Monday 6 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.


JeremyR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Simpson said...

Rather than couching it in terms of blame, I'd rather think of it in terms of telling a more truthful story with regard to sex abuse. I take it that your comment is meant humorously, but this is extremely serious. If Stephens' piece is accurate, that clears away a lot of debris that keeps people from taking seriously the claims of the church.

JeremyR said...

"the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s proved uncommonly conducive to the commission of sexual abuse"

How is this not an evasion of responsibility? It's not simply that there's been abuse, but that the scandals have often been covered up to preserve the reputation of the church.

Anthony Paul Smith said...

Considering the abuse scandal extends outside of the US and considering that it was the early 70's when sexual experimentation was at its peak this sounds like the usual Red Tory/Paradoxical Politics wankery that Stephens likes to publish. Wishful thinking doesn't make reality go away and neither does strange quasi-Catholic decadent Barthianism.

Justin (3MinuteTheologian) said...

Massively inappropriate for the thread (but in absence of an direct email) : so that's what you look like!

I have an invitation to New England for that period, so if I can at all manage it, I'd love to get to Princeton, to say thank you, as a long time reader and plagiarist, of this blog. Justin

Steven Harris said...

The only qualification that should be added to this is that most sexual abuse of children is often not reported until decades later. Hopefully Scott is correct and the problem is on the wane, but many of the sexual abuse victims of the last 25 years will not yet have come forward.

Anonymous said...

Should the claim linked below prove true, I wonder if it will annul the hippie hypothesis.

Pamela said...

"The deepest problem, he thinks, was the cultural milieu of the 1960's with its vociferous opposition to all taboos, and its sinister promotion of unchecked sexual experimentation."
I have to disagree with that one. The 1960's brought enormous changes to society, including an openness to discussion of subjects formerly "taboo", not necessarily a bad thing.
I also think the relentless media coverage of this issue has helped victims more than a reluctant church.

Justin said...

Ben I know you and Scott are friends, but that article was the most absurd pile of turd I've read in a while.

How exactly did the "foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s" prompt bishops to lie, cover up, blame the victims, hide behind legal walls, and basically do everything possible to maximise, rather than minimise, the abuse of their priests?

How did it prompt the Vatican to reward such behaviour by bishops with promotions, while punishing those (eg Bishop Gumbleton) who spoke out against it?

These and other problems, combined with Scott's characteristic way over the top obnoxiousness, make me wonder what you see in the article?

Boz said...

I think there is a conflict of interest in producing this report?

Anonymous said...

To quote Stephens as way of right of reply:

"I must emphasize once more that such cultural patterns are not a complete explanation of the occurrence of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and the Causes and Context study never claims they are. But to discount what I have called "the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s" as a factor out of hand, quite frankly, suggests an almost delusional belief in the health and progress of Western culture."

This is an important point albeit a politically incorrect one.

Anthony Paul Smith said...

No, it suggests a rather rational desire for narratives to witness to the truth of situations, rather than find some convenient non-Christian scapegoat to blame it on. If you actually look at the "cultural soil" (ugh... soil? really?) of the 60's and 70's you find that there was more education going on, rather than rampant "anything goes". For example, the 1950's saw far more teen pregnancy in the US than the latter decades. To attempt and blame a problem within the Church on secular culture suggests an actual delusional belief in the health and progress of the Roman Catholic Church. A delusion often on display with conservative quasi-Catholics like Stevens and Blond.

Anonymous said...

You don't think the decrease in teen pregnancy from 1960 onwards had anything to do with the availability of the contraceptive pill?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if slightly less colourful language than 'foetid' were used in the article, it would be possible to have a sensible discussion.

Justin (gah, Google ID not working)

Anonymous said...

The report didn't just fail to " with the media's favourite grand narrative about the sexual deviance of Catholic priests." as you state. The report failed to fit with the APA's guidlines respecting the definition of Pedophilia; failed to address the outrageous and immoral cover up by church autorities up to the man who is now the current Pope; failed to address the pressure often put on victims and their families by an organization they beleive to be in care of their immortal souls?

How can you so blithely ignore these matters of clear public record?

Alex said...

Relatively obscure theorists, with relatively small influence globally (how many people have read those books cited?) apparently have a casual influence upon the formation of what remains one of the most conservative institutions in the world, at a time when the church was actively resisting any minor changes in sexual politics. Sociological studies have shown, that, in fact, social mores changed only among a tiny minority in the 1960s globally. This is disgusting horrible tripe that denies the church's own responsibilities for an internal culture that never blew the whistle.

What people largely object to is the Church's attempts to cover all of this up. Fawning rubbish like this is utterly despicable and you Ben should be ashamed. No amount of rubbish sophistry is going to get you out of the lack of concern this piece shows for victims, who are still emerging.

Scott - why don't you finish your PhD before writing cod-sociology?

Anonymous said...

Reading this post, I have to say it's a brilliant defence of the Roman Catholic Church. If one would believe this post, one would almost be inclined to praise the Church for not letting this problem of sexual abuse become an even bigger.

It's almost as if we should praise the Roman Catholic Church for not giving into that "foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s" more than it did. The picture it draws seems to be as follows: The Church bravely combatted that evil cultural soil, but even in that brave battle against the secular culture, it was unable to completely keep it outside of the church.
So instead of blaming the church, we should commend it for so bravely standing against that foetid cultural soil as succesfully as it did. If it hadn't, the amount of sexual abuse would be multitude worse.
If only the world would have listened more to the wisdom of the pope instead of giving into that evil secular culture of free sexuality, then none of this would have happened.

1. I don't think blame can be so easily shifted to the cultural soil of the 60's and the 70's.
2. Even if the popular culture of that time is to blame for infecting the church, the obvious question is if the church hasn't been too worldly, that it let itself be influenced in this way.
Can we expect another wave of sexual abuses when culture happens to turns foetid again? Is the church just not able to withstand culture when it turns sour?
Apparently the church blowing with the winds of the times is a perfectly reasonable excuse for it's own faults?
How about developing a church and a theology that is able to withstand such evil?

I'm a Dutch protestant, and I believe in the one church of christ. And as such I believe the faults of my fellow christians are my own faults as well. Ecumene should encompass not only wanting to sharing each others victories, but also feeling a shared shame at each others faults.
But really this post too easily seems to do exactly what the Roman Catholic Church has been accused of: ignoring, stepping over, and even trying to silence the discussing of a very real fault of our church. One that is still actual! (how dare you even suggest that this is "really a historical problem"? As if still mentioning it is only done out of a anachronistic sense of justice. "what? are you still going on about it? This problem has already fixed itself, when culture became less foetid in the 80's..."


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