Eighty-one percent of sex crimes committed against children by Roman Catholic priests during the past 52 years were homosexual men preying on boys, according to a comprehensive study released yesterday on the church’s sex abuse crisis.
The John Jay study was commissioned 20 months ago by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in response to hundreds of sex-abuse accusations that were made in nearly every U.S. Catholic diocese. It covered the years from 1950 to 2002 and found 10,667 cases of abuse.
The USCCB formed a 12-member review board of Catholic laity to conduct its own investigation. The board report was issued jointly with the John Jay study.
Revelation of the homosexual priest abuse was made at a crowded news conference where Washington lawyer Bob Bennett gave a lengthy summary of the review board’s report.
Mr. Bennett, a review board member, blamed seminary officials and bishops for not flagging at-risk homosexual seminarians.
There are “many outstanding priests of a homosexual orientation who live chaste, celibate lives,” Mr. Bennett said, “but … more than 80 percent of the abuse at issue was of a homosexual nature.”
“There’s an incredibly incongruity of a man of the cloth engaging in this type of conduct. How did they get into the priesthood?”
Seminaries, he said, allowed in “many sexually dysfunctional and psychosexually immature men,” and did not prepare clergy to survive “particularly in our oversexualized society.”
The study also found that during the same 52-year period, at least $572 million in church funds were spent in lawsuits or treatment for erring priests. Investigators said this amount was low, as 14 percent of 195 dioceses — about 27 — did not report dollar figures, nor was a recent $85 million settlement against the Archdiocese of Boston included.
The review board does not advocate barring homosexuals from the priesthood, he said, but “given the reality that a [seminarian] is entering what is essentially male culture, it is important care be taken in the selection and formation of seminarians so that every priest may honor his commitment to live a chaste and celibate life.”
“A litmus test would be inappropriate but we must look at the reality of what we are doing.”
The report itself went further by calling for “a more searching inquiry” of homosexual seminarians. “For those who choose to ordain homosexuals, there appears to be a need for additional scrutiny and perhaps additional or specialized formation to help them with the challenge of priestly celibacy,” it said.
Matthew Gallagher, executive director for Dignity, a Catholic homosexual caucus, called the findings “discrimination in the name of God.”
“Bishops are scapegoating gay priests and this is just a way for bishops to deflect tension from their inability to protect children in their care,” he said. “Bishops are not using modern thinking when they say a gay man is more prone to having sex than a straight man.”
The John Jay study was praised as the first of its kind to study sexually abusive practices among a category of the American populace. The priests involved — 4,392 — constituted 4 percent of the 109,694 clergy who were working in the Catholic Church from 1950 to 2002.
The peak year for sexual abuse by the clergy was 1970, according to the report, which said sexual acts against children, defined as those under the age of 18, were often perpetrated over many years. Seventeen percent of the victims had siblings who also were abused.
The year 1970 was also the peak when abusive clergy were ordained, the report said, adding that more than 10 percent of all priests ordained that year were accused of sexual abuse.
Abuse was most likely to occur in a priest’s home, in the church, in the victim’s home or in a vacation home. Researchers sorted abuse into 20 categories, ranging from touching beneath the subject’s clothes (57 percent) to anal sex (25 percent).
The largest group of abusers — more than 40 percent — were between 30 and 39 years when they first preyed on children. Seven percent of these priests said they themselves had been abused physically, sexually or emotionally as children, and 19 percent had alcohol or drug addictions.
In Baltimore, there were 226 child-abuse victims and 83 priests were credibly accused; Arlington reported 11 victims abused by nine priests and the District reported 119 victims abused by 26 priests.
Also, 19 percent of the 10,667 children abused by the priests were girls, a reversal of child-abuse statistics in the general population, according to the John Jay study.
Police have investigated more than 615 priests because of abuse charges, or 14 percent of the total. Criminal charges were filed in 220 instances, 138 priests were convicted and 100 served prison time.
Representatives from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said yesterday many abusive priests are still at large. They released a statement with names of several clergy convicted of sexual crimes, along with the names of their bishops.
“The John Jay document is not a study, not a thorough accounting, or God forbid, not an investigation,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the survivors network. “It’s a self-survey [of bishops]. Period. No independent corroboration, no spot-checking, nor verification, no third-party involvement.”
She called on bishops to establish a database of credibly accused priests so Catholics could determine if such a priest worked with their children.
Mr. Bennett also blamed bishops for “putting their heads in the sand.”
“Many bishops — certainly not all — breached their responsibility as pastors, breached their responsibility as shepherds of the flock,” he said. Many “could not comprehend the extent of the damage. Many bishops didn’t speak to victims because, unfortunately, their lawyers told them not to.”