Committee investigating sex abuse: selection of candidates, priestly formation is key

Robert S. Bennett, a Washington attorney heading the research committee of the National Review Board for the protection of Children and Young People, said the screening and formation of seminarians is the key to prevent sexual misconduct by priests.

Mr. Bennett made his statements after the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, upon the request of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB,) released the figures of the number of allegations of abuse committed by priests and deacons.  According to the report, released at the National Press Club in Washington DC, there have been  10,519  “substantiated allegations” against priests and deacons, which translates into around 4% of the clergy who served in the US during those years.

According to the report, the charts of the abuse show a peak during the 70s, and more than 10% of priests having allegations of child abuse were ordained in 1970.

The experts said it was “difficult” to determine how many allegations were completely proven –since, for example, many of the priests have already died--but said that in the half-century period, 615 priests were actually denounced to the police and 100 were convicted to serve time in prison.

According to the John Jay College report, one third of the allegations have been reported in 2002, including cases that go back to 1950. Prior to 1990, less than 17% of cases were known by Church authorities.

Jane Chiles, a member of the Board, said, “We want to address a especial word of respect and admiration for the priesthood and the priests of the US.”  “They nourish the people of Christ,” so “we stand in solidarity with them,” she said.

The crisis in context 

In his remarks, Mr. Bennett asked, “Are there more abuses in other institutions? We don’t know. It has become clear that the abuse of minors is a national problem. Although it is not an excuse at all of what has happened in the Church, we need to keep in mind that the children of America are in deep pain, and nobody wants to talk about this problem,” and he recalled that, according to official national figures, there are more than 100,000 children abused in the country.

Bennett said the crisis has also spiritual dimension, because “it is a question of right and wrong, of good and evil.”

According to Bennett, there were two contributing factors to the crisis: 

- First: dioceses and orders did not screen candidates to the priesthood sufficiently

- Second: Seminaries did not form priests adequately, failing especially to prepare them to live a chaste and celibate life in an oversexual society.

“Seminary reform must be a very high priority,” he said, explaining that “more than 81% of the cases were of homosexual nature.”

In fact, “we must call attention to the homosexual behavior that characterized the vast majority of the cases of abuse observed in recent decades,” the report says.

 “Celibacy did not cause sexual abuse,” said Bennett, but he said the Church “did a poor job in selecting the candidates to live celibacy.”

He also said that the problem was “a crisis of faith and is by living our faith, bishops, priests and the laity, that we will come out of this crisis.”

Finally, Bennett and other members of the Committee called on other organizations such as educators, the Boy Scouts and other religious denominations to do the same that the Catholic bishops have done: create strongly independent boards to discover the extent of child abuse and to prevent it.

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