Today the John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a report on the causes of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The study concluded that while there was no “single ’cause’ of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests,” one contributing factor was “[s]ocial and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s” that “manifested in increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and also among priests of the Catholic Church in the United States.” The study rejected two commonly asserted possible causes of the crisis: priestly celibacy, and homosexuality in the priesthood.
The report, The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, took five years to complete. There are a number of important findings and conclusions in the study, about which there will be more to say later. Right now, it’s important to dispel one emerging narrative: that the Catholic Church chose to “blame Woodstock” (the phrase of the New York Times‘ Laurie Goodstein) with a study designed to yield that result.
The study was not performed by the Church or any Church-affiliated group; it was independently undertaken by the John Jay College. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with other groups, did fund the study. Of course, it is only right that they did — they would have been criticized for not commissioning a study if they hadn’t. The John Jay College, which is part of the City University of New York, is without question totally independent of the Church.
And while the “blame Woodstock” aspect of the independent researchers’ conclusions may seem like a cop out at first, it can’t be immediately discounted when the data comes into play. Here’s a chart, from the report, showing that the cases of abuse did indeed peak in the Woodstock years: