Over the years since the height of clergy sex abuse in Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego and now Philadelphia, people are quick to blame one or another group of people for clergy sex abuse. David Gibson, has an excellent piece in the National Catholic Reporter today that details that the usual groups that get scapegoated don’t deserve the blame and that conservatives and liberals (for lack of better terms) both take one on the chin here.

Let’s look at some individual groups who often get blamed and cite Gibson’s piece in debunking a few myths:

1) Pedophile Priests: Generally defined as “male priests who abuse children,” in essence these are only 5% of the men who were defined as abusers in the study. Gibson doesn’t mention this but clearly it can be derived from the study (and as mentioned here before), the real problem is Ephebophilia (men who abuse teens because their own sexual growth got stunted at that age for themselves). A quick example to extrapolate.

Take a 14 year old boy, who begins to notice that he has a same-sex attraction. (As a crude further example: A friend I have who is gay said that the first time he saw pornographic pictures, he noticed the men more than the women.) However, knowing his family or his religion’s stance on homosexuality, he also begins to repress these urges, or more accurately, ignore them altogether. Essentially what happens is that they remain at that age sexually, where they start ignoring those urges. This doesn’t mean that they even have to act on those urges. But they do have to admit that they have them, because sooner or later those feelings will need to be addressed and they will act them out in a “more than unhealthy” way.

2) Homosexuality: From Gibson’s article:

“…the researchers found no statistical evidence that gay priests were more likely than straight priests to abuse minors—a finding that undermines a favorite talking point of many conservative Catholics. The disproportionate number of adolescent male victims was about opportunity, not preference or pathology, the report states.
What’s more, researchers note that the rise in the number of gay priests from the late 1970s onward actually corresponded with “a decreased incidence of abuse—not an increased incidence of abuse.”

So if you think being a homosexual and a priest is the problem, then you are sadly mistaken–an all too frequent refrain from some. In fact, gay men are LESS likely to be abusers as you can note in the decrease of incidence and the rise of the so-called lavender priesthood.

3) Celibacy: Wrong again:

Celibacy remained a constant throughout peaks and valleys of abuse rates, and priests may be less likely to abuse children today than men in analogous professions. As a result, liberal Catholics who advocate a married priesthood, or those who are convinced that committing to a lifetime without sex must lead to perversion, may not have the abuse crisis to leverage their arguments.

4) The seminary system: A yes and a no answer here. It seems that those who were trained in the 60s and 70s didn’t receive all the tools they would need to prepare for a life of celibacy. I would note that many here would note that gay men were most likely closeted at this point in their lives and there wasn’t an openness about sexual preference at that point in history, never mind in seminary culture. Assuming that at least some of the priests in seminary at this time had a homosexual preference, that would most likely mean that they sublimated their sexual integration at the preference for ordination. If found out, they would have been weeded out of the seminary. The failure of the seminaries to weed out men with an unhealthy sexual integration seems to be the primary cause of the scandal in the 60s and 70s–which would account for most of those found to be abusers.
Gibson also notes well the improvement in seminary training and in psychological standards. He notes:

Better preparation for a life of celibacy is key, however, and improved seminary training and education in the 1980s corresponds to a “sharp and sustained decline” in abuse since then—a dramatic improvement that has often been overlooked.

The huge spike in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s, the authors found, was essentially due to emotionally ill-equipped priests who were trained in earlier years and lost their way in the social cataclysm of the sexual revolution.

There is also a “situational” aspect of the problem, meaning the stress of parish work, isolated lifestyle and the fact that many priests work without much oversight all contribute to raising the levels of “deviant behavior.”

Some good news. It looks as if several solutions in helping with the issue of keeping priests healthy are boons that many of us would well welcome.

1) Lay Ministry Assistance: With the dearth in the number of priests, lay ministers will be needed to support priests and to help them avoid overwork. As a lay minister, I think I can say that has been the case in the many jobs I’ve held. The work is stressful on us all, but still, the more people that are working the less the stress on the parish, pastor and church at large.

2) The need to combat clerical culture that fostered and concealed abusers is key. Gibson notes:

(Clerical culture) is remarkably similar to the law enforcement culture that allows police brutality. The church, like the police, is a hierarchical organization that operates in a decentralized way, with each department (or diocese) an authority unto itself and not inclined to open itself to oversight.
On Monday, the Vatican told bishops around the world to establish clear policies for dealing with clergy abusers; they issued a number of “guidelines” to convince bishops to comply with civil laws of reporting abuse accusations—if there are any. But the new Vatican policies also reiterate that each bishop will have the final say in any process, and that each bishop remains ultimately answerable only to the pope.
That approach is not likely to convince a flock that has learned by hard experience to be skeptical of their bishops—most recently in the wake of a recent grand jury report in Philadelphia detailing appalling lapses in dealing with abuse allegations.

And so, while we look for something or someone to blame, it seems that the blame is all too widespread. A healthy and integrated sexualty for priesthood and a more forthcoming attitude by the hierarchy with regards to abusers seems to be clear cut as a panacea.

0 thoughts on “Who’s To Blame for Clergy Sex Abuse?”
  1. A couple of things.

    I think we are still glossing over the Priest with same sex attractions and teenage boy issue. Slightly because the sex life of a teenage male includes some pretty high percentage of same sex conduct and that is is taboo to talk about.

    Partly you allude to it in your post. They might think themselves “gay” where we should know this is passing.

    To be blunt there are teenage boys looking for any sexual release and combine that with perhaps a friendship gone too far with a Priest with some deep seated same sex attraction there is trouble. Lets say there are reasons we are seeing a lot of boys abused and not girls.

    The reason we don’t talk about this is because an honest discussion of it would entail a lot of straight guys saying yeah they fooled around with a buddy or someone off and on during this weird confused stage of their life.TALK about TABOO.They are “straight” but again as we see even gay advocates today in school are demanding we put them in a “gay” or “bi” box at that time. So that dynamic is at play.

    As to Clericalism it is indeed there. However it also acts in a perverse way. I don’t see the same standards it appears that is the Reporting of “credible” accusations , etc as to the Laity. Now perhaps the Cathoilic Laity that works in the Church does not abuse like their Protestant Counterparts. However I find that doubtful. I have a feeling they have much better lawyers and it is best for them to go. So while we talk about Clericalism we need to recall that it appears the countless Coaches, Teachers, Lay Missionaries, CCD teachers, Catholic camp counslers we have had for decades might be getting a pass.

    If this is really about the children I find that concerening.

    Finally for all the talk of Priests what about all these married Deacons coming on board? It seems that the programs for Deacon Formation differ from place to place. Will they get get the same training and evaulation as Priests in Seminary. If not why not. As we see in Protestant circles married Clergy abuse all the time.

    On the whole a good report and I enjoy looking at it more in detail tonight

  2. As a publisher as well as a reader interested in all things Catholic, I can see value in a book of honest essays written by priests or ex-priests who abused kids or teens and through therapy and prayer have come to an understanding of what went on in their minds and emotions and souls when it all happened. What ideas came to govern their minds and express themselves in such behavior? How did they rationalize it, or did they? The book would also include essays by priests, straight and gay, who were tempted but resisted and their insights into the Jay finding about the sexual culture being a primary cause. What saved them? Such a book would not sensationalize the issue but shed light on it from the learned expreriences of those who went through it.

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