A worthless and dangerous report indeed
In May, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a report entitled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010” (.pdf). This report was compiled by a group of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York at the request of the USCCB’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board, a group of prominent Catholic laity (both the OCYP and the NRB were created by the USCCB after the 2002 adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People). Keep in mind that, although the research was carried out by the John Jay College, the UCCSB had the final say on whether or not to authorize publication of this report.
My analysis, “A worthless and dangerous report”, can be found here. If you’re unfamiliar with the USCCB’s report, take a look at my analysis, which offers a brief summary.
A month after the report was published, Karen Terry, head of the research team at John Jay College, responded to some of the report’s critics in a piece for Salon, “No, I didn’t blame Woodstock for the Catholic priest sex abuse“.
In this post, I’ll respond to just a few of her assertions.
Terry claims that she wrote her article to “put the record straight”. Yet she does just the opposite: she ignores most of the legitimate objections to and criticisms of the highly flawed report, provides inadequate and superficial responses to the objections that she does address, and refuses to acknowledge the ethical implications of her (and her research team’s) willingness to create a report that was funded primarily by the USCCB and other Catholic organizations and that required the USCCB’s approval before publication.
From Terry’s article:
A study of this complexity does not easily lend itself to an accurate sound bite.
Nevertheless, one early media report in a national paper attributed the explanation of social factors as a “Blame Woodstock” excuse, a phrase that went viral and was cited more than 14,000 times within the next two days.
The truth is, at no point in the report did we “blame” Woodstock or simplify the explanation of the abuse crisis to the “swinging sixties,” as some papers reported.
…the findings indicate that abusive behavior could best be explained through an interaction of micro- and macro-level factors. While the patterns of abuse in the Catholic Church are consistent with (though not caused by) patterns of other types of social behavior from the 1960s through the 1980s (when abuse cases peaked), data showed that most of the priest-abusers had problems such as intimacy deficits, an emotional and psycho-sexual maturity level similar to adolescents, and life stressors, as well as inadequate seminary education on how to live a life of chaste celibacy.
The abuse was particularly pronounced for men who were ordained in the 1940s and 1950s, a time when there was a substantial increase in Catholic seminarians and inadequate education for them.
Yes, many media outlets went with the “Blame Woodstock” sound bite. And it’s understandable that Terry would want to offer a brief rebuttal to that. However, I find it disturbing and frustrating that she focuses on minor misrepresentations by media outlets instead of addressing the most egregious aspect of her report: the fact that the researchers arbitrarily redefined “pedophilia” as the sexual abuse of a child age ten or younger as opposed to thirteen or younger, which is the standard definition (from the DSM). This redefinition allowed the researchers to present faulty statistics that make the Church seem far less culpable than the evidence actually indicates. Terry refuses to acknowledge the fact that if the researchers had used the DSM’s guidelines (age thirteen or younger), most of the priest-abusers would be defined as “pedophiles”, as ”[m]ost sexual abuse victims of priests (51 percent) were between the ages of eleven and fourteen, while 27 percent were fifteen to seventeen, 16 percent were eight to ten, and nearly 6 percent were under age seven” (10). In other words, if the researchers had used the DSM‘s guidelines, the percentage would jump from 22% to almost 73%. This was a callous and underhanded decision on the part of the researchers, yet Terry brushes it off as if it doesn’t matter at all.
Although the researchers didn’t “blame Woodstock”, they did (in contrast to what Terry claims in the above-quoted excerpt) attempt to to spin a supposed temporal correlation into an unsubstantiated claim of causation. In the report, the researchers argued that the “failure” of seminaries to adequately prepare priests to deal with the social changes that accompanied 1960′s and and 1970′s culture was one cause of the contemporaneous “peak” in sexual abuse cases (keep in mind that evidence for this supposed peak comes from data obtained via a self-reported “census” of dioceses). The researchers failed to explain why priests, in the absence of adequate seminary preparation, were unable to deal with social change such as (from the study): “social stratification, emphasis on individualism, and social movements” (7), nor did they provide sufficient evidence to justify their claim that some of these priests were so overwhelmed by this social change and by shifts in cultural norms and the rise in “deviant behaviors” (46), primarily “divorce, use of illegal drugs, and crime” (36), that they began to sexually abuse children. Throughout this section of the report, the researchers blatantly attempted to shift blame from the perpetrators onto the victims.
In her article, Terry offers no explanation as to why social change would cause a priest to become a child molester, why any adult, priest or otherwise, needs to be taught that it’s wrong to sexually abuse a child (the report argues that, without a proper training in “human formation”, these priest-abusers were unable to understand “appropriate forms of closeness to others” (121) and that certain behaviors are not “appropriate to a life of celibacy” (120)), why the researchers confused temporal correlation with causation, or why the researchers used this painfully convoluted explanation as a way to deflect blame from the perpetrators and those who covered up their acts.
Terry’s article certainly doesn’t “put the record straight”. It does, however, provide further confirmation of the report’s flaws, and I suppose we should be grateful to her in that respect. That’s cold comfort, though.
A worthless and dangerous report indeed.