John Jay College Reports on the Sexual Abuse of Minors

This page contains the introductions and executive summaries of two reports from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice research team, relating to the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic Priests in the United States.

The Nature And Scope Of Sexual Abuse Of Minors By Catholic Priests And Deacons In The United States 1950-2002

“In June 2002 the full body of Catholic bishops of the United States in their General Meeting in Dallas approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter created a National Review Board, which was assigned responsibility to commission a descriptive study, with the full cooperation of the dioceses/eparchies, of the nature and scope of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. The National Review Board engaged John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York to conduct research, summarize the collected data, and issue a summary report to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops of its findings.

– Msgr. William P. Fay General Secretary USCCB”

Executive Summary:

The study of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and deacons resulting in this report was authorized and paid for by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) pursuant to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Charter) unanimously adopted by the USCCB at its June 2002 meeting. The Charter called for many responses to this victimization of minors within the Catholic Church. Article 9 of the Charter provided for the creation of a lay body, the National Review Board, which was mandated (among other things) to commission a descriptive study of the nature and scope of the problem of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Accordingly, the Board approached John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct such a study. The College assembled an experienced team of researchers with expertise in the areas of forensic psychology, criminology, and human behavior, and, working with the Board, formulated a methodology to address the study mandate. Data collection commenced in March 2003, and ended in February 2004. The information contained in this report is based upon surveys provided by 195 dioceses, representing 98% all diocesan priests in the United States, and 140 religious communities, representing approximately 60% of religious communities and 80% of all religious priests.

The mandate for the study was to:

1. Examine the number and nature of allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18 by Catholic priests between 1950 and 2002.
2. Collect information about the alleged abusers, including official status in the church, age, number of victims, responses by the church and legal authorities to the allegations of abuse, and other characteristics of the alleged abusers.
3. Collect information about the characteristics of the alleged victims, the nature of their relationship to the alleged abusers, the nature of the abuse, and the time frame within which the allegations are reported.
4. Accumulate information about the financial impact of the abuse on the Church.

Three surveys provide the data for this study:

1. A profile of each diocese, providing information about characteristics of the diocese including region and size, the total numbers of allegations, and the total expenditures occasioned by allegations of abuse.
2. A survey of church records relating to individual priests against whom allegations of abuse had been made.
3. A survey of church records relating to the alleged victims of abuse and the nature of the alleged abuse.

Based upon the inquiries and communications that we received from the dioceses, eparchies and religious communities, it is our impression that, despite the complexity of the surveys and the difficulties of identifying relevant church records, these data reflect a conscientious and good-faith effort to provide exhaustive and reliable information regarding allegations of abuse made to church authorities. Due to the sensitive nature of the abuse allegations, which form the core of this report, many steps were taken to assure the anonymity of alleged victims and priests who were the subjects of the study. The study used a double-blind procedure in which all reports were first sent to Ernst & Young, an accounting firm, where they were stripped of information that could be used to identify the area from which they were sent. Ernst & Young then sent the unopened envelopes containing survey responses to the John Jay researchers. The data set is thus stripped of all identifying information that may be linked to an individual diocese, eparchy or religious community, priest or victim.



• Priest surveys asked for birth dates and initials of the accused priests in order to determine if a single priest had allegations in multiple dioceses, eparchies or religious communities. To maintain anonymity, this information was encrypted into a unique identifying number, and birthdays and initials were then discarded. We detected 310 matching encrypted numbers, accounting for 143 priests with allegations in more than one diocese, eparchy or religious community (3.3% of the total number of priests with allegations). When we removed the replicated files of priests who have allegations in more than one place, we received allegations of sexual abuse against a total of 4,392 priests that were not withdrawn or known to be false for the period 1950-2002.

• The total number of priests with allegations of abuse in our survey is 4,392. The percentage of all priests with allegations of sexual abuse is difficult to derive because there is no definitive number of priests who were active between the years of 1950 and 2002. We used two sets of numbers to estimate the total number of active priests and then calculated the percentage against whom allegations were made.

• We asked each diocese, eparchy and community for their total number of active priests in this time period. Adding up all their responses, there were 109,694 priests reported by dioceses, eparchies and religious communities to have served in their ecclesiastical ministry from 1950-2002. Using this number, 4.0% of all priests active between 1950 and 2002 had allegations of abuse.

• The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reports a total of 94,607 priests for the period 1960-2002. When we look at the time period covered by the CARA database, the number of priests with allegations of sexual abuse is 4,127. Thus, the percentage of priests accused for this time period is 4.3% if we rely on the CARA figures assessing the total number of priests.

• If we examine the differences between diocesan and religious priests, then our numbers result in a total of 4.3% of diocesan priests with allegations of abuse and 2.5% of religious priests with allegations of abuse. The CARA numbers yield a total of 5% of diocesan priests from 1960-1996 with allegations of abuse and 2.7% of religious priests from 1960-1996 with allegations of abuse.

• Our analyses revealed little variability in the rates of alleged abuse across regions of the Catholic Church in the U.S.—the range was from 3% to 6% of priests.

• A total of 10,667 individuals made allegations of child sexual abuse by priests. Of those who alleged abuse, the file contained information that 17.2% of them had siblings who were also allegedly abused.

• It is impossible to determine from our surveys what percent of all actual cases of abuse that occurred between 1950 and 2002 have been reported to the Church and are therefore in our dataset. Allegations of child sexual abuse are made gradually over an extended time period and it is likely that further allegations will be made with respect to recent time periods covered in our surveys. Less than 13% of allegations were made in the year in which the abuse allegedly began, and more than 25% of the allegations were made more than 30 years after the alleged abuse began.


• The distribution of reported cases by the year the abuse is alleged to have occurred or begun shows a peak in the year 1970. However, considering the duration of some repeated abusive acts, more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade, peaking in 1980. But, these conclusions have to be qualified because additional allegations for those time periods may surface in the future.

• Alleged abuse sometimes extended over many years. In 38.4% of allegations, the abuse is alleged to have occurred within a single year, in 21.8% the alleged abuse lasted more than a year but less than 2 years, in 28% between 2 and 4 years, in 10.2% between 5 and 9 years and, in under 1%, 10 or more years.

• Approximately one-third of all allegations were reported in 2002-2003, and two-thirds have been made since 1993. Thus, prior to 1993, only one-third of cases were known to Church officials. The allegations made in 1993 and 2002-2003 include offenses that allegedly occurred within the full time period from 1950-1993 and 1950-2002. The distribution of allegations made in 2002-2003 resembles the distribution of offenses alleged at all other time periods—with the exception that allegations of abuse in recent years are a smaller share of all allegations.


• The amount of money already paid by the Church, as a result of allegations, to victims, for the treatment of priests and for legal expenses reported in our surveys was $472,000,000. That figure is not the total paid by the Church to date—14% of dioceses and religious communities did not report dollar figures. In addition, survey responses were filed over a 10-month period and would not include settlements and expenses incurred after surveys were submitted. In addition, no diocese reported the recent and highly publicized $85,000,000 settlement. If we include the $85,000,000 reported settlement, the total cost paid by the church exceeds $500,000,000.


• The majority of priests with allegations of abuse were ordained between 1950 and 1979 (68%). Priests ordained prior to 1950 accounted for 21.3% of the allegations, and priests ordained after 1979 accounted for 10.7% of allegations.

• Over 79% of these priests were between 25 and 29 years of age when ordained. For priests whose age at the time of the first alleged abuse was reported, the largest group—over 40% was between 30 and 39. An additional 20% were under age 30, nearly 23% were between 40 and 49, and nearly 17% were over 50.

• At the time abuse is alleged to have occurred, 42.3% of priests were associate pastors, 25.1% were pastors, 10.4% were resident priests and 7.2% were teachers. Other categories (e.g., chaplain, deacon, and seminary administrator) were under 3% each.

• The majority of priests (56%) were alleged to have abused one victim, nearly 27% were alleged to have abused two or three victims, nearly 14% were alleged to have abused four to nine victims and 3.4% were alleged to have abused more than ten victims. The 149 priests (3.5%) who had more than ten allegations of abuse were allegedly responsible for abusing 2,960 victims, thus accounting for 26% of allegations. Therefore, a very small percentage of accused priests are responsible for a substantial percentage of the allegations.

• Though priests’ personnel files contain limited information on their own childhood victimization and their substance and/or alcohol abuse problems, the surveys report that nearly 7% of priests had been physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused as children. The surveys also indicate that nearly 17%had alcohol or substance abuse problems. There are indications that some sort of intervention was undertaken by church authorities in over 80% of the cases involving substance abuse.

• The surveys indicate that 32% of priests who were subject to allegations of sexual abuse were also recognized as having other behavioral or psychological problems.


• The largest group of alleged victims (50.9%) was between the ages of 11 and 14, 27.3% were 15-17, 16% were 8-10 and nearly 6% were under age 7. Overall, 81% of victims were male and 19% female. Male victims tended to be older than female victims. Over 40% of all victims were males between the ages of 11 and 14.

• Of the total number accused, 37% of priests with allegations of sexual abuse participated in treatment programs; the most common treatment programs were sex-offender specific treatment programs specifically for clergy and one-on-one psychological counseling. The more allegations a priest had, the more likely he was to participate in treatment. However, the severity of the alleged offense did not have an effect on whether or not a priest participated in a treatment program. Those who allegedly committed acts of penetration or oral sex were no more likely to participate in treatment than priests accused of less severe offenses.

• Priests allegedly committed acts which were classified into more than 20 categories. The most frequent acts allegedly committed were: touching over the victim’s clothing (52.6%), touching under the victim’s clothes (44.9%), cleric performing oral sex (26%), victim disrobed (25.7%), and penile penetration or attempted penile penetration (22.4%). Many of the abusers were alleged to have committed multiple types of abuse against individual victims, and relatively few priests committed only the most minor acts. Of the 90% of the reported incidents for which we had specific offense details, 141 incidents, or one and one half percent, were reported that included only verbal abuse and/or the use of pornography.

• The alleged abuse occurred in a variety of locations. The abuse is alleged to have occurred in the following locations: in the priest’s home or the parish residence (40.9%), in the church (16.3%), in the victim’s home (12.4%), in a vacation house (10.3%), in school (10.3%), and in a car (9.8%). The abuse allegedly occurred in other sites, such as church outings or in a hotel room, in less than 10%of the allegations. The most common event or setting in which the abuse occurred was during a social event (20.4%), while visiting or working at the priest’ s home (14.7%), and during travel (17.8%). Abuse allegedly occurred in other settings, such as during counseling, school hours, and sporting events, in less than 10% of the allegations.

• In the 51% of cases where information was provided, half of the victims who made allegations of sexual abuse (2,638, or 25.7% of all alleged victims) socialized with the priest outside of church. Of those who did socialize with the priests who allegedly abused them, the majority had interactions in the family’s home. Other places of socialization included in the church, in the residence of the priest, and in various church activities.


• To date, the police have been contacted about 1,021 priests with allegations of abuse, or 24% of our total. Nearly all of these reports have led to investigations, and 384 instances have led to criminal charges. Of those priests for whom information about dispositions is available, 252 were convicted and at least 100 of those served time in prison. Thus, 6% of all priests against whom allegations were made were convicted and about 2% received prison sentences to date.

• Half of the allegations that were made (49.9%) were reported by the victim. In one-fifth of the cases (20.3%), the allegation of sexual abuse was made by the alleged victim’ s attorney. The third most common way in which the abuse was reported was by the parent or guardian of the victim (13.6%). Allegations made by other individuals, such as by a police officer, a sibling, or another priest, occurred in 3% of cases or less. These allegations were most commonly made by calling the diocese (30.2%), in a signed letter to the diocese (22.8%), or in a legal filing (10.5%). All other methods by which the allegations were made, such as in person, by telling a trusted priest, or through the media, occurred in less than 10% of cases. Cases reported in 2002 had a similar distribution of types of reporting as in previous years.

The full report contains more detailed and additional analyses related to the information provided above. This report is descriptive in nature. Future reports will examine the relationships among the variables described here in more detail and will be multivariate and analytic in nature.

Download The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States 1950-2002 [PDF] in its entirety here:

Click on the image to read the report


The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010

“In June 2002 the full body of Catholic bishops of the United States in their General Meeting in Dallas approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter created a National Review Board, which was assigned responsibility to oversee the completion of the study of the causes and context of the recent crisis. The National Review Board engaged the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York to conduct research, summarize the collected data, and issue a summary report to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops of its findings.

-Msgr. David J. Malloy, STD General Secretary, USCCB”

Executive Summary:

This report outlines the results of an empirically based study of the causes and context of the phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States between 1950 and 2010. It is the second of two studies produced by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice about sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The first study (the Nature and Scope study) focused on the description and extent of the problem from 1950 to 2002 and was published in February, 2004. The Nature and Scope study provided information about what happened, including the number of abuse incidents, the distribution of offenses geographically and over time, the characteristics of the priests against whom allegations were made and the minors they abused, the Catholic Church’s response to the allegations, and the financial impact of the abuse incidents. This second study (the Causes and Context study) sought to understand why the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests occurred as it did by integrating research from sociocultural, psychological, situational, and organizational perspectives.


The research group investigated the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests using a combination of empirical approaches, both quantitative and qualitative. This work is necessarily retrospective, with research focusing first on what initiated an increase in abuse incidents in the 1960s; what caused them to reach a peak in the 1970s; and then what led to the sharp and sustained decline in incidence in the 1980s.

The comprehensive information collected in the Nature and Scope study shaped the investigation of the present study and served as a resource to verify results. The primary data sources for the Causes and Context study are as follows: (1) longitudinal analyses of data sets of various types of social behavior (for example, crime, divorce, premarital sex) over the time period to provide a historical framework; (2) analysis of seminary attendance, the history and the development of a human formation curriculum, as well as information from seminary leaders; (3) surveys of and interviews with inactive priests with allegations of abuse, and a comparison sample of priests in active parish ministry who had not been accused; (4) interview and primary data from the 1971 Loyola University study of the psychology of American Catholic priests; (5) surveys of survivors, victim assistance coordinators, and clinical files about the onset, persistence, and desistance from abuse behavior; (6) surveys of bishops, priests, and other diocesan leaders about the policies that were put in place after 1985; and (7) analyses of clinical data from files obtained from three treatment centers, including information about priests who abused minors as well as those being treated for other behavioral problems.


No single “cause” of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests is identified as a result of our research. Social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s manifested in increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and also among priests of the Catholic Church in the United States. Organizational, psychological, and situational factors contributed to the vulnerability of individual priests in this period of normative change. The Causes and Context report provides data about the historical time period of the problem: the increase in incidence until the late 1970s and the sharp decline by 1985. Although no specific institutional cause for the increase in incidence was found, factors specific to the Catholic Church contributed to the decline in the mid-1980s. Analyses of the development and influence of seminary education throughout the historical period is consistent with the continued suppression of abuse behavior in the twenty-first century. The priests who engaged in abuse of minors were not found, on the basis of their developmental histories or their psychological characteristics, to be statistically distinguishable from other priests who did not have allegations of sexual abuse against minors.

Historical and Sociocultural Context

The “crisis” of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests is a historical problem. The count of incidents per year increased steadily from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, then declined in the 1980s and continues to remain low. Initial estimation models that determined that this distribution of incidents was stable have been confirmed by the new reports of incidents made after 2002. The distribution of incidents reported since 2002 matches what was known by 2002—the increase, peak, and decline are found in the same proportions as those previously reported.

• A substantial delay in the reporting of sexual abuse is common, and many incidents of sexual abuse by priests were reported decades after the abuse occurred. Even though incidents of sexual abuse of minors by priests are still being reported, they continue to fit into the distribution of abuse incidents concentrated in the mid-1960s to mid-1980s.

• The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in American society generally. This increase in abusive behavior 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.

• At the time of the peak and subsequent decline in sexual abuse incidents by Catholic priests, there was a substantial increase in knowledge and understanding in American society about victimization and the harm of child sexual abuse; changes were made in statutes related to rape and sexual abuse of children and in reporting requirements of child abuse and neglect; an understanding of the causes of sexual offending advanced; and research related to the treatment of sexual abusers was expanded.

• Features and characteristics of the Catholic Church, such as an exclusively male priesthood and the commitment to celibate chastity, were invariant during the increase, peak, and decrease in abuse incidents, and thus are not causes of the “crisis.”

Seminary Education

• When priests who abused minors are grouped by the decade of their ordination to the priesthood, each group displays a distinct pattern of behavior. The social influences can be seen in the behavior of each ordination group, or “cohort.” Men ordained in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s did not generally abuse before the 1960s or 1970s. Men ordained in the 1960s and the early 1970s engaged in abusive behavior much more quickly after their entrance into ministry.

• The ordination cohorts of men entering the priest-hood before 1960, and before any moderation of the regimentation of seminary life, represent 44 percent of those later accused of abuse.

• There was no evidence of any significant level of sexual activity among seminarians before the mid-1970s. The men ordained after 1975 had a lower level of subsequent abuse.

• Most priests who had allegations of sexual abuse against minors were educated in freestanding seminaries or schools of theology. They were not significantly more likely than non-abusers to attend minor seminaries or foreign seminaries.

• The development of a curriculum of “human formation” as part of seminary education follows the recognition of the problem of sexual abuse by priests. Participation in human formation during seminary distinguishes priests with later abusive behavior from those who did not abuse. The priests with abusive behavior were statistically less likely to have participated in human formation training than those who did not have allegations of abuse.

• Regular assessment of priests once they are ordained varies considerably from diocese to diocese. Evaluation processes are usually reserved for the newly ordained in the first five years after their ordination. In most dioceses, pastors are not obliged to undergo regular assessment of any substance.

• Many accused priests began abusing years after they were ordained, at times of increased job stress, social isolation, and decreased contact with peers. Generally, few structures such as psychological and professional counseling were readily available to assist them with the difficulties they experienced. Many priests let go of the practice of spiritual direction after only a few years of ordained ministry.

Individual, Psychological Factors

• Less than 5 percent of the priests with allegations of abuse exhibited behavior consistent with a diagnosis of pedophilia (a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent fantasies, urges, and behaviors about prepubescent children). Thus, it is inaccurate to refer to abusers as “pedophile priests.”

• Priests with allegations of sexually abusing minors are not significantly more likely than other priests to have personality or mood disorders.

• Sexual behavior in violation of the commitment to celibacy was reported by 80 percent of the priests who participated in residential psychological treatment, but most sexual behavior was with adults.

• The majority of priests who were given residential treatment following an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor also reported sexual behavior with adult partners.

• Those priests who had sexual relationships either before seminary or while in seminary were more likely to also have sexual relationships after ordination, but those relationships were most likely to be with adults. They were not significantly more likely to abuse minors.

• Priests who had same-sex sexual experiences either before seminary or in seminary were more likely to have sexual behavior after ordination, but this behavior was most likely with adults. These men were not significantly more likely to abuse minors.

• Priests who were sexually abused as minors themselves were more likely to abuse minors than those without a history of abuse.

• Priests who lacked close social bonds, and those whose family spoke negatively or not at all about sex, were more likely to sexually abuse minors than those who had a history of close social bonds and positive discussions about sexual behavior. In general, priests from the ordination cohorts of the 1940s and 1950s showed evidence of difficulty with intimacy.

Organizational Factors

• Prior to 1985, reports of abuse were predominantly brought forward by parents of the youths who had experienced abuse soon after the incident took place. By the mid-1990s, reports of abuse were being made by adults ten to twenty years after the incident date. In 2002, reports of abuse were more likely to be put forward by lawyers for the person who was abused, and many reports described incidents that happened thirty to forty years earlier.

• By 1985, bishops knew that the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests was a problem, but they did not know the scope of the problem. Though more than 80 percent of cases now known had already occurred by 1985, only 6 percent of those cases had been reported to the dioceses by that time.

• When allegations of abuse were made, most diocesan leaders responded. However, the response typically focused on the priest-abusers rather than on the victims. Data indicate that the majority of diocesan leaders took actions to help “rehabilitate” the abusive priests.

• There is little evidence that diocesan leaders met directly with victims before 2002; consequently, the understanding of the harm of sexual abuse to the victim was limited. As knowledge of victim harm increased in society generally in the 1990s, so did the understanding by diocesan leaders.

• In 1992, the American bishops endorsed the “Five Principles” in response to the sexual abuse of minors, but implementation of the principles was uneven among dioceses. These principles stated that diocesan leaders should: (1) respond promptly to all allegations of abuse where there is reasonable belief that abuse has occurred; (2) if such an allegation is supported by sufficient evidence, relieve the alleged offender promptly of his ministerial duties and refer him for appropriate medical evaluation and intervention; (3) comply with the obligations of civil law regarding reporting of the incident and cooperating with the investigation; (4) reach out to the victims and their families and communicate sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being; and (5) within the confines of respect for privacy of the individuals involved, deal as openly as possible with the members of the community.

• Diocesan leaders were more likely to respond to the sexual abuse allegations within the institution, using investigation, evaluation, and administrative leave rather than external mechanisms of the criminal law. Many of the diocesan leaders’ actions were not transparent to those outside the church. This response framework, as well as the lack of transparency, is not an atypical response to deviant behavior by members of an institution.

• The procedures for formal canonical responses such as laicization, or dismissal from the clerical state, were complicated, time-consuming, and often avoided.

• The decline of abuse cases by 1985 is earlier and sharper than the decline in the levels of other deviant behaviors of the time (such as crime); contributing factors to this decline include activism by victims of abuse by priests, discussions of sexual abuse of minors at annual meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and evolving diocesan responses to abuse and abusers.

• Some bishops were “innovators” who offered organizational leadership to address the problems of sexual abuse of minors. Other bishops, often in dioceses where the Catholic Church was highly influential, were slow to recognize the importance of the problem of sexual abuse by priests or to respond to victims. The media often focused on these “laggards,” further perpetuating the image that the bishops as a group were not responding to the problem of sexual abuse of minors.

Onset, Persistence, and Desistance from Abuse

Like sexual offenders in the general population, priests with allegations of abuse show patterns of behavior consistent with David Finkelhor’s often-quoted four-factor model of offending: (1) motivation to abuse (often emotional congruence with the minor, as well as a blockage to [nonsexual] intimate relationships with adults); (2) overcoming internal inhibitions to abuse (through the excuses and justifications that alleviate their sense of responsibility for the behavior); (3) overcoming external factors (by creating opportunities for abuse to occur); and (4) overcoming the child’s resistance (through grooming techniques).

• It was common for abusive priests to create opportunities to be alone with minors, for example, during retreats. These men often integrated themselves into the families of the victims.

• Minors who were abused typically did not disclose their victimization; the signs of abuse were not detected by those close to them. This silence, typical of the period of the 1950s through the 1990s, is one reason why the abusive behavior persisted.

• Detection and an official report were rarely the reason for the end of an abuse incident, as reports of abuse were often made decades after the abuse occurred. The causes of desistance are complex and include a combination of factors, such as increased understanding by the victim that the behavior of the priest was wrong, others (often peers) finding out about the abuse, the victim removing him- or herself from the situation in which the abuse was occurring, and in some cases self-correction by the abusing priests.

Situational Factors and Prevention Policies

• For abuse to occur, three factors must converge: there must be a person who is motivated to commit the act of abuse, there must be a potential victim, and there must be a lack of a “capable guardian.”

• Education of potential victims, potential abusers, and potential “guardians” is essential to reduce the opportunities to abuse.

• Continued outreach to priests after ordination is important in reinforcing the knowledge and understanding about human formation.

• For diocesan efforts to be accepted by the community, they must be direct and transparent, and they must become part of the conscience of the community. Only when the policies about and responses to abuse are “routine” will the community consider them to be acceptable.


The findings of the Causes and Context study indicate that few of the priest-abusers exhibited serious pathological, developmental, or psychological characteristics or behaviors that could have led to their identification prior to the commission of their abusive acts. Priests who sexually abused minors did not differ significantly from other priests on psychological or intelligence tests but had vulnerabilities, intimacy deficits, and an absence of close personal relationships before and during seminary. A very small percentage of the priests who had allegations of abuse were motivated by pathological disorders such as pedophilia. The annual count of priests who exhibited pedophilic behavior does not change during the period of study; this flat, consistent pattern is the opposite of the general pattern for the majority of incidents, which increased in the 1960s and 1970s and decreased continuously from the mid-1980s.

The majority of priests who had allegations of abuse against minors were trained in national, mainstream seminaries prior to the 1970s. These seminarians had little or no exposure to a curriculum of what is now understood as “human formation”; the training in self-understanding and the development of emotional and psychological competence for a life of celibate chastity was extremely limited. Many abusers educated in early cohorts had a “confused” sexual identity; however, this was not evident in later cohorts. Social changes paralleled the increase of sexual abuse on all cohorts of priests. The incidence of abuse allegations for all pre-1980s ordination cohorts peaked in the late 1970s.

Sexual victimization of children is a serious and pervasive issue in society. It is present in families, and it is not uncommon in institutions where adults form mentoring and nurturing relationships with adolescents, including schools and religious, sports, and social organizations. This study provides a framework for understanding not only the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, but sexual victimization of children in any institution. No other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church. Other organizations should follow suit and examine the extent of sexual abuse within their groups to better understand the extent of the problem and the situations in which sexual abuse takes place. Only with such an understanding can effective prevention policies be articulated and implemented. While some sexual abuse will always occur, knowledge and understanding of this kind of exploitation of minors can limit the opportunities for abuse while also helping to identify abuse situations as early as possible.

Download The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 [PDF] in its entirety here:

Click on the image to read the report