Researchers find sexual abuse rates in the Catholic Church are the same as society’s

The sexual abuse scandal has hung like a pall over the Catholic Church for the last five years. During their conference, the U.S. Bishops learned from the John Jay College report on sexual abuse that the incidence of abuse in the Catholic Church is the same as its occurrence in the rest of society.

The investigation, titled the “Causes and Contexts Study”, aims to answer the questions: “Why did the abuse crisis happen as it did? And what caused this problem?” 

Though the study is only in the first of its three years, the researchers made certain to point out an interesting finding. Contrary to the popular belief that the Catholic Church has some characteristics that exacerbate the sexual abuse problem, the researchers’ preliminary finding was that the occurrence of abuse was parallel to the rest of society. 

That "is in conflict with the idea that there was something distinctive about the Catholic Church that led to the abuse of minors," said primary researcher Karen Terry.

The sociologists also disputed the theory that a change of moral theology in seminaries beginning in the 1970s led to the abuse. Of more than 4,000 priests who are known to have abused minors between 1950 and 2002, Ms. Terry said, 90 percent were ordained before 1980 and 70 percent were ordained before 1970.


The largest number of cases occurred in the 1970s and 80s, while the reports of abuse peaked between 1993 and 2000.

Information was gathered on priests who abused to understand their differences in personality and if any sort of mental disorder was present.  The aim was to discover how abusers can be distinguished from those who struggle with substance abuse, pedophilia, narcissism, or other traits. The next report is due out in six months.

When the floor was opened for questions several bishops spoke out. 

Archbishop Henry J. Mansell asked if there is “any other study of sexual abuse of minors being done?”  In response the researchers, led by Terry, answered that this study is the largest being done.  While other institutions are beginning to conduct this type of research, no one else has been willing to release the results. 

Cardinal DiNardo inquired if the study was taking into account those who were in WWII before entering into the priesthood compared with regular entries.  The researchers answered that the information is “folded into the historical study.”

The new vice president of the USCCB, Bishop Gerald Kicanas from Tucson asked one of the final questions addressing abuse trends in society-at-large. “The rate of child sexual abuse has decreased in the Church, has this happened in the culture?”  Researchers answered that sexual abuse has also declined in society at a similar rate.

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