Andrew M. Greeley

The New York Times labored mightily to bring forth a mountain of priest abusers in its recent census and produced only a mouse, as it admitted in the 12th paragraph of its sensationalist prose in “Decades of Damage” (1/12/03). The Times reported a percent of American priests not greatly different from that of Cardinal Ratzinger: 1 percent for the cardinal and 1.8 percent for the Times. Yet The Times used this very low proportion to launch still another attack on the Catholic Church and the celibate priesthood.

 

I have, for the record, been warning church leadership since 1985 that it was “sitting on an atom bomb” created by the reassignment of abusive priests. One victim of a priest is one too many. One reassigned abuser is one too many. The number of 1,205 abusing priests and 4,268 victims is horrific. However, if the Ratzinger/Times estimates are anywhere near the reality, 98 percent of American priests are not abusers, a point The Times neglects to make and which ought to have been the lead in an unbiased news report.

I suspect that the Ratzinger/Times estimates are too low, but double the number to 4 percent—which I suspect is closer to the truth—and one still finds that 96 percent of priests are not abusers. The horror is doubled but the picture is not nearly as bleak as The Times and other media have hinted through the last year.

But the Times writer, Laurie Goodstein, proved remarkably ingenious in keeping the feeding frenzy alive. There is evidence in the data, she suggests, to support both those who blame the abuse problem on celibacy and those who blame it on the breakdown of sexual morality during the 1960’s.

This is simply not so. The numbers prove nothing at all. Most experts in sexual abuse of minors and children attribute it to a deep and incurable syndrome acquired early in life. Marriage won’t cure it. An abuser who marries is a married abuser. Moreover, it is contemptuous toward women to suggest that a man can cure his attraction to minors simply by sleeping with a woman. The fact that most of the abusers were ordained in the 1960’s can just as well be attributed to the fact that there were large ordination classes in those years.

Nonetheless, the Times writer ignores the clinical evidence about the personalities of abusers and uses the debate between the two sides to cry havoc and again let loose the furies of the talking heads who have pontificated about priests for the last 12 months. She thus deftly shifts the frame of her article from abusers to all priests.

Led by the Rev. Robert Silva of the National Federation of Priests Councils, the talking heads denounce sexual education in the seminaries. I will yield to no one in my contempt for what passed as a seminary education in those days—about sexuality and everything else. Yet the argument that blames the seminaries for sex abuse fails the test of the scholastic dictum, qui nimis probat nihil probat: she who proves too much, proves nothing. If seminary training turned out hordes of sexual predators, then there should be a lot more than there are. Maybe a lot of us were sexually immature at the time of ordination—just as most young men are sexually immature at the time of marriage, and many remain so for the rest of their lives. Maybe we could have benefited from better sexual education—though I’m at a loss to know what that would have been like. Indeed, what kind of sexual education will change the personality of someone with, in Dr. John Money’s words, a “vandalized love map”?

But most of us—98.2 percent if one credits the Times’s numbers—are not sexual predators. Indeed if the seminaries are responsible for sexual abuse, that proportion is almost a miracle of grace.

Citing the comments of resigned priests, the Times writer also asserts quite gratuitously that “healthy” priests began to “jump ship” in the 1960’s and 70’s. She really does not prove that assertion, but instead quotes the study conducted by Eugene Kennedy and Victor Heckler (whom she does not mention) of Loyola University Chicago as part of the 1970 research on the priesthood commissioned by the American bishops. Fifty-seven percent of priests, according to their report, were “psychologically underdeveloped.” But she apparently did not read the introduction to the report, in which Kennedy and Heckler say that priests were “ordinary,” not very different from other men. Apparently, then, 57 percent of American males are psychologically underdeveloped. (A woman theologian remarked to me skeptically, “Is that all?”)

One must also wonder whether it is a sign of “psychological development” for men who left the priesthood to proclaim themselves as “healthy” and those who stayed as “unhealthy”?

Moreover, the Loyola report cites no comparative statistics about psychological development of married men with whom priests might legitimately be compared. In another part of the report to bishops in 1970, a National Opinion Research Center team administered Everett Shostrom’s Personality Orientation Inventory to priests and compared priests with norm groups available for that test. Priests compared favorably with men of the same age and educational attainment on maturity, self-actualization and the capacity for intimacy. More recently in 1992, research with a similar design by the Rev. Thomas Nestor confirmed the NORC findings and found slightly higher scores on priests’ capacity for intimacy. Since these data did not fit the Times reporter’s “frame” of a sick, immature, twisted priesthood, she did not bother to seek them out.

Nor did she cite data from the recent Los Angeles Times study of American priests, which showed that most priests are happy in the priesthood, most find it even better than they had expected, most would choose to be priests again, and most have no intention of leaving the priesthood.

As I will argue in my forthcoming book Priests in the Pressure Cooker, all the comparative evidence available suggests that, despite The New York Times, most priests are reasonably mature, happy men. They are not the crowd of cowering, craven, sexually frustrated, “unhealthy” males that the media have portrayed this past year. Priests have their faults and failings: in general they are miserable homilists, do not administer “user-friendly” parishes and still do not take the abuse crisis seriously, but the media have calumniated them.

I do not want to become a media basher (like most priests in the L.A. Times surveys). If it had not been for media pressure, the hierarchy would not have been forced to end their reassignments of abusive priests. No media outlet ever sent a known abuser back into a parish. Yet the sexual abuse crisis has become an occasion for Catholic-bashing and celibate-priest bashing, an old custom dating to the 19th century that is as American as cherry pie—with the addition these days that a few self-serving resigned priests join in the game.

If some African Americans are brutal rapists, it does not follow that all or most African Americans are. If some C.E.O.’s are crooks, it does not follow that all or most are. If some priests are creepy predators, it does not follow that all or most priests are.

The Times writer concludes her article with the gratuitous suggestion that abuse cases were down in the 1990’s because bishops might still be covering up. She does not seem to realize that her article covers up the truth that most priests are reasonably healthy males who are happy in their work and are not lusting for little boys.

I also wonder why the two honest and intelligent articles on the subject by Peter Steinfels, who works for The Times, appeared in Commonweal and The (London) Tablet, and not in The Times. Did the Times editors ban Catholics from reporting on the sexual abuse problem?

I conclude from this article that the good gray Times, under editor Howell Raines, has left behind its historic position of edgy suspicion toward the church, crossed the border into hostility and ventured on to the stomping grounds of virulent anti-Catholicism.

Maria Monk lives!

The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley is professor of social sciences at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona and Research Associate at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Comments

Mike Hayes, Associate Director | 1/31/2007 - 12:28pm
In his article “The Times and Sexual Abuse by Priests” (2/10), the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley certainly makes good points about the way the media have portrayed priests during this past year. However, Father Greeley misses an obvious point about the celibacy issue.

While I do not doubt that most priests are good, upstanding men, the fact remains that the predators certainly do exist (albeit only around 2 percent of all priests), and also that the numbers of priests in this country are dwindling. I agree with Father Greeley that making celibacy an option will not cure the sexual abuse scandal. But might it improve the quality and quantity of the priesthood we deserve?

Making celibacy an option (at the very least for men entering the priesthood) could attract a large number of men who dismissed the option of the priesthood so that they could have a family and a wife. The church can make this option much like the permanent diaconate already is; you need to be married before entering the seminary.

While widening the pool of candidates for the priesthood, we very well could, as Father Greeley suggests, be inviting more predators into our clerical culture. But we also could be invigorating a “new breed” of priest, one that perhaps can aid in looking at sexuality and a host of other issues from a new perspective within the seminary and parish walls. I strongly believe that their viewpoint can provide the link between the priesthood and the laity, who oftentimes feel that their priests cannot relate to them, as Father Greeley even admits by saying that priests are sometimes “miserable homilists and do not administer user-friendly parishes.”

When it comes to celibacy and the priesthood, we need not point fingers at the predators and say, “See what happens?” Instead, we need to look outside the seminary walls at those who would be more than happy to be part of the priesthood. Perhaps it is there that we can see that the priesthood can grow into something more life-giving than we ever imagined.

William A. Donohue | 1/31/2007 - 12:21pm
The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley’s conclusion that The New York Times’s coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the church constitutes “virulent anti-Catholicism” is irresponsible (“The Times and Sexual Abuse by Priests” 2/10). The Times, like most major newspapers that covered the scandal, never implied that most priests were predators. And this is especially true of Laurie Goodstein, whom Father Greeley attacks. Never have I found her to be anything but professional and accurate in her reporting.

It does no good to blame the messenger for bringing bad news.

Patrick Kelly S.J. | 2/7/2003 - 12:55pm
Thank God for Andrew Greeley! Finally some thoughtful analysis of how members of the American media have been covering the sexual abuse crisis. It is helpful that they come from someone like Fr. Greeley as well, who has been outspoken about the problem of clergy sexual abuse for many years. He is hardly someone who is going to minimize the problem or the suffering that has been caused to victims of sexual abuse by priests. Another way to consider the issue is to compare the treatment of Islam in the media after September 11 and the treatment of the Catholic church after the sexual abuse issue broke last winter. After September 11 scholars across university campuses in the United States gathered to remind us that it is important to make a distinction between the actions of some people, like the terrorists, who were claiming to act in the name of Allah, and all peace loving Islamic people and the true values of Islam. There were warnings about the potential harm that could be caused by putting together words in media coverage such as “Islamic Terrorist”, giving the impression that terrorism was something that was intrinsic to Islam. This began to influence media coverage, as can be seen in articles in Time Magazine from September 24 entitled “One God and One Nation – The True Values of Islam” and Karen Armstrong’s article from October 1st on “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam” as well as many other articles about the backlash in prejudice and even violence toward Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus. All of this made me proud to be an American. But it also led me to be disappointed at the way many members of the news media, rather than distinguishing between the vast majority of Catholics and their values and beliefs and the deplorable actions of a few, have tended to link all members of the Catholic church, its beliefs and practices, and especially priests to the issue of sexual abuse. This linking of the Catholic church to sexual abuse can be seen in the differential treatment afforded Catholics in Time Magazine’s cover article “Can the Catholic Church Save Itself?” which appeared during Holy Week of last year. What did the editors mean by “Catholic Church” here? It looks as though the editors meant, well, what one usually thinks of by this term: Catholics, i.e. all the members of the Catholic church. But this is a lot of people, even in the United States. This is seen in a section of the article entitled “Troubling Trends”, where a graph depicts the growth of Catholics in the United States, from about 27 million in 1950 to 63.7 million in 2001. (It was difficult for me to understand why the rapid growth of Catholics in the United States during this period would be listed under “Troubling Trends”.) Among these are the over 40,000 priests in the United States. Was Time magazine suggesting that all of these people need to “save themselves”?

Catherine McKeen | 2/9/2003 - 2:19pm
I was glad to see Rev. Andrew Greeley's challenge to some of the blatant anti-Catholic assertions in Laurie Goodstein's NY Times article "Decades of Damage" (1/12/03). Taking a page from the work of historian Philip Jenkins, Fr. Greeley correctly uncovers the bias buried in purportedly even-handed press reportage on the Catholic Church.

Dr. James Post, Voice of the Faithful president, I hope will take note: In his talk at Manhattan's St. Ignatius Loyola church on February 5th, Dr. Post quoted the Times article in a completely credulous way. Edgy about the church's management failures, the faithful need to be equally sharp about the offenses of that most powerful of institutions: the American media.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni S.D.B. | 2/2/2003 - 10:49am
Am I the only one in town convinced that there is something horribly wrong with a justice system that can drag into the mud the name of a human being of the caliber of a Msgr. John Heaney (San Francisco Chronicle, p.1 headline, 1/27/03) for something someone who does not have the guts to let his name be used thinks happened over forty years ago?

Why don't a few self-respecting lawyers - there are some still around - cry out in shame against those colleagues who have discovered how fortunes can be made by digging into the distant past and suing the church (but never a school district)? And if you think that it's only a noble concern for the welfare of children that drives their efforts, follow the money.

If my utter contempt for our legal system in this and in similar cases is due only to the fact that I happen to be a priest, will some decent atheist please help clear the foul air while I throw up?

Mona Villarrubia | 2/2/2003 - 1:56am
I wish to respond to an opinion being expressed in the media to which Rev. Greeley's article "The Times and Sexual Abuse by Priests" makes reference. Namely that the sexual abuse of children by priests can somehow be associated with the moral laxity of the post-Vatican II era. Can educated people really be so naive? Isn't there a statistical probability that abusers were themselves likely to have been abused? Haven't a number of admitted pedophile priests themselves made that claim? This means the problem is likely to have been around at least a generation before the 60's. How can we assume just because our parents' or grandparents' generations aren't talking that they were not preyed upon in equal numbers? Isn't abuse often referred to as a cycle or repetition? I am sure that no-one in the mental health profession would suggest that 1-4% of priests in the 60's suddenly manifested pedophilia because of a change in social mores. So why are so many people in their 30's and 40's stepping forward and claiming victimization? What makes the baby-boomer generation different is that we have been provided with the cultural permission and the therapeutic tools to face our abuse and name our abusers. Even as our own parents remain in solid denial of our abuse and possibly even of their own. It was not until my abuse was corroborated by my brother telling his story of abuse by the same priest that my family stopped calling me a liar. And it was not until my mother felt guilty and became defensive that she revealed my own father had been sexually abused by a priest in childhood. As if somehow this excused my parents for their lack of supervision and protection. So in my own immediate family the abuse reaches back at least two generations. For the Catholic community or the media to convince themselves that the phenomenon of pedophile priests was an aberration within one generation is not just naive it is dangerous. Combined with apparently lower numbers of victims from the last fifteen years such a belief could lead to the conclusion that pedophile priests are a thing of the past. Yet, while I am delighted that only 1-4% of priests are pedophiles, and while I have many friends who belong to the 96% who do not prey on small children, I am far from confident that that number is decreasing or was any lower in the decades before the 1960's. I feel this problem has been around for a very, very long time and, unless we begin to truly engage in a process of community healing involving both the priests and the victims, I am not confident that it is going to change.

Ann Zoll | 2/20/2003 - 1:34am
I must disagree with the gist of Fr. Greeley's article. It seems to me that the saddness most Catholics feel today is not so much about the abuse and its coverage by the press but about the cover-up by such a large number of bishops.

Sister Marie Roseanne Bonfini, IHM | 2/13/2003 - 10:34am
At last --a thinking head emerges above the talking heads! Amid the cacophony of shrieking statistics (by the way, proving not much) comes a sane and sober statement of the facts --also substantiated by statistical analysis. Although there have been many excellent responses to the current priest-bashing plague, they have been, at best, a reasonably defensive effort. Now you have, finally, launched a creditable attack on the irresponsible reporting of the press, thanks to Father Greeley. His comments are creditable because of his experience of priesthood and validated by his years of solid research. May his insights become contagious. The New York Times deserves so convincing and formidable an adversary.

Timothy J. Jorgensen | 2/11/2003 - 10:42am
Fr. Andrew M. Greeley is missing the point in his recent America article (Feb. 10, 2003) about abusive priests. His commentary is largely a rebuttal of an apparently inflammatory article that appeared in the New York Times regarding the psychological profile of men who become priests, and how their allegedly immature psychological state predisposed them to abuse children. Although I have not read the Times article, I have no doubt that Fr. Greeley is correct that such preposterous nonsense has no place in a newspaper like the Times, and is better suited to Jerry Springer. I also accept, as Fr. Greeley asserts, that no more than 4% of priests have abused children, and that it is ridiculous to characterize the other 96% based on the behavior of a deviant minority. I also agree that the incidence of child abusers among priest is probably no greater than among men in the general population. But all of this is not the point.

The number that I am most interested in is the proportion of the “innocent” 96% that knew about abusive priests and the policy of reassigning them, yet did nothing to stop either the abusers or the policy. These silent priests are accomplices to the crimes, and must share the guilt. The only member of this silent group that has finally accepted responsibility is Cardinal Law. Are we to believe that he alone knew about this reassignment policy involving so many priests and so many victims over so many years? Preposterous!

I don’t know the percentage of priests that were silent accomplices, but I would guess that it is considerably higher than 4% and, as far I know, could be 100%. Amazingly, Fr. Greeley himself admits to having known about the policy for nearly 20 years when he says “I have, for the record, been warning Church leadership since 1985 that it was sitting on a time bomb created by the reassignment of abusive priests.” Does his “record” of warning to the Church somehow absolve him from his responsibility to the victims? Why was he more concerned about the risk to the Church than the risk of more children being harmed? Couldn’t he have done more than issue a private warning to the same Church hierarchy who was doing the reassigning?

Rather than a psychological profile of abusive priests, I would like to know the psychological profile of priests that knew yet did nothing. Why didn’t they speak out? Were they afraid of retribution, and from whom? What is the nature of a priesthood fraternity that circles the wagons to protect its own at the expense of innocent children? What kind of organizational structure enables the perpetrations of such a massive conspiracy of silence for so many years? Just as all Germans were not Nazis, all priests are not child abusers. Yet the German nation has accepted a collective guilt for what they allowed to happen to innocent Jews and others during the Second World War. So must the priesthood accept responsibility for what has happened to innocent children under their self-governance?

Until these questions about silent priests are answered, and collective guilt is accepted by the priesthood in general, the laity will always be curious and suspicious about the psychology of priests. And rightly so.

Dennis M Gleason | 2/10/2003 - 6:11pm
I think Rev Greeley has brought out a fact that has been well established in the culture of our American press - the fact that there is an undercurrent of blatant anticatholic bias. However, a certain measure of that anticatholic bias is not without some merit. Consider the fact that for decades, the Bishops have chosen to move, hide and otherwise conceal those who would do harm to the most vulneralbe of our society, and then allege that they are not bound by the same set of laws the rest of us must conform to. Instead they choose to claim that they (the Bishops) will solve the problem themselves. Years later we find that the problem of abuse has not been "fixed", but in fact it has merely been swept under the rug, and in some cases persists. I believe the real problem is not anticatholic bias, but rather a crisis of leadership, a crisis of cridibility, a crisis of justice withing the Magisterium. As a lay catholic, I find my opinions challenged frequently as having no basis of validity since, as one person told me "you lay catholics stood by and did nothing - your opinions no longer mean anything". I personally believe that the Bishops need to realize that a certain accountability to their flocks is not only necessary, but healthy as well. As long as the Bishops treat us as though we are irrelavant with respect to ecceliasitical administration, they will continue to subvert and conspire tohide the abuses that have gone on far too long.

Rev. Gino Dalpiaz, C.S. | 2/7/2003 - 11:20am
Andrew Greeley's article, The Times and Sexual Abuse of Priests (2-10-03), said things that many American priests would have liked to say but weren't able to articulate as well as Greeley or were embarrassed to express for fear of looking like whiners and victims. For months the 99% of good priests have gotten a bad rap without being able been able to defend themselves against the onslaught of vicious innuendos on their sexual and human maturity and on their celibacy. I have never been more embarrassed, mortified and humiliated in my fifty years as a Catholic priest than in this past year. Maybe more Catholic lay men and women, the people in the pew, could have spoken up for their embattled priests. I agree with Greeley that for months The New York Times has mercilessly and dishonestly gone after the Catholic priests. Maybe we priests needed this persecution. This painful experience will help purify the American priesthood and make us priests after the heart of Christ. It could be a grace.

Patrick Kelly S.J. | 2/7/2003 - 12:55pm
Thank God for Andrew Greeley! Finally some thoughtful analysis of how members of the American media have been covering the sexual abuse crisis. It is helpful that they come from someone like Fr. Greeley as well, who has been outspoken about the problem of clergy sexual abuse for many years. He is hardly someone who is going to minimize the problem or the suffering that has been caused to victims of sexual abuse by priests. Another way to consider the issue is to compare the treatment of Islam in the media after September 11 and the treatment of the Catholic church after the sexual abuse issue broke last winter. After September 11 scholars across university campuses in the United States gathered to remind us that it is important to make a distinction between the actions of some people, like the terrorists, who were claiming to act in the name of Allah, and all peace loving Islamic people and the true values of Islam. There were warnings about the potential harm that could be caused by putting together words in media coverage such as “Islamic Terrorist”, giving the impression that terrorism was something that was intrinsic to Islam. This began to influence media coverage, as can be seen in articles in Time Magazine from September 24 entitled “One God and One Nation – The True Values of Islam” and Karen Armstrong’s article from October 1st on “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam” as well as many other articles about the backlash in prejudice and even violence toward Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus. All of this made me proud to be an American. But it also led me to be disappointed at the way many members of the news media, rather than distinguishing between the vast majority of Catholics and their values and beliefs and the deplorable actions of a few, have tended to link all members of the Catholic church, its beliefs and practices, and especially priests to the issue of sexual abuse. This linking of the Catholic church to sexual abuse can be seen in the differential treatment afforded Catholics in Time Magazine’s cover article “Can the Catholic Church Save Itself?” which appeared during Holy Week of last year. What did the editors mean by “Catholic Church” here? It looks as though the editors meant, well, what one usually thinks of by this term: Catholics, i.e. all the members of the Catholic church. But this is a lot of people, even in the United States. This is seen in a section of the article entitled “Troubling Trends”, where a graph depicts the growth of Catholics in the United States, from about 27 million in 1950 to 63.7 million in 2001. (It was difficult for me to understand why the rapid growth of Catholics in the United States during this period would be listed under “Troubling Trends”.) Among these are the over 40,000 priests in the United States. Was Time magazine suggesting that all of these people need to “save themselves”?

Catherine McKeen | 2/9/2003 - 2:19pm
I was glad to see Rev. Andrew Greeley's challenge to some of the blatant anti-Catholic assertions in Laurie Goodstein's NY Times article "Decades of Damage" (1/12/03). Taking a page from the work of historian Philip Jenkins, Fr. Greeley correctly uncovers the bias buried in purportedly even-handed press reportage on the Catholic Church.

Dr. James Post, Voice of the Faithful president, I hope will take note: In his talk at Manhattan's St. Ignatius Loyola church on February 5th, Dr. Post quoted the Times article in a completely credulous way. Edgy about the church's management failures, the faithful need to be equally sharp about the offenses of that most powerful of institutions: the American media.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni S.D.B. | 2/2/2003 - 10:49am
Am I the only one in town convinced that there is something horribly wrong with a justice system that can drag into the mud the name of a human being of the caliber of a Msgr. John Heaney (San Francisco Chronicle, p.1 headline, 1/27/03) for something someone who does not have the guts to let his name be used thinks happened over forty years ago?

Why don't a few self-respecting lawyers - there are some still around - cry out in shame against those colleagues who have discovered how fortunes can be made by digging into the distant past and suing the church (but never a school district)? And if you think that it's only a noble concern for the welfare of children that drives their efforts, follow the money.

If my utter contempt for our legal system in this and in similar cases is due only to the fact that I happen to be a priest, will some decent atheist please help clear the foul air while I throw up?

Mona Villarrubia | 2/2/2003 - 1:56am
I wish to respond to an opinion being expressed in the media to which Rev. Greeley's article "The Times and Sexual Abuse by Priests" makes reference. Namely that the sexual abuse of children by priests can somehow be associated with the moral laxity of the post-Vatican II era. Can educated people really be so naive? Isn't there a statistical probability that abusers were themselves likely to have been abused? Haven't a number of admitted pedophile priests themselves made that claim? This means the problem is likely to have been around at least a generation before the 60's. How can we assume just because our parents' or grandparents' generations aren't talking that they were not preyed upon in equal numbers? Isn't abuse often referred to as a cycle or repetition? I am sure that no-one in the mental health profession would suggest that 1-4% of priests in the 60's suddenly manifested pedophilia because of a change in social mores. So why are so many people in their 30's and 40's stepping forward and claiming victimization? What makes the baby-boomer generation different is that we have been provided with the cultural permission and the therapeutic tools to face our abuse and name our abusers. Even as our own parents remain in solid denial of our abuse and possibly even of their own. It was not until my abuse was corroborated by my brother telling his story of abuse by the same priest that my family stopped calling me a liar. And it was not until my mother felt guilty and became defensive that she revealed my own father had been sexually abused by a priest in childhood. As if somehow this excused my parents for their lack of supervision and protection. So in my own immediate family the abuse reaches back at least two generations. For the Catholic community or the media to convince themselves that the phenomenon of pedophile priests was an aberration within one generation is not just naive it is dangerous. Combined with apparently lower numbers of victims from the last fifteen years such a belief could lead to the conclusion that pedophile priests are a thing of the past. Yet, while I am delighted that only 1-4% of priests are pedophiles, and while I have many friends who belong to the 96% who do not prey on small children, I am far from confident that that number is decreasing or was any lower in the decades before the 1960's. I feel this problem has been around for a very, very long time and, unless we begin to truly engage in a process of community healing involving both the priests and the victims, I am not confident that it is going to change.

Ann Zoll | 2/20/2003 - 1:34am
I must disagree with the gist of Fr. Greeley's article. It seems to me that the saddness most Catholics feel today is not so much about the abuse and its coverage by the press but about the cover-up by such a large number of bishops.

Sister Marie Roseanne Bonfini, IHM | 2/13/2003 - 10:34am
At last --a thinking head emerges above the talking heads! Amid the cacophony of shrieking statistics (by the way, proving not much) comes a sane and sober statement of the facts --also substantiated by statistical analysis. Although there have been many excellent responses to the current priest-bashing plague, they have been, at best, a reasonably defensive effort. Now you have, finally, launched a creditable attack on the irresponsible reporting of the press, thanks to Father Greeley. His comments are creditable because of his experience of priesthood and validated by his years of solid research. May his insights become contagious. The New York Times deserves so convincing and formidable an adversary.

Timothy J. Jorgensen | 2/11/2003 - 10:42am
Fr. Andrew M. Greeley is missing the point in his recent America article (Feb. 10, 2003) about abusive priests. His commentary is largely a rebuttal of an apparently inflammatory article that appeared in the New York Times regarding the psychological profile of men who become priests, and how their allegedly immature psychological state predisposed them to abuse children. Although I have not read the Times article, I have no doubt that Fr. Greeley is correct that such preposterous nonsense has no place in a newspaper like the Times, and is better suited to Jerry Springer. I also accept, as Fr. Greeley asserts, that no more than 4% of priests have abused children, and that it is ridiculous to characterize the other 96% based on the behavior of a deviant minority. I also agree that the incidence of child abusers among priest is probably no greater than among men in the general population. But all of this is not the point.

The number that I am most interested in is the proportion of the “innocent” 96% that knew about abusive priests and the policy of reassigning them, yet did nothing to stop either the abusers or the policy. These silent priests are accomplices to the crimes, and must share the guilt. The only member of this silent group that has finally accepted responsibility is Cardinal Law. Are we to believe that he alone knew about this reassignment policy involving so many priests and so many victims over so many years? Preposterous!

I don’t know the percentage of priests that were silent accomplices, but I would guess that it is considerably higher than 4% and, as far I know, could be 100%. Amazingly, Fr. Greeley himself admits to having known about the policy for nearly 20 years when he says “I have, for the record, been warning Church leadership since 1985 that it was sitting on a time bomb created by the reassignment of abusive priests.” Does his “record” of warning to the Church somehow absolve him from his responsibility to the victims? Why was he more concerned about the risk to the Church than the risk of more children being harmed? Couldn’t he have done more than issue a private warning to the same Church hierarchy who was doing the reassigning?

Rather than a psychological profile of abusive priests, I would like to know the psychological profile of priests that knew yet did nothing. Why didn’t they speak out? Were they afraid of retribution, and from whom? What is the nature of a priesthood fraternity that circles the wagons to protect its own at the expense of innocent children? What kind of organizational structure enables the perpetrations of such a massive conspiracy of silence for so many years? Just as all Germans were not Nazis, all priests are not child abusers. Yet the German nation has accepted a collective guilt for what they allowed to happen to innocent Jews and others during the Second World War. So must the priesthood accept responsibility for what has happened to innocent children under their self-governance?

Until these questions about silent priests are answered, and collective guilt is accepted by the priesthood in general, the laity will always be curious and suspicious about the psychology of priests. And rightly so.

Dennis M Gleason | 2/10/2003 - 6:11pm
I think Rev Greeley has brought out a fact that has been well established in the culture of our American press - the fact that there is an undercurrent of blatant anticatholic bias. However, a certain measure of that anticatholic bias is not without some merit. Consider the fact that for decades, the Bishops have chosen to move, hide and otherwise conceal those who would do harm to the most vulneralbe of our society, and then allege that they are not bound by the same set of laws the rest of us must conform to. Instead they choose to claim that they (the Bishops) will solve the problem themselves. Years later we find that the problem of abuse has not been "fixed", but in fact it has merely been swept under the rug, and in some cases persists. I believe the real problem is not anticatholic bias, but rather a crisis of leadership, a crisis of cridibility, a crisis of justice withing the Magisterium. As a lay catholic, I find my opinions challenged frequently as having no basis of validity since, as one person told me "you lay catholics stood by and did nothing - your opinions no longer mean anything". I personally believe that the Bishops need to realize that a certain accountability to their flocks is not only necessary, but healthy as well. As long as the Bishops treat us as though we are irrelavant with respect to ecceliasitical administration, they will continue to subvert and conspire tohide the abuses that have gone on far too long.

Rev. Gino Dalpiaz, C.S. | 2/7/2003 - 11:20am
Andrew Greeley's article, The Times and Sexual Abuse of Priests (2-10-03), said things that many American priests would have liked to say but weren't able to articulate as well as Greeley or were embarrassed to express for fear of looking like whiners and victims. For months the 99% of good priests have gotten a bad rap without being able been able to defend themselves against the onslaught of vicious innuendos on their sexual and human maturity and on their celibacy. I have never been more embarrassed, mortified and humiliated in my fifty years as a Catholic priest than in this past year. Maybe more Catholic lay men and women, the people in the pew, could have spoken up for their embattled priests. I agree with Greeley that for months The New York Times has mercilessly and dishonestly gone after the Catholic priests. Maybe we priests needed this persecution. This painful experience will help purify the American priesthood and make us priests after the heart of Christ. It could be a grace.

Ann Zoll | 1/31/2007 - 1:06pm
I must disagree with the gist of the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley’s article about the New York Times coverage of the scandal of sexual abuse by priests (2/10). It seems to me that the sadness most Catholics feel today is not so much about the abuse and its coverage by the press but about the coverup of the abuse.

(Msgr.) James Petersen | 1/31/2007 - 12:27pm
Thank you for the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley’s article on The New York Times and sexual abuse by priests (2/10). His list of corrections could have gone on. The Times still thinks diocesan priests take vows. And no priest or seminary instructor—past or present—would argue that sexual activity other than heterosexual intercourse does not “break” the strictures of celibacy. That’s a Clintonesque distinction that would be seen as a joke by any cleric of my acquaintance. I was ordained in 1959.

And where was “sexuality” being taught in the United States during the years in question? Seminaries stood alone in not broaching the subject of sex in classrooms? It doesn’t seem likely.

Gino Dalpiaz, C.S. | 1/31/2007 - 12:35pm
The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley’s article, “The Times and Sexual Abuse of Priests” (2/10), said things that many American priests would have liked to say but were not able to articulate as well as Father Greeley or were embarrassed to express for fear of looking like whiners and victims. For months good priests have gotten a bad rap without being able to defend themselves against the onslaught of vicious innuendos about their sexual and human maturity and their celibacy. I have never been more embarrassed, mortified and humiliated in my 50 years as a Catholic priest than in this past year.

Maybe more Catholic lay men and women, the people in the pews, could have spoken up for their embattled priests. I agree with Father Greeley that for months The New York Times has mercilessly and dishonestly gone after the Catholic priests.

Maybe we priests needed this persecution. This painful experience will help purify the American priesthood and make us priests after the heart of Christ. It could be a grace.

Timothy J. Jorgensen | 1/31/2007 - 12:33pm
The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley misses the point in his recent article about abusive priests (2/10). His commentary is largely a rebuttal of an apparently inflammatory article that appeared in the New York Times regarding the psychological profile of men who become priests, and how their allegedly immature psychological state predisposed them to abuse children.

I accept, as Father Greeley asserts, that no more than 4 percent of priests have abused children, and that it is ridiculous to characterize the other 96 percent based on the behavior of a deviant minority. I also agree that the incidence of child abusers among priests is probably no greater than among men in the general population. But all of this is not the point.

The number that I am most interested in is the proportion of the “innocent” 96 percent that knew about abusive priests and the policy of reassigning them, yet did nothing to stop either the abusers or the policy. These silent priests are accomplices to the crimes and must share the guilt. The only member of this silent group who has finally accepted responsibility is Cardinal Bernard Law. Are we to believe that he alone knew about this reassignment policy involving so many priests and so many victims over so many years? Preposterous!

Rather than a psychological profile of abusive priests, I would like to know the psychological profile of priests who knew yet did nothing. Why didn’t they speak out? Were they afraid of retribution, and from whom? What is the nature of a fraternity that circles the wagons to protect its own at the expense of innocent children? What kind of organizational structure enables the perpetrations of such a massive conspiracy of silence for so many years?

Until these questions about silent priests are answered, and collective guilt is accepted by the priesthood in general, the laity will always be curious and suspicious about the psychology of priests. And rightly so.

Marie Mullane, R.C. | 1/31/2007 - 12:32pm
Thanks for the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley’s article “The Times and Sexual Abuse by Priests” (2/10). It is time that the whole situation be put in some kind of context. That is not to deny in any way the damage that has been done, the need to make reparation as far as possible and the importance of doing everything in our power to prevent any reoccurence. But I agree that it has turned into a total witch hunt. The Boston Globe, which has done an excellent job of unearthing the tragedies of sexual abuse on the part of priests, foreshadows the overkill of The New York Times. And innocent priests as well as the total Catholic Church of the United States continue to be crucified.

Meanwhile The Times continues to run advertisements picturing women as nearly naked as they dare run in their papers. This denigrating of women is standard fare for The Times and The Boston Globe. After all, they get paid for running these ads—so who cares about the models? The fact that they have been stripped almost naked for all to see does not matter as long as The Times and The Globe get paid.

But look at their faces! How tragic that these papers have to make their living prostituting beautiful young women! So, while these honorable papers are pointing their fingers at some priest abusers, I suggest that they look at their own practices.

E. Leo McMannus | 1/31/2007 - 12:31pm
The prodigious Father Andrew M. Greeley, who observed his 75th birthday this month, used to direct his ire at incompetent bishops, faulty practitioners of sociology and resigned priests who wrote about the psychosexual problems of the clergy. In “The Times and Sexual Abuse by Priests” (2/10), he finds The New York Times guilty of atavistic no-popery.

Thereby he resembles, perhaps more than he would like, the 76-year-old Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the diviner of one’s innermost thoughts, who recently apodictically attributed the media’s coverage of clergy abuse to an intentional “desire to discredit the church.”

Marie Roseanne Bonfini, I.H.M. | 1/31/2007 - 12:23pm
At last—a thinking head emerges above the talking heads! Amid the cacophony of shrieking statistics (by the way, proving not much) comes a sane and sober statement of the facts—also substantiated by statistical analysis. Although there have been many excellent responses to the current priest-bashing plague, they have been at best a reasonably defensive effort. Now you have, finally, launched a credible attack on the irresponsible reporting of the press, thanks to the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley (2/10). His comments are credible because of his experience of priesthood and validated by his years of solid research. May his insights become contagious. The New York Times deserves so convincing and formidable an adversary.