In the recent meeting of US Bishops, a preview was given of an ongoing study investigating the causes of the sexual abuse crisis, suggesting that what happened in the Church mirrors what is occurring in society as a whole.
On the sexual abuse crisis, the bishops heard preliminary findings from a $2 million study on the “causes and context” of the scandals by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Early results appear to suggest the crisis mirrored broad patterns in American society, such as the sexual revolution of the 1960s, rather than arising from unique forces within the church. “This is in conflict with the idea that there is something distinctive about the Catholic church that led to the sexual abuse of minors,” Karen Terry, a researcher with John Jay College, told the bishops.Victims groups were not pleased with the findings of this study. Neither was priest, sociologist, and columnist Andrew Greeley, and it's worth noting that he has not always been on the same page as the victim's groups. Here was his take on it in his latest column, Researchers Miss Cause of Abuse:
Speaking after the session with the bishops, Margaret Smith of John Jay College said that while the researchers do not have hard data on sexual abuse in other institutions, nothing they’ve seen suggests that the problem has been proportionately worse in the Catholic church than in other sectors of society.
While many bishops appeared to welcome the findings, a few warned that they offer no more than cold comfort.
“It’s a bit like my doctor telling me that my cancer is no worse than my hospital roommate’s cancer. ... Our situation should be much better,” said Bishop Robert Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio.
The team searching for an explanation of pederasty gave a verbal preview of their findings to be reported in full later in the year. The cause of the problem seems to be change in sexual morals and media imagery. The bishops will love that and so will the Vatican -- a cause of the problem that is external to the Church. Blame the people for their sexual mores and the media for their exploitation of the human body, not why so many bishops denied the problem for so long.
The writer who has the best insights on the problem is a professor of sociology from Purdue, Anton Shupe. He argues (his most recent book is Spoils of the Kingdom) that the explanation for abuse is not psychological but sociological, neither homosexuality nor celibacy, but sociological -- power. Routinely the strong abuse the weak if they think they can get away with it (in all five of the denominational situations on which he reports). You desire the money that often seems to be lying around inviting theft, you desire the young body that is available to you by reason of your sacred power. Because no one seems likely to stop you, you take what you want, whether you're married or not and whether you are straight or gay. This abuse of the weak -- young or older -- by those with power (and especially sacred power) is part of the human condition and always has been. It will be stopped only when those in power restrain their partners in power (clergy, teachers, cops, doctors, etc.) from such abuse.