Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Scott Stephens on Catholic sexual abuse

Scott Stephens' piece over at the ABC is one of the most important things I've read in some time. Scott discusses the findings of a major new empirical study on The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 – a report that has been widely ignored by the media, since it doesn't fit with the media's favourite grand narrative about the sexual deviance of Catholic priests.

The study, Scott says, shows "a sudden and disturbing increase in instances of sexual abuse from 1960, reaching its hellish pinnacle in 1975, followed by a sharp and sustained decline from 1985 to the present". By 2001, there were 5 reported cases of sexual abuse per 100,000 children (compared to 134 cases of abuse for every 100,000 children in American society as a whole in the same year). By 2010, there were just 7 reported cases across the entire Catholic Church in the United States. The report thus describes "the 'crisis' of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" as really a "historical problem."

Scott discusses many other aspects of the report's findings. Most interesting, I thought, is his suggestion that "the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s proved uncommonly conducive to the commission of sexual abuse" – and that the Church's reinstatement of a "punitive approach" to sexual deviance (as opposed to its earlier adoption of fashionable "therapeutic" approaches – counselling, treatment, relocation), together with "John Paul II's radical reform of seminary life and the spiritual formation of priests".

Thus Scott offers his own blistering conclusion: "Those who incessantly call for an end to sexual abuse in the Church are effectively trying to break down an open door." The deepest problem, he thinks, was the cultural milieu of the 1960s, with its vociferous opposition to all taboos, and its sinister promotion of unchecked sexual experimentation. (Sinister if you happened to be a child at the time.)

Speaking of Scott – if you're in Sydney, don't forget to come and join us tonight for a lively wine-and-cheese discussion with Tomáš Halik.

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