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O'Brien blaming society for clergy sexual abuse

Abusive BehaviorSexual AssaultRoman Catholic Sex Abuse ScandalEdwin F. O'BrienSteve KellyJohn Jay

The reported highlights of the John Jay University study of the causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, which were also emphasized in Archbishop Edwin O'Brien's op-ed ( "We can't let it happen again," May 22), are that the general sexual climate of the 1960s and 1970s was to blame and not homosexuality among priests or the requirement of celibacy.

It is hardly surprising that this study reflects the institutional interests of its sponsor, much as drug trials and partisan and special interest polling reflect the interests of their sponsors. In each case, such studies are unworthy of institutions of higher learning. More disturbing is the attitude shown in the archbishop's op-ed: It's not really our fault, we don't need major institutional change, our minor corrections of clergy selection and education have made this a thing of the past, although of course we need to be on the lookout for any occasional occurrence.

It is a slander to blame these horrific acts on the general society. At no time in the "permissive" '60s and '70s did the general culture approve or support child rape. The major instigator of the "sexual revolution" was the advent of the birth control pill, a fact irrelevant to the abuse of mostly male minors by priests.

As I can attest from my own indoctrination, the church hardly passively accepted the sexual freedom of the times. It shouldn't get off blandly accepting that somehow the social climate made the actions of its own beyond its power to control.

The study seeks to have it both ways in denying that the abuse of minors was the result of imposed celibacy, while denying that homosexuality was a cause despite the predominance of boys as victims. If boys were the primary targets because they were more available to the transgressors, not because the transgressors were homosexual, then certainly the lack of socially approved sexual outlets, that is, marriage to adult women, must be a factor. Almost certainly, the reported sexual abuse of minors, mostly boys, must be influenced by both imposed celibacy and homosexuality, perhaps depending on the individual.

Finally, both the Jay study and the archbishop's op-ed do make a crucial concession: that the church put the protection and rehabilitation of the priest offenders ahead of ministering to the victims. It is as impossible to believe that the scarcity of priests had no influence on this policy as it is to believe that imposed celibacy, leading to good priests leaving and normal men avoiding the priesthood, had no influence on priestly scarcity. Testimony has shown that the church often not only moved transgressors without notice to the receiving parishes but also intimidated the victims and their families into silence. In doing that, the church is guilty of a mortal sin it has yet to fully confess, let alone atone for.

Steve Kelly, Ellicott City

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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