Statement on John Jay Study

Today, John Jay College of Criminal Justice released the results of a study on clergy sex abuse. You can view the report presented to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops here.

Here is the statement that I released to the press today.


Today’s release of The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, a report conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, adds valuable insight and understanding to how and why the crime and sin of sexual abuse occurred in the Catholic Church.

Keep in mind that the study released today is a report to the bishops of the United States, not from them.  The sexual abuse of minors is a tragedy that affects every family, religion, school, organization, institution, and profession in our society.  The Catholic Church in the United States has been noted as the first group anywhere to contract a professional agency – in this case, the John Jay College here in New York City – to examine the “causes and contexts” of this scourge.

I start with this fact because some of the early reaction has already – no surprise here – criticized the bishops for the conclusions of the study!  Once again, they are not our conclusions at all, but those of an acclaimed academic institution specializing in this sensitive area.

The information provided in the Causes and Context study closely mirrors our own experience here in the Archdiocese of New York.  The report makes clear that the vast majority of sexual abuse occurred during the 1960’s through 1980’s, even as it examines the various conditions that led to this abuse.  It also concludes that the incidence of sexual abuse of minors has declined sharply in the Catholic Church since 1985.  The reports of abuse that the Victims Assistance Coordinators for the Archdiocese receive today are almost exclusively from decades ago.  This does not minimize the damage done to the victims of abuse, as I once again offer an apology to anyone who may have been harmed by a priest or any other person acting in the name of the Church, however long ago.

The study also points out that there was no single cause that led to the sexual abuse crisis.  Neither celibacy, as some have suggested, nor homosexuality, as others have claimed, have been found to be a reason why a person would engage in sexual abuse of a minor. Instead, the Causes and Context report indicates that various vulnerabilities in an individual priest, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk that a priest might abuse.

Here in the Archdiocese, as elsewhere in the Church, many steps have been taken to combat this evil. As the study points out, providing safe environments for our young people is perhaps the most important way to prevent sexual abuse. In the Archdiocese, 74,000 adults have undergone safe environment training, and 82,000 have had background checks, with 170,000 children trained each year.  In addition, our seminary formation program provides rigorous screening, and more intensive and comprehensive human and emotional development, which better prepares our future priests to live out their commitment to serving God and His Church.  Codes of Conduct, both for clergy and for laity, have been established to clarify what is and is not appropriate behavior for those who work with or are associated with minors.

When an allegation of abuse is made, our policy and procedures are well-established, widely published, and effective.  First and foremost, we continue to encourage anyone who has an allegation of abuse against a cleric, an employee, or volunteer of the Archdiocese to report it immediately and directly to the appropriate civil authorities.  If the Archdiocese of New York has reason to believe that an act of abuse of a minor has occurred, it immediately contacts the appropriate civil authorities, cooperating with the district attorneys and other civil authority in their investigations of suspected cases of abuse.

Our Independent Lay Board, comprised of judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, social workers, parents, teachers, and those experienced in working with sex abuse victims, reviews these allegations after the civil process has completed.  Using all the information that the Archdiocese has been able to gather, they determine if an act of abuse occurred, and advise the Archbishop of New York if the priest can be returned to ministry.  Should a cleric be found to have committed even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor, he will never be permitted to serve in ministry again.

Earlier this week, the Holy See released a circular letter to bishops’ conferences around the world, urging them to develop polices for dealing with sexual abuse within their own countries.  The letter outlines such steps as listening to and caring for the victims of abuse, creating safe environment for minors, proper formation of priests, cooperating with civil authorities, and taking proper care of priests who have been accused of abuse.  It is my hope that the experience of the Church in the United States, as illustrated in this study, might help serve as a model, not only for the Church in other countries, but for all of society which is still learning how to deal with the awful problem of abuse.

small image of PDF Icon Click here to read the press release in Spanish.


13 Responses to “Statement on John Jay Study”

  1. Katie Hanley says:

    Powerfully written, my Archbishop! Thank you. I hope that the role of civil authorities (both legal and academic) may continue to be a support to our church.

  2. Colleen says:

    Greetings! Thank you for your great article. However, I have one problem with it. I disagree that “providing safe environments for our young people is perhaps the most important way to prevent sexual abuse.” Our Archdiocese has mandated the secular, age-inappropriate “Talking about Touching” program for small children in grades K-4. How will frightening young children with explicit stories help them escape a cunning and threatening predator? The Talking about Touching program places the primary burden for protection on the young children themselves. Catholic Parents do not want this program and several others that often times outright destroy their young children’s innocence. Even the Catholic Medical Association Repudiates “Child Safety” Programs… and the list goes on…

  3. Mary Murphy says:

    Archbishop Dolan:
    I will take what you say to heart if and when the bishops stop playing games. The funds for these studies came from the very people the studies were presumably investigating (think tobacco industry here). Moreover, they use inexplicably favorable definitions they created (such as prepubescent as 10 years or younger) to make it seem as if fewer young children were molested than was actually the case. In my book, without knowing who set up the parameters of the study, I’m assuming that the guys writing the checks had a hell of a lot of say in the matter. When you give as much credence to the Philadelphia board of review’s statements about how bishops really operate as you do to your self-funded studies I’ll start to take note. In the meantime, I’m discounting the “blame modernity” argument this Medieval institution keeping hoisting on the public.

  4. Patricia Euell says:

    You, the corporate structure of the Church and The Holy Father, still don’t get it. Bad things happen to good people but the hierarchy of the Church allowed this to happen. Even \enabled\ it to happen. I was educated by the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt and Sparkill. An outstanding education by loving caring women. I still correspond with my eight grade Nun. She and other Nuns taught me to speak against evil no matter who the doer was. Apparently \Priests\ need to learn this lesson. The Church is currently turning a blind eye in Belgium.

  5. Mary Francis Giammona says:

    Thank You, your Excellency for this statement. I appreciate your direct communication with the people of God.

  6. Steven Arisman says:

    Your Excellency,

    Thank you for your leadership, understanding, and clarity on this sensitive and difficult subject. I think that your message here, and your national interview on television, if I remember correctly on 60 minutes, was profound and enlightening to so many in the nation. You make it known to the nation and the world how upset we in the church, and those of us who are in the clergy, studying to be in the clergy, and those who are even considering the vocation are so embarrassed and frustrated by the situation caused by so few that has made the church and its dedicated and holy servants outraged and ashamed. We stand with you and so many good Bishops and Priests to combat any future issues along these lines, and to continue to help, apologize to, and support those who have been effected by this abuse. God Bless you and know always of my prayers for you.

  7. John McCarthy says:

    Thank you, Archbishop Dolan, and please continue speaking out…You do it well!

    John McCarthy

  8. Robin Cooke says:

    As quoted from the report:

    The study also points out that there was no single cause that led to the sexual abuse crisis. Neither celibacy, as some have suggested, nor homosexuality, as others have claimed, have been found to be a reason why a person would engage in sexual abuse of a minor. Instead, the Causes and Context report indicates that various vulnerabilities in an individual priest, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk that a priest might abuse.

    I keep thinking about the 12 apostles here. They were, for the most part, fisherman who had no less ‘vulnerabilities’ than any other ‘chosen’ soul to the ordained priesthood; and I think any particular STRESS that our priests our under today has NO comparision to the stress of PERSECUTION and RIDICULE the 12 apostles indured.

    Yet, there is no human on this planet that would accept the fact that those original priests had molested or abused any child, PERIOD.

    This report is an embarrassment, and does nothing to explain why this scandal occured.

    Until we admit the fact that those who are IN LOVE with the Lord, His priesthood,and are OBEDIENT TO HIS COMMAND TO FOLLOW HIM (ie, SACRIFICE of one’s life), are not the ones who suffered any ‘increased risk to abuse”; and admit the fact that where the others who did abuse FAILED in these areas, then we have not accurately done a ‘self examination’ of the heart.

    The fact that this secular report is given any credudance other than to accurately state when most of the abuse occured is evidence of our bishops refusal to turn inward and REPENT.

    Why Bishops do you turn to a secular group to ‘discover’ the cause of this horror, when any soul who sits in front of Our Lord in the BLESSED SACRAMENT will find the answer.

    How hard the hearts of the PRINCES OF THE CHURCH CHRIST FOUNDED continue to be who find ANY assurance from this report!

    Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, PRAY FOR US!

  9. Gloria Serpa says:

    Thank you, Archbishop, for your efforts in this matter. Even though I’m in California, I consider the President of the USCCB my advocate, too. I don’t know of any other institution that has taken as many hits and has responded as thoroughly as our Catholic Church. People are frustrated because they don’t see the whole picture and they probably won’t because there is nothing else out there like the Catholic Church.

    A dear friend in a Christian denomination bemoaned the absence of even someone to attend to their issues of sexual abuse among their ministers. Their loose structure enables an abuser to slide from place to place with no higher authority to stop him. Individual churches hire their own minister and there is not a tracking system or means of sufficiiently checking background and there is no money to do so anyway.
    Unless someone knows about the individual’s track record of abuse, it isn’t necessarily questioned. She wasn’t speaking in generalities but from the experience of working in her denomination.

    My heart goes out to victims of this tragedy but also to priests who suffer the stigma of the wayward minority. I’m sorry to say that I’m not very impressed with the laity who call themselves \Christian\ and defy the concept of forgiveness when clergy are involved. When we see the evil in ourselves and experience God’s forgiveness we realize that, there but for the grace of God go I.

  10. Brian Cook says:

    May God bring healing.

  11. I noted that The Washington Post reporter Michelle Boorstein admitted that “The Post has not seen the full report,” when she wrote her article “Landmark study: Catholic clergy sex abuse caused in part by permissive culture of the ’60s and ’70s.” The Denver Post reprinted her poorly researched article under the headline ” ’60s culture fueled church-abuse scandal, report finds,” omitting the fact that the reporter hadn’t seen the full report. The John Jay College document, however, clearly states that there is “No single ’cause’ of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests . . .” As long as we have media who refuse to research and accurately report on this issue, it won’t be settled.

    Irresponsible newspapers, which seems to be most of them these days, sensationalize this story and others to sell newspapers. The public deserves better reporting and credible sources in newspapers.

    Thank you, Archbishop Dolan, for your excellent service to our Church!

  12. Steve Harper says:

    The report correctly states that no one single factor (other than perhaps lack of holiness and fedility to Church teaching) can be attributed to the abuse crises, however we cannot rule out contributing factors.

    A leading authority on the clerical sex abuse crisis has criticized those who conclude that new data has ruled out homosexuality as a significant cause in the scandal – even though the vast majority of priest abuse was perpetrated against adolescent males.

    Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a top psychiatrist and expert in handling sexually abusive priests, says criminologists “crossed a line” by pronouncing on the psychological causes behind the data released May 18.

    “Analysis of the research demonstrates clearly that the major cause of the crisis was the homosexual abuse of males,” said Fitzgibbons in an interview with the Catholic News Agency.

    The new study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and commissioned by the U.S. Bishops, shows that nearly 80 percent of victims were post-pubescent and adolescent males. However, the study concludes that available data “do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity … are significantly more likely to sexually abuse.”

    The data also shows that less than 5 percent of abuse involved prepubescent children, contravening rumor that the scandal largely manifested as acts of pedophilia. But homosexuality, according to Fitzgibbons, was clearly the primary sexual aberration driving the bulk of abuse.

    “One can conclude that these priests have strong same-sex attraction,” said Fitzgibbons. “When an adult is involved with homosexual behavior with an adolescent male, he clearly has a major problem in the area of homosexuality.”

    The psychologist said that, while the college has done good work collecting data, criminologists “lack the professional expertise to comment on causes of sexual abuse.”

  13. Chris Boegel says:

    The authors of the 2011 John Jay are indicted by their tortured denial of the obvious.

    First, note the deception of the carefully crafted summation, i.e., “no single cause [that] led to the sexual abuse crisis. Neither … nor homosexuality, as others have claimed, have been found to be a reason why a person would engage in sexual abuse of a minor.” The deception leads with a small truth (no single cause), and thereby appropriates that small truth to certify the big lie (homosexual predation is an inadmissable conclusion).

    Second, note the deliberate intent to undermine the conclusions of the 2004 National Review Board, composed of prominent Catholic lay men and women like Leon Panetta, Robert Bennett, Anne Burleigh et al, who concluded (p. 80 of the 2004 Report), as the facts so loudly proclaimed, that >80% of the sex abuse was homosexual. Astonishingly, this report attempts to suffocate the conclusions of one of the foremost legal investigators in the world (Atty. Bob Bennett), and a group of 12 colleagues of comparable rank, in favor of the alternate conclusions of two lower rank academics.

    Third, note the therapeutic and morally ambivalent ideology disclosed in the analysis, an enchantment so overpowering that the authors wander into the realm of sympathy and mitigation for the “vulnerabilities” and ‘stresses” in/on the abuser.

    Forth and finally, note how the 2011 John Jay authors confect their flimsy central thesis. The facts having ruled out pedophilia as a primary cause, they stipulate the false premise that homosexuality is an identity (not, as The Church understands, a disorder), and stipulate further that the abusers did not self-identify as homosexual. Therfore, sayeth Ms. Terry of John Jay, notwithstanding the fact that >80% of these male abusers attacked male tweens and teens, John Jay is quite certain that these abusers were “confused about their sexual identity” (even though the abusers didn’t self-identify as confused), and John Jay is likewise certain that the homosexual acts by these abusers does not involve homosexuality (as we here at John Jay understand homosexuality).

    If the Bishops of the USCCB don’t reject this study, it signals the end of the USCCB as a credible Catholic institution.