- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

Last week, at the annual business meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there was the oddest presentation at their Tuesday morning session.

Maggie Smith and Karen Terry from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York were giving an update on a long-awaited “causes and context” study of sexual abuse by priests. The USCCB contributed $1 million to fund it and an additional $915,000 came from donors, foundations and a federal agency - the National Institute of Justice - which gave $283,000.

Ms. Terry began with a timeline of the worst periods of sex abuse, which spiked in the early 1960s, peaked in the late 1970s, then fell in the 1980s. Sex abuse by priests was consistent with the “pattern of social change in the United States between 1950 and 2002,” she said.

She showed graphs of how drug abuse, crime and divorce rose sharply during those decades. The social changes of the day influenced the lives of priests, she said, adding, “We were not as isolated from the culture as we thought we were.”

Accompanied by a series of graphs, she threw in data from older surveys of priests showing that 9 percent of priests in the 1970s were “maldeveloped” and walking disasters in terms of psychological problems. They were awkward in relationships and had “difficulty with sexuality and sexual identity,” the latter a code for homosexuality. Two out of three priests in that era were “emotionally underdeveloped,” she said, largely because of the blighted seminary environment of the 1940s and 1950s. The majority of the sex offenders, who were ordained before 1970, came from such closed surroundings.

However, seminaries didn’t detect an increase of homosexual candidates until the 1970s, she added, which means the sex-abuse crisis emanated mainly from socially maladjusted pre-Vatican II priests.

Another reporter and I shot each other raised-eyebrow looks. The victims were 80 percent young men or boys and these women were de-linking homosexuality from the problem?

Some bishops asked them about this. The answer: What the priests did was all part of the warp and woof of what was happening in sex-abuse cases societywide. They were just reflecting the zeitgeist.

Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Ill., bluntly asked whether homosexuals should be excluded from the priesthood.

“If that exclusion is based on [whether] that person is more probable to abuse, we don’t find that,” Ms. Smith said. Later she added, “What we’re suggesting is the idea of sexual identity be separated from the idea of sexual abuse.”

After all, she added, homosexuality crops up in many cultures in the world where men and women are kept apart in their youth and it is “accepted behavior generally until marriage and it ends then.”

Hmm. At least seven Muslim countries impose the death penalty for homosexual acts.

In case you think I’m misreading the findings, DignityUSA, the Catholic gay caucus, sent out a press release Nov. 18 thanking the John Jay folks.

“This report confirms many other studies that demonstrate that sexual orientation has nothing to do with the pattern of child abuse by Catholic priests,” their statement read. “We hope that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church will finally accept this finding.”

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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