Why interpreting the figures is so difficult

Why interpreting the figures is so difficult

Dark clouds over the church © Jorge Torres

On Tuesday, the German bishops plan to present the results of their study on sexual abuse of minors by clergymen. Many details were disclosed in advance. It is already apparent how difficult an evaluation is.

The Catholic News Agency (KNA) describes what the study can tell us – and what it can't. This first analysis refers exclusively to the data that have become known so far.

What did the scientists study?

On behalf of the bishops, they have collected data from 38.156 personnel and hand files from all 27 German dioceses evaluated. The files cover allegations from 1946 to 2014, more than 70 years ago. In addition, there are interviews with affected persons as well as accused and non-accused clerics, comparative analyses as well as an anonymized survey of affected persons. In addition, criminal files were analyzed and prevention concepts were scrutinized.

Why were no original files evaluated?

The researchers did not have direct access to the original files – to protect even those church employees who have nothing to do with abuse allegations. Employees from the dioceses or commissioned lawyers have looked through the files and transferred the information anonymously onto capture sheets according to the scientists' instructions.

Are the files complete?

According to researchers, there is evidence that "relevant personnel files or other documents were destroyed or tampered with" at earlier times. The exact number of these files can no longer be determined. Also, the overall personnel file management on the subject of abuse is "heterogeneous and without uniform standards".

Is the exact number of perpetrators and victims known?

Because the individual cases were not legally evaluated, the study speaks only of "accused" and "affected" people. Among the "accused" are convicted one-time offenders and multiple offenders as well as wrongly accused clergy and such cases where nothing can be clarified anymore. Analogously, the "victims" include all victims of abuse, but also victims for whom the allegations proved to be false, and those for whom the incidents could no longer be clarified.

What the study says about celibacy and homosexuality?

The researchers emphasize that all findings are merely descriptive. Because of the methodology, "statistical proof of causal relationships between individual phenomena or variables is not possible". At best, conjectures could be made on the basis of existing findings. Thus, the scientists write that "neither homosexuality nor celibacy are eo ipso causes of sexual abuse of minors".

However, "specific structures and rules of the Catholic Church could have a high attraction potential for persons with an immature homosexual inclination". In addition, some findings suggested "addressing the way in which celibacy may be a possible risk factor for sexual abuse acts for certain groups of people in specific constellations".

What is the significance of the study?

According to the scientists, the research approach is unique worldwide because criminological, psychological, sociological and forensic-psychiatric aspects were included. In this respect, it is more multi-layered than the similarly comprehensive but purely criminological abuse study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2004.

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