Most Boring Headline? " Homosexuality No Factor in Clerical Sexual Abuse"

The story referred to, by AP and carried by Azstar and  the Strib, received a notably underwhelming reception from the MSM.  When I first came across it, late on Tuesday evening, I struggled to find additional corroborating reports, although it is now being picked up by some in the queer blogosphere. It needs to be more widely discussed and disseminated.

Huh? When the finding is so well known?  Why continue to repeat the obvious?  These findings are no surprise.

Surprising, no. Important, yes.  This is why.

 

Is this finding surprising? No. Is it important? Yes. This is why.  First, it is a report commissioned by the bishops themselves. Second, it has not come out of the blue - the current study is the second phase of a much bigger research programme.  

Independent analysts and researchers have repeatedly found that there is no link, and that the real causes of the problem of clerical sexual abuse lie deeply embedded in the structure and systems of the church itself - in the insistence on celibacy, on the methods of candidate selection and training, and on the concentration and abuse of power in the church. (See Robinson, or Sipe, or Wills, just for starters.)It is not surprising then that right from the beginning, the global church, in the Vatican and around the world, has tried to find a smokescreen to divert attention away from the real problems and onto other scapegoats.  With the deep-seated hostility to openly gay men (rooted incidentally in their own confused homoerotic culture), they formed a convenient scapegoat.

When the report on the first phase of this study was published, it too presented no evidence of a link, but did not spell this out as a clear conclusion.  Since publication however, rightwing commentators and some bishops have misinterpreted and misused the report's data to claim that such a link was "proven" by the research.  Just two months ago, Archbishop Thomasi claimed, without naming the source but using that research's figures, stated that "only" 3-5% of priests were culpable:

The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that “available research” showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.

He also calimed that the culprits were overwhelmingly gay, and that the problem was at least as big in other churches and in secular organisations.

The statement concluded: “As the Catholic church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it.”

All of which which was bollocks.  

When I read the actual research report myself, I found that it contained not a shred of support for his conclusions, which were based on a total misunderstanding and distortion of the true content. (This incidentaly, is typical of the Vatican style of "argument" - to make unsubstantiated assertions, and then to repeat them widely and frequently, in the expectation that this bombardment of mere assertion will come to be mistaken for confirmed fact - which sadly, is often the result.)

However, by finding a reference in Canada's National Post to the actual figures behind the claim, I was able to link Thomasi's claim to the John Jay report on the first phase of their study, released on Feb 27, 2004. My conclusions? "It's worse than you think".

  1. It is obvious that the whole survey was designed to reflect the concerns of the hierarchy that commissioned it.
  1. Those concerns are notably one-sided. I did not see a single word about any response to the victims – except in a chapter on financial costs to the dioceses.
  1. The reported rate of up to 5% is almost certainly a serious underestimate, based only on those cases that were reported and found their way to the bishops.
  1. Also worrying is that the overwhelming majority of cases, the police were not called in.
  1. The discussion of causes completely ignores the report’s own observations on the wider problem of sexual abuse of minors.
  1. One feature of the report that might just be encouraging is the clear sign of a drop -off in allegations after 1980.

 

This time around, the researchers have been careful to spell out that there is no connection between orientation and abuse.

The authors said that their evidence to date found no data indicating that homosexuality was a predictor of abuse.

"What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse," said Margaret Smith of John Jay College, in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now."

This immediately removes what the bishops have been using up to now as their much needed smokescreen. What will they do instead? Don't count on them to simply own up, acknowledge their mistakes, and set about correcting their own internal problems.  Instead, they would much rather sit back and let the whole thing quietly go away.  

When I first saw the AP news report on this two days ago, I was astonished at how difficult it was to find additional corroborating reports. I am sure that the bishops found this lack of public impact welcome. Since then, it has been good to see it taken up on some gay blog/websites.  We need more.

It is crucial that this discussion and airing of the report should continue. As the bishops will not promote it themselves, we must do it for them. As the problem angers vast numbers of ordinary lay Catholics, straight as well as gay, we can potentially find here a great number of allies. Getting this right can be of benefit to us all:  queer Catholics, other Catholics, other Christians and all the rest of us (given the strong impact of Catholic teaching on society at large).  There is a great danger, though. To engage the Church it is not helpful to respond to their  bigotry, real or perceived, with retaliatory bigotry and hatred of the church ourselves.  Instead, let's keep the discussion rational and focussed on the facts.

It may come as a surprise to many, but the church itself teaches that it is important to pay attention to the findings of science, research and scholarship. Benedict XVI himself has frequently preached on this very theme. The problem is not that they reject science, but that it takes an awfully long time for the messages to get through. To ensure that it eventually does, let us constantly strive to keep these findings of science under the noses of the church's power elite - especially where the findings come from their own research.

(For more details, and links to source materials, see my post Fig leaf Removed: Clerical abuse is NOT Caused by Gay Priests, after all, and the follow-up "Fig leaves, Gerasene Swine, Carpets and Clerical Abuse") at Queering the Church

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