In 2002, in an effort to identify potential offenders and prevent additional abuse, several Catholic organizations and the U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops commissioned a study to determine the causes of the sexual abuse that had run rampant in the Catholic church for several decades. The results of that study have been released, and thus far they are inconclusive. Researchers found no link between clergy sexual assault and homosexuality, pedophilia and mandatory celibacy, which many church leaders had previously believed was behind the abuse.
According to the study, less than five percent of the accused priests studied could be defined as pedophiles (which refers to adults who are attracted to young children who have not yet gone through puberty). For the most part, victims were in their pre-teen and teenage years.
Accused clergy members had no overarching similarities in terms of sexual orientation, and researchers found no "psychological characteristics" or "developmental histories" that could indicate other potential abusers. Nor did victims share many defining characteristics, with wide ranges in age and gender. However, approximately 80 percent of the almost 16,000 reported victims of sexual abuse from 1950 to the present are male. This is believed to be the case simply because priests and church officials had greater access to them.
Primarily, the research indicated, timing was the only similarity among the offenders. For the most part, abusive priests went through seminary school during the 1940s and 1950s, which left them wholly unprepared to handle the mass societal changes of the 1960s. This led many of them to commit sexual assault.
Upon receiving the study results, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests dismissed the report, claiming that Catholic church officials and affiliated groups had funded the study.
Source: Associated Press, "Study: Homosexuality, celibacy didn't cause abuse," Rachel Zoll, 18 May 2011
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