Study debunks theories on priests' sex abuse

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore

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BALTIMORE -- Researchers at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, reporting initial findings in their look into causes of the Catholic church's 2002 sexual-abuse scandal, yesterday said they can't attribute it to gay priests or seminaries for teenagers.

"We do not have data to support ... those assertions," said Karen Terry, lead researcher for the $1.8 million study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is meeting this week in Baltimore.

Dr. Terry presented her interim report on the same day that the bishops conference also adopted a pastoral letter on marriage and a statement on reproductive technologies and approved the final part of a new translation of the Mass.

Some Catholic leaders have contended that because 80 percent of the abuse victims were male, the crisis must have been caused by gay priests acting out. But Dr. Terry said she found that abusers were confused about their sexuality and had poor social skills, but had no clear pattern of homosexual behavior.

She believes that they abused boys mainly because they had access to boys. "Even though there was sexual abuse of many boys, that doesn't necessarily mean that the person had a homosexual identity," she said.

The study said the abuse rose dramatically in the 1960s and '70s, and has been declining since 1985. She said this paralleled other bad behavior, such as drug abuse, in the wider society.

Her findings were critical of the bishops for often ignoring victims' needs. But she credited the bishops with instituting seminary programs in the 1980s that she believes prevented later abuse.

Before those programs, Dr. Terry said, seminarians received little help to understand themselves as emotional, relational and sexual beings. "Clergy who, as seminarians, had explicit human formation preparation seem to have been less likely to abuse than those without such preparation," she said.

The bishops adopted a pastoral letter on marriage, which delved into gay marriage, divorce, cohabitation and birth control. Yet none of the conference debate focused on gay marriage.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chairman of the drafting committee, said the pastoral letter was intended as the foundation of an array of future efforts the bishops have planned as part of a comprehensive initiative to strengthen marriage. These range from television public service announcements emphasizing communication to a Web site specifically for Hispanic couples.

The letter, passed on a 180-45 vote, is to be available at

The pamphlet "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology," which the conference approved 220-4, was intended to address what Archbishop Justin Rigali, chairman of the bishops' pro-life committee, called "great confusion" among Catholics about medically assisted reproduction. "Any method of making babies is considered by many to be pro-life. There is a need to help Catholics understand specific differences between the Catholic understanding and a secular understanding of human life," he said.

The Catholic church forbids artificial intervention either to prevent or start a pregnancy, arguing that the process impairs cooperation with God and reduces children to consumer choices.

The pamphlet will have a link to a Web site with information about what kinds of medical assistance with conception are and aren't acceptable to the church. But the pamphlet left somewhat vague the practice of "embryo adoption," in which couples seek implantation of embryos that other couples have abandoned at fertility clinics.

A recent Vatican document discouraged but did not explicitly ban that practice, intended to save the embryos. "That question was addressed by the Vatican document, and the conclusions are not something that we can say they have either outlawed or accepted," Cardinal Rigali said.

After long debate, the bishops passed the last five segments of a new translation of the Mass that Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., has argued is awkward and ungrammatical. Bishop Arthur Serratelli, the liturgy committee chairman, said no translation is perfect, but "the new translation is good and worthy of our use. Perfection will come when the liturgy on Earth gives way to that of heaven."

Ann Rodgers can be reached at or 412-263-1416.


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