Dr Karen Terry steps up to respond to the “Blame the 60’s” theme. And other criticisms of last month’s JJC Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse.
Most readers have their own assessments, opinions, and such about this. I’m not going to rehash anything more than just one point. Dr Terry:
Though we recognize that sexual abuse has always occurred in the Catholic Church, as well as in other organizations and society generally, we were mandated to study the problem from 1950 onward. It would have been prohibitive to study abuse prior to this time for practical and methodological reasons.
And this is my main point. It’s also why this quote from the May 18th press release has a problem:
The increased frequency of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time.
“Increased frequency” implies a comparison with the decade(s) prior. Dr Terry concedes that a thorough historical study of sex abuse was both beyond the mandate to study from 1950 onward. What she fails to mention is how much more unreliable her data set is, the farther back in history one studies. People simply didn’t report abuse in previous generations.
I’d also like to see how one backs up the claim of “increased deviance” in the 1960’s. I’m sure if you ask people who haven’t been lynched, spat upon, employed in American sweatshops at an early age, electroshocked in mental health therapy, or seen their way of life eradicated by European invaders, then sure: for many white adult men it was a rosy era indeed.
Dr Terry seems to have her dander up about not only the expected sound bites, but also genuine criticism and questions about her methodology and her conclusions. That’s fine. But don’t obscure the real debate because 14,000 news outlets picked up on “Blame Woodstock.”
It was a good and necessary report. I’m satisfied enough I can trust the data. But the interpretation of this data is important. Any false step, like suggesting we know there was an increased frequency of abuse at this point in time, will have an effect on any remedial steps we can take.
Maybe it’s not Dr Terry’s or John Jay College’s place to expand their study and focus on the bishops. But that’s where the concern of nearly every Catholic is today. Even Bishop Finn’s defenders accept he did something gravely wrong. They are content to receive and accept an apology. But absent in the messes in Philadelphia and Kansas City are any widespread desire to see the offending priests wrapped in concrete and tossed into the abyss of the sea. Why do you think everybody wants to see their offending bishop in a prison jumpsuit?
The American bishops have their million-dollar study. I don’t think it was money ill-spent. But now they have to look in the mirror and examine their consciences, individually and collectively, and begin the process of healing, making amends, and restoring trust. Here’s a clue: they aren’t going to get any help from the research department on this one.