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New York Times

WASHINGTON - The criminologists hired by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops to study the church's sexual abuse crisis defended their findings Wednesday - in particular their thesis that the abuse peaked in the 1960s and 1970s and dropped off by the mid 1980s.

Sexual abuse victims and experts in the field began to absorb and criticize what is thought to be the most extensive study ever conducted of child sexual abuse within an institution, produced after five years by researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. Karen Terry, the report's principal investigator and the dean of research and strategic partnerships at John Jay, said Wednesday: "The peak of this abuse crisis is historical. That peak is over."

The report's conclusion was counterintuitive to many Catholics and abuse victims because the scandal itself did not peak until 2002 with the revelations that the archbishop of Boston had knowingly reassigned serial abusers to serve in ministries where they continued to have access to young people. That practice appears still to have been at work in Philadelphia, where a grand jury in February found that about three dozen priests accused of abuse and inappropriate behavior with minors were still in ministry.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in an e-mail: "America's bishops hope this will be their 'Mission Accomplished' moment, like George W. Bush on the aircraft carrier prematurely and conveniently declaring victory in Iraq."