On May 18, researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice released their long-awaited final report, “Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.”
The research team, led by Karen Terry, Ph.D., gathered an impressive amount of information from which they drew a number of conclusions; the most unsettling of which is the claim that homosexuality is unrelated to the abuse (particularly of adolescent males, the primary victims in the crisis.)
Though 81 percent of the victims were post-pubescent males, researchers downplayed the homosexual connection by suggesting that this simply reflects the fact that offenders had greater access to boys. The report also proposes the possibility that, “Although the victims of priests were most often male, thus defining the acts as homosexual, the priest did not at any time recognize his identity as homosexual.”
A less politically correct conclusion, it would seem, is to acknowledge that the offending clerics were perhaps unwilling to take “ownership” of their struggle with homosexuality. In any event, this line of argument appears to be little more than a red herring.
According to Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a consultant to the Vatican Congregation for Clergy and a leading expert on clerical sex abuse, how an abuser may “recognize” himself is not entirely relevant; rather, the homosexual acts alone testify to “deep seated” homosexuality.
“We are identified by our behavior,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said in a recent telephone interview. “The attempt to distance the homosexual acts in question from a personal struggle against SSA (Same Sex Attraction) on the part of the abuser is inconsistent with clinical data.”
Information found in the report itself also strongly suggests that the abuse is directly related to homosexuality. For instance: “This excuse (that the victim initiated physical intimacy) was particularly common for priests who were accused of abusing adolescents, who referred to the abuse as a ‘relationship.’”
Does this scenario, in which an adult male imagines that he is involved in a sexually active consenting “relationship” with an adolescent boy, describe a heterosexual crime of convenience? So determined to deny the obvious, the John Jay researchers are at pains to have you believe that it does.
The report also reveals that abusers often “groomed” their victims over a period of time prior to the onset of abuse; where grooming is defined as “a premeditated behavior intended to manipulate the potential victim into complying.”
This information effectively undermines the “crime of convenience” explanation for the preponderance of adolescent male victims. It also clearly indicates a direct connection to homosexuality, but the John Jay researchers resolutely insist otherwise claiming that the abusers were simply men who “appear to have had certain vulnerabilities to commit abuse (for example, emotional congruence with children or adolescents), experienced increased stressors from work (for example, having recently received more responsibilities, such as becoming a pastor), and had opportunities to abuse (for example, unguarded access to minors).”
In other words, the researchers are asking us to believe that the priest abusers were just as likely to be immature heterosexual men who, unable to cope with stress, sought sexual gratification from adolescent boys who were conveniently accessible.
Dr. Fitzgibbons is unconvinced.
“The issue is neither one of availability nor ‘emotional congruence,’” he stated. “In treating priests who have engaged in the sexual abuse of adolescent males, it has been my observation that almost without exception these men suffered from a denial of sin in their lives and an unwillingness to face the profound emotional pain associated with a childhood of loneliness often as it relates to the father relationship, peer rejection, a lack of male confidence, poor body image, sadness, and anger – conflicts endemic to deep-seated homosexuality.”
“The ‘cause and context’ of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, in my professional opinion, involves significant issues concerning SSA in the priesthood wherein certain of these men acted out against adolescent males,” he continued.
“Every priest whom I treated that was involved with minors sexually had previously been involved in adult homosexual relationships as well,” he noted, underscoring the homosexual identity of the perpetrators.
So where does this leave us?
While the John Jay team did a remarkable job of gathering an unprecedented amount of information, ultimately they were contracted to identify predictors that can be used in developing guidelines that might substantially lower the risk of similar instances of abuse in the future. Thanks to their stubborn refusal to address the very obvious link to homosexuality as made explicit in the data, however, the report’s officially drawn conclusions and recommendations are of questionable value.
The bishops who are willing to take the lead, must seek the input of qualified mental health professionals, especially those who are faithful Catholics like Dr. Fitzgibbons, to ensure that this study becomes more than just a $2 million exercise in political correctness.
Dr. Fitzgibbons recommends an approach that would include a very detailed and personal examination of a seminary candidate’s past. “It is necessary to develop an extensive history of childhood and adolescent experiences with the father and male peers, and of body image, in order to identify deep-seated homosexuality,” he said.
“Simply asking a candidate if he is heterosexual or homosexual, as is done in many seminaries and religious communities, is not sufficient,” he continued while singling out two rarely used but highly useful tests as examples.
“The ‘Boy Gender Conformity Scale’ and the ‘Clarke Sexual History Questionnaire’ can identify with 90% accuracy males with same-sex attractions,” he said.
As for those current seminarians and priests who suffer with SSA, Dr. Fitzgibbons said they should work to understand and resolve their emotional conflicts with the help of both a qualified mental health professional and a spiritual director.
“These men have a serious responsibility to protect the Church from further shame and sorrow, as well as to protect the adolescent males in the Church - the primary victims in the crisis,” he continued. “Our priests must be men who possess a healthy appreciation for their God-given masculinity so that they may serve as true spiritual fathers and spouses to the Church.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons pointed to the insights offered by Pope Benedict XVI in the book, “Light of the World,” as being particularly relevant in addressing the underlying issues that led to the abuse crisis:
“Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction which is not homosexual. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and in this way give humanity posterity, children, future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality’s intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 2010, “Light of the World,” p. 151-2)
No, confronting the scourge of homosexuality is neither pleasing nor easy in this age of political correctness. May God bless and strengthen our bishops with the courage, wisdom and understanding necessary to lead the way.
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com