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Nothing Distinctive About the Church

When the U.S. bishops met at their annual meeting in Baltimore on November 12-15, 2007, one item on the agenda was the preliminary findings of John Jay College’s extensive investigation into the “causes and context” of the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Church. As disclosed by researcher Karen Terry and Margaret Smith of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the occurrence of sexual abuse in the Church mirrored broader patterns of abuse in U.S. society. “This is in conflict with the idea,” said Terry, “that there is something distinctive about the Catholic church that led to the sexual abuse of minors.”

According to John L. Allen Jr., “both researchers pointed to a recent series from the Associated Press [AP] documenting reports of sexual abuse of minors in public schools in the United States, citing it…as confirmation of a broad cultural pattern rather than something distinctively Catholic” (National Catholic Reporter, Nov. 12, 2007).

Smith reported to the bishops that the exodus from the priesthood and the abuse crisis both appear to be related to the same underlying social factors, what Terry referred to as “overall changes in behavior, attitudes, and media representations in American society.” The lesson? As American society goes, so goes the Church.

Allen reports (Nov. 16) that Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha applauded the findings, because they “debunk what he called an ‘unfortunate media problem’ and ‘a myth, reinforced over time, that there’s something unique about a Catholic priest, about a bishop and his staff,’ when it comes to sexual abuse.”

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