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Clergy, abuse victims react to study

Bishop William Murphy speaks during mass at St.

Bishop William Murphy speaks during mass at St. Agnes Cathedral. (May 1, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

A $1.8-million study into the causes of the Roman Catholic Church's lingering sex-abuse scandal was criticized by a victims group Wednesday and praised as insightful by church leaders.

"As a bishop who has always sought to respond correctly and sensitively to these horrendous sins and crimes, I can never be forgetful of my own responsibility and acknowledge that too many bishops put care for the abusive priest ahead of care for the victim," Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre said in a statement late last night.

He said the report from researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice reaches conclusions that "are consistent with our own experience" -- that many of the cases originated decades ago.

But critics offered a different voice.

"What is needed now is justice," said Tim Echausse, Long Island representative of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "That justice must include action against those who covered up crimes against our children."

The five-year study commissioned by U.S. Roman Catholic bishops concluded on its release Wednesday that neither the all-male celibate priesthood nor homosexuality created the crisis. It also found that a small fraction of the priesthood were actually pedophiles.

Rather, the John Jay researchers wrote the scandal was the result of poor training in seminaries in the 1940s and '50s and poor social support later, all combined with the social upheaval of the 1960s and '70s -- the "blame Woodstock" theory.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan said the report from John Jay researchers "adds valuable insight and understanding to how and why the crime and sin of sexual abuse occurred in the Catholic Church."

He said the Catholic Church in the United States was "the first group anywhere to contract with a professional agency . . . to examine the 'causes and contexts' of this scourge."

Murphy said the study offered new insights. "In one way or another," he said, "sexual abuse of minors affects every religion, school, organization, institution and profession in our society. The study notes that the sexual abuse of minors is a human problem that all of society must always guard against."

David Clohessy, executive director of the survivors' group, dismissed the report as an attempt by bishops to shift blame for their own role in and cover-up of the scandal.

The "blame Woodstock" defense is, at best, "naive," he said. "At worst, it's deceptive."

The report says, "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."

The Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, said he found the explanation of the '60s and '70s upheaval as a contributing factor to the abuse plausible.

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