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Belief Beat

Study Blames Poor Training, Not Celibacy or Homosexuality, for Catholic Clergy Abuse

UPDATE: Whispers in the Loggia has a link to the lengthy report. Also, see the Comments section for more links and information, such as The New York Times revelation that this study used 10 as the victim age cutoff for pedophile vs. ephebophile priests — even though age 13 is the norm!

Check out this exclusive Religion News Service story from former Beliefnet blogger David Gibson, an expert religion reporter on Catholic issues, concerning a new study coming out tomorrow on the U.S. clergy abuse scandal.


“The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010″ examined how pedophilia, homosexuality, celibacy and other proposed factors impacted the clergy abuse crisis. According to Gibson’s write-up (I haven’t seen the report yet), the blame for the “huge spike in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s” instead stems from the Catholic Church’s “emotionally ill-equipped priests who were trained in earlier years and lost their way in the social cataclysm of the sexual revolution.”

Hmmm. I still think mandatory celibacy contributes to the problem — it’s created such a tiny pool of clergy candidates (much smaller nowadays, due to smaller Catholic family sizes), and perhaps this bizarre tendency of looking the other way in “isolated” abuse cases — though some have argued that the cover-up culture has more to do with the all-male priesthood than sexual repression or not being able to imagine your own kids as victims. (Sidenote: Celibacy for priests wasn’t an original requirement, and the present-day church continues to allow married priests among converts and the eastern branches, so why not reconsider the policy? Then again, I was raised Orthodox Christian — to each his own, as long as it doesn’t hurt children, right?)


What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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posted May 18, 2011 at 9:19 am

The version I saw in my newspaper blamed “the sexual revolution” which is part of what you mention above. Some questions:

a) Who trained these priests?

b) Who was ultimately responsible for that training and its quality?

c) When they started getting reports of priestly child abuse why, oh why, didn’t they get these guys together and issue a detailed list of “thou shalt not’s”?

d) Oh, and why didn’t they report what they knew to the police rather than just moving them to where they could abuse again?

There’s a lot of blame to be shared among the high reaches of the Vatican. When do the heads start rolling? Or at least when do people start being kicked out and losing their pensions?

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 11:15 am

I still haven’t seen this report, but here are two follow-up points I’ve posted on David Gibson’s Facebook wall:

–How can it be the sexual revolution/social upheaval, when we also see clergy abuse in other countries (which had different cultural experiences in the 1960s-1980s)?

–Also, narrowing down what prompted the abuse — which happens among other faiths and in the secular world, after all — is somewhat secondary to what caused (and still causes) a global, hierarchical cover-up mentality. THAT’s the part unique to the Catholic Church. (You’re never going to get rid of abuse completely, but you can enforce zero-tolerance policies and mandatory reporting to the police.)

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posted May 18, 2011 at 11:31 am

Another question I should have asked above: Just when did they start getting reports of priestly child abuse? Just because we don’t hear about it having happened a hundred years ago, or a thousand, doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. After all it’s only been a few years now that we started hearing about what happened twenty five years ago. And a lot of countries haven’t been heard from at all. Yet.

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posted May 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

Exactly so, Nicole. RCC defenders like to just talk about the priests and what they did, but the real story is how it was covered up by top people in the Church, then and now.

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 11:50 am

I’ve repeatedly heard the defense that the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse was the same or slightly less, than you find among camp counselors, school teachers, the general population, etc. My questions:
1) Shouldn’t clergy abuse be MUCH lower than in the general population, given that priests and their superiors have devoted their lives to Jesus, who specifically loved and protected children? Certainly, many Catholic parents expected their kids were safer left alone with a random priest than with some other random adult.
2) On a related note, again, this doesn’t explain the decades of covering up for abusive priests — something that is unique to a major global institution like the Catholic Church.

The other defense I’ve heard around here is that abuse wasn’t always pedophilia — if the victims had hit puberty, that makes it technically “ephebophilia.” I literally cannot believe this argument continues to be made. In other words, if your 15-year-old son gets raped by a priest, he shouldn’t be as traumatized and you shouldn’t be as furious as if your 9-year-old son gets raped by a priest? Also: both are serious crimes, and the distinction doesn’t amuse police or judges, though maybe it helps you sleep better at night…?

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posted May 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s take on the issue of clergy versus laity standards:

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm

The New York Times story is now up, here.

According to the story, the study used age 10 as the cutoff between pedophilia and ephebophilia, even though “The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies a prepubescent child as generally age 13 or younger. If the John Jay researchers had used that cutoff, a vast majority of the abusers’ victims would have been considered prepubescent.”


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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm

More thoughts, as I’m getting through this study:

–Why is the report called 1950-2010, when it only goes up to data collected by 2004?

–“Most sexual abuse victims of priests (51 percent) were between
the ages of eleven and fourteen, while 27 percent were fifteen to seventeen, 16 percent were eight to ten, and nearly 6 percent were under age seven.” So 73 percent of victims were ages 14 or under. Also, I wonder how they counted this — was it when the abuse first began? What if someone was abused from age 7 to 17?

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm

“Nearly 40 percent of priests with allegations of sexual abuse
participated in some type of treatment program. Those
with more than one allegation of abuse were more likely
to participate in treatment, regardless of the severity of
the offense(s) committed. Type of treatment program varied
and included sex-offender specific treatment programs,
spiritual counseling, psychotherapy, and general treatment

How much of this was “spiritual counseling” (which I don’t believe anyone has shown to be effective in dealing with pedophiles and child abusers?) vs. the other, medical programs?

“Police were contacted regarding 14 percent of abusers,
though many incidents were reported after the statute
of limitations had expired. Overall, 3 percent of all priests
with allegations of abuse were criminally convicted and
about 2 percent received prison sentences.”

That’s even lower than I thought. How much of these were cases where the police were contacted by church officials, vs. the family (after the church had shooed them off)? How many of these cases after 2001, when the scandal really broke?

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 5:26 pm

“Data show that the problem of sexual abuse of minors by
Catholic priests peaked in the 1970s, with a decline by the
mid-1980s in all regions of the Catholic Church in the
United States. Though more cases of sexual abuse continue
to be reported to dioceses today, almost all of these
allegations are of abuse that occurred decades earlier.”

I’m confused. Doesn’t this logically imply that we won’t really know about abuse cases in 1990-2010 until years from now?

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Correction: The study does have data 2004-2009, but it’s apparently not as thorough. (And, as I’ve already pointed out, victims tend to report abuse years later, so it’s certainly incomplete.)

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 5:57 pm

OK, I’ve now read the report, though it was really more of a skim — I was trying to get through it quickly, plus the blatant methodology problems distracted me. Now I have to get back to reading the coverage.

The gist seems to be: the Catholic Church has the same abuse problem as everyone else with trusted access to kids (other denominations, groups like the Boy Scouts), and that most of the abuse took place in an era — 1960-1980 — when criminal behavior was up overall.

I’ve already pointed out my journalistic concerns with the study, so far. What are your thoughts?

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eve teslim market

posted May 18, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I think it is very informative and useful writing.thank you for share.

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posted May 18, 2011 at 9:36 pm

It sounds like you’ve got a good handle on several problems with it.

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Nicole Neroulias

posted May 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Thanks — I’m not covering this story, so I can be a bit more opinionated than usual here. Of course, no one can be completely objective, but I do try to keep an open mind and read a wide range of responses. For example, Catholic News Agency has some interesting points from the conservative perspective, though they lost me when they conveniently didn’t clarify that the study’s adolescent/post-pubescent victims include fifth-graders…

For some more details on how this report is being covered, check out GetReligion’s blog; I’ve also suggested some follow-up angles in the Comments section there.

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posted May 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I come from a Southern Baptist Background and converted to Catholicism. I also have had some experience with people that have sexually abused children in the past.

To me the celibacy issue has always been a red herring. Sexual abuse of minors occurs among married Clergy in other faith communities. In fact this focus on celibacy has been downright dangerous on several fronts.

First in the Catholic Church.

Unlike Priests I rarely see in the paper the Laity that worked in the Church that have had “credible” accusations of abuse made against them announced. Looking at the numbers we must know that is a considerable amount. No one cares Why?

Second we have a huge amount of Married Deacons coming online. Their formation differs from Diocese to Diocese. With all the Priest focus I am not sure we are watching that front for warning signs in formation either.

Second the celibacy fixation gives Protestants and others a false sense of security. It also does not help us get a greater grip on the the problem.

If Celibacy is such a issue then why in JUST THE Washington D.C area was it announced recently via the Post in a story that 40 out of 108 Churches had had to deal with sexual abuse problems in the Presbyerian Church. Numbers like that when heard abt get huge headline when dealing with those crazy celibate elsewhgere not so much.

This is one reason why the most powerful Baptist State Convention in the COuntry in Texas can spend a whopping $4000 on sexual abuse programs and prevention and programs.

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posted May 19, 2011 at 1:11 pm

As to “pedophilia” vs “ephebophilia.” issue. Yes the distinction is important if one wants to get your hands around the problem.

Pedophiles are the most charming people you can meet. They can convince the sky is green after talking to them. They are also very dangerous because it appears they can’t be cured Further they truly have no lack of remorse because they don’t think they ae doing anything wrong. It is truly a dark and mysterious place. The best one can do is to eastablish programs as to learn warning signs to they avoiding offending.

No sex with a 15 year old is not great. But it is not always rape either. I lost my Virginity 2 days past my 16th birth to a 22 year old. Was I raped? Well I don’t think so. I pretty much do what I was doing.

In other words we are getting into a murky area of consent here that will differ case by case. What perhaps is really at play here is the related issue of ABUSE of AUTHORITY. So these cases are much difficult to examine as one broad group.

It should be recalled that in some of our lifetimes we had age of consent laws at 16 and sometimes younger in a few places. I can see how in my lifetime the seriousness of sex with teenagers has changed. That is a good thing of course. But it should be recalled that as both gay and hetro sexual men go the video store or on the internet looking for the youngest “legal” Eastern European porn available that an attraction to someone in this age group is not the same as pedophillia. If that was the case my 75 years old Grandfather that founded the Baptist Church in Mississippi and whom married My several GREATS Grandmother on her 16th birthday was a real perv them

However we are dealing with two different creatures here and to get fix the problem I do think you have to seperate the groups

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Robert C

posted May 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm

don’t try jh. your obviously preaching to the highly opinionated who have made up their minds for other reasons long ago.

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posted November 20, 2011 at 10:11 am

Dr Brian Neil Talarico North Bay Has been convicted of child molestation, an
possession of child pornography on his computer. Sexually molesting a young boy.
He had prior convictions for child molestation in 1990 and 2001. After his
parole in 2006. Dr. Talarico Brian. Works for north east mental health centre,
despite his background, and numerous complaints against him of abuse, fraud,
negligence, and imprisonment. Address: North East Mental Health Centre
North Bay Campus Highway 11 North North Bay Ontario P1B 8L1, and now works for Act 2, North Bay.

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posted May 10, 2013 at 4:19 am

Melissa – where did you get this info re Dr. Brian Talarico? I’m curious because I have seen the exact same message on 4 different websites within the last 1/2 hour. All these messages were purportedly written by different people, yet they are identical, down to the incorrect spelling, grammar and punctuation. I keep trying to find independent confirmation but no luck so far.

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