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.