Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pedophile Priests?

Last Sunday the Connecticut Post, my local newspaper, featured a front page article about the settlement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and the victim of the last of the priestly sexual abuse cases that originated back in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a heart-rending story about a teenage boy who was abused from the age of 15 to 21 by a now-deceased priest of the Diocese.

Based on interviews with the victim and his lawyer, the story described in some detail the nature of the abuse as well as the continued trauma of the victim more than 30 years after the events described. His lawyer summed it up in this way.
“He went through a living hell and his story should remind us of the exploitation that is possible of our youth at the hands of a pedophile allowed to continue to prey upon the innocent.”
It is hard for an ordinary person, Catholic or otherwise, to imagine the suffering that he and other victims of sexual abuse have endured. It is also hard to imagine what kind of man it was who abused him. Years ago, we would have called him a sinner or pervert but now he would probably be seen as suffering from a mental illness.

But his lawyer was wrong to label the priest a “pedophile.” By definition pedophiles prey on pre-pubescent boys and girls. * That is, they are attracted to young boys and girls under the age of 12 or 13. When the sexual abuse scandal erupted many years ago, the American Catholic Church commissioned a study by New York’s prestigious John Jay College of all the known cases of sexual abuse. The study found that most of the victims were teen-age boys.

The results of this exhaustive study also indicated that a little less than 2% of all priests serving during those years had been charged. We know that some of those charges were false and the priests were exonerated. But if we stick with the 2% figure, it would mean that out of 1000 priests, 20 had actually been abusers. To look at it another way, more than 980 of every thousand priests have been true to their vows.

The study went on to say that of the 2% the great majority had preyed on post-pubescent or teen-age boys like the 15-year-old victim in the CT Post story.  In other words, most of the 20 guilty ones in our 1000-man sample were homosexual men preying on young men. It must be stressed that most homosexual men do not prey on teen-age boys but the fact remains that the great majority of the abusers were homosexual men.

You might say, what difference does it make? They were still abusers of children. Nevertheless, to deal with any problem, you must understand its real nature. If you can’t understand the problem, you can’t offer a solution. Some say that allowing priests to marry would have prevented the problem but how would that work if the abusers were homosexual? Are there no incidents of child sexual abuse among married ministers, rabbis and imams?

It would also make a great difference to newspaper reporters, headline writers, cartoonists, or late night comics if they had to condemn priests as homosexuals rather than pedophiles.

Officials in the Catholic Church have been rightly condemned for trying to cover up these stories when they first appeared. Like most Catholics the members of the clergy could not begin to even believe that a small minority of priests could be guilty of such behavior. Nevertheless, they were wrong to try to cover it up, and those who advised them to do so were wrong.

But the cover-up on the part of the media and the press over the past 30 years about the true nature of the abuse has been equally reprehensible. It’s not just that the alliterative phrase “pedophile priest” is catchier than the awkward “homosexual priest.” Anyone today who would claim that the majority of sexual abusers were homosexual men would very likely be branded a “homophobe,” and subjected to the full range of social and political ostracism.


*Pedophilia or paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children…

Pedophilia is termed pedophilic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and the manual defines it as a paraphilia involving intense and recurrent sexual urges towards and fantasies about prepubescent children that have either been acted upon or which cause the person with the attraction distress or interpersonal difficulty.[1] The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) defines it as a sexual preference for children of prepubertal or early pubertal age. (Wikipedia)

1 comment:

  1. Claire comments from Connecticut:

    This is an interesting discussion. However, I don't think your argument will do anything to change current viewpoints. Technically you are correct, but I think that the everyday meaning of pedophile has been extended among the population to mean a man who abuses children. Technically, as you point out, this is incorrect; however, if you were to take a survey, I am sure most people would not know the technical definition of the word. My guess is that within the next ten years the dictionary definition will change to include "any man who abuses children. "