John Jay Researchers Offer
Update on Causes and Context Study
Early Findings Confirm Steep Decline in Sexual Abuse Cases
after 1985, Emphasize the Importance of Seminary Training
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 17, 2009
WASHINGTON—Researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice presented
an Interim Report on the Causes and Context Study on sexual abuse of minors
by clergy at the November assembly of the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The bishops called for the Study as part of
their response to the sexual abuse crisis when they adopted the Charter
for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002.
The Causes and Context research seeks to explain the rise in incidence
of sexual abuse by priests in the late 1960s and 1970s and its subsequent
decline after 1985. Karen Terry, PhD, the principal researcher on the
Study, reported on the synthesis of information from several independent
data sources that confirmed the explanation for this variation that was
previously reported to the bishops. The Study involves gathering and analyzing
archival research and collecting data from priests, psychologists, sociologists,
and the U.S. bishops. Funding was provided by the USCCB, the National
Institute of Justice, and several foundations.
The Causes and Context Study was pursued by the bishops in order to understand
more fully the problem of clergy sexual abuse and what needs to be done
to keep children safe in the Church’s care.
The completed Causes and Context Study is expected in December of 2010.
Findings will be made public so that what the Catholic Church learns will
benefit others working with youth in and outside of the Church.
The Interim Report found that:
- Data on cases of abuse reported after 2002 reflect the same pattern
of incidence found nationally – the rise of sexual abuse in the 1960s
and the decline in the 1980s. There is no evidence that unreported cases
will be brought forward that change the overall time frame of the problem.
- The pattern of deviant sexual behavior by clerics is consistent with
several other behavioral changes in society between 1960 and 1990, including
use of drugs, and an increase in divorce and criminal behavior.
- Clergy who as seminarians had explicit human formation preparation seem
to have been less likely to abuse than those without such preparation.
- Diocesan responses to charges of abuse by clerics changed substantially
over a 50-year period, with decreases in reinstatement and more administrative
leave given to abusers in recent years.