success stories

Posted March 9, 2004

Sexual Abuse – a Never Ending Problem/Sickness/Sin?

What do we really know about the essence of sexual abuse? Is it genetic and in the category of a sickness; the result of permissive times in which we live; an avoidable sin that should be classified among the deadly capital sins? Although sexual abuse is as old as the history of humankind, is it more prevalent today, and if so, why? Will laws help prevent it? Is there any antidote for it? Is it a sickness that we have to live with and hope that it doesn’t become a plague? What are the ratios of cases of sexual abuse among professions like doctors, police, teachers, coaches and clergy? In condemning it, what exactly are we condemning? What is the best role society can fulfill in containing sexual abuse? Will it end up being the primary role of those in the legal professions to stem it, or will citizens begin to form movements aimed at learning its causes and stemming them?

50 Years -- Caution

By Michael Swan
Catholic News Service

TORONTO (CNS) -- People should be careful not to draw conclusions about the causes of clergy sexual abuse from the recently released church-initiated study in the United States, a U.S. priest-psychologist working in Canada warned.

Augustinian Father Ray Dlugos, psychologist and director of the Southdown Institute treatment center outside Toronto, also cautioned against blaming social and political mores of the late 1960s for infecting the church.

"Any causal inference cannot be drawn from the data," said Father Dlugos, a member of the Augustinians' Villanova province in Pennsylvania. "It's descriptive data.

"Anybody who is saying they know what the cause of it was doesn't know what the cause of it was. That study has not been done," he said.

The study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, found that from 1950 through 2002 more than 10,000 people claimed they had been childhood victims of sex abuse by nearly 4,400 of the roughly 110,000 priests who served in U.S. dioceses and religious orders during that time. The study noted that most of the reported abuse occurred between 1960 and 1990, peaking in the 1970s.

The study, released Feb. 27 in Washington, was commissioned by the National Review Board, a lay body set up by the U.S. bishops to oversee church response to the clergy sex abuse crisis. The board issued an accompanying report on the causes and context of the abuse crisis.

Father Dlugos said it would be wrong to "make the causal assumption that celibacy equals abuse."

"In fact, we don't know who is doing all the sexual abuse," he said.

Psychologists estimate one in four women and one in six men have experienced some kind of sexual abuse.

"Clergy aren't the only ones doing this," Father Dlugos said.

He said centers that treated abusive priests gave "bad advice" in the past, but officials now are not so confident about their ability to cure or permanently change the behavior of priests who prey on minors.

"What we know about this in 2004 is an awful lot more than anybody knew in the 1980s," he said.

The National Review Board report said that mistakes were made in large part because treatment centers had a lack of alternative treatment options to returning the priest-offender to active ministry.

But Father Dlugos said that in his five years at Southdown therapists have expressed "great caution" in strongly recommending that those who have allegedly abused children not be placed in a ministerial position where they would have access to children.

Slightly more than half of Southdown's 100 patients are from the United States. Of the male patients, between 10 percent and 15 percent are referred because of sexual allegations involving minors.

Southdown's extreme caution in recommending reassignment for abusive priests predated the U.S. bishops' zero-tolerance policy formulated in Dallas two years ago.

Openness, transparency and honesty in dealing with sex abuse will be good for the U.S. church, Father Dlugos said.

"We have a therapy cliche that we often use with our clients as individuals, that you are only as sick as your secrets," he said.

Father Dlugos said the numbers in the John Jay study upset him.

"I really am sick about this. I'm sick about especially the inordinate number of victims of a very small number of priests. I find that really horrifying," he said.