Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A New Report Finds That Homosexuality Is No Factor in Abusive Priests

Report commissioned by the U.S. Catholic Bishops
says that there is no data indicating that
homosexuality was a predictor of sexual abuse.

Thanks to Terence over at the excellent Queering the Church, I’ve become aware of the Associated Press article below. I appreciate Terence’s take on the issue this article addresses. Here’s a little of what Terence has to say:

The fact that this report confirms what the rest of the world knows [i.e., that homosexuality is not a factor in the cases of abusive priests], is welcome, but not earth-shattering. Don’t hold your breath for the bishops to announce that they accept the report, or will act on this finding, or even for them to release the full report when it has been concluded.

The real causes of the problem lie within the church’s own structures, as numerous observers have noted: the appalling monopoly and abuse of power, compulsory clerical celibacy, and a deeply flawed, seminary based training system that is a hangover from the Middle Ages, leaving priests with minimal understanding of human sexuality, their own or anyone else’s. (Reports elsewhere state that this same interim John Jay report concludes that priests with the better training in human sexuality were the least likely to offend).

Following is the Associated Press article.


Report: Homosexuality No Factor
in Abusive Priests

By Rachel Zoll

Associated Press
November 17, 2009

A preliminary report commissioned by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the clergy sex abuse scandal has found no evidence that gay priests are more likely than heterosexual clergy to molest children, the lead authors of the study said Tuesday.

The full report by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice won’t be completed until the end of next year. But the authors said their evidence to date found no data indicating that homosexuality was a predictor of abuse.

“What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse,” said Margaret Smith of John Jay College, in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.”

The question has been raised repeatedly within and outside the church because the overwhelming majority of known victims were boys. As part of the church’s response to the crisis, the Vatican ordered a review of all U.S. seminaries that, among other issues, looked for any “evidence of homosexuality” in the schools.

Yet, many experts on sex offenders reject any link between sexual orientation and committing abuse. Karen Terry, a John Jay researcher, said it was important to distinguish between sexual identity and behavior, and to look at who the offender had access to when seeking victims.

The bishops commissioned the $2 million study as part of widespread reforms they enacted at the height of the abuse crisis. The scandal erupted in 2002 with the case of one predator priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, then spread to every U.S. diocese and beyond.

Almost 14,000 molestation claims have been filed against Catholic clergy since 1950, according to tallies the bishops have released in recent years. Abuse-related costs have reached at least $2.3 billion in the same period.

At the meeting Tuesday, Bishop Edward Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., asked the researchers whether their study indicated that homosexuality should be considered when evaluating a candidate for the priesthood. In 2005, the Vatican issued a policy statement that men with “deep-seated” attraction to other men should be barred from the priesthood.

Smith said: “If that exclusion were based on the fact that that person would be more probable than any other candidate to abuse, we do not find that at this time.”

The latest findings affirmed previous reports that the rate of clergy abuse has declined steeply since the mid 1980s. Most of the claims being made now involve allegations of abuse from decades ago.


To supplement this latest report (and Terence’s erudite observations), here is an excerpt from an insightful commentary by Richard Sipe, first published in 2005 in the San Jose Mercury News. (Sipe is pictued at right with Anderson Cooper in 2002.)

As you’ll see, Sipe’s commentary discusses an earlier report by the John Jay College. I can recall that when this report was released in 2002, some anti-gay elements within the Church actually tried to use it to blame homosexuality for the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Yet as Louise Haggett notes in her article, “Clergy Sexual Abuse, Mandatory Celibacy, and Homosexual Priests,” “nowhere in the John Jay College Report is it indicated that homosexuality is a factor. Conclusions drawn about homosexuality were merely commentary by clergy panel members on EWTN the day the report was made public. There is no basis for the argument that homosexual priests were responsible for the majority of the abuse, and there are too many arguments against it.”

Sex, Lies, and Priesthood

By Richard Sipe

San Jose Mercury News
October 2, 2005

Some church leaders have assumed that the large number of priest sex-abuse cases reported in recent years can be blamed mainly on gay priests, even though there is not a shred of scientific proof to back that up.

Part of the fuel for that mistaken belief is a recent study of the sex-abuse crisis in the U.S. church. The study, ordered up by the church and conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, concluded that at least 4 percent of priests were alleged to have abused minors in the 52 years ending in 2002. (That translated to almost 4,400 priests.)

John Jay also concluded that 81 percent of the alleged victims were boys. Some people assumed, as a result, that sexual abuse is a homosexual problem.

Not so. First of all, there have been no studies in the general population that have even suggested gays are any more likely than heterosexuals to be pedophiles.

Plus, there are other, more likely explanations for why the majority of abused children were boys.

Studies of the priesthood have indicated that 66 percent of priests are psychosexually underdeveloped or maldeveloped. Part of the reason is that clerical culture encourages the idealization of adolescents (for their purity and passion), as well as encouraging dependency and conformity in its priests.

When adults – gay or heterosexual – function on a level that is equal to most adolescents, it’s not surprising that the people they’re sexually attracted to are adolescents. And in general, the adolescents whom priests spent time with were boys – mainly altar boys. No one was suspicious when priests spent time with those boys – even after Mass – because part of the priests’ duty was to mentor boys they thought would make good priests.

In the end, the root of the sex-abuse problem may well be the church’s demand for celibacy without adequately training for it and responsibly supporting it. That’s not to say that many men cannot choose to remain celibate and be happy with that life. But for those who joined the priesthood failing to make such a decision, or because they were confused about their sexuality, celibacy can become too difficult to sustain.

In my own ethnographic study of 1,500 priests from 1960 to 1985, I found that only 50 percent, at any one time, were practicing chastity. Gays do just as well – or poorly, take your pick – as heterosexuals in observance.

The structure, if not the intent, of the Vatican’s seminary investigation – combined with the possible ruling against gay seminarians – is a smoke screen to cover up the fact that too many priests and bishops, gay and straight, are not practicing the chastity they promised and did not protect the children in their care.

So if you really want to be a Catholic priest, when you go to a seminary and they ask you what your orientation is, tell them it doesn’t make any difference. You want to be an honest and trustworthy celibate, dedicated to the work exemplified by men like Francis, Ignatius, Pope John XXIII, and even John Paul II, who initiated the idea of a ban on gay priests.

To read Sipe’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal & Reform
The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
“Spiritual Paternity”
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Abuse Survivor Says Scapegoating Homosexuality for Clergy Sex Abuse is “Ill-informed, Ignorant, Corrupt, and Dishonest”

Recommended Off-site Links:
Fig Leaf Removed: Clerical Abuse is NOT Caused by Gay Priests, After All – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, November 17, 2009).
John Jay Study: No Correlation Between Sexual Orientation and Catholic Clerical Sexual Abuse – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, November 19, 2009).
Gay Groups Praise Report on Gay Priests and Sexual Abuse – Michael Consoli (, November 18, 2009


Unknown said...

Whatever you want to call it is immaterial. I assume that they are splitting hairs over definitions here.

When 82% of the victims were post-pubescent boys, used and abused by men, and so far it has cost the Church and its insurers over two billion dollars, it seems to me to that the burden of proof is on the abusers

They are going to have to show that they had girlfriends or girl victims or a subscription to Playboy to show that they don't have major "same sex attraction issues." It's immaterial whether or not that they are "classically homosexual" as determined by the extremely suspect American Psychiatric Association, most of whose members no doubt have various "issues" of their own.

John Jay College of Law is a part of the State University of New York system, I believe. As such they are no doubt permeated with the pandemic of "political correctness" as much as any other secular institution is these days.

John Jay should show their documents on the destruction of the World Trade Center and their description of the perpetrators and their creeds, if any.

Mareczku said...

I find it interesting that studies show that 66% of priests are psychosexually underdeveloped or maldeveloped. But what percentage of men overall are also underdeveloped psychosexually? I think perhaps close to a majority of men are works in progress when it comes to this. I think it is difficult for priests because they are supposed to live lives of chaste purity and pretty much be totally repressed in their sexuality. It is considered sinful for them to as much as have an orgasm. So how does a physically healthy man repress himself to this extent and stay physically pure and faithful to the strictest teachings of the Church? This must be a challenge for most priests. The Church teaches that the only legitimate release is to have non-contracepted intercourse with one's spouse. Since priests aren't allowed to marry this leaves them out in the cold. When I was younger I thought that most priests actually were chaste and pure. Now I know this is not true, especially after reading about Sipe's studies. I think the Church's teachings in this regard force priests to lie and be dishonest and this only does more psychic harm to some of the priests.

kevin57 said...

All I can say to Ray is W.O.W.

Mareczku said...

That was a very good article and I pretty much agree with most of what it has to say but still I find it troubling that 82% of the victims were teenage boys. However, it does not tell the rest of the story that most priests who are sexually active are active with adult women. Since this is not a crime and most of the relationships are consensual (although there may be an element of exploitation in some of them) most of this goes on under the radar.

colkoch said...

The 82% figure doesn not surprise me because the vast majority of pedophelia victims are chosen because of access. It also doesn't surprise me because these men were formed in an exclusively male culture in which women were considered vessels of temptation.

This is a skewed and unique population, but available access is still the main contributor in the choice of victims. In this it's altar boys. In Africa much of the abuse centers on young women in convents.

Sexual abuse is abuse, it's not sex. It's about orgasm through dominance.

The numbers are down for two reasons: First the population of priests has shrunk dramatically, and secondly any children being abused now won't talk about it for at least a decade or more. This has not gone away and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we find that although the numbers of victims has gone down, the percentage of abusing priests has not.

Until the entire clerical system is over hauled this phenomenon will continue.

JohnAGJ said...

So IOW, Ray, homosexuality and pedophilia (or at least ephebophilia) are virtually synonymous in your mind. And you're a "Senior Executive Editor" for Newsweek, eh?


Of course Newsweek has been accused of "political correctness" and extreme bias as well so this is rather like the pot calling the kettle black.

Terence Weldon said...

The figure of 82 % is totally misleading. It does not refer to the percentage of victims who were boys, but to the percentage of complainants whose allegations reached a bishops' office. The original research report itself makes clear that a very substantial proportion of child victims of abuse in general never report it to anyone; when they do, they are frequently not believed (particularly back in the period when the problem was still submerged and not publicly visible.) Even if believed, not all complaints by children were followed up by parents. When parents did make complaints, not all made it up to the bishops. There were many instances of parents being pressured to withdraw allegations, and others where allegations were simply dismissed without even superficial investigation.
Overall, the resultant under reporting is likely to have been considerable.

There is every reason to believe that under reporting affected boys and girls differentially. This may help to explain the conflict between the proportions given by the his report in the original study, and those found by SNAP (the survivors network), and other researchers, that about half of all victims were girls.

But above all, instead of making your own judgements based on a few isolated statistics, accept the judgement of the professionals who have worked with the full data set, and have the training to interpret them.

There is NO connection found between homosexuality and clerical abuse: not in the present sturdy, and not in the original one from 2004.

Terence Weldon said...

Rather than repeating the old arguments once again about gays in the priesthood, now that we have confirmation from the bishops own researchers confirming the findings of numerous independent analysts, that there is no link between gay priests and clerical abuse, it is way beyond time that we insist the bishops should now look closely at the real causes.

The general consensus from these other analysts is that the roots of the problem lie deeply embedded in the church's own structures: compulsory celibacy, the excessive concentration and abuse of power structures, and inappropriate methods of selection and training candidates for the priesthood, which has too often led to the ordination of young priests with seriously deficient psycho-sexual development.

Unknown said...

John: You wrote So IOW, Ray, homosexuality and pedophilia (or at least ephebophilia) are virtually synonymous in your mind.

You know that that is poor logic. Just because some homosexuals are abusers does not mean that all homosexuals are abusers. But a significant number of them are and I don't know enough to hazard a guess as to the percentage.

But it is known that men with same sex attraction issues are the problem.

But until the Church can determine who might be an abuser it must use the best information that it has at hand.

As such, to protect children, the Church, among other reasons, has decided not to admit known homosexuals to its seminaries and religious foundations.

But there is no sure way to determine if someone is a homosexual unless it is admitted.

Much like "Don't ask, don't tell" with the military , no doubt homosexuals continue to be ordained these days.

The John Jay study shows that when it became obvious to some in the Church in the 80s that child abuse was a major problem, the incidents of child abuse incidents began to decrease, and continue to do so after homosexuals were no longer admitted to the seminaries. And when the faculty and staff of the seminaries began to be purged of those who favored homosexual priests and religious.

Unknown said...

Terrence Weldon: You wrote:
The general consensus from these other analysts is that the roots of the problem lie deeply embedded in the church's own structures: compulsory celibacy....

One wonders why there is so much child sexual abuse in the public school systems and the protestant churches in this country.

Unfortunately two constraints limit the availability of the real amount of the incidents.

The first of these is legal. All states using the concept of "sovereignty" place severe limits on the amount of damages that can be claimed in a lawsuit and on the expiration of the time limit when a suit can be filed.

Suits against a diocese of the Catholic Church are unlimited in potential damages and may be be filed twenty or more years after the incident.

And some lawyers still dream of having the Pieta in their lobby if they can drag the Vatican into a lawsuit.

Secondly, the structural organization of the protestant faiths is generally such that the bishop of a diocese cannot be held liable for the abuse of a church employee. That employee was hired by the church council or by the pastor who was also hired by the church council. The bishop has no liability, the courts have found.

Those individual churches don't have the assets that are worth the time of a lawyer out to make a major settlement.