May 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — Potential sexual abusers of minors cannot be pinpointed through "identifiable psychological characteristics," says a long-awaited report on sexual abuse by priests in the United States.

Because of that inability, it is "very important" to prevent abuse by limiting the "situational factors" associated with it, says the report released May 18.

The report said there is "no single identifiable 'cause' of sexually abusive behaviour toward minors." It encouraged steps to deny abusers "the opportunity to abuse."

Titled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, it reports the findings of a study mandated in 2002 under the U.S. Catholic bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The charter created a National Review Board and directed the lay consultative body to commission studies of the abuse problem's "nature and scope" and its "causes and context."

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York conducted both studies.


The nature and scope study appeared in February 2004. The causes and context study commenced in 2006.

The new report addressed several misperceptions about the sexual abuse of minors by priests. It said:

  • Priestly celibacy does not explain this problem. "Constant in the Catholic Church since the 11th century," celibacy cannot "account for the rise and subsequent decline in abuse cases from the 1960s through the 1980s."
  • Despite "widespread speculation," priests with a homosexual identity "were not significantly more likely to abuse minors" than heterosexual priests. Sexual "identity" should be differentiated from "behaviour." A possible reason so many male minors were abused is that priests had greater access to them.
  • Fewer than five per cent of priests with abuse allegations exhibited behaviour consistent with pedophilia. Few victims were prepubescent children.

Seventy per cent of priests referred for abusing a minor "had also had sexual behaviour with adults," the study found.

The new study's goal was to understand what factors "led to a sexual abuse 'crisis' in the Catholic Church" and "make recommendations to Catholic leadership" for reducing abuse, the John Jay College researchers explained.


They said their report also "provides a framework" for understanding "sexual victimization of children in any institution" and how organizations respond.

No other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse like this one, they said.

"The peak of the crisis has passed," the report observed. It said the Church "responded," and abuse cases decreased substantially.

A "system of change" has begun in the Church, according to the report. However, it said, "organizational changes take years, and often decades, to fully implement."