Addressing the Meltdown

19 May

Blessed John Paul II biographer George Weigel authored a thought-provoking editorial entitled “Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture” published today at National Review Online.

The editorial provides insightful commentary on the 300-page report entitled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950- 2010,” prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops this week.

The editorial has a most provocative opening:

“The American narrative of the Catholic Church’s struggles with the clerical sexual abuse of the young has been dominated by several tropes firmly set in journalistic concrete: that this was and is a ‘pedophilia’ crisis; that the sexual abuse of the young is an ongoing danger in the Church; that the Catholic Church was and remains a uniquely dangerous environment for young people; that a high percentage of priests were abusers; that abusive behavior is more likely from celibates, such that a change in the Church’s discipline of priestly celibacy would be important in protecting the young; that the Church’s bishops were, as a rule, willfully negligent in handling reports of abuse; that the Church really hasn’t learned any lessons from the revelations that began in the Long Lent of 2002.

“But according to an independent, $1.8 million study conducted by New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and released on May 18, every one of these tropes is false.”

Weigel not only proceeds to unmask these popular misconceptions, but also offers commentary on the cultural factors in the Church and world in the 1960s-80s that contributed to the horrific sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in America.

One point not given adequate treatment by the report, according to Weigel, is the role of homosexuality. Even though 81 percent of the clerical sex abuse victims were male (and given studies that show that girls are usually three times more likely to be abuse victims), the study did not find that priests with same-sex attractions were significantly more likely to be abusers than priests with heterosexual attractions.

I thought Weigel’s concluding comment on the broader societal context of the crisis was right on the mark:

“If the John Jay study on the ’causes and context’ of clerical-sexual-abuse problems in the Catholic Church prompts a broader public reflection on the fact that the sexual revolution has not been, and is not, cost-free, and that its victims are often the vulnerable young, then the Church will have done all of American society a signal service in commissioning this study that looks into its own heart of darkness.”

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