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Clerical abuse expert welcomes 'marked drop' in US claims
By David Kerr
Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti
Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti

.- One of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on clerical abuse says he welcomes a significant drop in the number of cases being reported in the United States – but won’t rest until that figure reaches zero.

“The instance of new allegations have dropped precipitously, it’s a marked drop, which is great news, although we’re not going to stop till we've stopped it completely,” Monsignor Steve Rossetti, associate professor at the Catholic University of America, told CNA Feb 7.

Msgr. Rossetti was in Rome to address an international symposium on the issue of clerical abuse at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University. The Feb. 6 - 9 gathering has brought together representatives from over 140 bishops’ conferences and 30 religious orders worldwide.

Msgr. Rossetti said that recent research suggests two reasons for the sharp drop in reported cases in the U.S. First, “society has now mandatory reporting and prison sentences,” he explained, and second,“the Church has a much stronger prevention program.”

Such prevention programs, he emphasized, “do work.” By changing “the culture in which people live,” he added, “molesters realize they no longer have any safe haven in the Church or in society,” and if and when abuse does occur, “we respond much more quickly.” 

Msgr. Rossetti, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, New York and licensed psychologist, served as a psychological consultant to the U.S. Bishops’ Conference in drafting the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. He is currently a consultant to the USCCB ad hoc committee on revising that Charter.

He addressed delegates today on the topic of “Ministering to Offenders: Learning from Our Past Mistakes.”

“I was really trying to share with the bishops around the world many of the mistakes that had been made in responding to allegations with child sexual abuse, and so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes,” he said.

His primary message was that the most important thing a bishop can do is to listen to victims as in doing so “you understand the pain caused, the need to reach out to the victims, to listen to their stories, and to bring some healing from the Church.”

Msgr. Rossetti also explained to CNA that the vast majority of cases of clerical abuse actually took place in the 1970s. His research provides two main reasons for the spike in criminal behavior at that time.  

First, “the Church took in a cohort of men who had greater amounts of sexual deviancy for some reason, not sure why, but in that time frame, there were a number of men who had more, frankly, more sexual problems.”

He also added that statistically the 1960s and 1970s was a “more permissive environment,” when “crimes of all sorts, not just child abuse, spiked up during that time frame.”

“So, when you have a permissive environment, and in that permissive environment you place a group of men with deviant sexual interests, you end up with an explosion,” he concluded.

The Vatican has now given bishops conferences and religious congregations until May 2012 to submit their guidelines for dealing with clerical abuse to the Vatican for approval or revision. Many are looking towards the U.S. model as a template.

“My understanding is that the Bishops’ Conference in the U.S. has been helping anyone who comes and asks for help,” said Msgr. Rossetti, “not only other countries or bishops, but also other secular programs.”

He has seen religious and non-religious groups approach the U.S. bishops of the and say “we have heard about your guidelines, we want to learn from them and implement them in our organization.”


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