Saturday, April 3, 2010

John Jay: No Correlation Between Sexual Orientation and Catholic Clerical Abuse

I linked to the following Bilgrimage posting yesterday as I noted that those now trying to revive the gays-are-the-problem meme seem not to have gotten last November’s memo that the John Jay College of Criminal Justice team studying abuse in the priesthood from 1950 to the present has rejected that thesis about the roots of the abuse crisis.  

Since we’re still rehashing this old material now in the spring of 2010, I think it’s important to hear once again what the John Jay team told the U.S. bishops last fall.  It’s beyond sad that we are wasting our time with this red-herring argument all over again, when the needs we should be addressing remain so pressing and so large.  The following is from Bilgrimage, 19 Nov. 2009:

One of the noteworthy developments of the meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops this week has been the release of results of a $1.8 million study the bishops commissioned to find the cause of the clerical sexual abuse situation. (The study didn’t focus, of course, on the bishops themselves as the possible cause of the situation—about which more in a moment). The study is being conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What the study has found is causing consternation in some quarters. It contradicts the widely held belief, massaged by the Vatican and many bishops, that gay priests “caused” the abuse crisis.

David Gibson offers a good summary of the report and its implications at Politics Daily. As he notes, two John Jay researchers, Margaret Smith and Karen Terry, presented their findings to the bishops this week.

Smith states, “At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and an increased likelihood of sexual abuse.” And Terry notes the obvious: pedophilia and sexual orientation are entirely distinct phenomena. The question of the sexual orientation of an adult sexually abusing a child is a red herring, which does not take into account the abundant evidence that pedophilia is not about erotic fulfillment at all, but about power, and the need to have total control of a minor one has turned into a fetishized object to display one’s power over and control of others.

Smith concludes that trying to solve the abuse crisis by barring gay men from the priesthood is likely not going to have any effect on the crisis. Those—including Rome and many bishops—who have sought to lay the blame for the abuse crisis on gay priests and have spent millions of dollars to discover the obvious have been walking down a dead end. The attempt to scapegoat gay priests has brought us no closer to understanding the real problem at the heart of the crisis: the abuse of power by Catholic leaders, and their use of secrecy and deception to shield the clerical system from critical questions that might expose how it fosters injustice and abuse of power in the church.

I’m interested not so much in these findings—what the John Jay study is finding has been obvious to me for some time now—as I am interested in the aftermath of the report. Two developments strike me as significant, now that these data are on the table.

First, the deception continues. Key Catholic news sources and the secular media they influence are already seeking to bury the finding that gay priests are not the cause of the abuse crisis. Terry Weldon alluded to this development in a very good posting yesterday at his Queering the Church blog.

Go to the “official” summary of the John Jay report on the website of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, and you won’t find a single word about the John Jay study finding that there is no causative connection between gay priests and the abuse crisis. Zilch. Nothing. That significant finding, which is attracting media attention all over the place, has simply vanished from the official summary of the report.

Head over to the Chaput News Agency—excuse me, the influential Catholic News Agency that operates out of Archbishop Chaput’s diocese—and read its summary of the John Jay report, and you’ll find precisely the same. Not a single word about the report’s flat contradiction of a bogus causative correlation that CNA has done everything in its power to promote for some years now.

Check out some mainstream media outlets that lean to the right (and have a history of kowtowing to the Catholic hierarchy), and you’ll discover the same suppression of the most significant finding of the John Jay study. The Clerical Whispers blog picked up the Voice of America report on the study a day or so ago.

As does the USCCB summary and the CNA article on the John Jay study’s findings, the VOA report totally ignores the study’s discovery that there is no correlation between sexual orientation and the abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The VOA report notes that it is summarizing a press release from USCCB.

I’m struck, then, first and foremost by the—well, let’s be frank, the dishonesty—of the response of key Catholic groups that have been promoting the gay-priests-are-the-problem analysis of the abuse crisis, to careful empirical research that explodes this analysis of the crisis. One would think that the moral obligation of Christians to tell the truth in all circumstances and even when it’s inconvenient would come into play now as these groups report on a study that undercuts an ugly tactic they have sought to use to scapegoat a vulnerable minority as the source of the crisis of clerical sexual abuse.

And that leads to my second observation: it’s fascinating to watch how some Catholics, notably those who profess to be the most concerned to uphold traditional moral values (like truth-telling) are now refusing to accept the findings of the John Jay study. Read the responses of some of these traditionalist Catholics (many of them apparently representing the JPII generation) on blogs that are commenting on the study, and you’ll find that they are entirely unwilling to give up their analysis of the abuse crisis as a gay thing.

They’re unwilling to give up a nifty little weapon they’ve been using to bash gay folks in general, that is. Truth seems not to matter to some of these watchdogs of morality and orthodoxy. What matters intently is obviously their need to score points against their gay brothers and sisters and to continue to tell us that we are morally defective and ought to be shoved out of the body of Christ.

For a taste of commentary in this gay-bashing vein, look, for instance, at the comments following Fr. Jim Martin’s posting about the John Jay study at the America blog. By around 8:45 last evening, things had gotten so bad that Fr. Martin deleted a number of comments from the thread, with the following questions:

Can we talk about homosexuality without injecting venom and contumely into the discussion? Can we treat gays and lesbians with, as the Catechism says, respect, sensitivity and compassion?

A number of those now posting on this new America thread are the same folks who posted in response to Fr. Martin’s recent thread asking what gay Catholics are to do, given the climate of homophobic hate (my word, not Fr. Martin’s) now prevailing in some sectors of the church. Their agenda is clear: it’s to reserve to themselves the unilateral right to “instruct” gay people in our sinfulness while the instructors claim that they are doing a spiritual work of mercy. Those promoting this agenda seem astonishingly unaware that they may have sins that ought to be corrected, too, or that the sole “sin” on which they are focused with laser-beam intensity may not be nearly so egregious as the sin of self-righteousness, since Catholic spiritual theology has long taught that sins of the spirit reach deeper inside us than sins of the flesh.

They seem to have forgotten that another spiritual work of mercy is to instruct the ignorant, and that they themselves may need some instructing in areas about which they have defective knowledge. They seem woefully ill-informed about how refusal to accept the truth and distortion of truth in the service of political ideologies are also sinful behaviors that deserve attention. Some of these JPII-generation posters are so enmeshed in right-wing political movements that they shield their identity as they hop from blog to blog, promoting their defective version of orthodoxy while serving political causes antithetical to authentic Catholic values—causes and affiliations they do not want to have exposed, as they shift usernames from blog to blog and never reveal their true identities.

For another example of the phenomenon I’m describing here, look at the thread of responses to Michael Bayly’s discussion of the John Jay findings, where you’ll find one blogger proposing that the empirical data are “immaterial,” and he’ll believe the abuse crisis was not a gay thing only when he finds out that the priests engaging in abuse had subscriptions to Playboy. This blogger goes so far as to accuse the highly regarded John Jay College of Criminal Law of playing politically correct games.

Don’t confuse me with the facts. The gays have been tried and found guilty, and no amount of evidence you can advance to disabuse me of what I know because I believe it and intend to keep believing it is going to change my mind. But I do represent the resplendent fullness of Catholic truth, and don’t you dare tell me that a dirty gay might have any insight into the gospel that belongs exclusively to me.

The sanest response to the John Jay study, the one that asks the right questions—because this response comes from the people who really know what the abuse crisis is all about—is the press statement that the Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests (SNAP) released two days ago in response to the study. Three SNAP leaders, Barbara Blaine, Barbara Dorris, and Peter Isely, all of them survivors of clerical sexual abuse, collaborated on this statement.

They issue the following valuable reminders about the real causes of the abuse crisis:

1. Pedophile priests molest both boys and girls.

2. About half of SNAP’s members are women, and SNAP has documented a longstanding tendency of the criminal justice system to minimize sexual abuse of females by clergy.

3. The real issue that demands study—the real cause of the abuse crisis—is “complicit church officials,” and the culture of secrecy in which cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, and other church employee have ignored or concealed crimes of child sexual abuse (emphasis added).

SNAP reminds us that we still don’t know the scope of the crisis, how it has unfolded, how it has been concealed, because “bishops want everyone but themselves studied and blamed for their massive, historic and on-going refusal to protect children.” The red herring of gay priests as the cause of the abuse crisis is yet another way the Vatican and bishops have chosen to shield from scrutiny the clerical system itself—the horrific system by which power is routinely abused in the structures of the church.

Open that system to public scrutiny, do a careful study of how it operates and of its effects on the church, and we might begin to get to the heart of the abuse crisis. Meanwhile, it’s simply easier and far more convenient to blame the gays. And a lot of Catholics who have everything invested in maintaining their right to attack their gay brothers and sisters, and who have been encouraged and protected in this unholy crusade by Rome and the bishops, don’t intend to question that right anytime soon, no matter what the facts demonstrate.

Or whom they hurt in the process.