Friday, February 6, 2004

Pope Calls For Fairness

In judging priests accused of sexual abuse. Well, okay, yeah, I guess that is appropriate. I would be a bit more impressed if the Church had done a little better job of being concerned about the monstrous crimes being committed against kids and teenagers, and showed a bit more contrition for having ignored the problem as long as they have.

This isn't a trivial case, nor is the Catholic Church being unfairly pursued on this. The article reports that "more than 325 of the United States' 46,000 clergy have either resigned or been barred from church work." That's a little under 1% of the priesthood who have been caught, and where the evidence was strong enough to lead to resignation or the Church excluding them. What do you suppose the rate would be of priests who got away with it? Perhaps 2x or 3x as high? This is a pretty shocking percentage--far too high to say, "Well, the Church recruits from the general population, so you have to expect that."

I used to have great respect for this Pope. Statements like this, however, make me wonder how much in touch he is with human nature:
He called for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and other Vatican councils to work better together in instructing seminarians "to adopt the necessary measures to assure that priests live in conformity to their call and to their commitment to perfect and perpetual chastity for the Kingdom of God."
The chastity requirement is not Biblical. For roughly half the time that there has been a Roman Catholic Church, priests were not required to be celibate; this is a medieval innovation, and whatever the merits of the argument for it were in 1100, they do not seem all that sensible now.

However, I do not agree with those who say that celibacy is the core problem of these sexually abusive priests. If this were the case, we should expect that the victims would be overwhelmingly females. (Assuming that priests are overwhelmingly heterosexual.) Yet from all that I have read, the victims are overwhelmingly males. Why is that? I fear that for a lot of young Catholics who are struggling with homosexuality, the priesthood may seem like a way to avoid confronting their sexual preferences. What is causing those sexual preferences? Hmmm. Here we are again with an institution in which sexual abuse of minors is common; and the institution seems to have a fair number of priests who sexually abuse minors. Do you suppose that there might be a pattern here, that one causes the other?

We know that one particular category of child molester--the fixated pedophile--tends to be aware of their sexual preferences pretty early on--often by the time they finish college--and that they tend to go into vocations or avocations that give them access to children (and from what I have read, disproportionately boys). At least one book on the subject suggests that the pedophilic preference develops because the victim is molested in a fairly narrow window of sexual development--a point where the mixture of pleasure and humiliation causes them to repeat the pattern.

I wonder if part of why this pattern has become so common is that the Catholic Church failed to intervene early enough to stop people like Father Geoghan and Father Shanley (one of the founders of the North American Man-Boy Love Association) from abusing children. Not every victim will become a molester, but it does make you wonder what happened to Father Geoghan and Father Shanley as choir boys, doesn't it? That some of these priests have told their victims that homosexual sex with a priest is a "sacrament," just enrages me. It also makes me wonder if that was the excuse used to excuse these crimes against them, three or four decades ago.

UPDATE: At least one reader thinks that I am being unfair in making assumptions about priests that Father Geoghan and Father Shanley might have had, a long time ago. As I said, "makes me wonder." It is entirely possible that this pattern of behavior that Geoghan and Shanley (and many other priests) have engaged is not the result of priestly abuse. As I said, "makes me wonder."

He also asks "if priests were being convicted at higher rates than rabbis, ministers, or imams." An interesting question. Does anyone have any data? The report indicating almost 1% of serving Catholic clergy have either resigned or been removed because of molestation is a pretty astonishing rate--far higher than I would expect from an average population.

It is certainly the case that media attention tends to be strongest on clergy involved in child molestation, perhaps because we tend to have higher expectations of the morality of the clergy. And yes, I go a little off the rails about child molestation. I have talked to a lot of victims over the years (although most were not victims of clergymen), and to say that it angers me a lot is an understatement. For those who don't understand my anger about this (and yes, I get email occasionally from people that don't understand what the big deal is about adults pursuing teenagers for sex), let me recommend you read I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. It is one of those books that you read a few pages, put it down, cry for a while, and read a few more pages.

I'm sure that there are books by men survivors of child sexual abuse out there, although I haven't read any of them. The conversations that I have had with such survivors have been painful enough.

I get a little enraged when I see the damage done by child molesters, and I especially get enraged when I see someone using a position of authority--especially a position of moral authority--to justify such a crime. Over the years, I have seen more than a few news stories of Protestant pastors who have abused their authority in similar ways. I am not aware, however, of any denomination that has made a repeated pattern of transferring such monsters around, allowing them to continue their crimes. This is why I am so upset with the Catholic Church's power structure--not with Catholics, and not with Catholic priests (the vast majority of whom, obviously, are not molesters).

UPDATE 2: Over here you can see someone criticizing what I had to say--and shows some evidence that public schools have a tendency to deal with molesting teachers in a similar way--and commonly enough that there is even an expression for it: "passing the trash." Admittedly, I don't expect much of public schools as an institution. I expect a bit higher standards from an institution that is headed by someone whose title is "Vicar of Christ."

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