Authors of a controversial study that examined the causes of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church defended the finding that a surge in abuse in the 1960s and '70s was sparked by broader social and cultural upheaval and a failure to prepare priests adequately for a life of celibacy amid such change, reports the Boston Globe. The study's lead author, Karen Terry of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said interviews with hundreds of priests and a separate evaluation of larger societal trends including divorce rates, illegal drug use, crime, and premarital sex shaped the researchers' conclusions.
She cautioned that the causes of abuse are complex and can't be linked to a single factor. It wasn't simply that social mores were changing in that era, she said, but that priests had not received instruction in human sexuality and emotional relationships. Episodes of abuse, Terry said, often happened among priests who felt isolated and under stress. “What's important is this convergence of factors,'' Terry told the Globe at the Washington headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which commissioned the study.