In an effort to understand the origins of the clerical sex abuse scandal that have plagued the American Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned studies of the crisis from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first study, published in 2004, were extensive and thoroughly documented the cases of abuse by priests with precision; however, while demonstrating clearly that the clergy sexual abuse scandal involved primarily same-sex behavior between priests and post-pubescent males, the researchers found “no connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.”
A 2011 follow-up study by researchers at John Jay College pointed to the issue of “proximity.” From the John Jay perspective, priests abused young men and boys simply because the priests were more likely to be working with them, rather than with young women and girls. Father James Martin, SJ, touted those findings in an article for America magazine, claiming, “The researchers found no statistical evidence that gay priests were more likely than straight priests to abuse minors—a finding that undermines a favorite talking point of many conservative Catholics. The disproportionate number of adolescent male victims was about opportunity, not preference or pathology, the report states.”
It is possible, however, that more may be revealed. In June, the Henry Luce Foundation’s Theology Program announced the awarding of a $550,000 research grant to study sexual abuse across a variety of religious traditions and communities—including the Catholic Church. Led by principal investigator Amanda Lucia, an associate professor of religious studies at UC Riverside, the project will study sexual abuse in Catholicism, Buddhism, yoga, and “contemporary guru movements situated primarily within Hindu traditions,” according to a UC Riverside press release.
One of the six researchers on the team is Kent Brintnall, associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who will be analyzing the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis by “situating it within the contexts of sexuality, homosexuality, and LGBTQ politics.”
Although the study of the Catholic clergy abuse scandal will comprise only a portion of the overall research project, it is clear that homosexuality will be relevant. Indeed, the choice to enlist Professor Brintnall was an inspired one for those who wish to move beyond the politically correct conclusions of the John Jay studies. A respected scholar in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, Brintnall is thoroughly familiar with the history of the clergy abuse scandal, having taught a course entitled “Contextualizing the Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis.” In a speech entitled “Can We Queer Sex Abuse?”, which Brintnall gave at Chicago Theological Seminary’s annual Gilberto Castenada Lecture on May 2, 2019, he stated clearly (at about the 52-minute mark on the video), “The actual demographic details of Catholic sexual abuse makes it difficult not to admit that on some level that the desires enacted by abusive priests look like conventional homosexual desire, albeit an immature unprocessed form.”
A central aspect of the Henry Luce grant is each of the researchers’ partnerships with advocacy organizations. Professor Brintnall will be partnering with Bishop Accountability, a Massachusetts-based non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to “offering documents representing every conceivable perspective on the crisis.” Bishop Accountability has the most detailed database of accused Catholic clergy; the website makes it clear that they “endorse no particular analysis of the root causes of the crisis, and we advocate no particular remedies,” and admits that it has received criticism because it makes “no claim regarding the accuracy of any document we post.”
Bishop Accountability will provide Professor Brintnall with the data he needs. The fact that Brintnall has been chosen to analyze the Catholic clergy abuse scandal by “situating it within the contexts of sexuality and homosexuality and LGBTQ politics” indicates that we just may finally get some much needed clarity on the causes and consequences of the scandal.
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