The head of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection credited the passage of laws in the 1970s to protect women and children with leading to a decline in child sexual abuse.
"I think the laws in the '70s dealing with domestic violence . . . brought in a new respect for women and children.
We were seeing the residual effects in the '70s and '80s," said Teresa Kettelkamp in an interview with Catholic News Service.
"More rape crisis centres came into operation," she continued.
"As laws changed, the sensitivity to discussing these issues was still there, but people were talking about them.
And it was no longer OK to harm children or beat your wife."
The number of child sexual abuse incidents in the United States has declined over time, according to several studies, and that decrease corresponds with a drop in reported cases perpetrated by priests.
The studies also indicate that other forms of child abuse also have dropped.