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No Room for Complacency in Protecting Children, Bishop Says
Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, May 19, 2011
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Diane Knight, who chairs the all-lay National Review Board, listens as Bishop Cupich talks.
WASHINGTON (CNS)—Although a new report on the causes and context of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy says it is primarily a historical problem, the church must guard against complacency, two key figures in the release of the report said at a Washington news conference.

"There is no room for fatigue or feeling that people have heard enough when it comes to efforts to protect children," said Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

Diane Knight, a retired Milwaukee social worker who chairs the all-lay National Review Board, said the report's findings that the church's actions since 2002 have been "effective in preventing further acts of abuse" should in no way "lull us as a church into complacency."

"There will always be adults who are attracted to children in society and in the church," Knight said. "Thus, we must always be on guard and do all that is possible to prevent sexual abuse."

The two spoke May 18 following the release of a report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York on "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010." The report was commissioned by the National Review Board as part of its mandate under the bishops' 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

They were joined at an afternoon news conference in the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by Karen Terry, principal investigator for the John Jay study.

"The problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States is largely historical, and the bulk of cases occurred decades ago," Terry said.

But, she added, "the vulnerability to abuse remains a risk in any organization where adults form mentoring and nurturing relationships with minors."

In response to a question, Terry stressed that the report was prepared independently by the John Jay researchers, without any influence on the findings from the bishops or the National Review Board.

"We did the work, we did the writing, we came to the conclusions," she said.
Bishop Cupich said the sexual abuse of children "is a human problem," not just a church problem.

"Our church is committed to being part of the solution," he said. "The very fear that abuse would ever recur in the church compels us to take whatever action is needed to see that it does not arise again."

He also pledged the bishops to "build partnerships with leaders in the civic community to rally the entire adult world to put an end to this societal scourge."

Bishop Cupich praised the John Jay researchers and the funders of the study "for helping us better understand what happened in this sickening period of our history."

Knight, who has served on the National Review Board since 2007 and chaired it since 2009, said nothing in the John Jay report "should be interpreted as making excuses for the terrible acts of abuse that occurred. There are no excuses.

"There is much that the church has to learn from this report, and much of it is difficult," she added. "The bottom line is that the church was wrong not to put children first for all of those years, all of those decades."

Knight said the sexual abuse crisis had caused a "shattering of trust in God's very representatives."

"We would be a sorry church if such news of sexual abuse were treated as commonplace," she said. "Protection of children must be part and parcel of every parish, school and faith community in America, indeed, in the entire world."

The U.S. bishops are to review their 2002 charter during their June meeting in Seattle, but Bishop Cupich said its policy of "zero tolerance" for any priest credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor "must remain in effect."

That policy not only protects children, he said, but also protects "the tens of thousands of priests who have suffered greatly in this crisis, all the while quietly serving with honor and self-sacrifice every day of their lives."

Asked why bishops sometimes returned abusive priests to ministry with children after treatment, Bishop Cupich said those decisions were based on "the science of the day," which indicated that a person could be "cured" of abusive behavior.

"That was a bad mistake, shared by people across the board," he said. "We know better now."

Terry, dean of research and strategic partnerships at John Jay, defended the report's findings that few of the priests who abused minors during the peak of the abuse crisis in the 1960s and 1970s were pedophiles.

"Very few priests exhibited behavior consistent with the persistent abuse of prepubescent children," she said. Instead, she said, the majority were "generalists" who abused multiple minors of different ages based on the opportunities available to them.

For the purpose of comparing the behavior of sex offenders, the John Jay report defined a priest-abuser of children age 11 or younger as a pedophile, and a priest-abuser whose victims were all boys over age 12 as an "ephebophile."

In addition, Terry said, most of the victims of abusive priests were young males, not because most priest-abusers were homosexuals, but because their work gave them more access to males and more opportunities to abuse them.

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