Earlier this week, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference heard a briefing from researchers who are studying the causes of the sex-abuse scandal.
What they said was quite interesting Ã¢â‚¬â€ as was the reaction of several bishops.
Researchers Karen Terry and Margaret Smith of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC told the bishops that “preliminary study”:http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0706473.htm has shown that patterns of sex-abuse by priests are consistent with such patterns in the larger society.
According to Catholic News Service:
Terry displayed a graph portraying how the major influences of different decades compare with the increase and decline in reported cases of sexual abuse. For instance, it targets peak years of abuse reports correlating to the major social changes and attention to gender and sexuality of the 1960s and 1970s.
Data so far from John Jay confirms the findings of social scientists “that general social changes have had significant impact on the lives of those who are part of or closely associated with religious organizations,” she said.
So what does it mean?
In a typically revealing column, Catholic analyst “John Allen”:http://ncrcafe.org/node/1447 writes that bishops had two main reactions: to say that the Catholic Church should not have been singled out for a problem that affects all of society; and to concede that the church should be somewhat immune from society’s problems and not just another institution that falls prey to social trends.
On the former point, Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha complained about an “unfortunate media problem” that has produced “a myth, reinforced over time, that there’s something unique about a Catholic priest, about a bishop and his staff,” in regard to sexual abuse.
On the latter point, Bishop Robert Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio, said: “It’s a bit like my doctor telling me that my cancer is no worse than my hospital roommate’s cancer Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Our situation should be much better.”
Allen also cites a provocative statement from Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, the new president of the Bishops Conference, about whether religion is different from the rest of the culture:
The more interesting question, though, is whether or not the church herself, and particularly the priests and bishops, should be held to a moral standard that is higher than that of the general populace. That was raised by one bishop very astutely, saying that we should not be relieved to find out that our own standards just conform to what is the normal behavior, what has become so in the last several decades.
Speculatively, and I’m not sure whether you’re interested in the question or not, but [the results of the study] point to a sociological thesis or question: Is religion an independent variable? Or is it simply reduced to a cultural reality that can be explained in terms of something other than religion itself? If that’s the case, then the secularists shouldn’t be disturbed about religion, because it has nothing original to say anyway, and it’s not going to impose itself on anybody’s behavior. That’s a very important question. It’s not going to be decided here, and I don’t know the answer to it. I have different answers depending upon which sociologist I talk to. I think that however this thing finally turns out, it will inform the larger issues that are now before us in this country about secularism, the influence of religion in society, and all those good questions that we’re not going to discuss directly here.