Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A new Jay Study on clergy sexual abuse - UPDATED

*UPDATE at bottom of post.*

The John Jay College of Law at CUNY has released a new study on patterns in Catholic clergy who sexually abused minors. This will add information to their impressive earlier study from 2004.

Clarity is good in every aspect of life, both inside and outside the institutions of the Church. And while our bishops have individually been hit-and-miss in being transparent and decisive, it does my heart good to know that the USCCB is putting serious time and money (about $2M) into this kind of self-examination. Call it an examination of conscience.

Lots of pixels are flashing because the study notes the "permissive culture of the '60s, '70s" as a factor in the recent scandal. I have no doubt that is true. But it is far from the only factor, and it does little good to point to a factor which is in the past and beyond our control.

More reasoned articles point out that this spike in abusive behavior had many causes, some of which were historically rooted.

Other causes are structural, and those are the ones we can actually do something about.

The Vatican is making moves in that direction, and these are welcome. But the Church is more than just a hierarchy, and the diocese is not a subsidiary of the Vatican. We cannot and should not rely on the Pope to police the bishops.

Rather, each of us - lay, cleric, or consecrated religious - has a part to play in the reform that is needed.

I don't know all the steps we need to take, but at least three come to mind immediately:

  1. Pray - pray for ourselves, that we may grow in virtue and holiness; and pray for our clergy and other religious leaders (teachers, administrators, etc.) that they be given the grace, the wisdom, and the courage to do what is right for the Church, and especially for those most vulnerable

  2. Learn - this study acknowledges just how complex the life of a priest can be; it may not be more difficult than a layperson's life, but it is difficult in a different way; understanding the various causes can help us spot problems as they're still in the temptation stage, or at least prevent further harm from being done

  3. Act - not everyone is in a position to take direct action, but some of us are; we may be a friend of a priest, or may sit on the parish council; we may have the ear of the bishop; we may just be good with words; in any case, we must both support priests and other religious leaders, and also hold them accountable in both word and action

We can all of us do the first; most of us can do the second; perhaps only a few will do the third. But as members of the One Body of Christ, we all have a part to play in expelling the disease of abuse, and in bringing healing to those who are harmed.

The New York Times raised some important questions about the study, particularly that the study defines the line between "pedophilia" (abuse of pre-pubescent children) and "ephebophilia" (abuse of pubescent children) at age 10, while the medical and psychological standard is age 13. I haven't seen a good reason for the study to draw this line where they did.

So the report raises some questions about its own validity. I don't want to dismiss the report altogether, but questions are worth asking, and need answering. This is part of the learning we all have to do.

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