A report released by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice entitled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,” claims that the Catholic sex abuse crisis was not caused by homosexuality, celibacy, or pedophilia, but external social factors stemming from the social revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, along with poor oversight by the bishops. It’s too early to see how this report will be received or what effect it will have, but it seems rather baffling to claim that the sexual abuse by the priests was not caused by homosexuality or pedophilia. While the report may be using the technical definitions of the two categories, classifying them as an orientation or psychological persuasion, it seems the most important factor to consider here is not the orientation or psychological profile of the priests but the end result of their actions. A person who steals is a thief, no matter their identity or orientation.
It also seems like a cop-out to blame the abuse on the “society” that produced the sexual revolution. “Society” is so big and ambiguous it’s nearly impossible to get justice or assign specific blame, and it comes off as pathetic excuse — it’s hard to imagine a abuser-priest, sitting before the throne of God, and saying, “Yes, I’m sorry, but I was really struggling with the 1960s.”
More helpful is the analysis concerning the insufficient oversight and accountability by the bishops. The report states that the church functioned in much the same way as the law enforcement cultures that allow high incidences of police brutality. Because the church had no effective centralized authority, with each diocese an authority unto itself, bishops were not subject to enough oversight in a way that promoted proper crisis management.
Whatever the case, the researchers have provided a service to the global church, providing us with helpful reminders that risk management is incredibly important to the work of the church.