Deterrable Predator

The Power of the John Jay Reports (JJR I, 2004, JJR II ,2011 )
JJR II appeared in May, 2011 and was followed by many cautious commentaries and summaries. Few exploited the power of the reports for forming unequivocal policies  targeting potential perpetrators. The most striking outcome of JJR II and its support in JJR I is in showing that the Church was infected by a very small group of very rational, determined and deliberate sexual predators, who despite a history of recidivism after various treatments, were and are pre-eminently deterrable.  The sad history is inappropriately named recidivism because the perpetrators did not, as a group, intend to recover or reform. But that they are deterrable is an empirically solid assertion because, after increasingly bold offending through the 1970s, they were in fact deterred dramatically, through the 1980s to the present. JJR II notes the importance of the steep decline in new incidents of abuse during that time. The importance is highlighted by seeing how it confirms a theoretical profile of the perpetrators as a group,  a profile which is critical for the formation of a policy which can reduce abuse incidents to a minimum without avoidable harm to the vast majority of clerics who not only do not offend sexually but who cannot even imagine such bizarre offenses.  A number of elements of the profile follow.

Profound Narcissism.  The record shows this in depth but also that it not an overtly destabilizing narcissism The perpetrators dissembled adroitly, were capable of rationalizing away the most heinous offenses as if the victims did not exist or were somehow complicit, carefully grooming victims, deceiving parents and  guardians, exploiting their own priesthoods as just one more tool to gain access to the vulnerable. All the ties of humanity dissolve before their desires.
High Intelligence.  The pattern of offenses (caution, grooming, patience) shows great rational control and cleverness. The choice of victims shows significant perception of the vulnerabilities of humans.
Ability to Maintain an Effective “Absence of God.” Putting God “out of mind” occurs in any serious sin but these long term sins reveal a dangerous ability to exploit a de facto “freedom” to transgress against any loyalties, implicit promises and the common conventions of civil society. The trust, kindness, and patience of others who might guide them, such as superiors or spiritual advisors,  were mere weaknesses to them and avenues by which to “game” any human precautions against violation of the vulnerable. But they are not atheists nor insanely out of touch with reality. God was simply set aside for years.
Non-Godly Attraction to the Priesthood.  The large percentage of perpetrators who were sexually active before, during and after seminary/ordination makes one ask why an intelligent person would pursue a profession which emphatically requires the appearance of celibacy. The answer, also evident in the record, is that for this group the priesthood is a “good job” and that hiding sexual indulgence with adult peers, male and female, was easy. The “good job” provided adequate income for one who does not intend to marry, high honor, colorful garments, lack of serious physical labor, often independence from  common tasks such as cooking, housekeeping, etc. And access to the vulnerable. The tolerance of long stays in rehabilitation clinics and the record of interviews reveal that the desire to return to this “good job” after apprehension for offenses was strong, requiring only a pretense of reform.
Unanchored, Undisciplined Sexual Appetite.  JJR II has a name for bearers of this appetite: generalists.  In spite of the fact that 81% of the victims were pubescent and post-pubescent males, “generalist” is a justified name for the perpetrators because the histories of this group bear out a lack of any rigid preference for age group or sex. They clearly had same-sex attraction, but their actual histories reveal neither rigidity in sexual choice nor that the majority of their sexual indulgences were civilly criminal at all. In the present therapeutic paradigm, they were able to deny or adopt the name “homosexual” depending on the context. This is important because the profile must account for their ability to find other sexual outlets without supposing a sudden conversion to genuine celibacy in the 1980s and beyond. Moreover, the title “homosexual” might suggest an  unjust and undocumented claim that  all clerics with same-sex attraction are prone to abuse of minors. The record also shows that fairly early on, this group recognized and rationalized the strangeness of their sexual appetites but also knew the need to hide them.
Careful Calculators of Risks.  In the interviews some perpetrators complained about their loss of the right to perform as priests. After the promulgation of a “zero-tolerance” policy (that priestly functions would be revoked summarily) many abusers reacted angrily. Anger is usually a reaction to a perceived injustice, in this case the loss of a “good job” which was not anticipated as an expected risk. Nor, prior to the late 1970s was it. It was widely known that confidentiality would exist, albeit for the sake of the Church, and that after a suitable residence at a retreat or therapeutic clinic a return to the “good job” was likely. But all this changed  in the mid 1980s when a three-fold increase (by 1997) in incarcerations of  non-clerical child sex-abusers began. At the same time, in the U.S. Church, the tightening of the noose began with the (intended to be confidential) “Doyle  Manual   which quickly became widely known among potential offenders. Its advocacy of summary deprivation of the clerical “good job,” public exposure and prison made clerical sexual abuse of minors much riskier. Given that they had other sexual outlets, the drop in new incidents of abuse was predictable. These offenders were and are deterrable. But only when the goods dearest to them are credibly threatened.

Prudent Policy Formation
In his Summa Theologica (IIa, IIae Q49) Aquinas gives a stern warning about the importance of consideration and utilization of “historia” (Article 1) in prudent policy making.  JJR I and JJR II are that history. But the history is largely useless if it does not give concrete direction to the choice and design of the policy. In article 4, Aquinas points out how knowledge of  the equivalent of our  profile enables us to predict what the profiled person will do in response to the policy.  A policy with no profile or an incorrect one will be misguided or successful only by chance. For example, a policy which places burdens on all clergy and reduces their effectiveness with young men may be seriously misguided and possibly useless if it does not have a deterrent effect on the tiny fraction who are potential perpetrators. We know from the history that the perpetrators are deterrable and, from their profile, what is likely to be an effective deterrent. And, as a bonus, the profile tells us why previous therapeutic approaches did not work.

Accuracy of the Profile
I rely heavily in this essay on seeing the 1980s sharp decline in new incidents of abuse as evidence that the perpetrators are eminently deterrable. Space limitation forbids detailed examination of two plausible alternative explanations: fear of AIDS by the perpetrators and the death of perpetrators by AIDS. Suffice it to say that the dates do not support these hypotheses. Abandoning very young victims for adult partners makes no sense as a strategy to avoid AIDS.

Definition and Defense of Deterrence as Church Policy
It is beyond the competence of the writer to describe in detail a canonically workable deterrent policy. The profile itself recommends a fairly swift imposition of the deterrent threats to the “good job” and the certitude of public exposure and possible incarceration. These last two need some defense since they almost necessarily involve a discouraging scandal for the faithful and harm to the “good name” of the Church. The best defense is to read St. Paul in I Tim 5: 19-22. He had 20 years of clergy formation experience when he wrote I Timothy and his words advocating public exposure (and deprivation of office, by implication) of sexual offenders as a way of deterring other still unknown potential perpetrators reveals much about his wisdom. He was aware, even then, of the “good job” attractions of religious leadership and how a threat to them would be effective for those who enter the leadership for non-godly reasons.
One important aspect of the profile discernible in JJR II is that an effective deterrent policy aimed at potential and actual perpetrators does not require that superiors be able to recognize the perpetrators in advance, or that careful screening tests will bear the burden of reducing the presence of potential perpetrators entering the ranks of the clergy. They know themselves, certainly by the time of ordination. The deterrence is the only thing likely to reduce their presence among the clergy. Or so St. Paul thought. Should we be more solicitous of the “good name” of the Church than he?

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Stanislaus J Dundon

PhD in Philosophy and history of science. Currently engaged in medical ethics and spiritual direction.

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