The media may be having a field day after a new report that U.S. Catholic bishops commissioned partly blamed the 1960s for the church’s clerical sexual abuse scandal, but an esteemed criminologist says the bishops are right to point to a direct connection between the countercultural revolution of and criminal behavior.
|James Q. Wilson: The '60s propelled problems as "people began to value self expression over self control."
Boston College senior fellow James Q. Wilson, the maverick social scientist who laid the intellectual groundwork decades ago for the aggressive “broken windows” approach to policing — embraced first by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, then by scores of other cities — gave a presentation to the Manhattan Institute in New York on Wednesday. Attendees tell Newsmax that Wilson believes the Vatican is onto something.
“Something had changed” in the culture during the ’60s to explain the rise in serious crimes, Wilson told his audience. “Now, how do people summarize that change? Well, we can borrow a lesson from the recent Vatican report, which said priestly abuse was the result of the 1960s.
“What did the Vatican mean?” Wilson said. “It meant that in this decade, owing to broad changes in our culture and the culture around the world, people began to value self expression over self control. I happen to think that that — at least with crime; I don’t know about priestly abuse — is a very powerful explanation.”
The new report, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,’’ is the culmination of five years of work by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
One of its conclusions is that “the rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in American society generally.” The increase of abuse that took place during that time frame “is consistent with the rise in other types of ‘deviant’ behavior, such as drug use and crime, as well as changes in social behavior, such as an increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce,” according to the report.
The report also rejects the argument that the requirement that Catholic priests live an unmarried, celibate lifestyle was a cause of the abuse crisis. “Celibacy has been constant in the Catholic Church since the eleventh century,” the John Jay analysis states, “and could not account for the rise and subsequent decline in abuse cases from the 1960s through the 1980s.”
The bishops’ report called it “crucial to recognize that the abuse was concentrated in the 1960s and 1970s and that those generations of Catholic priests were vulnerable without having had either a careful preparation for a celibate life or the understanding of the harm of sexual abuse that is now part of the overall culture.”
Headlines in newspapers treated the study as an exercise in evasion by the bishops, such as the Boston Globe’s story on Wednesday, which was entitled: “Study blames the Sixties for church’s abuse crisis.”
A harsh New York Times editorial published Wednesday called it “a new study of the abuse problem that cites the sexual and social turmoil of the 1960s as a possible factor in priests’ crimes” and charged that such a contention was “a rather bizarre stab at sociological rationalization and, in any case, beside the point that church officials went into denial and protected abusers.”
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights President Bill Donohue argues that homosexuality in the ’60s is a key factor underemphasized in the report. “The surge of gays in the seminaries began in the 1960s — not in the late 1970s,” as the report states, according to Donohue, “and as the report says, ‘Men ordained in the 1960s and the early 1970s engaged in abusive behavior much more quickly after their entrance into ministry.’”
Donohue says, “Priests had nothing but access to male altar servers before the 1960s, and the report notes that sexual abuse was not a problem then. That’s because there were fewer gay priests then.”
To the left, the 1960s was a time of liberation; to the right, the decade marks the beginning of a disastrous moral crisis. Nearly a half century later, researchers are finally scientifically quantifying the sociological effects of a troubled time that criminologist Wilson sees as a victory of “self expression over self control.”
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