Thursday, October 26, 2006

Root Causes, Anyone?

Hot of the press from the bishops' conference, another piece of the November Meeting agenda.



WASHINGTON— The U.S. bishops will vote during their fall meeting in Baltimore, Nov. 13-16, on a proposal to release $335,000 of the one million dollars they earmarked last year for research on the causes and context of sexual abuse by clergy.

The money would be used to underwrite the first three segments of the research, which is being undertaken by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.

Last November the bishops accepted a proposal from John Jay for the study of the Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Clergy in the United States, as called for by the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

As part of the proposal, John Jay is to raise funds for the study which is estimated to cost $2-3 million.

The entire study is slated for completion in 2009.

The first component of the study will look at the historical context and influences on the problem. According to Karen A. Terry, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study, “this component involves collection and analysis of archival, longitudinal data related to the demographic and normative changes in society and its institutions, including the Catholic Church in the United States, to frame our analysis of sexual abuse by priests.”

Hypotheses to be explored include “whether the incidence of abuse of children by priests is or is not consistent with overall social patterns of deviant behavior during the last half century,” the proposal notes. If these patterns are observed to be distinctly different “then the hypotheses to be explored would inquire about ministry-specific factors.”

The second component, Institutional Response by Church Leadership, will focus on “gaining understanding of the temporal, structural, and leadership factors within the Catholic Church that framed the response of individual dioceses to the crisis.” It will focus on diocesan responses after 1985, when many people became aware of the problem because of the notorious case of Louisiana priest Father Gilbert Gauthe.

“The actions of three dioceses with optimal response to reports of sexual abuse made after 1985 and three dioceses with notably (via public record) unsuccessful response will be studied,” according to the proposal.

The third segment, the Clinical/Psychological Component, aims “to understand on an individual level, how priests with allegations of sexual abuse differ from other priests (those with and without other problems) as well as sex offenders who are not priests.”

The proposal highlights the merits of the study.

“It is important to recognize that the Church is funding a study of ground-breaking significance in the field of research into sexual abuse of children," the proposal notes. “Additionally, however, the study will have historical significance for the Church itself. It is important, in many years from now, to understand as much as possible about the individual priests who committed acts of child sexual abuse, to share this understanding with bishops, priests and their diocesan associates, so as to prevent future crises.”

The proposal also notes that John Jay researchers are preparing to begin a study of sexual abuse within other religious institutions. Dr. Terry will also be the principle investigator for that study, according to the proposal.

Patricia Ewers, Ph.D., chair of the National Review Board, which advises the bishops on addressing the sexual abuse crisis, emphasized the significance of this study.

“The National Review Board is committed to working with the bishops and John Jay on this study that will benefit not only the church but also our entire society,” Dr. Ewers said. “We need to know what led to this violation of a sacred trust in order to take the steps needed to prevent future offenses. All relationships are based on trust and some relationships are sacred. This study will provide vital information to benefit not just the church, but also families, schools, sports programs and other situations in which young people are placed in the care of adults.”