A 10-year clergy abuse scandal?

I realize the following criticism is going to sound picky, picky, picky. Guilty as charged. I happen to think, however, that nailing down the facts is an important task when we are dealing with a story as important as the latest report on clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The arguments are continuing -- and well they should -- on several elements of the study. I, for one, would like to see more discussion of the report's finding that most of the crimes consisted of heterosexual males having sex with young males, because the young males were more available, due to altar boy duties, etc. My question is simple: Couldn't these priests more accurately be described by skeptical journalists as "bisexual" in their orientation and/or behavior?

Meanwhile, journalists are struggling with the sheer size and scope of the story, even in the American context alone.

For example, carefully read the following slice of the second-day New York Times story

Victims groups accused the bishops of using the report and the researchers’ credibility to try to cap the 10-year scandal.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in an e-mail: “America’s bishops hope this will be their ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment, like George W. Bush on the aircraft carrier prematurely and conveniently declaring victory in Iraq. Their plan is to act as though the crisis has been clarified and is now past. It’s deceptive and disingenuous, but shrewd public relations.”

Among the most controversial findings in the report is the mountain-shaped graph that shows the number of abuse victims climbing through the 1960s, peaking in the 1970s and sharply declining from 1985 onward.

The report theorizes that priests coming of age in the 1940s and 1950s, growing up in families where sexuality was a taboo topic, and trained in seminaries that did not prepare them for lives of celibacy, went on to violate children during the social chaos of the sexual revolution.

Hey copy desk! How long has this scandal been gnawing at American Catholics? Was that 10 years?

So that 10-year era, roughly, would be from the bishops' wake-up call in 2002 (that produced so many headlines, of course) until today? Or would that have been from 1992 -- another major meeting of the bishops on the subject -- until 2002? And all the bad stuff ended after 2002?

But that reference makes no sense if one of the main points of this John Jay report is that abuse was at its worst in the 1970s and '80s. Right? Veteran reporters would also know that the first huge wave of news coverage began in the early 1980s, including a made-for-television movie in 1990 ("Judgment"), some magazine covers, etc. That was, of course, rooted in coverage of the hellish activities of a Father Gilbert Gauthe down in Louisiana.

So this is not a "10-year scandal." This story is much, much, much bigger than that.

We are talking about a scandal that has been making headlines in the MAINSTREAM PRESS for at least 30 years. And the reality under the surface -- as noted in the John Jay document -- is longer than that.

Facts matter. Time for a correction and some additional care at the copy desk.

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