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How Long Has This Been Going On?

Posted by Sandra On April - 1 - 2010

Reported Abuse
Douthat cites data from the John Jay report (from where the above graph originates) to argue that “the moral/cultural/theological climate of the 1960s and 1970s encouraged a spike in sexual abuse.” He continues:

This data informs the conservative Catholic argument that the post-Vatican II exodus of straight men from religious life and the spread of a sexually-active gay subculture within the priesthood is the abuse scandal’s “elephant in the sacristy.” Liberal Catholics might counter that the priesthood has always been disproportionately homosexual, and that the sexual revolution probably just encouraged psychologically healthy gay priests to give up on the church entirely, leaving behind a clerical population tilted toward repression, self-loathing and the dysfunctions of the closet.  Whichever narrative you prefer, though, it’s hard to deny that something changed in the 1960s, and not for the better.

Ross responds to readers’ criticisms here. His obvious fallacy is conflating reported cases of abuse with actual cases of abuse.

Reporting sexual abuse by a priest before the 1970s would have been extremely, extremely unlikely. Who would have believed you? How would you bring such a taboo subject up? Given the authoritative structure of the church, the reverence with which priests were treated, and the shame and stigma attached to all things sexual, the chances that a raped child would report a priest’s abuse to the authorities or even his or her own family before the 1970s was minimal.

It makes much more sense to me that the rise in data is because of a cultural change that allowed more people to speak about abuse they had buried in their psyches for years and decades than that liberal social mores suddenly took over the groovy church and that’s what led the abuse to spike. Sure, when you look at a case like the notorious Paul Shanley, one might see a correlation. Some priests previously abusing in secret might have used some of the broader sexual revolution of the time as some kind of affirmation of their crimes. But it seems much more likely to me that the greater the cultural power held by the church, the greater the likelihood of successful exploitation of minors within it. Human nature has not changed. We have evidence of sexual abuse and misconduct in the priesthood for centuries, alongside deeply homosexual subcultures in monasteries and all-male “celibate” clerical elites. Would it not be surpriusing if this had not been going on, given fallen human nature and the structure of these institutions? I suspect the rate of abuse was much, much higher in the distant than in the recent past – but we never heard about it. And never will.

READ MUCH MORE:

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/04/how-long-has-this-been-going-on-ctd.html










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