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Independent, Extensive Study on Sexual Abuse of Minors Released

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An in-depth independent study, commissioned by the United States Bishops to determine the causes and context of clergy sex abuse of minors, was released in Washington, D.C., May 18, 2011. The three-year research project was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Its findings conclude that no single factor, such as homosexuality, celibacy or pedophilia, was responsible for abuse of minors by priests. Rather, the report states the increased frequency of clergy abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during those two decades. 

The study notes that more than 90 percent of the known cases of sexual abuse of minors occurred more than 20 years ago and that the most recently reported cases date back decades ago.  The Study makes note of the fact that “most incidents of sexual abuse were reported many years after they had occurred,” and explains that “most abuse incidents occurred at a time when the impact of victimization was not fully understood and research on sexual offenders was in the early stages of development.”

The study questions claims by some that celibacy is responsible for sex abuse. It notes that “celibacy has been constant in the Catholic Church since the eleventh century and could not account for the rise and subsequent decline in abuse cases from the 1960s through the 1980s.” It points out that most sex offenders in society are not celibate clergy.

At a news conference in announcing the findings of the study, Ms. Karen Terry, PhD, John Jay’s principal investigator in the study, said the Institute was able to operate without limits or boundaries in its research and expressed confidence in the thoroughness of the three-year long investigation. Investigators gathered information from a broad range of resources and individuals, including victims’ advocates and leading clerical advocates for victims of abuse. Investigators held face-to-face interviews with both national and local leaders of Voice of the Faithful and Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. 

“We owe John Jay a debt of gratitude,” said Bishop Blasé Cupich of Spokane, Washington, who chairs the United States Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People. “The Bishops could not have undertaken this study on our own. John Jay has provided us with a major understanding of the context of the abuse crisis in this ground-breaking study.”

Diane Knight, CMSW, Chair of the National Review Board, a group of lay Catholics who oversaw the project, praised the work of John Jay. She said investigators found that much of what has been implemented in Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted by the United States Bishops in 2002, is consistent with a model response to the prevention of child abuse. “However,” she added, “this in no way should lull us as a Church into complacency.”

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge said the John Jay Study, titled Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, clearly demonstrates the United States Bishops’ ongoing commitment to do everything possible to eradicate the sexual abuse of minors. “Hiring an independent firm with expertise in this level of research and investigation was essential in gaining an understanding of how the crisis developed and to make sure we are doing everything possible to address the causes,” Bishop Burbidge said.

Bishop Burbidge noted that the Diocese of Raleigh has had a policy on clergy sex abuse of minors in place since 1988. It has been periodically reviewed and revised as new scientific information has become available.

The Diocesan policy underwent an intensive review in 2004 to ensure it was in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and then again in 2010. Since 2003, the National Review Board, as empowered by the Charter, has undertaken regular reviews of all Dioceses to determine if the Dioceses are complying with the 17 Articles of the Charter. The Diocese of Raleigh has been found to be in full compliance in every audit.

The Diocese of Raleigh:

  • Trains more than 2,000 people each year in recognizing and reporting child abuse and   neglect.
  • As part of priestly formation, provides clergy with training on how to ensure a safe environment for parishes and schools. A recent session on ‘proper boundaries’ was conducted for priests of the Diocese.
  • Each year, provides approximately 24,000 parents, who enroll their children in Catholic school or parish faith formation programs, with resource material that provides them with awareness and abuse prevention strategies.
  • Has conducted over 13,000 criminal background screenings of clergy, staff and volunteers since 2003. These screenings provide a search of national criminal background databases and the national sex offender registry.
  • Requires criminal background checks to be renewed every five years.
  • Informs 30,000 children each year of parish and school safe environment structure, specifically, that catechists and teachers are people who are here to help them grow in their faith life and also they are here to help keep them safe from harm.
  • Requires each parish to have a trained Safe Environment Committee.
  • In 2010, conducted over 90 safe environment training sessions for all those in leadership with children and youth.

Read John Jay Criminal Justice Institute’s Report (PDF)

Read background information and statements by lead John Jay investigator, National Review Board Chair and Bishop Blasé Cupich, Chair of Bishops Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People

Read Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People

Read Diocese of Raleigh’s Policies and Procedures for Protection of Children and Young People (PDF)