A study commissioned by the US Roman Catholic Church has found no evidence that gay priests are more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual clergy.

Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice said their full report won’t be available until next year but added so far, nothing had suggested that homosexuality was likely to lead to abuse.

The suggestion that only gay priests abuse boys within the church is often repeated. In October, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the UN, said that between 80 to 90 per cent of all abuse of boys aged between 11 and 17 was by gay men.

In May, Father John Owen, the former chaplain for Cardiff University, said that gay men are the main perpetrators of such abuse. He has sinced resigned.

Addressing the US Conference of Catholic Bishops yesterday, John Jay College researcher Margaret Smith said: “What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse.

“At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.”

It is estimated that 80 per cent of child abuse is suffered by boys.

Another researcher, Karen Terry, said bishops should be cautious when equating this to gay abusers, saying: “It’s important to separate the sexual identity and the behaviour. Someone can commit sexual acts that might be of a homosexual nature but not have a homosexual identity.”

She added that one reason for the skewed ratio is that paedophiles have much easier access to boys rather than girls.

The study was commissioned by bishops after the child abuse scandal in 2002.