Homosexuality and Abuse

El director de First Things, quizá la publicación periódica intelectual más prestigiosa de los EE. UU., considera en este artículo la importancia de debatir la homosexualidad en sí mismo dentro de la Iglesia Católica más que entretenerse en debatir sus consecuencias, los casos de pederastia de algunos sacerdotes, por ejemplo. La vacuidad en lo primero ha llevado muchas veces a lo segundo.

A reader in Princeton, New Jersey, says we are "pandering to anti-Catholic hysteria" by even paying attention to priestly sexual scandals. "Remember the maxim that the Church thinks in terms of centuries. Ignore it and it will go away." No, I don't think it will go away anytime soon. And the questions now raised should not go away anytime soon. But one may hope that hysteria will, in time, give way to more careful deliberation. Such deliberation is offered by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, who has been studying issues such as child pornography and clergy abuse for many years. Jenkins, who is not a Catholic, notes that there is nothing specifically Catholic about the sexual abuse of children. Every denomination and religious group has its share of abuse cases, "and some of the worst involve non-Catholics." For many reasons, some of them related to anti-Catholicism, the Catholic Church gets the public attention.

Nor, as many allege, is celibacy the problem. "My research of cases over the past twenty years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination-or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported." But what is the incidence of abuse by Catholic priests? Jenkins writes, "Just to find some solid numbers, how many Catholic clergy are involved in misconduct? We actually have some good information on this issue, since in the early 1990s the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago undertook a bold and thorough self-study. The survey examined every priest who had served in the archdiocese over the previous forty years, some 2,200 individuals, and reopened every internal complaint ever made against these men. The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law, but just the consensus that a particular charge was probably justified. By this low standard, the survey found that about forty priests, about 1.8 percent of the whole, were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers. Put another way, no evidence existed against about 98 percent of parish clergy, the overwhelming majority of the group. Since other organizations dealing with children have not undertaken such comprehensive studies, we have no idea whether the Catholic figure is better or worse than the rate for schoolteachers, residential home counselors, social workers, or scout masters."

Jenkins cautions against the careless use of the word "pedophilia," which is a psychiatric term meaning sexual interest in children below the age of puberty. "But the vast majority of clergy misconduct cases are nothing like this. The vast majority of instances involve priests who have been sexually active with a person below the age of sexual consent, often sixteen or seventeen years old, or even older. An act of this sort is wrong on multiple counts: it is probably criminal, and by common consent it is immoral and sinful; yet it does not have the utterly ruthless, exploitative character of child molestation. In almost all cases too, with the older teenagers, there is an element of consent."

A man who desires to have sex with an eighteen-year-old boy is ordinarily described as homosexual. The very mention of this obvious fact is condemned as "homophobic" by some gay activists. The press keeps talking about pedophilia when, in fact, that is not the chief problem. According to some experts, real pedophiles are as frequently heterosexual. Of the many true or alleged cases of abuse that have come to light, only a tiny fraction involve pedophilia. The rest have to do with men having sex with teenage boys. But to suggest that homosexuality is the problem is to go up against powerfully influential gay advocacy that homosexuals are no threat to children and therefore should be permitted to adopt, to be Boy Scout leaders, etc., etc. Of course there are homosexuals in the priesthood, which is to say men with dominantly same-sex desires. I don't know how many, nor, I expect, does anyone else. I have read guesstimates of 50 percent, and others putting the figure at 10 percent. On the basis of years of interaction with hundreds of priests, I wouldn't be surprised if the latter figure is about right.

If it is as high as 10 percent, it would seem that the great majority of those are fine priests who are faithful to their vow of celibacy. There are gay advocates urging that faithful priests with a same-sex orientation should "come out of the closet," thus giving the lie to the claim that homosexuals pose a threat to young people. That does not seem like a very good idea. Should the overwhelming majority of priests who are heterosexual then publicly declare their orientation? Catholics are not expected to declare their temptations in public. And homosexual priests coming out of the closet can only focus further attention on the minority that is, in fact, at the heart of the current scandals. That is the bind in which the media and gay advocates are caught. The more they press the sex-abuse scandals, the more attention turns to homosexuality in the priesthood, and to behaviors associated with homosexuality more generally. That is one reason why the current level of public sensation about priestly scandals is not likely to be sustained. What must be sustained, however, is the now powerfully reinforced sense of urgency about the oversight of priests by bishops and heads of religious orders. Priests of whatever orientation, temptations, or feelings must be held to account. If it was not obvious to some before, it now should be obvious to all that there is no alternative to violations of the vow of celibacy except obedience to the vow of celibacy.

John R Neuhaus en FT 123

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