Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The "Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal" in Context: The May 2011 John Jay Report

From the very first day I began this blog -- August 25, 2002 -- I have posted -- intermittently -- about the "clergy sex abuse scandal," which has often been used as a synonym for the Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. Along the way I raised various questions about the scandal. I wondered, for example, why the Boston Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting, was interested only in sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. I was disturbed by the use of questionable evidence -- such as repressed memory -- in many of the legal actions brought against alleged offenders. I wondered whether sex abuse was more prevalent among the Catholic clergy than in, say, families or schools. I worried that the financial interests of potential plaintiffs and their lawyers were leading to distortions of evidence. I worried that the zealotry of victims' groups and their lawyers were leading to worrisome shifts in the balance between the interests and rights of victims and the interests and rights of civil and criminal defendants.

All of the questions I raised depended to some degree on empirical propositions. Now a report has been released that may shed light on many of those questions of fact: John Jay College Research Team, The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010: A Report Presented to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (First Printing, May, 2011).

Although impressive steps were taken to preserve the independence of the John Jay investigators (Karen J. Terry, Principal Investigator; Margaret Leland Smith, Data Analyst; Katarina Schuth, O.S.F., Consultant; James R. Kelly, Consultant; Brenda Vollman, Research Associate; and Christina Massey, Research Associate), the report will almost certainly not satisfy many constituencies, including groups that have a stake in advancing legal claims against Catholic organizations in America. Nonetheless, I do hope -- perhaps in vain -- that the report will lead to more balanced reporting in the mass media and that some attacks -- for example, on the celibacy rule -- will now be seen for what they probably are, attacks based on little more than prejudice and anti-Catholic animus.


The dynamic evidence page
It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.
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