Training to Blame for Abuse, Study Says

By Brian Wellner
Quad-City Times
May 19, 2011

A new nationwide study puts the blame for decades of clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church on inadequate seminary training - rather than homosexuality, celibacy or an all-male priesthood.

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops commissioned researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to analyze the pattern of clergy abuse, the results of which were released Wednesday.

According to the $1.8 million study, researchers blame the scandal on poor seminary training in the 1940s and 1950s that did not prepare newly ordained men to withstand the 1960s social revolution.

Rev. David Hitch, a priest at St. Mary's Parish in Tipton, Iowa, whose brother was sexually molested as a teenager by a priest, took issue Wednesday with the finding that poor training led to the abuse.

"As far as I was concerned, my training was excellent," he said, having been ordained in 1968 after joining the seminary in 1962 in Davenport.

He said some of the priests accused in the scandal suffered pedophilia or some other "psychological abnormality."

However, he puts more of the blame on bishops who, he said, did not listen to victims initially or investigate allegations.

"When the first few voices came out, bishops refused to respond to them with compassion," Hitch said. "Then more and more voices came out. That's what led to the scandal."

Hitch's brother, Michael Hitch, first spoke about being molested by defrocked priest James Janssen in 2002, more than 40 years after the alleged abuse occurred.

Janssen, who court records state is 87, was never charged criminally with sex abuse because the statute of limitations ran out.

According to a statement released by the Diocese of Davenport on Wednesday in response to the John Jay report, Bishop Martin Amos said he supports "the complete elimination of all criminal statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse committed by clergy or others in similar positions of authority."

Janssen was a defendant in several civil suits alleging sex abuse, one of which resulted in a $1.4 million jury verdict against Janssen in favor of a relative. The others were dismissed after the victims reached settlements with the Davenport diocese.

Janssen, who was removed from the priesthood in 2004 by Pope John Paul II, was given two years of probation in 2009 by a Scott County judge for lying to court officials about his financial assets related to the jury award.

Craig Levien, who locally has represented victims of clergy abuse, said the main cause of the scandal was the bishops' failure to report alleged crimes to the police.

"The bishops failed to supervise and report criminals working in dioceses across the country," Levien said. "Any other explanation is nothing more than an effort to whitewash their culpability."

Hitch said he wasn't aware of his brother's abuse when he entered the priesthood.

"It turns my stomach to think I was in the seminary studying to become a priest, and my brother was being molested by one," Hitch said.

Though he agrees with the report that celibacy was not a factor in the abuse, Hitch said the church should allow married men to become priests.

"Having married men with families in the priesthood would make for an all-around healthier priesthood," Hitch said.

"It doesn't take a celibate man alone to be a priest, except in the eyes of Rome," he added.


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