NEW YORK, MAY 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is the statement released today by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on the results of a study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on clergy sex abuse.
The study is titled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.”
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Today’s release of The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, a report conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, adds valuable insight and understanding to how and why the crime and sin of sexual abuse occurred in the Catholic Church.
Keep in mind that the study released today is a report to the bishops of the United States, not from them. The sexual abuse of minors is a tragedy that affects every family, religion, school, organization, institution, and profession in our society. The Catholic Church in the United States has been noted as the first group anywhere to contract a professional agency — in this case, the John Jay College here in New York City — to examine the “causes and contexts” of this scourge.
I start with this fact because some of the early reaction has already — no surprise here — criticized the bishops for the conclusions of the study! Once again, they are not our conclusions at all, but those of an acclaimed academic institution specializing in this sensitive area.
The information provided in the Causes and Context study closely mirrors our own experience here in the Archdiocese of New York. The report makes clear that the vast majority of sexual abuse occurred during the 1960’s through 1980’s, even as it examines the various conditions that led to this abuse. It also concludes that the incidence of sexual abuse of minors has declined sharply in the Catholic Church since 1985. The reports of abuse that the Victims Assistance Coordinators for the Archdiocese receive today are almost exclusively from decades ago. This does not minimize the damage done to the victims of abuse, as I once again offer an apology to anyone who may have been harmed by a priest or any other person acting in the name of the Church, however long ago.
The study also points out that there was no single cause that led to the sexual abuse crisis. Neither celibacy, as some have suggested, nor homosexuality, as others have claimed, have been found to be a reason why a person would engage in sexual abuse of a minor.
Instead, the Causes and Context report indicates that various vulnerabilities in an individual priest, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk that a priest might abuse.
Here in the Archdiocese, as elsewhere in the Church, many steps have been taken to combat this evil. As the study points out, providing safe environments for our young people is perhaps the most important way to prevent sexual abuse. In the Archdiocese, 74,000 adults have undergone safe environment training, and 82,000 have had background checks, with 170,000 children trained each year. In addition, our seminary formation program provides rigorous screening, and more intensive and comprehensive human and emotional development, which better prepares our future priests to live out their commitment to serving God and His Church. Codes of Conduct, both for clergy and for laity, have been established to clarify what is and is not appropriate behavior for those who work with or are associated with minors.
When an allegation of abuse is made, our policy and procedures are well-established, widely published, and effective. First and foremost, we continue to encourage anyone who has an allegation of abuse against a cleric, an employee, or volunteer of the Archdiocese to report it immediately and directly to the appropriate civil authorities. If the Archdiocese of New York has reason to believe that an act of abuse of a minor has occurred, it immediately contacts the appropriate civil authorities, cooperating with the district attorneys and other civil authority in their investigations of suspected cases of abuse.
Our Independent Lay Board, comprised of judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, social workers, parents, teachers, and those experienced in working with sex abuse victims, reviews these allegations after the civil process has completed. Using all the information that the Archdiocese has been able to gather, they determine if an act of abuse occurred, and advise the Archbishop of New York if the priest can be returned to ministry. Should a cleric be found to have committed even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor, he will never be permitted to serve in ministry again.
Earlier this week, the Holy See released a circular letter to bishops’ conferences around the world, urging them to develop polices for dealing with sexual abuse within their own countries. The letter outlines such steps as listening to and caring for the victims of abuse, creating safe environment for minors, proper formation of priests, cooperating with civil authorities, and taking proper care of priests who have been accused of abuse. It is my hope that the experience of the Church in the United States, as illustrated in this study, might help serve as a model, not only for the Church in other countries, but for all of society which is still learning how to deal with the awful problem of abuse.