More on Catholic abuse and Bill Donohue

May 23, 2011

I’m an avid viewer of an online American news show called The Young Turks. I don’t always agree with it, but it’s much better than the mainstream news and particularly on things like corporate lobbyists and tax avoidance, they’re usually bang on the money. Today I saw this video of theirs from last week in which the regular hosts Cenk and Ana comment on a new study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice:

I think that that commentary is completely unfair. First of all Cenk says that “there’s never been a dumber study in the history of mankind” and then criticises it based on the conclusion. That’s not the way this works. If you have a problem with a study you criticise it based on the method, or you look at the data and see that the conclusion isn’t supported, you don’t just say it must be wrong because it might be counter-intuitive.

Perhaps more importantly, the conclusions of the study that Cenk cites aren’t really the focus of the report. All I’ve read is the press release and the conclusion section of the full report (pg 118 onwards), which I don’t think is a huge amount to expect from someone doing a commentary on the content of a report, and the impression I was given is completely different to what they’re saying in the video. It’s as if they’ve formed their opinions from mainstream news outlets, which I wouldn’t expect from them. The main conclusion of the report is that there’s no single factor that could explain or predict abuse in the clergy, or in other words, that a lot of different things contributed to the high level of abuse.

The report does not say that the 60’s being a more “socially permissive time, and… Woodstock and all that” was the main reason for the abuse. What one of the authors of the report does say is that “the increased frequency of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time.” Now if Cenk doesn’t believe the level of abuse in society went up in the 60’s and 70’s (and I’ve no idea if it did or it didn’t), then that’s a valid basis for criticising the report, but don’t just exaggerate the claim that’s been made, that was just one of many factors.

Ana gets it right when she says that the report found that homosexuality and celibacy had no significant effect on the likelihood of abuse, but then turns that on its head (as if she thought they would) by dismissively saying the report blames it on the lack of “seminary training and emotional support to prevent them doing what they did”. It’s sort of true, the report says that a particular part of seminary training called ‘Human Formation’ was quite important, but it wasn’t just telling the priest not to rape children, as Cenk later implies. Basically what The Young Turks does here is pull out a couple of things that the report names as factors, and act as if the study is blaming the abuse on those factors, when actually the main conclusion is that no one factor can be identified as the cause.

But enough about the video, what about this conclusion that homosexuality wasn’t a factor in whether a priest abused or not? Given Bill Donohue’s tendency to blame the gays on every occasion when talking about this, will he stop making that claim now that he’s seen this report?

Of course not, it’s Bill Donohue.

Bill grandly states that “a homosexual is defined by his actions, not his identity”, and that therefore when the report says that tendency to abuse didn’t correlate with identity as a homosexual, they were missing the point. Obviously the abusers must be gay because they abused post-pubescent boys. Except that that is not what the report said. It concluded (emphasis mine):

Sexual behavior before ordination predicted sexual behavior after ordination; however, such conduct only predicted subsequent sexual interaction with other adults, not with minors. The clinical data do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity or those who committed same-sex sexual behavior with adults are significantly more likely to sexually abuse children than those with a heterosexual orientation or behavior. (p119)

So even if homosexuals are defined by their actions rather than their identity, homosexuality still doesn’t correlate. The report did name some other factors that did have an effect (emphasis mine):

Individual characteristics do not predict that a priest will commit sexual abuse of a minor. Rather, vulnerabilities, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk of abuse. Like non-priest abusers, the majority of priests who sexually abused minors appear to have had certain vulnerabilities to commit abuse (for example, emotional congruence with children or adolescents), experienced increased stressors from work (for example, having recently received more responsibilities, such as becoming a pastor), and had opportunities to abuse (for example, unguarded access to minors).

But rather than focus on those, Donohue decides to blame teh gayz. Maybe he should take a look at these factors, particularly the opportunity to abuse. Maybe his oft-cited fact that most of the victims were post-pubescent males has less to do with priests being homosexual, and more to do with the fact that priests have more access to post-pubescent males, since altar-servers tend to be post-pubescent, as do children in boarding schools. Maybe his flagrant homophobia is clouding his judgement. Just maybe.