Blame the 60’s? Doesn’t Resonate

I’ll be interested to review the new John Jay College study, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.” David Gibson’s take: No Easy Answers. The Blame-the-60’s meme isn’t passing the smell test of NYT readers.

One big flaw on that score: the study begins in the 1950’s. Let me illustrate:

It seems the study covered the top graph, and their instances of abuse peaked around 1973, dropping off significantly from there. Better psychological testing, so the reasoning goes, weeded out the emotionally immature. Michael Rose refers to this as “corruption.” Clearly, everyone has their own take on it.

I suspect the real graph is more like the second, which postulates more of the stressful times of the twentieth century. Honestly, which is more likely to cause stress: an era of sexual promiscuity and counterculture, or a world war or two? Perhaps a worldwide economic depression?

Factor in the general disregard of children in previous generations, and who’s not to suggest the bottom of the three graphs isn’t true? What prevents us from knowing is that almost all the survivors and perps before 1950 are now dead. They could have easily done the survey with abuse victims forty and younger. That would tell us it peaked in the JP2 years.

One NYT comment:

It’s not important WHY the priests did what they did … what is important is WHY the church did NOTHING about it, all the time knowing full well what was going on. That’s what’s important about this story. The priests who perpetrated these acts on children were allowed to do so, and to continue to do so, apparently with the blessing of the higher-ups in the church.

The second flaw is that the study doesn’t seem to poke deeply into the sponsors. I’ll have to wait to see if there’s more of a factor of the thin scarlet line–that episcopal behavior was close to secular police closing ranks on instances of brutalizing citizens.

Finally, you can have good data, make accurate correlations, and get advice on it. Ultimately, the bishops will have to act. They will have to clean up amongst their clergy and their own numbers. They will have to discern some effective way to restore their trashed credibility.

This study won’t help the rehabilitation. It will spark new outrage. And even among those of us loyal to the Church, we will wonder what bombshell is next.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Blame the 60’s? Doesn’t Resonate

  1. Sheila says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when describing the disregard of children in general. All we have to do is look at the abortion rate in this country to see how under valued children are. And, I also think that the sexual revolution had a big hand in all of this. Pedophilia was never really understood in the 50s and 60s. Once the truth of this sickness was revealed, we had better protection of children, not only in our churches, but throughout society as well.

  2. John Drake says:

    Why do you assume that abuse of children is a reaction to stress? There are certainly more stories of gallantry and valor coming out of the era of the wars and depression than of the decadent 1960s. It only makes sense that the unleashing of sexual experimentation, recreational drug use and the general decline of moral standards in the 1960s contributed to depravity in the priesthood.

    And the comment you cite from the NYT is absurd. No Church official ever “blessed” the abuse. Some, though, clearly enabled it, while listening to the now dis-proven psychological ideas of the time.

  3. Todd says:

    “Why do you assume that abuse of children is a reaction to stress?”

    I don’t. I think it’s an excuse.

    “There are certainly more stories of gallantry and valor coming out of the era of the wars and depression than of the decadent 1960s.”

    Or not. War tends to dehumanize even the best intentions. The 40’s were pretty decadent in their way. Even the Allies inflicted vast suffering on civilian populations, and my uncles had little good to report about the war.

    The 60’s had their share of valor: not only in Vietnam where many soldiers, despite being duped by their country, did serve with honor. The Civil Rights movement was certainly a time of honor. I’m a skeptic when it comes to exalting one generation over another.

    As for listening to ideas “of the time,” we all realize this was just an excuse. No psychologist would endorse child sexual abuse. Bishops went in search of a justification to do what they wanted. They wanted to believe their priests were reformable, that it was a moral corruption. But by the 80’s, no serious psychologist was suggesting a cure for sexual addictions was at all likely.

  4. Pingback: John Jay Report or Rock and Roll Made Me Do It

  5. snapjudy says:

    Well, here we are in 2011, and it seems they are still “weeding out the emotionally immature.”

    But only because law enforcement got involved.. say the “Philadelphia Grand Jury” investigation.

    37 more weeded out..

    dah !!

  6. FrMichael says:

    Good post.

    The report wasn’t worth a whole lot to me, and I’m an informed reader about the statistical methods being used. The summary proclamations that celibacy and homosexuality didn’t come from the data. Better statements based on the data that should have been made:

    1) The Church’s teaching on priestly celibacy hasn’t changed over the period studied, so we don’t have the statistical data necessary to analyze a control group of married priests with celibate priests. Futuremore, we did not study abusers’ attitutes regarding the discipline of clerical celibacy in this report as a possible indicator for abuse of minors.

    2) There is no correlation between minor abuse and self-declared homosexuality or homosexuality clinically determined. There is some correlation between “confused” sexuality and minor abuse.

    3) Statistically, from this study, we don’t know why the majority of abuse cases took place.

    To demonstrate the waste of money this report is, consider my statement three. The report gives suggested modalities but offers no statistical evidence that I could find on WHY priests abused minors.

    Meanwhile, the number of US bishops resigning for their personal involvement in covering up clerical sexual abuse of minors: zippo.

    We seemed doomed to march in the wilderness for 40 years.

    • Todd says:

      “We seemed doomed to march in the wilderness for 40 years.”

      I hope not, my friend. But even if this is true, perhaps we will do better to look upon it as a retreat rather than a doom.

  7. Kathryn says:

    The next bombshell on the radar will likely be the number of incest cases covered up to avoid scandal, at the hands of Diocesan clergy.

  8. FrMichael says:


    I thought I was cynical! Besides the Maciel case (founder of the Legion of Christ), I am completely unaware of a widespread incest problem in the priesthood. Of course, I was unaware of a widespread abuse of minors and episcopal coverup as well prior to late 2001, so it could be…

  9. Kathryn says:

    These are the cases where Families had instances of incest and instead of the the family abuser being sent off to jail, the victim was packed off to a place like Home of the Good Shepard for the duration of gestation, and the new “sibling”, was “Adopted” all with the help of a parish priest.

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