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Manuscript in Journal of Sexual Aggression

In our summer update, we mentioned that the Journal of Sexual Aggression accepted our manuscript “Neutralisation and sexual abuse: A study of monks from one Benedictine Abbey.”

As of July 15, 2016, the article is available on the journal’s site. Please read it if you have a moment.

Currently, Jason and a team of two research assistants are analyzing additional files of credibly accused monks from the same abbey. In addition to identifying techniques of neutralization, they are assessing sexual grooming techniques used by the alleged offenders.

Summer 2016 Update

The CARC has spent that past four months finalizing manuscripts and starting new research projects. It is our intent to provide more frequent updates and posts to this site in the future. Given the slew of news on clergy abuse throughout the country lately, it is incumbent on us to use our platform more often.

That said, we have several updates:

  1. Last week, the Journal of Sexual Aggression accepted our manuscript, “Neutralisation and Sexual Abuse: A Study of Monks from One Benedictine Abbey,” for publication. The manuscript, co-authored by Jason Spraitz, Kendra Bowen, and Shavonne Arthurs, details the neutralization techniques used by monks and others affiliated with St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and discusses the concealment of allegations from civil authorities and the general public. Once published, we’ll link to the abstract and provide a copy on our ResearchGate pages, if allowable.

    A couple notes about the process that resulted in the publication of this manuscript:

    First, the editorial staff at the Journal of Sexual Aggression was a great group to work with during the review process, which included two “revise and resubmit” decisions. Despite this, the review process took less than three months and we received comments from two reviewers each time; when the reviewers’ comments conflicted with each other, the outstanding managing editor provided sound guidance and advice. Compared to some other review experiences, working with JSA was a breath of fresh air.

    Second, Kendra and I want to publicly thank Shavonne for her work on this project. Currently, Shavonne is a doctoral candidate and instructor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. A faculty member recommended her to us and she did a splendid job as our research assistant and co-author.

  2. In equally exciting news, we have completed a research project that we first reported on last September. Jason and Louisa examined the files of 16 priests from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet in Illinois. Data suggested the presence of widespread sexual grooming that was similar to grooming behaviors used by non-clergy offenders. But, there was another grooming tactic used that was unique to clergy offenders. Louisa created a poster and presented it at the annual Celebration of Research and Creative Activity extravaganza at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Then, with the help of Kendra, the three of us co-authored a manuscript about this project that is currently under publication consideration; because of this, we are purposefully providing limited information about the manuscript.
  3. On March 6, 2016, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a Letter to the Editor that Jason wrote. The letter was in response to the investigation of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Altoona-Johnstown and expressed the need for more transparency and accountability when allegations of sexual abuse are made.
  4. In February, we reported that we applied for an SREU grant from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. The reviewers were favorable towards our proposal and ORSP awarded $6,300 to Jason and two students. They are examining sexual grooming tactics and techniques of neutralization used by 18 credibly accused monks from St. John’s Abbey. The ongoing research is an offshoot of the research that was just accepted for publication in JSA in which files for 5 monks were analyzed. The two student research assistants have started coding the files.
  5. In an effort to explore more ways to disseminate this research publicly, Jason will participate in a summer writing residency focused on podcasting. The residency is through the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild.

Update – Early Spring 2016

  1. In early-December, we received a “revise and resubmit” from the editorial staff of the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse. Reviews were mainly positive with several astute suggestions of ways to improve the manuscript. By late-December, we resubmitted a revised draft of the manuscript for publication consideration; we are still awaiting a final decision.
  1. In our post from September 14, 2015, I reported that a student and I received a Student-Faculty Research Collaboration grant from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Over the course of the fall semester, our student collaborator coded the content of 16 unsealed priest files from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet in Illinois. Preliminary analysis of the data suggests a high rate of grooming behaviors by accused priests from this particular diocese. Currently, our collaborator is working on a literature review of sexual grooming research as well as preparing a poster for the annual Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity at UWEC. In addition to the poster, we plan to prepare a manuscript for publication consideration and present findings at the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association meeting in September 2016.
  1. Earlier in February, I submitted a Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates grant proposal to ORSP at UWEC. If awarded this grant, I will work with another student collaborator during the upcoming summer to analyze 18 recently unsealed files from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Five files from the abbey were made available in 2014, yet it wasn’t until mid-January 2016 that all 18 files were unsealed. We intend to investigate patterns of justification and deflection of self-blame as well as continue looking for grooming behaviors and other themes that are apparent.
  1. On February 11, 2016, the Editorial Board of The New York Times published an editorial titled “Tracing the bishops’ culpability in the child abuse scandal.” It was a well-crafted and articulated argument for more accountability in the Church. In response to this editorial, I submitted a “Letter to the Editor” that went unpublished; it is presented below in its entirety:

“To the Editor:
The New York Times editorial “Tracing the Bishops’ Culpability” (February 11) was timely when considering other various media reports that the Vatican is advising newly-appointed bishops that they do not have to report sexual abuse by clergy to legal authorities. This mandate is alarming for several reasons, but it is especially distressing because it upholds the decades-long modus operandi under which sexually abusive priests were allowed to continue their criminal behaviors while their superiors willfully disregarded the safety of children and the needs of the victims. At this point, I await the response of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to these instructions. As part of mandatory reporting statutes, more than 20 U.S. states specifically require clergy to disclose knowledge of sexual abuse to legal authorities. Ignoring these statutory requirements would deepen the wounds caused by generations of abuse and allow it to continue unrestrained for the foreseeable future.”

  1. Congratulations to the Globe Spotlight Team as well as the writers, producers, actors, director, and staff involved with the film Spotlight for their big win last night at the Academy Awards. From a professional standpoint, I’ll never be able to measure how instrumental the Globe Spotlight Team has been to my academic research; this is the article that started it all. But, more importantly, their willingness to expose abuses within the powerful Catholic Church has affected change and given voice to those previously silenced. Thank you for the work you do.

Research Update – September 2015

Updates from the Clergy Abuse Research Consortium (CARC) have been few and far between as we transition into a new semester. That said, we have a few things in the pipeline:

  1. Jason will present at the annual conference of the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association in Chicago in late September. The presentation, titled “Preliminary analysis of priests’ perceptions of the sexual abuse scandal,” will discuss what we have learned so far from survey data gathered from clergymen in three Wisconsin dioceses over the past six weeks. Admittedly, survey response rates are lower than expected, but clergy in the sample were mailed a reminder postcard within the last 10 days with the hope of increasing participation. Once finalized, we will post our key early findings.
  2. Kendra and Jason will present at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in Washington DC in November. The presentation, titled “Examining diocesan sexual abuse files: A look at priests, church leaders, cover-up, and blame minimization,” will give an overview of the research that we have conducted on files from Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. John’s Abbey, as well as concurrently on-going research with files from Joliet (to be discussed below).
  3. In our post from July 16, I mentioned that I submitted a Student-Faculty Research Collaboration grant proposal to the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at UWEC. In late-August, I learned that my student collaborator and I were awarded the grant in the amount of $1,998 (all money going to the student-researcher for her work on the project). This funding will help us analyze 16 publicly available files of priests from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet in Illinois who have been accused of sexual abuse of minors; these 16 files contain nearly 3,000 pages of documentation. As has been the case with most of our research to this point, we will code all instances of neutralization, justification, and deflection of self-blame by accused priests and others. We also will look for trends associated with offenders’ grooming of victims and all other victimization trends contained in the files. We hope to give our student collaborator ample opportunity to contribute to manuscript preparation and conference presentation, including MCJA in September 2016, the annual Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity (CERCA) in April 2016 at UWEC, and perhaps the Posters in the Rotunda event that showcases undergraduate research and is held every spring in the Capitol Rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin.
  4. The manuscript that we submitted to the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse remains under review; hopefully positive news from that submission is on the horizon.

Research Update – July 2015

On July 13, 2015, cover letters were sent to 240 clergymen serving the three Catholic dioceses in the western and northern regions of Wisconsin. The letter briefly described the project, “The purpose of the questionnaire is to ask you about your perceptions and opinions of the allegations of sexual abuse that were directed towards the Church within the past 10-15 years,” and the respondents’ thoughts about the effectiveness of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in keeping minors safe. Standard language about the voluntariness of participation and maintaining confidentiality of the participants also was included; this information is expanded upon in the Informed Consent that will be mailed with the survey in approximately 10 days.

Today, July 16, 2015, I placed the order for the Informed Consent and Surveys from University Printing Services at UWEC. In addition to expanding the voluntariness and confidentiality sections, the Informed Consent also discusses the risks and benefits for the respondents. Members of the IRB at UWEC, especially Chair Axelrod, were very helpful in making suggestions for this section. Initial concerns that the IRB raised focused on my ability to identify participants based on certain responses. To assuage these concerns, the following language was added to the Informed Consent, “There are no identifiers on the survey, though some demographic questions may have the potential for indirect identification. I will not know who returns surveys and I have no interest in connecting responses to specific individuals.” Additionally, Chair Axelrod wrote the following, “The IRB concluded that you are required by law to contact Wisconsin Child Protective Services should details of sexual abuse of a minor (or suspected sexual abuse of a minor) be reported by a subject…The IRB would like your thoughts on this issue, including whether language in the Informed Consent form should state that should a subject identify himself or someone else, by name, that suggests some abuse of a minor, that you, as the researcher, are obligated to report the incident to Child Protective Services.”

After thinking about that question, I decided to add language to the Informed Consent detailing my obligation to report instances of sexual abuse of a minor to Child Protective Services. The language that I added is direct, but I tried to word it in a way that would not cause somebody to not reply. This section of the Informed Consent reads, “Please keep in mind that the Institutional Review Board at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire has concluded that I am required by law to contact Wisconsin Child Protective Services if details of sexual abuse (or suspected sexual abuse) of a minor is reported by a participant in this research, though no survey questions ask about specific instances of abuse.”

We have another project on the horizon. As I’ve written on multiple occasions, UWEC is renowned for the faculty-student research opportunities that are available for undergraduate students. Annually, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at UWEC offers the Student-Faculty Research Collaboration grant opportunity; first call for proposals was due yesterday, July 15. Along with one of the Criminal Justice Program’s top students, I hope to retrospectively analyze content from the files of accused priests in the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois. This analysis will mirror prior research that the Clergy Abuse Research Consortium has conducted on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and with another entity (unnamed because the manuscript is under review).

What We’re Working On – Summer 2015

1. Kendra, Shavonne Arthurs (a doctoral candidate in Criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania), and I recently submitted a manuscript for publication consideration to the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse. Because the manuscript is under review, I won’t detail its content here.

2. Thanks to a generous University Research and Creative Activity grant and stipend from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, we will be able to conduct survey research with current clergymen. Our plan is to mail cover letters describing the project to all ordained clergymen in three dioceses in Wisconsin by mid-July. We will send informed consent guidelines and the questionnaires to our sample one week later. Depending on the early response rate, preliminary analysis of the data will be presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association in late-September.

Recent Peer-Reviewed Publication in Journal of Crime & Justice

On December 23, 2014, the Journal of Crime & Justice published an article written by Kendra and I along with our colleague James Bowers of Saginaw Valley State University.

The manuscript is titled: “Neutralizations and a history of ‘keeping the lid’ on it: How church leaders handled and explained sexual abuse in one diocese.” The article abstract reads as follows:

While much is known about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, there are very few criminological studies on the topic. This research adds to that knowledge base. This study examines the techniques of neutralization used by diocesan personnel in their efforts to justify priests’ abusive behaviors and temper public knowledge of what was occurring behind closed doors. Over 4,000 pages of documentation, from 42 priest files, unsealed by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in July 2013 were analyzed retrospectively via qualitative content analysis of all statements consistent with neutralization techniques. Findings indicate that diocesan personnel were most likely to deny injury and responsibility, and that some were very forthright about covering up these crimes. The need for continued qualitative research using more recently released files, as well as surveys and interviews with Church leaders, also is discussed.

Special thanks to the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire for providing funding through the Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant program and to Preston for his research assistance.

Recent Peer-Reviewed Publication in Journal of Interpersonal Violence

On April 8, 2015, Journal of Interpersonal Violence published via OnlineFirst a manuscript written by Kendra and I.

The article is titled: “Techniques of Neutralization and Persistent Sexual Abuse by Clergy: A Content Analysis of Priest Personnel Files from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.” The abstract of the manuscript reads as follows:

The sexual abuse problem in the Catholic Church has received considerable attention by the media in recent years and growing attention from empirical researchers. Despite this growth, there is a lack of theoretical research that uses neutralization techniques to examine clergy offending. Using Sykes’ and Matza’s theory, this study examines the techniques of neutralization used by accused priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Priests’ personnel files, which were made publicly available by the Archbishop of Milwaukee in July 2013, were analyzed retrospectively through a qualitative content analysis of all direct statements and correspondences from the accused. The findings indicate that many priests denied responsibility or injury in an effort to justify their sexually abusive behaviors, but that no discernible patterns of technique use emerged. The need for continued research using recently released personnel files from other dioceses also is discussed.

Special thanks to the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire for providing funding through the Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant program and to Preston for his research assistance.