BALTIMORE – A preliminary report commissioned by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops on the roots of the clergy sex abuse scandal found no evidence that gay priests are more likely than heterosexual clergy to molest children, the lead authors of the study said Tuesday.
The full report by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice won't be completed until the end of next year. But the authors said that their evidence to date found no data indicating that homosexuality was a predictor of abuse.
"What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse," said Margaret Smith of John Jay College, in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now."
The question has been raised repeatedly within and outside the church because the overwhelming majority of known victims were boys. As part of the church's response to the crisis, the Vatican ordered a review of all U.S. seminaries that, among other issues, looked for any "evidence of homosexuality" in the schools.
Yet, many experts on sex offenders reject any link between sexual orientation and committing abuse. Karen Terry, a John Jay researcher, said it was important to distinguish between sexual identity and behavior, and to look at who the offender had access to when seeking victims.
The bishops had commissioned the $2 million study as part of widespread reforms they enacted at the height of the abuse crisis. The scandal erupted in 2002 with the case of one predator priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, then spread to every U.S. diocese and beyond.
Nearly 14,000 molestation claims have been filed against Catholic clergy since 1950, according to tallies the bishops have released in recent years. Abuse-related costs have reached at least $2.3 billion in the same period.
At the meeting Tuesday, Bishop Edward Braxton, of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., asked the researchers whether their study indicated that homosexuality should be considered when evaluating a candidate for the priesthood. In 2005, the Vatican issued a policy statement that men with "deep-seated" attraction to other men should be barred from the priesthood.
Smith said: "If that exclusion were based on the fact that that person would be more probable than any other candidate to abuse, we do not find that at this time."
The latest findings affirmed previous reports that the rate of clergy abuse has declined steeply since the mid 1980s. Researchers found that the abuse rate peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the claims being made now involve allegations from decades ago.
In separate business Tuesday, the bishops:
— Adopted a pastoral letter affirming the church's definition of marriage being between one man and one woman, and that sex is meant for procreation. They also issued an educational document on the church's opposition to reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization.
— Updated their "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services." The new language states that medically assisted nutrition and hydration, while not mandatory in every case, should be provided to all patients who would benefit, including those in a persistent vegetative state. However, the aid should not be provided if it becomes "excessively burdensome" for a patient who is very close to death, the revision states.
— Gave final approval to an English translation of the Roman Missal that has been in development for years. After the Vatican gives its final authorization, the new translation will be adopted by parishes nationwide, possibly next year.