On Feb. 27, the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will release a long-awaited survey on the cumulative toll of sexual abuse inflicted on children by priests during the past 50 years. The survey will report how many priests have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors since 1950, how many victims have come forward and how much the nearly 200 U.S. dioceses have paid to cover settlements and related costs. Along with the data, the National Review Board, a blue-ribbon panel of Catholic lay people set up by the bishops in 2002 to monitor the survey, will also present its own report on the underlying "causes and context" of the abuse scandal.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference, has already warned that the findings will be "startling" and that the report will surely spark another round of headlines in a church scandal that has gone on for more than two years.
The survey, compiled from data given by most of the 194 dioceses to researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, will also offer an unprecedented snapshot of child abusers. Experts say there is no other comparable study by any church or other organization, and they say that despite the limitations of the research - the data was self-reported by the dioceses - the survey will be enormously useful. As a Feb. 13, Catholic News Service story explains, it will be the first thorough survey of a distinct population, and it will provide at least some hints about how - and whether - the sexual abuse of children is related to celibacy, homosexuality and other sensitive issues that are being debated.
While many news stories will focus on reactions from church officials, victims and lawyers, reporters will also be called on to provide a clinical interpretation and explanation of the data - to put the figures into context and to see what they mean for the priesthood and, perhaps, for the clergy in general and related professions.
This edition of ReligionLink provides links to the relatively select group of experts and sources who are familiar with both the pathology of sexual abuse and the clerical world.
Note: The Feb. 27 study is the second of two reports by the National Lay Review Board and the Office of Child and Youth Protection. The first was an audit, released Jan. 6, that detailed the bishops' compliance with the child protection policies they implemented in Dallas in June 2002. That audit only dealt with abuse cases and compliance issues since June 2002, and it will be repeated yearly to monitor results. The upcoming survey will be a one-time look at all past cases.
Why it Matters
The clergy sexual abuse scandal is considered the biggest crisis in the history of the Catholic Church in America, and American Catholics remain the largest single U.S. denomination by far, with about 65 million baptized members, nearly one-quarter of the population. The scandal also has implications for other denominations and faiths and has already affected how pastors are trained and how they conduct their ministry. Moreover, the scandal is causing an unprecedented review of sexual abuse laws and prevention policies across the country - a review that will have an impact on a range of professions and institutions where adults oversee children.
Questions for reporters
• How do the overall numbers of priests accused of abuse compare with numbers in the general population?
• How do they compare with other denominations, or related professions, such as teaching?
• Why do the instances of abuse spike among some generations of priests and fall in others?
• What do the data say about the rate of pedophilia - the abuse of young children - as opposed to the abuse of adolescents?
• Do the numbers reveal any link between celibacy and child abuse?
• Is there any evidence that homosexuality plays a role, as some contend?
• Is there a typical profile of an abuser - older or younger, for example?
• Can seminaries do anything to screen out men who are likely to abuse?
• Can abusers be cured?
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• Thomas Plante is a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and an expert on the causes and incidence of sexual abuse by clergy. He has written numerous books and articles, including Sin Against the Innocents: Sexual Abuse by Priests and the Role of the Catholic Church (Greenwood Publishing), which is due out in March. A list of his publications can be found on his web site. Contact 408-554-4471, email@example.com.
• Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst and co-director of the Trauma Treatment Center at the Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis. Frawley-O'Dea made national headlines when she was invited to give an address on clergy abuse to the Catholic bishops at their June 2002 meeting in Dallas. She is co-author of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Psychoanalytic Perspective (Basic Books, 1994) and is at work on a book about clergy abusers. Contact 845-352-6289, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• John Money is an emeritus professor of psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., and a leading authority on the sexual abuse of children. Money has argued that people raised in conditions where sex is viewed as evil, and where sexual curiosity is considered a punishable offense, are likely to end up with warped sexual identities. He contends that those surroundings are often produced by conservative religious teachings. Contact 410-955-3740, email@example.com.
• The Rev. Marie Fortune is a United Church of Christ minister and founder of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, now known as the FaithTrust Institute. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she is a nationally known expert and educator on issues of clergy abuse, its causes and policies for prevention. Fortune also edits the Journal of Religion and Abuse. Contact 206-634-1903, firstname.lastname@example.org. The FaithTrust Institute was founded in 1977 and has a staff of experts.
• Philip Jenkins is a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University and author of a widely cited book, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford University Press, 1996). Jenkins, an Episcopalian, argues that the number of priests involved in abusing minors is not as great as popularly believed and is less than many comparative populations. Contact 814-863-8946, email@example.com, or through his campus web page.
• Gary R. Schoener is a psychologist who is executive director of the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis. Schoener has studied treatment centers for clergy and comments frequently on issues of sexual abuse by clerics. Contact 612-870-0565, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• David Finkelhor is a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., and a leading expert on the sexual abuse of children. He is the author of several books on child sexual abuse and directs the Crimes Against Children Research Center. Contact 603-862-2761, email@example.com.
• Prevent Child Abuse America is a nonprofit advocacy group that has been operating nationally for 30 years to stop abuse and to educate the public.
• The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States is a national, nonprofit organization that "develops, collects, and disseminates information, promotes comprehensive education about sexuality, and advocates the right of individuals to make responsible sexual choices." The council has a range of data on sexual abuse and staff people who can interpret data. SIECUS has offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
• The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect is part of the government's Department of Health and Human Services. It has reports on the extent of child abuse in the United States.
• The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is a watchdog group that critiques media coverage of the Catholic Church. The league has been especially critical of media coverage of the abuse scandal. The league recently produced its own report on clergy abuse. Contact 212-371-3191.
• A Feb. 18, 2004, Catholic News service story says the bishops' report recommends working more closely with scientific experts to identify potential abusers.
• Read a Feb. 10, 2004, Associated Press story reporting some of the statistics that will be included in the Bishop's report. The story is posted at Beliefnet.com.
• While the John Jay survey will not break the data down by diocese, many dioceses have released the numbers of perpetrators, victims and costs in their own region, either voluntarily or under pressure from the courts or law enforcement. A Jan. 14, 2004, Catholic News Service story gives a roundup of the figures by diocese.
• The rate of abuse by priests is hard to gauge by the available numbers. The percentage of clergy implicated in child molestation ranges from less than 1 percent in some dioceses to more than 5 percent in others.
• Reliable numbers on child sexual abuse are hard to come by. Some researchers say that as many as 500,000 children are sexually abused in the United States each year, while other institutes put the figure at under 100,000.
• There is agreement that the vast majority of cases (70 percent to 90 percent) of abuse are committed by a parent or relative of the child. Children 7 to 13 years old are most vulnerable, experts say. It is also generally accepted that men are far more likely to be abusers - up to 90 percent of perpetrators are male - and that girls are more than twice as likely to be abused as boys.
• Experts point out that the gender ratio of victims in Catholic clergy abuse cases appears to be the inverse, with the preponderance of victims being adolescent males. Experts also stress that homosexual men are no more likely than heterosexual men to abuse children.
• In reporting this story, experts say it is important to distinguish true pedophilia from other forms of sexual abuse of minors. The accepted definition of pedophilia, in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), explains that a pedophile is someone who experiences "recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child," that is, a child generally under 13. To be considered a pedophile, the abuser must also be over 16 years old and at least five years older than the victim. In addition, some pedophiles are attracted only to children, while others are sexually attracted to adults as well as children. Clinical pedophilia, experts say, does not yield easily, if at all, to remedies.
• In the Catholic clergy scandal, most victims are adolescents and are often just a few years younger than their abusers. Experts say that some people use the term ephebophilia, defined as a sexual attraction to youths, to describe this type of behavior. But they caution that ephebophilia is not a clinical diagnostic term and that any sexual contact with a minor by an adult is considered abuse.
• Public opinion surveys have shown that many Catholics and non-Catholics alike continue to cite homosexual priests and celibacy as factors in the child abuse cases.
• An April 2002 Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates found that Catholics were almost evenly split, 46 percent to 51 percent, over whether ending mandatory celibacy would alleviate the problem of sexual abuse. In addition, 29 percent of Catholics viewed the presence of homosexual men in the priesthood as a major reason for abuse, and 26 percent cited it as a minor reason, while 45 percent said sexual orientation was not a factor. About a third said that if the Catholic Church were to more effectively screen out homosexuals from the priesthood, it would reduce the sex abuse problem.
• In a May 2002 CBS/New York Times poll, about one-quarter of Catholics said homosexuality in the Catholic Church had increased the likelihood that priests would sexually abuse children and teenagers.
• An ABC News poll in June 2002 showed that 75 percent of all respondents and 67 percent of Catholics thought priestly celibacy had contributed to the abuse problem. Nearly 70 percent of both Catholics and non-Catholics felt that "the number of priests who are homosexual" was a contributing factor. And 83 percent of Catholics and 79 percent of all respondents said "inadequate screening and preparation of priest candidates in the seminaries" was a factor.
• Advocate Web has posted links to news articles about clergy sexual abuse across denominations.
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