Myths about Priestly Pedophilia
The media, egged on by a small group of dissenting
Catholics, have been having a field day over the tragedy of priests involved in sexual abuse. And the reporting
has been littered with falsehoods and outright fabrications. So Crisis has put together a list of the ten most
common false media claims — along with fact-filled responses to them.
Catholic priests are more likely to be pedophiles than other groups of men.
This is just plain false. There's absolutely no evidence that priests are more likely to abuse children than are
other groups of men. The use and abuse of children as objects for the sexual gratification of adults is epidemic
in all classes, professions, religions, and ethnic communities across the globe, as figures on child pornography,
incest, and child prostitution make abundantly clear. Pedophilia (the sexual abuse of a prepubescent child) among
priests is extremely rare, affecting only 0.3% of the entire population of clergy. This figure, cited in the book
Pedophiles and Priests by non-Catholic scholar, Philip Jenkins, is from the most comprehensive study to date, which
found that only one out of 2,252 priests considered over a thirty-year period was afflicted with pedophilia. In
the recent Boston scandal, only four of the more than eighty priests labeled by the media as "pedophiles"
are actually guilty of molesting young children.
Pedophilia is a particular type of compulsive sexual disorder in which an adult (man or woman) abuses prepubescent
children. The vast majority of the clerical sex-abuse scandals now coming to light do not involve pedophilia. Rather,
they involve ephebophilia — homosexual attraction to adolescent boys. While the total number of sexual abusers
in the priesthood is much higher than those guilty of pedophilia, it still amounts to less than 2 percent — comparable
to the rate among married men (Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests).
In the wake of the current crisis in the Church, other religious denominations and non-religious institutions have
admitted to having similar problems with both pedophilia and ephebophilia among the ranks of their clergy.
There's no evidence that Catholic prelates are more likely to be pedophiles than Protestant ministers, Jewish
leaders, physicians, or any other institution in which adults are in a position of authority and power over children.
The celibate state of priests leads to pedophilia.
Celibacy bears no causal relation to any type of deviant sexual addiction including pedophilia. In fact, married
men are just as likely as celibate priests to sexually abuse children (Jenkins, Priests and Pedophilia). In the
general population, the majority of abusers are regressed heterosexual men who sexually abuse girls. Women are
also found to be among those sexual abusers. While it's difficult to obtain accurate statistics on childhood sexual
abuse, the characteristic patterns of repeat child sex offenders have been well described. The profiles of child
molesters never include normal adults who become erotically attracted to children as a result of abstinence (Fred
Berlin, "Compulsive Sexual Behaviors" in Addiction and Compulsive Behaviors [Boston: NCBC, 1998]; Patrick J. Carnes, "Sexual Compulsion: Challenge for Church Leaders"
in Addiction and Compulsion; Dale O'Leary, "Homosexuality
Married clergy would make pedophilia and other forms of sexual misconduct go away.
Some people — including a few vocal dissenting Catholics — are exploiting this crisis to draw attention to their
own agendas. Some are demanding a married Catholic clergy in response to the scandal, as if marriage would make
men stop hurting children. This flies in the face of the aforementioned statistic that married men are just as
likely to abuse children as celibate priests (Jenkins, Pedophilia and Priests).
Since neither being Catholic nor being celibate predisposes a person to develop pedophilia, a married clergy wouldn't
solve the problem ("Doctors call for pedophilia research," The Hartford Currant, March 23). One has only to look at similar crises in other denominations and professions to see this.
The plain fact is, healthy heterosexual men have never been known to develop erotic attractions to children as
a result of abstinence.
Clerical celibacy was a medieval invention.
Wrong. In the Western Catholic Church, celibacy became universally practiced in the 4th century, beginning with
St. Augustine's adoption of the monastic discipline for all of his priests. In addition to the many practical reasons
for this discipline — it was supposed to discourage nepotism — the celibate lifestyle allowed priests to be more
independent and available. This ideal also called diocesan priests to live out the same witness as their brothers
in monastic life. The Church hasn't changed her directives for celibacy, because over the centuries she has realized
the practical and spiritual value of the practice (Pope Paul VI, On the Celibacy of the Priesthood;, Encyclical letter, 1967). Indeed, even
in the Eastern Catholic Church — which includes a married clergy — the bishops are chosen only from unmarried priests.
Christ revealed the true value and meaning of celibacy. Catholic priests from St. Paul to the present have imitated
Him in their total gift of self to God and others as celibates. Although Christ raised marriage to the level of
a sacrament that reveals the love and life of the Trinity, He was also a living witness to the life of the world
to come. The celibate priesthood is for us a living witness to this life in which the unity and joy of marriage
between a man and a woman is surpassed in the perfect, loving communion with God. Celibacy properly understood
and lived frees a person to love and serve others as Christ did.
Over the past forty years, celibacy has been an even more powerful witness to the loving sacrifice of men and women
who offer themselves in service their communities.
Female clergy would help solve the problem.
There's simply no logical connection between the deviant behavior of a tiny minority of male clergy and the inclusion
of women in their ranks. While it's true that most statistics on child molestation show that men are more likely
to abuse children, the fact is that some women are also child molesters. In 1994, the National Opinion Research
Center showed that the second most common form of child sexual abuse involved women abusing boys. For every three
male abusers, there's one female abuser. Statistics on female sex offenders are more difficult to obtain because
the crime is more hidden (Interview with Dr. Richard Cross, "A Question of Character," National Opinion
Research Center; cf. Carnes).
Also, their most frequent victims (boys) are less likely to report sexual abuse, especially when the abuser
is a woman (O'Leary, "Child Sexual Abuse").
There are reasons why the Church cannot ordain women (as John Paul II has explained numerous times). But that is
beside the point. The debate about women's ordination is completely unrelated to the problem of pedophilia and
other forms of sexual misconduct.
The Catholic hierarchy has done nothing to address pedophilia.
While we can all agree that the hierarchy hasn't done enough, this claim is nevertheless false. When the Church's
Code of Canon Law was revised in 1983, an important passage
was added: "The cleric who commits any other offense against the sixth precept of the Decalogue, if the offense
was committed with violence or threats, or publicly or with a minor who is under 16 years [now extended to 18 years],
must be punished with just punishments, not excluding expulsion from the clerical state" (CIC 1395:2).
But that certainly isn't the only thing the Church has done. The bishops, beginning with Pope Paul VI in 1967,
issued a warning to the Catholic faithful concerning the negative consequences of the sexual revolution. The pope's
encyclical letter, "On
the Celibacy of the Priests," addressed the question of a celibate priesthood in
the face of a culture crying out for greater sexual "freedom." The pope affirmed celibacy even as he
called on bishops to take responsibility for "fellow priests troubled by difficulties which greatly endanger
the divine gift they have." He advised the bishops to seek appropriate help for these priests, or, in grave
cases, to seek a dispensation for priests who could not be helped. In addition, he urged them to be more prudent
in judging the fitness of candidates for the priesthood.
In 1975, the Church issued another document called "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" (written by
Joseph Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) that explicitly addressed, among other issues, the problem of homosexuality among
priests. Both the 1967 and 1975 documents addressed kinds of sexual deviancy, including pedophilia and ephebophilia,
that are is especially prevalent among homosexuals.
In 1994, the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse issued guidelines to the nation's then 191 dioceses to help them
develop policies to deal with the problem of sexual abuse of minors. Almost all dioceses responded and developed
their own policies (USCCB document: Guidelines for dealing with Child Sexual
Abuse, 1993-1994). By this time, pedophilia was recognized as a disorder
that could not be cured, and a problem that was becoming more prevalent due to the increase of pornography. Before
1994, bishops took their cue from experts in the psychiatric profession who believed pedophilia could be successfully
treated. Priests guilty of sexual abuse were sent to one of several treatment facilities across the United States.
Bishops often relied upon the judgments of experts in determining whether priests were fit for ministry. This doesn't
mitigate the negligence on the part of some in the hierarchy, but it does offer some insight.
In response to the recent scandals, some dioceses are setting up special commissions on child abuse, as well as
victims' advocacy groups; and they are officially acknowledging that any legitimate allegation of abuse must be
dealt with immediately.
The Church's teaching on sexual morality is the real problem, not pedophilia.
The Church's teaching on sexual morality is rooted in the dignity of the human person and the goodness of human
sexuality. This teaching condemns the sexual abuse of children in all its forms, just as it condemns other reprehensible
sexual crimes such as rape, incest, child pornography, and child prostitution. In other words, if this teaching
were lived out, there'd be no pedophilia problem at all.
The notion that this teaching somehow leads to pedophilia is based on a misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation
of Catholic sexual morality. The Church recognizes that sexual activity without the love and commitment found uniquely
in marriage undermines the dignity of the human person and is ultimately destructive. As far as celibacy is concerned,
centuries of experience have proven that men and women can abstain from sexual activity while living fulfilling,
healthy, and meaningful lives.
Catholic journalists have ignored the pedophile problem.
As any reader of CRISIS knows, this claim is patently false. Our October 2001 cover story featured "The High
Price of Priestly Pederasty," an expose on the scandal that wouldn't erupt into the mainstream press for another
three months. You can read our full article at: http://www.crisismagazine.com/october2001/index.html.
And we weren't the only ones who have covered the pedophilia/pederasty problem. Charles Sennot, author of Broken Covenant, Rod Dreher of The National Review, CRISIS co-founder Ralph MacInerny, Maggie Gallagher, Dale O'Leary, the Catholic Medical Association,
Michael Novak, Peggy Noonan, Bill Donohue, Dr. Richard Cross, Philip Lawler, Alan Keyes, and Msgr. George Kelly
have all covered the issue exhaustively.
Just because the mainstream media have chosen to ignore our work doesn't mean the work hasn't been done.
Requiring celibacy limits the number of men as candidates for the priesthood, resulting
in a high number of sexually unbalanced priests.
First of all, there isn't a "high number of sexually unbalanced priests." Again, the vast majority of
priests are normal, healthy, and faithful. Every day they prove themselves worthy of the trust and confidence of
those entrusted to their care.
Secondly, those who do not feel called to a life of celibacy are ipso facto not called to be Catholic priests.
Indeed, most men are not meant to be celibate. However, some are — and of those, some are called by God to the
A priestly vocation, like a marriage, requires the mutual and free consent of both parties. Thus, the Church must
discern that a candidate is indeed worthy and fit mentally, physically, and spiritually to commit to a life of
priestly service. A candidate's desire for the priesthood does not constitute a vocation in and of itself. Spiritual
and vocation directors are now even more attuned to the character flaws that would make an otherwise qualified
man an unfit candidate.
originally appeared in the CRISIS Magazine e-Letter. It is printed with permission.
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Version: 17th June 2010