Fig Leaves, Gerasene Swine, and Carpets: Bishops and Clerical Sexual Abuse.

Since my somewhat rushed report at midnight last night, with one 3 am update. I have had some time to look for more information.  Guess what?  I have found none. Is this a symptom of  what will happen to the full report later?

Let me recap.

A news story from Associated Press yesterday stated that an interim report had been presented to the USCCB meeting on research undertaken for the bishops by researchers from the John Jay College. of Criminal Justice.  The AP story on this report, carried by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and by Azstar yesterday, focused on a finding that there was no evidence that the problem was caused by “homosexual” clergy. On the contrary, gay and straight priests appeared to be equally culpable. The Catholic News Agency also carried a story on the report, but picking up on a different aspect. Another key finding of the report was that there had been “no change” in the pattern of abuse since the first report. I have made extensive attempts to track down additional reports on this story, and have found none. I have seen exactly the three discussed above – two carrying essentially the same syndicated AP take, and one from Catholic News.

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Take careful note of this:  the report presented yesterday was an interim report on the second stage of the research.  There has already been a complete report, available on-line, of the first stage.   The finding that there is no link between homosexuality and clerical sexual abuse is not new – independent observers agree that the fundamental causes lie inside the very structures, culture and systems of the church itself.  (These include the highly centralized concentration of power structures, the insistence on compulsory celibacy, and recruitment and training methods of candidates for the priesthood.)

What is crucially important here, is not the findings, which by now should be routine, but the bishops’ response.

What I think are the four key findings by the John Jay College current report are that:

  • gay priests as a group are not to blame
  • priests whose training included some degree of formation in human sexuality were less likely to offend
  • the pattern of offences has not changed since the previous report
  • there has been small change in the authorities’ response: offenders are now less lily to be simply moved to new locations, and more likely to be put on “administrative leave” (but still no civil prosecutions?).

It may be entirely natural that there has not yet been more reporting on this: it is an interim report to the bishops, not by the bishops. Their discussion and response will be the more important.  Will there be any?  Will it be released for public consumption?  Will it be rational and credible?  Will the report simply be swept under the carpet?

The pattern so far is not encouraging.

At a global level, the main response of the Vatican to the unfolding crisis since it first erupted, has been to discourage or bar gay men from entering the seminaries, blithely ignoring any evidence that there was any causal link.  Very recently, Archbishop Thomasi claimed that “research” proved that the problem was indeed caused by gay priests, and that the problem in other denominations and faiths was even greater than in the Catholic church. He gave no source for his claims, but they turned out to be based on the first John Jay report.  When I tracked this down and read it, even a superficial first reading showed that the data and words in the report did not support the spin placed on them by Thomasi.

Another, informal example of the response read somewhere recently (the source and link are not yet to hand), came from a bishop who said it was wrong to still be blaming the church for the problem, because it had been a simple failure of governance, which had since been corrected. The problem here, of course is that it was into just a failure of governance, but of a deeply flawed institutional structure that remains completely unchanged.

Society as a whole has a long and shameful history of picking on perceived outsiders as scapegoats to distract attention from their own, internal problems.  James Alison and John McNeill, among many others, have written clearly on how the institutional church has collaborated in this practice in scape-goating lesbians, gay men and other sexual outsiders, for example by labelling them as “deeply disordered” without a shred of evidence for such a judgement, other than there own prejudices.  The specific issue of clerical abuse has simply led them to focus a generic process into a focused one, concentrating specifically on gay priests.

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The John Jay report notes that “nothing has changed” in the pattern of abuse since the first phase of the study.  Why should it?  Nothing has changed to address the causes.  The big question is, will anything change after this report? Or after the final report at the end of next year?  What do you think:  either now or then. do you suppose that, left there own devices, the US bishops will finally face reality, will accept the evidence of their own empirical research and acknowledge the true problem, agree to address real causes, to democratize power structures, to radically overhaul the recruitment and training of priests to ensure that our clergy will in future be sexually mature and well-adjusted, to put pressure on the Vatican to demand an end to compulsory celibacy, and encourage a vigorous domestic debate?

Or will they once again try to sweep the issue under the carpet, or once again distort the findings to “confirm” their own prejudices?

Swept Away - Banksy

Yes, I thought so too.  The remedy is blindingly obvious:  they must not be left to their own devices.  This report, albeit it preliminary, is out in the public domain, at least in part.  We must not allow it to become buried. Bookmark it, share the links.  Remind the power elite of it at every opportunity, and demand that they respond appropriately.  Insist that they withdraw the completely unjustified “remedy” of restricting the recruitment of the sexually mature, psychologically healthy gay men (and women) that we clearly need. And finally hold them accountable to the findings of their own, reality -based research.

See also:

News Reports

Bishop-commissioned report finds no evidence so far that gay priests are more likely to abuse

NCR:  Bishops Claim Moral Authority Amidst Widespread “Confusion”

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