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Persistent Sexual Abusers in the Catholic Church: An Examination of Characteristics and Offense Patterns

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 35 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2008 Pages: 629-642
Cynthia Calkins Mercado; Jennifer A. Tallon; Karen J. Terry
Date Published
May 2008
14 pages
This study compared the characteristics of Catholic clergy who had committed varying numbers of sexual abuse offenses against children (1 allegation, 2 to 3 allegations, 4 to 9 allegations, and 10 or more allegations).
More than half of the sample (52.1 percent) for whom there was complete victim information had just one allegation. More than one-fourth (29.5 percent) had two to three documented or alleged victims, and a minority (14.7 percent) had four to nine victims. Only 3.7 percent had 10 or more victims. The clergy offenders with higher rates of offending behavior had an earlier onset of offending than other offenders, targeted younger victims, had a longer duration of offending behavior, and targeted more male victims. Clergy with only one victim were significantly less likely than clergy with two or more victims to be transferred within the parish. These findings suggest that a balanced approach for the management of clergy offenders should include assessments of risk for reoffending, with low-risk clergy being returned to a ministry if situational or other stressors are managed. Data were obtained from the study of the Nature and Scope of Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Deacons from 1950 to 2002. The study found that 4,392 priests had allegations of abuse that involved 10,667 victims. This component of the study used data from a sample of 3,674 clerics for whom full victim data were available. Data were obtained from three survey instruments sent to the presiding bishops and major superiors in all Catholic dioceses, eparchies, and religious communities in the United States. One survey obtained information on the institutional unit of the Catholic Church, and the second survey focused on individual characteristics of clergy alleged to have abused minors. The third survey addressed the characteristics of victims who had made formal complaints of abuse to the Catholic Church. 8 tables, 1 note and 30 references


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