Receding Waves: Child Sex Abuse and Homosexual Priests since 2000

47 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2019 Last revised: 2 Jul 2021

See all articles by Donald Sullins

Donald Sullins

The Catholic University of America; The Ruth Institute

Date Written: June 6, 2019


In a previous report I found that the share of homosexual Catholic priests was strongly related to the incidence and victim gender of minor sex abuse by Catholic priests from 1950 to 1999. This report examines whether this trend has continued since 2000. New data are examined from the database of Survivor Accounts of Catholic Clergy Abuse, Denial and Silence (SACCADAS).

Summary: Male victimization and homosexual priests rose in step through the 1980s and have since fallen in step, in twin waves that have largely receded. Female victimization has not fallen, persisting today at the same level as in the 1980s. See Figure 14.

Key Findings:

1. Abuse is recently rising: The priest sexual abuse of children dropped to an all-time low just after 2002 but has since disturbingly risen, though it remains well below its peak in the 1980s. Reports of current abuse averaged 7.0 per year from 2005-09, rising to 8.2 per year from 2010-14, a 17% increase. In the 1980s there were an average 26.2 reports of current abuse per year.

Recent Abuse is Different:

2. Far fewer males: The percent of abuse victims who were male plummeted from 74% in 2000 to only 34% by 2016, averaging 62% over the period. In 1985 males comprised 92% of victims, and averaged 82% from 1950-1999.

3. Older victims: Recent abuse has involved more older victims past puberty. Since 2000 half (50%) of abuse victims were teenagers aged 14-17; before 2000 only a third (33%) were this old.

4. Mostly not by new priests: Since 2000 only a small fraction (11%) of abuse has been perpetrated by newly ordained priests (less than 10 years), while over half (52%) of abuse has been perpetrated by priests ordained 30 years or more. This reverses the pattern prior to 2000, when a third (31%) of abuse was due to newly ordained priests and only 10% by priests ordained 30 years or more.

Recently Ordained Priests are Different:

5. Very few are homosexual: We do not have data on homosexual ordinations after 2000, but statistical projections estimate that recent ordination classes have contained very few homosexual men. This is a sharp decline from the 1980s, when as many as half of new ordinations were of homosexual men.

6. Orthodox, faithful younger priests: Concurrent with the drop in homosexual ordinations is the rise of a cohort of young, orthodox vocations and seminary directors who exclude homosexual men from the path to priesthood, in line with longstanding papal instruction and a theology of priestly celibacy as a vocation reserved to marriageable heterosexual men.

7. Aging homosexual priests: Despite few recent homosexual ordinations, the share of homosexual priests has risen since 2000 due to the declining number of ordinations, aging of the priesthood and the large number of homosexual priests ordained earlier. Today half of all Catholic priests are between the ages of 60 and 84, and about one in five of these priests is homosexual; but less than one in thirty priests under age 50 is homosexual. As the wave of older homosexual priests passes on in coming years, the share of homosexual men in the Catholic priesthood will drop rapidly.

8. Since the 1960s, priests engaged in child sex abuse have been relatively concentrated in two cohorts: one ordained in the late 1960s and the other ordained in the early 1980s.

9. As the twin waves of male victimization and homosexual priests recede, the prevailing concern for child safety relative to Catholic priests is the persisting sexual abuse of girls.

Keywords: child sexual abuse; Catholic Church; priests; homosexuality

Suggested Citation

Sullins, Donald, Receding Waves: Child Sex Abuse and Homosexual Priests since 2000 (June 6, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Donald Sullins (Contact Author)

The Catholic University of America ( email )

116 McMahon Hall
Washington, DC 20064
United States

The Ruth Institute ( email )

4845 Lake Street
Suite 217
Lake Charles, LA 70605
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics