Customer Reviews: Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis
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on September 14, 2002
Professor Jenkins contributes immeasurably to the current discussion of clergy sexual abuse by doing what every social scientist should. Jenkins steadfastly refuses to add to the volume of this shrill and partisan debate by offering conjectures or personal opinions. Instead, he calmly presents the data in a detached manner, and then draws his conclusions based solely on the data.
Anyone with an interest in the current crisis would benefit from reading Professor Jenkins' sane, calm, and lucid analysis.
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on June 25, 2002
Philip Jenkins has written a first-rate book, not just about the "moral panic" over "pedophile priests", but about our tendency as a society to seek simplistic answers for complex social problems. Jenkins argues persuasively, on the basis of extensive evidence, that the portrayal of the Catholic Church as a haven for pedophiles is just the latest version of the anti-Catholic stereotype which dates back at least as far as the Reformation. The scapegoating of the Catholic Church is also facilitated, as Jenkins points out, by the bureaucratic tradition of the Curia: keeping centralized records of abuse allegations makes a Catholic diocese an easy target for litigation, in a way which a dispersed Protestant denomination can never be.
Highly recommended. Very clear, accessible, and thoroughly researched.
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on August 5, 1998
Priests and pedophilia is a subject not easily discussed without arousing deep emotional reactions. Phillip Jenkins, however, has taken an objective scholastic approach that backs each assertion with stong quotations and clear logical arguements. He shows how a national history of anti-catholicism, a sensationalistic-hungry mass media, a changing legal environnment, new definitions of 'sex-abuse', and a factional struggle for change within the Roman Church, all set the stage for what inevitably became the 'clergy-abuse crisis'. He offers much new insight and a good bibliography. I think at times however, he overestimates the power of the laity, and democracy; and underscores the 'Divine' origin and mission of the Roman Church. The book also lacked what I had hoped for by way of statistics. I would still recommend this book for anyone interested in catholic apologetics, or anyone just looking for a more scholarly diagnosis of the 'pedophile/priest crisis'.
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on April 28, 2002
Informative, balanced, scholarly, balanced, excellent, balanced, balanced, balanced (did I say balanced?). It puts to shame the absurd media hype cluttering newspapers and airwaves. Jenkins is realistic about the really real problem, because sexual abuse of minors is an undeniable social problem-at-large - but ridiculously and sensationalistically framed by the media these days with in a rather narrow setting as if that setting it the ONLY or the MAJOR place where sexual abuse of minors happens. Jenkins, a non-Catholic, does a service to the United States (which the media does not) to set the problem in the proper context of Western Society's near-collapse of sexual morality. Let this book be a wake-up call on this issue, and every "journalist" in America should be required - absolutely - to read it before ever again being allowed to print or utter on t-v or radio a single word on this topic. I'd like to buy ten million copies of this book and disperse them from airplanes coast to coast. Thank you, Professor Jenkins, for sorting out for us a proper understanding of what's-what .. . a positive contribution far outweighing all the negative journalism of our national press and networked t-v & radio.
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on March 29, 2013
I ordered this book because the more I heard and read about "pedophile priests" the more I began to wonder if the Catholic Church deserved to be at the center of attention of those who care about protecting young children from sexual abuse. The terms "pedophile scandal" and "Catholic Church" just seemed to me to be an unnatural pairing. I am neither religious nor particularly spiritual. I was raised in a mainstream Protestant tradition and grew up mostly around Catholic families whose kids went to local parochial schools. The abuse stories I heard from them were entirely about how hard this or that nun had pounded their knuckles with rulers, twisted their ears, and/or made them sit in the corner with gum on their noses. Would not, prepubescent Catholic kids during the peak period of alleged abuse, roughly 1965 to 1995, have been vastly more likely to have contact with female nuns than males priests? Moreover, post-pubescent kids are more likely to have been cared for by priests as altar boys and high school students and improper sexual contact between adults and same sex early teens isn't pedophilia, it's homosexual sex abuse - a subset of hebephilia.
Yet over and over media reports refer to pedophilia within the Church. The thought struck me that we are experiencing a strange kind of double bind wherein both critics and supporters of the Church have been helping the story develop along the line that maximizes their political gains and minimizes their losses. Enemies of the Church harp on about pedophilia since the idea of sex with little children is so sickening that they could quickly get the attention of an otherwise indifferent public. At the same time erstwhile "defenders of the faith" might have been disinclined to point out how unlikely it was that actual "priestly pedophilia" might have taken place because any abuse was so much more likely to have been between Catholic post-pubescent males and priests, either or both of whom might have been unaware of their sexual preference till the moment of temptation
If the focus of the complaints were "homosexual abuse by priests" would not Church authorities then have to deal with all those allegations by anti-Catholics that priestly celibacy seemed to have encouraged the development of a priesthood disproportionally homosexual? Most studies now suggest that 5 per cent of male humans are genetically predisposed to be homosexual and that such awareness is likely to take place in late adolescence. It's not hard to hypothesize that hundreds of candidates for the priesthood would end up on a career path where most contact is between males and temptations for improper contact abound.
Politically, once the Church had already been convicted in the court of public opinion of "protecting pedophile priests" there was nothing to be gained by substituting abuse of adolescent boys for abuse of little boys. Indeed, a fair-minded person might somewhat sympathize with a Bishop who wasn't eager to go public with the rotten apple in his parish when the victim was a little girl or boy. But if the issue really were an elevated level of homosexuality in the priesthood, a major pillar of the Church would be undermined and all the good works of the Church might be threatened.
So why didn't the opponents of the traditional Church blow the whistle? My thinking is that they didn't t because they are all part of the great identity group coalition of the victimhood. If the real problem were gay priests it would call into question the post-modern conviction that gay men, like women, are universally victims of male hegemonic culture. It made sense to me. I wondered if there were research on the subject. Google and Amazon led me to Jenkins.
Philip Jenkins wrote this book in 1996 and it is anything but out of date. It is as much a case study of the way "social problems" (he backs away from "social panic" by the end of the book) are "constructed" by a set of actors working within a particular social arena during a critical period in history.
Though he doesn't use the term, he presents a picture of a "perfect storm" of brewed up by political interests and historic circumstances that have driven the Church dangerously near the rocks, because:
1. of distant memories of horror stories told by (Protestant and political) opponents of the church since the Reformation began in 1513. Catholics replied, of course, with equally wild slanders, but with generally less imagination.
2. Jenkins argues that when the first cases of priestly abuse of pre-pubescent children surfaced in circa 1970 that the consensus of professional therapists was that the damage to children was less that most would imagine and that it would not be impossible for therapists to mitigate such damage and to straighten the twisted impulses of the perpetrators. He acknowledges, of course, that while both suppositions were wildly off the mark, they partially explain why the Church administrators let rotten apples continue to rot and infect. All this is quite beyond my expertise. I do remember the time as one of naïve and touchy-feely acceptance of sexual experimentation.
3. The fact that the bureaucratic structure of the Church and the obligation of formal confession generated a volume of written evidence that researchers, both fair-minded and otherwise, could mine for evidence and/or exploitation. I would add that Church doctrine accepts the humanity of homosexuals but demands that they abstain from sexual activity.
4. The hierarchal structure of the church is such that the sins of individual practitioners are easily aggregated by its enemies and thus sin stories become cumulative - while the sins of those employed by other groups, professions, and agencies are more likely assigned to individual perverts. Who remembers the follies of the Bakkers in the 80's?
5. The extreme wing of American feminism has found the church a wonderful foil for attacking their imagined world of paternal male exploitation. When accused of sexism, corporate America says "take us to court". The Church can only say "that's the way it is". Hammer away girls.
6. An obvious bonanza for American trial lawyers. How hard is it to morph an austere, elitist, and morally judgmental institution into a dangerously creepy haven for pedophiles before a jury of one's presumed peers.
7. And a bigger and better second life for the repressed memory and therapy crowd. Back in the 80's, prosecutors were getting convictions for pedophilia based on all kinds of questionable testimony adduced by fringe players of the poorly regulated crowd of psychotherapists then so much in vogue.
8. Alas, Jenkins' review of the evidence neither supports nor contradicts my suspicions about the "double bind" referred to above actually explains the way the story of the "pedophile priests" has unfolded. He does refer to the results of what he considers a meticulously fair (and rare from both sides of the issue) study of clerical involvement in sexual misdeeds conducted by and within the Chicago Diocese by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin that seem to suggest that I am on the right track. The Chicago study found that improper priestly sex was between post-pubescent males in close to 80 percent of the cases. Jenkins, of course, is well aware that hard evidence in this area of human behavior is hellishly difficult to come across.
So by all means, read the Jenkins book. He is a lot more judicious and academically correct than most of those who do nearly all the talking about "The Church in Crisis".
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on June 5, 2002
I tend to try not to think about things I find disgusting, so I more or less believed the headlines regarding this subject. You know, that there is a vast "network" of predatory priests, that everyone else in the Catholic Church was involved in a vast coverup, that celibacy was the root cause, and so on. Then I happened to read that the incidence of pedophilia in Catholic priests is less than, or the same as, other groups with access to children, such as other clergy, coaches, and teachers. That being the case, it was clear to me that this was yet another subject where the press has led me by the nose to an incorrect conclusion. This book was really informative on the subject. It served as an excellent case study on how the press comes to framing a story a certain way, as well as the roles of various interest groups in making certain that a story is framed in the way that is most advantageous to them. The objectivity and impartiality of the author is really refreshing in this era of polemics. If you want to learn something, by all means read this book. If you are simply looking for someone to validate your preconceived notions, you will not like it.
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on May 6, 2010
Philip Jenkins "Pedophile and Priests" is the classic resource for anyone interested in obtaining an even-handed review of the contemporary clerical abuse scandal involving the Catholic Church in America. Jenkins has often been only sober voice in media discussions on the so-called pedophile priest scandal, such as when he points out that the rate of sexual misconduct is no higher for Catholic priests than it is for other clergy and occupations.

Jenkins is a historian, and in many ways, his book offers a historical retrospective of the causes and players in the creation of the public perception that there is a unique problem with "pedophile priests." Jenkins' book was that it was published in 1996, so that it traces the history of the scandal from the early 80s through to around 1993. Of course, we know that after 2000 - and particularly when the Boston Globe began reporting on the scandal in the Boston diocese in the early 2000s - the scandal really took off in the public mind. The surprising things about Jenkins' books are (a) how much was going on before the 2000 and (b) how the memes and tropes established in the 80s and 90s continued to play themselves out after 2000.

Jenkins develops his book around the idea that the "priest pedophile" scandal is a matter of "social construction." As he points out, it is one thing to have objective facts, another to construct those objective facts into a public perception that the objective facts hang together in a particular way that has particular meaning worthy of attention. The way that such a "social construction" is created is by "framing" the objective facts in a particular way that attracts attention, fits the presumptions of the public and invests the objective facts with meaning.

Since it is objective facts that are being framed, the question is "who did the framing"? In answer to that question, Jenkins looks at the players who were able to frame individual scandals involving Catholic priests, invariably homosexual, and boys in their mid to late teens, in order to frame the image of the "pedophile priest" as somehow being the norm of Catholic priests. The players included victim groups, lawyers, dissident Catholics, therapists and the news media.

Jenkins does a fantastic job of explaining how these players managed to frame a "pedophile priest" scandal as a matter of established fact in the public mind, notwithstanding the fact that the individual cases did not usually involve pedophilia - which is an attraction to prepubescent child - but homosexual ephobophilia - which is an attraction to post-pubescent males - and did not involve more than around 2% of all priests (approximately .03% being pedophiles and 1.7% being ephobophiles) based on a review of records of the Diocese of Chicago (and largely confirmed in subsequent studies.)

Jenkins does a great job of explaining how this scandal emerged in large part because of changing value systems, including a change in the perception of the seriousness of sexual misconduct with minors. For those reading this in 2010, the Roman Polanski case offers an interesting proof to Jenkins' argument about changing attitudes. Namely, in 1977, Polanski was sentenced by a prosecutor to no time in jail and a 90 day psychiatric assessment for sodomizing a 13 year old girl. By standards of 2010, that now seems to show incredible insensitivity on the part of the prosecutor, but as Jenkins notes, by the therapeutic standards of the `60s and `70s, the psychiatric approach was normal, and it is potentially misleading to judge the motivations behind decisions made 30 years ago by standards held by people living today. That, however, is something endemic in Catholic priest scandal cases, where the bulk of such cases involve decisions in the `90s and `00s for decisions made in the `60s and `70s.

Another sea change in American life was the fact that in the `70s and `80s, the media stopped showing religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular the deference it had traditionally shown. Thus, scandals that would not have seen the light of day in 1965 were front page news in 1995. Undoubtedly, the Catholic Church and its members have had their welfare improved by this development, albeit the constant focus of news stories on the Catholic Church exclusively makes media coverage something of a wash.

Jenkins is quite good when he points out that the Catholic Church became a particular target for lawsuits because of its centralization - thereby offering "deep pockets" to pay judgments - and its bureaucratization, which included maintaining records that lawyers could obtain in discovery for the purpose of securing new defendants and plaintiffs. So, while there has been a tendency to make the Catholic Church's problem a matter of its theology or practice, the fact is that the Catholic Church is simply a much more attractive target for lawyers for the same reason that bank robbers rob banks - because that is where the money is. Also, as a practicing plaintiff's trial attorney, I have to hand it to Jenkins for being the first person I have read to make the connection between the rise of liability insurance and the development of novel legal theories of liability. The layman probably isn't aware of the fact that law often develops in one area because lawyers are attracted to that area because the possibility of obtaining a recovery is guaranteed by an insurance policy.

Jenkins' is also quite good in his observation that Catholic internal politics played a key role in making the scandal a particularly Catholic scandal. He points out that the scandal arose at a time when the American Catholic Church was transforming itself from a "sect" into a "religion." As a sect, Catholicism had high internal cohesion and high conflict with society. After Vatican II, it appeared that American Catholicism was becoming a "religion, with low internal cohesion and low conflict with society, by essentially transforming itself into something like a mainstream Protestant denomination. However, this process of transformation fell short some time after the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, resulting in liberal Catholics with an axe to grind against the hierarchy, and against the practice of celibacy for priests, as well as other traditional doctrines and practices, and a Catholic membership that would not circle the wagons the same way that they would have back when they belonged to a "sect." This then permitted Catholic voices - such as the liberal National Catholic Register - to engage in internal Catholic polemics that were then picked up by the mainstream media that otherwise might have been accused of anti-Catholicism but for the fact that it was parroting things said by Catholics. The conservative Catholics likewise played into the "framing" of the "pedophile priest" scandal because of their agenda in undermining what they perceived to be non-orthodox homosexual activist priests.

I heartily recommend Jenkins' book as a primary source for anyone who wants an objective, outsider's perspective on how the subject. Although it was written in 1996, the analysis seems to remain pertinent to the situation of the Catholic Church after 15 years.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon February 19, 2014
Philip Jenkins (born 1952) teaches history and religious studies at Penn State University and Baylor University; he has written many other books such as The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice,Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way,The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity,Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses, etc.

He wrote in the first chapter of this 1996 book, "Occasional investigations and scandals are inevitable, and a handful of genuine instances of clergy sex abuse can be found in any decade of this century. What has been different about the past decade has been the high volume of reported cases and the enormous public attention that these have attracted. Because it is unlikely that pedophile behavior itself has increased as dramatically, the question must be asked why public perceptions have changed so radically. Why should so many cases have come to light during the 1980s rather than in an earlier historical epoch, and why should they have formed the basis of a 'pedophile crisis'? Why, similarly, should public attention have come to focus so decisively on the Catholic aspects of the problem? What explains the distinctive construction of the clergy-abuse problem in the past decade?" (Pg. 12-13)

He points out, "Partially, the apparently high number of cases involving Catholic clergy is an inevitable consequence of the very size of that denomination... the number of Catholic CLERGY is larger than the total membership of many denominations in this country... there will be many more scandals involving Catholic priests than Episcopal or Presbyterian clergy, precisely because this group is more numerous to begin with. In fact, the difference is even larger ... because so many of the scandals involve events that occurred many years ago, in the 1960s and 1970s... Because the Catholic priesthood had a particularly high rate of turnover during the 1970s, this gives a very large population in which potentially troubled individuals might be found..." (Pg. 8-9)

He notes, "Andrew Greeley explicitly compared the church's closed structure to that of the Mafia, with the difference that that Mafia did enforce internal sanctions against deviants: 'Even the Outfit... has sanctions. The priesthood doesn't.' Comparing the Church to the Mafia implies size and malevolence, but also (probably unwittingly) evokes alien and conspiratorial qualities of the sort long alleged against Catholicism." (Pg. 56) He later adds, "In 1992 Greeley reacted to charges that the abuse danger had been exaggerated by declaring that the Chicago statistics proved that nationwide 'an estimate of one out of ten priests as sexual abusers might be too high and an estimate of one out of twenty might be too low.' The statement, however, is based on what appears to be a miscalculation... Abuse was confirmed in the cases of about one-sixtieth ... of the corps of Chicago priests rather than the suggested 5 to 10 percent, evidence of how even a writer of such competence and integrity can fall into error." (Pg. 81-82)

He observes, "By the mid-1980s little prophetic skill was needed to realize that church institutions were shortly to encounter serious legal difficulties with molestation suits, especially because traditional internal defenses were withering. In earlier years canon law provided excommunication for any Catholic who sought redress against a priest or religious in a secular court... Because most victims of abuse by priests came from Catholic families, this was a valuable deterrent for potential litigants as long as excommunication remained a viable weapon, which it had long ceased to be by 1980." (Pg. 128)

He comments about the justification for refusing to return a guilty priest to service, "this behavior differs from theft in that it is now commonly believed to reflect a compulsive or addictive personality disorder, which cannot be cured or deterred by even the most determined act of will on the part of the offender. The near-universal acceptance of this compulsive model suggests the continuing expansion of medical and deterministic interpretations of wrongdoing and the consequent reduction of revision of the concept of individual sinfulness, especially in matters of sexuality. Sin necessarily implies free will; psychological and therapeutic models are deterministic in their analysis of how character and behavior are formed by family, upbringing, and social development." (Pg. 162-163)

This book was written prior to the "BIG" crisis which came to light in 2002, but Jenkins' thoughts still have application in many or most situations. It is a very useful corrective/supplement to the many more lurid analyses which came out after 2002.
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on April 5, 2002
Jenkins has written by far the most balanced analysis of sexual abuse by Catholic priests by placing the topic within its cultural and historical context. In so doing presents a devestating critique of the media's coverage of, and role in, constructing the "crisis" in the Church. This book is must reading for anyone trying to place the current crisis in a broader perspective based on actual data and sound balenced analysis. An eye opening book which reveals much about the current state of Catholicism and of our culture in general.
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on February 24, 2002
If you were to rely on soley media reports, you would think that there was some unique problem in the Catholic Church in America pertaining to child molestation. The trial lawyers in America have a vital interest in you believing that. Jenkins's study, however, makes it abundantly clear that this problem exists in other faiths as well as in secular institutions -- indeed in any institution where it can be expected that adults come in regular, systematic contact with children enstrusted to their care. Although the anti-Catholics among us may be disappointed to learn that the incidence of molestation by Catholic clergy is lower than in Protestant denominations or in society as a whole, Jenkins's findings, which are thoroughly documented, make it clear that we do our children a disservice by writing this issue off as a "Catholic problem" related to the celibacy of its clergy. By doing so, we fail even to begin to understand the root causes of such conduct, which means that our children entrusted to the care of other institutions, including secular institutions, remain at risk for abuse by their adult supervisors. By ignoring Jenkins's findings, we will make few true advances in understanding what causes such conduct, who is susceptible to such conduct, and how to prevent adults with such pre-dispositions from being placed into positions of responsibility and care over our children. As for the reviews below critical of Jenkins and accusing him of being a Catholic shrill, ignore them. Jenkins's study is published by Oxford University Press, which means it was subject to a rigorous academic peer review before it was published. Moreover, the objective of a scholarly press is not to maximize sales, but to advance scholarly research on an issue -- in contrast to the "for profit" publishers who circulate the sensational books attacking the Catholic faith, marketed to the anti-Catholic bias in this nation.
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