BALTIMORE — Preliminary results from a $1.8 million study of sexual abuse in the priesthood say there’s no link between homosexuality and the sexual-abuse scandal in the Church.
Results of the study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also indicate the sexual-abuse crisis mirrored a crisis that burdens most institutions today — secular and religious.
Researchers say that, unlike the Church, most other institutions have only begun to investigate the problem.
The preliminary results were presented to the bishops at the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, triggering discussion among those who work with victims of sexual abuse and Catholics involved in homosexual support groups.
Karen Terry, a researcher conducting the John Jay study, told bishops the evidence suggests priests molested boys more frequently than girls, by a ratio of 80-20. She cautioned bishops against using that figure as a reason to link the sexual-abuse crisis with homosexuality.
Terry explained that nonhomosexual men sometimes engage in homosexual acts.
“It’s important to separate the sexual identity and the behavior,” Terry told the bishops on the second day of their conference, Nov. 17. “Someone can commit sexual acts that might be of a homosexual nature but not have a homosexual identity.”
Terry told the bishops that priests have more access to boys and young men than to girls and women, which could explain the higher incidence of abuse involving males. For comparison, she explained that a disproportionate number of male prisoners exhibit homosexual behavior because they have access only to other men, even though most are not homosexuals.
The study, paid for mostly by the USCCB and in part by the U.S. Department of Justice, focuses on the nature and scope of abuse in the Church. The preliminary report suggests the problem in the Church was much like the crisis of sexual abuse in public schools and the rest of society, in terms of incidence and response by institutional leaders.
“We have not found that the problem is particular to the Church,” researcher Margaret Smith told the bishops. “We have found it to be similar to the problem in society.”
Terry explained that other institutions are only beginning to research the crisis.
“They’re looking at the whole mentoring relationship … particularly adults and adolescents and the abuse that develops in those relationships,” Terry said, as quoted in Politics Daily.
Father William Schexnayder, director of the Gay and Lesbian Pastoral Outreach Ministry in the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., said he was “not surprised at all” by the study’s results.
“Comments were made a few years ago, by some bishops and priests and others, that tried to connect the sexual-abuse crisis to homosexual priests. Our board said there was no connection back then, and it appears this study is finding that we were correct,” Father Schexnayder said.
But a friend of his who works closely with Courage, an apostolate for Catholic homosexuals who strive to live a chaste life, has a different view.
“They can call it whatever they want,” said Father Lawrence Goode, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Palo Alto, Calif. “The fact remains that a lot of this abuse involved priests and postpubescent young men in their mid and late teens. That certainly isn’t attraction to children. It’s not pedophilia. It is attraction to the same sex, which most of us brand as homosexuality.”
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, said the preliminary results of the John Jay study fall short of convincing him homosexuality played no role in the sexual abuse of teenaged boys.
“It may have been a factor,” Clohessy said.
He’s not surprised by the results, however, and said he remains skeptical that most of the victims of sexual abuse were boys. He claims half of his organization’s members are girls who claim they were sexually molested by priests.
But he said the sexual orientation of abusers is mostly irrelevant.
“It makes no difference to the victim of sexual abuse,” Clohessy said. “If someone robs you at gunpoint, you don’t care about that person’s sexual orientation. The same is true of a child who’s sexually abused by an adult. It doesn’t matter whether the abuser is heterosexual or homosexual.”
Clohessy said the John Jay study should have focused almost entirely on the institutional response, wasting no time or money on questions about homosexual priests.
Among other preliminary findings, the researchers reported that the rise in sexual-abuse cases in the 1960s and a decrease in the 1980s track with other behavioral changes during the same period, including drug use and rates of crime and divorce. Such factors don’t have a cause-and-effect relationship on sexual abuse, Terry said, “but they reflect underlying social change in the United States.”
Catholic News Service
contributed to this report.
Wayne Laugesen writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.