US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Taking it all in: John Jay report offers us more than a simple explanation for sex abuse

Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Some non-Catholic blogs and news outlets have all really latched onto commentary (first offered by the Times, perhaps a reason the U.S. Bishops should have also pre-released the report to Catholic media) that the John Jay report (not “the Catholic Church,” but a law school commissioned to do a 5-year study on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church) blames the liberalization of culture in the 1960s and 70s for a rise in the number of reported sex abuse cases that took place during that time period.

Several of us here at U.S. Catholic are not convinced by this supposed cause of sex abuse during that time period and agree with criticisms against this analysis. But if we were, we also know it would do a great disservice to readers to latch onto this single reported finding. As Diane Knight, National Review Board Chair for the USCCB, said on last night’s Politics Tonight on Chicago’s CLTV, “It is a great oversimplification to suggest that the sexual revolution was the cause of this. What the study really says is that there are multiple factors...” (The program went so far as to poll viewers whether they agree with the report's findings, which had been summarized as blaming the sexual reolution of the 60s. Nevermind that the report is 300 pages and had been released mere hours before Politics Tonight aired. It's my job to read the report, and even nearly 24 hours after its release, I still haven't read the entire thing.)

Managing Editor Bryan Cones appeared on that same program and pointed out that perhaps what the study tells us is that something was wrong with seminary formation that produced priests active in 60s and 70s, rather than the general culture of that time period. As seminary formation improved in the 70s and 80s, we see a decline in the number of abuse cases reported. Likewise, the arguments that homosexuality and celibacy are causes of sexual abuse have been found simply untrue.

There are several great commentaries from religious media on the report that anyone calling herself a journalist and covering sex abuse should read (the list will be updated as more commentary is published):

Report spreads blame for Catholic sex abuse, by Religion News Service’s David Gibson
On Not Blaming Homosexual Priests, by America’s Jim Martin
Causes and contexts report: Initial thoughts, by U.S. Catholic’s Bryan Cones
Stranger on a train, by America’s Kevin Clarke