That is the John Jay Colege report on The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010. There will be much to say and a lot of it will be bad and deservedly so but there is also some good stuff here. If you want o read it yourself, you can get the PDF here.
So let's start with the good.
The report confirms a number of things we already knew that are worth underlining. The problem was not gay priests. And the problem was not the requirement that priests be celibate.
Interestingly, the most important indicator is not about the people involved but the period. The amount of abuse started increasing sharply in the mid 1960s through the 1970s and then plunged. it was, as the report indicates, in sharp decline by 1985. Now that is interesting because that corresponds to larger social trends. Youth crime, for example, follows, the same trajectory.
Now why did that happen? Honest answer: I don't know. I doubt very much that anyone else does either. And it's important to note that we don't know why the abuse increased but it is also just as important that we also don't know why it later declined either.
The report also finds that priests who had been ordained in the decades previous who abused children did not do so in significant numbers until the crucial period. This suggests that there was nothing about the priests themselves but rather something about the larger cultural factors at play.
So far so good but now the bad beginning with the very bad and then the worse.
The very bad is that the study seems to have defined pubescent as ten years of age or older. That's a huge problem. It's very important to differentiate between abusers of sexually maturing children and those who pick on children who have not developed. Not because one is or is not worse than the other but for the simple reason that we need to understand what really did happen here.
Ten years of age is not a reasonable cut off and it undermines the claim made elsewhere in the study that the abusive priests did not fit the profile of true pedophiles. It suggests to the contrary that that is exactly what many of them were/are.
That is a bigger problem because we also learn from this study that the church authorities recognized that true pedophiles cannot be treated. If they knew that then why weren't authorities called in in cases where children frame ages ten to twelve were abused, cases where the authorities should have recognized that the offenders were highly likely to repeat their crimes. By putting the cutoff too low, the study fails to uncover the church's failures.
The worst is that the study has not dealt with the utterly irresponsible response of the church. The problem is very simple: When they became aware of these cases the priests and bishops in authority should have picked up the phone and called the police immediately and they did not. There are all sorts of things that went on but that is the heart of the matter. And it is a problem the church has failed to answer to adequately to this day.
As a consequence, the report treats the efforts the church made to deal with the problem but never confronts the more important issue that it was none of the church's business to be dealing with the problem. It was a criminal justice problem not a church management problem and the bishops failed to recognize this. (And I'll give an example that suggests that they still haven't learned the lesson in an upcoming post tomorrow.)
In any case, this is a long, long way from good enough. It's useful to know that the abuse follows larger social trends of that period but what we really need to know is why did the church respond so stupidly to the crisis. The problem that needs to get fixed is not with the abusers but with the authorities. We need to know what they were thinking and doing and why they thought they were entitled to try to deal with a problem that should have been handed over to the criminal justice system.