came to light in 2002 alone. It is thus with some justification that the Causes and Context report describes "the 'crisis' of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" as an "historical problem." (I would be tempted to add that those who incessantly call for an end to sexual abuse in the Church are effectively trying to break down an open door.)
Note though that others interpret this delayed reporting pattern differently: it might just mean that abuse that occurred in more recent years has not been reported yet...
Second, the study demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2010 were male (81 per cent) and between the ages of eleven and fourteen (51 per cent). Meanwhile 27 per cent were aged fifteen to seventeen, 16 per cent were eight to ten, and only 6 percent were under the age of seven...
Mr Stephen's notes the finding that this is therefore not, in the main, paedophilia, but avoids discussing its other rather less defensible claim that it was all opportunistic, and not the result of homosexuality as such...
Third, perhaps the most significant findings of the study relate to the profile of the priest-abusers themselves...those ordained before 1960 tended not to commit abuse until the 1960s and 70s, while those ordained in the 1960s and 70s tended to commit abuse very shortly thereafter. This would suggest that the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s proved uncommonly conducive to the commission of sexual abuse.
He later points out that it is unfair to characterise this as the 'Woodstock excuse', and goes on to provide an excellent analysis of the problems of that period inside and outside the Church. He also notes that:
It would also suggest that the dramatic influx of seminarians at Catholic institutions in the 1950s and 60s bore along with it a vile cabal of paedophiles, pederasts, ill-disciplined pissants and even outright predators who precipitated the true sexual abuse "crisis" of the 1960s and 70s...
Pope Benedict XVI and reform of the bishops
The article ends nicely, with an endorsement of the efforts of the work of the current Pope:
"...it has fallen to Joseph Ratzinger to carry out reform among the bishops. This commenced in earnest with the 2001 papal directive Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, requiring all cases of sexual abuse to be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (of which Ratzinger was the Cardinal Prefect), and has continued without abatement into Benedict's pontificate.
Although it might be noted that the latest Instruction puts the onus back on the bishops...
The pope's determination to purge the Church of what he has repeatedly called the "filth" of abuse and concealment, his pastoral care of so many of the victims of abuse, and his insistence on the Church's "deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice," distinguishes him not merely as the person who has done more than any other to eradicate sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Benedict XVI is also the man who can best bring this desperately evil chapter in the Church's life to a close.
A defence of celibacy
Mr Stephens also links his article to a very nice defence of celibacy from UK theologian Sarah Coakley.
Ms Coakley provides a very helpful perspective on freudian views of celibacy, and perhaps more importantly of the complementarity between celibacy and faithful marriage. The last several decades have seen vowed celibacy consistently attacked: by those outside the Church as unhealthy and repressed; by those inside claiming it implicitly denigrates marriage and the laity.
Ms Coakley's work however seems to argue for the need to restore celibacy to its former place of esteem in the Church, something I've argued previously in the context of the crucial necessity for a restoration of religious life if we want a healthier and holier church.
So do go and read both of these excellent articles.