In the weeks since allegations were made against Archbishop McCarrick, some commentators and clergy have suggested that allowing gay men to be priests has created a culture ripe for the kind of abuse Archbishop McCarrick is alleged to have committed.
But Cardinal Cupich said he “would be very careful” in accepting that conclusion, noting that similar claims made during the height of the child sexual abuse crisis in the 2000s were refuted by an independent 2011 report compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Not so fast.
I would be “very careful” about accepting the John Jay report’s conclusions as relevant to the current crisis, for these reasons:
- Both the initial 2004 John Jay report and the follow-up 2011 report, clearly indicate that 80% of the cases of clerical abuse of minors studied between 1950 and 2002 and 2010 respectively involved the abuse of boys and adolescent young men. Obviously, homosexual activity was numerically more significant than heterosexual activity.
- Table 3.1 of the 2011 report, (found on page 55 and reproduced here) shows that less than 4% of clerical offenders were true pedophiles, around 5% had exclusively female victims, and all other offenders had at least some male victims. Again, this illustrates an outsized homosexual representation among the perpetrators.
- The 2011 report states on page 64, “The data do not support a finding that homosexual identity and/or pre-ordination same-sex sexual behavior are significant risk factors for the sexual abuse of minors.” Taking this conclusion at face value suggests that a substantial majority of priests must have a “homosexual identity,” or have engaged in same sex sexual activity prior to ordination. That is the only way to reconcile the undeniable fact that over 80% of the cases are of same sex sexual behavior, and the finding that sexual identity or pre-ordination behavior are not risk factors. Does the John Jay Report really mean to say that 80% of clergy are gay?
- A careful look shows that the Report is not willing to commit to any causal or correlative factors. The closest one comes is the statement in the summary, “The findings of the Causes and Context study indicate that few of the priest-abusers exhibited serious pathological, developmental, or psychological characteristics or behaviors that could have led to their identification prior to the commission of their abusive acts.” (page 5).
- In the clinical section of the report, running from pages 61-64, the comparison is made between priests who had sex with minors and priests who had sex with adult partners. In comparison after comparison, the statement is made, “the sexual partner was more likely to be an adult than a minor.” For instance, and most relevantly, “Priests with pre-ordination same-sex sexual behavior were significantly more likely to participate in post-ordination sexual behavior, but these priests were more likely to participate in sexual behavior with adults than minors. Same-sex sexual behavior prior to ordination did not significantly predict the sexual abuse of minors.” Translation: men who are homosexually active prior to ordination are more likely to be homosexually active after ordination, and more likely with adults than with minors. But somebody was molesting those 80% of victims, even if the clergy were more likely to have adult partners than minor partners.
- Even if these findings were reassuring in 2011, they are no comfort at all in today’s context. The primary issue today is the sexual harassment of seminarians by their superiors. The John Jay Report is not reassuring at all in this context, since it frequently reminds us that most of the homosexual conduct was not with minors, but with adults. It is the adults we are concerned about now.
- Finally, the overwhelming issue today is the tendency of religious superiors, including bishops and even cardinals, to avert their eyes from homosexual activity within their ranks. The John Jay Reports do not address these questions at all. Hence, citing the John Jay Report will not, and should not convince us that homosexual conduct in the priesthood and hierarchy is not a problem.