WASHINGTON (CNS)—U.S. Catholic bishops called the newly released
report on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse an important
tool to gain insight into the scope of the problem and prevent it from
occurring in the future.
"It is important for us to understand, as completely and accurately as
we are able, the causes and context of this problem in order to respond
appropriately for the safety and protection of our children and young
people," wrote St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson in an editorial
for the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper.
The report: "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by
Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010," was released May 18.
It was conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of
Criminal Justice of the City University of New York and commissioned by
the National Review Board, a lay consultative body created in 2002 under
the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."
An earlier study on the nature and scope of abuse appeared in February 2004. The causes and context study commenced in 2006.
Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron called the comprehensive report
"both sobering and significant," saying in a May 18 statement that it
was "yet another indicator to keep us vigilant in our efforts for the
protection of children and youth."
New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops, said the report pointed out "that there was no
single cause that led to the sexual abuse crisis. Neither celibacy, as
some have suggested, nor homosexuality, as others have claimed, has been
found to be a reason why a person would engage in sexual abuse of a
He also said in a statement that the study "is a report to the bishops
of the United States, not from them," noting that initial reaction to it
was critical of U.S. bishops.
Members of Catholic groups unhappy with the study protested outside
USCCB headquarters immediately before the document's release.
Participants from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as
SNAP, Voice of the Faithful and bishopsaccountability.org, described
the study as flawed, biased and not addressing the scope of the abuse
A handful of protesters carried signs reading: "Not True: Crisis Is Not Foreseeable" and "Not True: Crisis Was Long Ago."
Becky Ianni, director of SNAP in Washington and Virginia, told Catholic
News Service she would like to see a study of bishops who moved abusive
priests to other locations more than a study of abusive priests. Ianni,
who was abused by a priest when she was a child, also said it minimizes
her suffering to hear that the abuse she experienced was a "product of
the time period," referring to the report's link of clerical abuse to
the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s.
The report showed that sexual abuse of minors by priests "increased
steadily from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, then declined in the
1980s and continues to remain low. Most abuse incidents occurred
Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said that the report's link of
increase number of abuse cases during a socially turbulent time period
should not provide consolation.
"While it may be comforting for some to learn that there is nothing
intrinsic in our church or its makeup that contributes to the presence
of sexual abuse, it does not mitigate the damaging effects of sexual
abuse that did occur in our church," he said in a column for The
Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.
He also noted that although the abuse crisis is "a historical problem,"
it has "not been completely eradicated from our church or from our
society. We have the responsibility to protect children entrusted to our
care and we must be ever vigilant in our efforts to prevent any
incident of sexual abuse."
Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., similarly stressed
in a May 18 statement that "sexual abuse of minors is a human problem
that all of society must always guard against." He said this realization
cannot "paralyze us" but must be the "stimulus to be ever vigilant and
to do all we can to make our church a safe haven where parents know
their children will feel safe and be safe."
Archbishop Dolan pointed out that the sexual abuse of minors affects
every family, religion, school, organization, institution and profession
in society and credited the U.S. Catholic Church for being "the first
group anywhere to contract a professional agency" to examine the "causes
and contexts of this scourge." He also said the study closely mirrors
what has taken place in the New York Archdiocese, specifically that the
vast majority of sexual abuse occurred decades ago and has declined
sharply in the Catholic Church since 1985.
Archbishop Carlson apologized to those who had been abused by church
officials and assured them of the church's "unshakeable commitment to
protect our children" and make church facilities and programs safe
environments for minors. He also urged anyone who had been abused by a
church official to contact the archdiocese. Archbishop Dolan similarly
apologized to abuse victims in his statement.
Bishop Murphy also apologized "to anyone who may have been harmed by a
priest or any other person acting in the name of the church, however
Archbishop O'Brien echoed the importance of following these measures. "After the painful revelations of the sexual abuse crisis, the only
greater sin our church could commit would be a failure to follow the
very policies and procedures we have in place to protect children and
root out abusers. And that can never happen."
He said as a bishop who has "always sought to respond correctly and
sensitively to these horrendous sins and crimes, I can never be
forgetful of my own responsibility and acknowledge that too many bishops
put care for the abusive priest ahead of care for the victim.
The archbishops praised local efforts of archdiocesan programs in place
to implement the charter and provide safe environments for young people
today, emphasizing such steps are key to preventing further abuse.
A statement from the Los Angeles Archdiocese stressed the need to
"remain vigilant" and prevent child abuse through "continuing education
in safe environment training, comprehensive screening procedures for all
adults who work with children, reporting abuse allegations to civil
authorities, and enforcement of zero tolerance for those found to have