Getting It Right

CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter

February 27, 2004


Dear Friend,

I just left a press conference with the USCCB's National Review 
Board where they released the findings of their report on clergy sex 
abuse. You'll remember that a little over a month ago, the bishops' 
conference released a different study on the performance of the 
various American dioceses in implementing the nationwide abuse 

Reporters came out in droves for the results of that audit, but 
everyone knew that the real news would be coming today. This morning, 
we got all the data that the previous report didn't cover... the 
number of accusations of sexual abuse... the number of priests 
charged with or convicted of abuse... every reported case since 1950. 

And not only that... the Review Board was also slated to release 
their assessment of the true cause of the scandal.

This, of course, is the Big Question. So what did the Board find?

First, they presented the numbers from the survey conducted by John 
Jay College.  The organization had a 98% response rate from the 
various dioceses and eparchies they contacted for information, which 
is unheard of for this kind of study. This gave them an accurate 
overall picture of the abuse situation.

As for the specific results, they found that, since 1950, 4,392 
priests had credible allegations of abuse brought against them -- 
about 4% of priests. The number of reported victims of abuse is 
10,667. Not counting Boston's recent $85 million settlement (and 
about 14% of dioceses who still had settlements pending), the Church 
to date has spent approximately $572 million in payment to abuse 

That's the big picture. Now let's take a closer look at the numbers. 
I have a feeling you won't see much of the following in the 
mainstream media reports...

Not surprisingly, the occurrence of abuse peaked in the 1970s and 
the year 1980 specifically. The greatest number of abusers came from 
priests ordained in the 1960s, and the highest number of abusers came 
from the class of 1970.

The report also broke down the facts regarding the victims -- and 
this is revealing. Overall, 81% of abuse victims were male, and 78% 
were at or past the age of puberty. In general, the highest rate of 
abuse occurred among males aged 11 to 14.

In other words, most of the abuse involved gay priests molesting 
teenage boys. This is called homosexuality, not pedophilia.

After the numbers were laid out, Bob Bennett, the Washington 
attorney who headed the National Review Board's research committee, 
stood to present the board's interpretation of the data. Bennett 
explained that they were most interested in two questions: How could 
such a high number of predators exist in the priesthood, and how did 
some of them remain in office after the allegations of abuse were 
made known?

Regarding the first question, the Board concluded that two main 
factors contributed to the existence of these abusers in the Church: 
one, dioceses and orders didn't screen priestly candidates properly 
(and so sexually and emotionally immature men were admitted to the 

The other main factor was poor seminary formation, where seminarians 
were not properly prepared for the rigors of celibacy in a 
hypersexualized world and in the all-male environment of the 
seminary. Bennett pointed out that many seminaries lost their way in 
the 1970s, and that this surely contributed to the problem.

This is all true enough, but what he said next was particularly 

He explained that any evaluation of this data must be mindful of the 
fact that the overwhelming majority of the abuse was homosexual in 
nature. What does that mean, then, for the way we screen, accept, and 
train seminarians? Furthermore, he was careful to point out that 
celibacy was clearly not the problem, calling it instead a gift to 
the Church.

As for the bishops and their roles, the Board came down hard. They 
noted that the crisis was "a failing not simply on the part of the 
priests who have sexually abused minors but more significantly on the 
part of bishops and other church leaders who did not act effectively 
to preclude that abuse in the first instance or respond appropriately 
when it occurred."

They concluded that bishops too often placed the interests of their 
priests above the victims, relied on a certain amount of secrecy, and 
were in general unwilling to confront or correct other bishops and 
hold them accountable for their own actions. Bennett spoke bluntly, 
saying they "put their heads in the sand."

The Board's report includes some recommendations for the future. 
Those include better screening of candidates for the priesthood, 
"increased sensitivity" responding to abuse allegations, greater 
bishop accountability, better relations with the civil authorities in 
reporting abuse, and further study into all these areas.

While they were harsh with the hierarchy, the Board also made it 
clear that the bishops are moving in the right direction now and are 
beginning to take more responsibility... this study was itself an 
important first step. 

Bennett concluded by saying that the "ultimate resolution" of the 
crisis would be found in an "abiding commitment to faith and 

Here's what I think of the Board's results...

Above all, I congratulate them on a job well done. I'm both 
impressed with their work and (I must confess) a little surprised. 
This was an extremely thorough report that wrestled with a lot of the 
tough questions, and for the most part, they came out on top. The 
majority of the concerns you and I had were addressed. 

First and foremost, the board was honest about the homosexual 
question. This data now proves what we've long suspected: The sex 
abuse scandal has more to do with homosexuality than with pedophilia. 
The report points out that, "given the nature of the problem of 
clergy sexual abuse of minors, the reality of the culture today, and 
the male-oriented atmosphere of the seminary, a more searching 
enquiry is necessary for a homosexually oriented man by those who 
decide whether he is suitable for the seminary and for ministry. For 
those bishops who choose to ordain homosexuals, there appears to be a 
need for additional scrutiny...."

The Board was also honest about the root causes of the scandal, 
giving a full and nuanced analysis. They didn't blame it on celibacy, 
or the hierarchy, or any of the other tired excuses that Voice Of The 
Faithful and friends like to trot out. They were clear that "celibacy 
did not cause the crisis, but the Church did an inadequate job both 
of screening out those individuals who were destined to fail in 
meeting the demands of living a celibate life and forming others to 
meet those demands."

The board was also critical of the bishops for the right reasons. 
This was NOT bishop bashing, but simply an honest recognition that 
many bishops didn't exercise enough oversight or responsiveness to 
credible allegations of abuse.

And finally, the Board took a critical look at the seminaries, an 
area that has long needed a thorough housecleaning. This was a 
crucial point to make, and I'm glad they made it.

In the end, a lot more work needs to be done to get a clearer 
picture of the problems and solutions. But if this study is a sign of 
things to come, we have every reason to be hopeful.

By the way, if you want to read the reports for yourself, you can 
see them online at:

Have a great weekend,


P.S. As I mentioned to you a few days ago, I took part in a debate 
on The Passion last night in New York. It was very interesting... 
I'll give you a full report early next week. 


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