The John Jay Report

The headline at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website:

“John Jay College Reports No Single Cause, Predictor of Clergy Abuse”

So after all the years, money, and study, are we to conclude there is no conclusion?

Maybe it doesn’t matter: a paragraph in The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 shows that reports of clerical abuse have fallen off dramatically, and the Church has taken steps to see there’ll be no similar “crisis” in the future.

Lead researcher Karen Terry is quoted in the USCCB’s press release as saying that “neither celibacy nor homosexuality were causes of the abuse.” (About celibacy the report is surely correct.)

The report’s Executive Summary offers this summary consideration:

Social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s manifested in increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and also among priests of the Catholic Church in the United States.

This is being called the “Woodstock Defense.”

And the Church must be grateful that priests weren’t also engaged in the “drug use and crime” that, as the report states, characterized this period of upheaval, although why priests did not in significant numbers succumb to the allure of other crimes of the times is not explained.

And no “specific institutional cause” was discovered. Nothing in seminary admissions; nothing in parish management; nothing in diocesan attitudes. The abusers themselves “were not found, on the basis of their developmental histories or their psychological characteristics, to be statistically distinguishable from other priests [emphasis added],” except, of course, that they abused kids and teens but other priests didn’t. We learn, though, that those who were ordained in the Sixties and Seventies “engaged in abusive behavior much more quickly after their entrance into ministry” than had their older (or would their younger) colleagues.

Ms. Terry’s co-researcher, Margaret L. Smith, suggested last year that the overwhelmingly homosexual nature of the priest abuse cases doesn’t prove the priests involved were “gay.” She compared the conditions under which priests live to those of men in prison, where sexual encounters are necessarily homosexual: it’s situational. It’s context.

The research team must have faced a serious, albeit familiar, problem: since most of the abuse cases were male-on-male, they were in a pickle as to how they’d deal with the confirming data without demonizing the “gay” subculture. So . . . they barely mention it. Apparently, this is fine with many at the USCCB, despite the fact that the bishops, who commissioned the study, ostensibly consider homosexual behavior gravely sinful – and not just for priests.

Oscar Wilde was a prophet: it really is the sin that dare not speak its name; not anyway in polite academic and clerical circles; not with a “gay”-friendly media brooking no dissent from its notions of the new normal. The assertion that the abusers weren’t “statistically distinguishable” from other priests puts a heavy burden on statistics.

Yet the crisis was self-evidently homosexual in its genesis. This we know from the fact that eighty-plus percent of the abuse was same-sex, whereas sexual abuse in the larger culture is overwhelmingly heterosexual. And the John Jay social scientists limited their research and analysis strictly to the abuse of minors, and so don’t present (nor did they seek) data on the extent to which priests were engaged sexually with other adult men (or women for that matter).

Not knowing how many homosexuals went into and came out of seminaries during the period, we are missing absolutely critical data. Other studies have sought this information, but the results vary widely, as do their methodologies and reliability. Some estimates suggest the homosexual population in the priesthood has been as high as fifty percent. That seems unlikely. Others have claimed the percentage is less than five percent. But that seems too low.

“Individuals who molest children may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual with regard to victim selection,” the report states, and this is the only time those descriptors of sexual preference are used, underscoring the report’s complete rejection of any association between said preferences and sexual abuse.

But priests are not incarcerated criminals, normal heterosexuals do not engage in homosexual acts, and anybody who was actually around certain seminaries in the 1970s, as I was, knows that homosexuality – like dissent against Vatican teaching and leadership – was rampant. I spent time in two seminaries as I considered entering the priesthood. One was run by faithful priests and impressed me as rather like an Army base: everybody was in “uniform” and a sense of personal decorum and doctrinal discipline permeated the place.

The other seminary resembled a college dormitory crossed with what I suppose a “gay” bathhouse would be like. Nobody wore clerical garb and conversation among seminarians, faculty, and visitors was heretical and profane. I became a Catholic at twenty-six. By the time I was twenty-seven, two young priests and one older one had come on to me sexually, which I found both repulsive and discouraging. All this played a role in my decision not to become a priest.

If academics or bishops wish to believe the Church didn’t have a homosexual problem, they have their heads firmly inserted into quicksand. Rome’s commitment to put things right began with the 2005 directive to weed out “gays” from seminary admissions and was re-emphasized by the Holy Father in Light of the World. Cardinal Levada recently wrote a letter outlining new procedures for responding to abuse. The Vatican knows what John Jay won’t admit.

The Causes and Context report is long (140-plus pages), and deserves more careful scrutiny than I’ve given it here. But does anybody seriously believe that without so many active homosexuals in the priesthood there’d have been an abuse crisis? A handful of homosexual and heterosexual abuse incidents, no doubt. But nothing on the scale we actually witnessed.

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.