The abuse of a child by any adult is horrific. Molested children are often damaged for life. Sexual abuse at the hands of a priest is abominable because it also constitutes an abuse of trust. Priests who prey on children inarguably betray human decency.
The reaction of conservative Catholics to recent scandals has been good and bad. Those lay people have uniformly condemned the hierarchy. The only exception, as you might guess, was Blowhard Bill Donohue who called the Pennsylvania grand jury report a “scam.” He is not worthy of response.
On the other hand, those same conservative Catholics have claimed that the Church has a “homosexual problem.” This matter extends well beyond the Catholic Church because it has the potential to mischaracterize gay men as predators. We need to examine and understand this situation because it also has the potential to undermine our self-worth as a community.
The fact is that openly gay men are less likely to be child abusers than the general population. Over 20 years ago, Dr. Carole Jenny (arguably the nation’s leading expert on child abuse) examined the medical records of 352 victims of child abuse over a one-year period of time. These were all of the children seen in the emergency room or the child abuse clinic of her hospital. This is not a convenience sample. The adult molester could be identified in 269 of those cases. Of the 269 only two were gay. That is 0.7%. In 82% of cases (222/269), the alleged offender was a heterosexual partner of a close relative of the child. The study was published to the highly respected journal, Pediatrics.
The safest babysitter in the world is probably an openly gay man. Every princess in my building in Manhattan who was late for a pedicure seems to have been aware of that dynamic. We were often the repository for last-minute child care. (I am incapable of writing anything without at least a little snark.)
That still does not mean that the Catholic Church does not have a homosexual problem. However, if it does then it is unique. I am not aware, for example, of so much as a whiff of scandal associated with the Scouts since they permitted gays to be leaders about three years ago. Is the difference limited to closeted in contrast to openly gay men?
This might boil down to two simple questions. If a male priest has sex with a boy does that mean that priest is gay? Furthermore, if a priest has sex with a boy, is that a homosexual act? The answer to both of those questions is probably “no.” To explain that opinion we need to understand the population that we are dealing with.
Some young men who enter seminary are right out of high school. Some are college graduates. Some have secular careers and some are even widowers. There is no requirement for candidates for the priesthood to be virgins but I think we can safely presume that, among younger seminarians there is a far greater likelihood that they are virgins than comparably aged men in the general population. After all, these are pious young men.
We can also assume — I think — that the priesthood is attractive to faithful young gay men. It offers an environment where no explanation of being unmarried is required. They can lead a life where they never have to disclose their sexual orientation. A higher percentage of priests are men who at least think that they are gay than the general population.
The bottom line is that, overall, these are men who have undeveloped sexuality. 80% to 90% of men who molest boys are heterosexual and most of those are married with children of their own.
What this all suggests is that pedophilia and pederasty are a form of sexual orientation that supersedes the attraction to men, women, both or neither sex. That doesn’t mean that they are entitled to constitutional equal protection because, if they are child molesters, then they are having sex with people incapable of providing consent. They are predators.
My best guess is that the Church scandals represent a crime of opportunity for men who are not sexually experienced, developed or satisfied. Child molestation also represents an attraction to power. In other words just the fact that men can impose their will on someone becomes an attraction in and of itself. Some of the perpetrators are probably gay but most are likely to be heterosexual.
In 2002 Pope John Paul II acknowledged mistakes made by the bishops. His answer, in part, was to preclude gay men from becoming priests. A commission has found that 7% of Australian priests abused children between 1950 and 2015. Some conservatives would probably conclude that those are the 7% of Australia who are gay. There are many other disgraces including scandals in Ireland and the Dominican Republic. It is my considered opinion that the Church will never solve this problem if it lays the blame on gay priests.
I do not wish to pose solutions but, in my opinion, this is not a “homosexual problem.” There is a reasonable scientific certainty that gay men are not predisposed to being child molesters. Tony Perkins says that gays are pedophiles as a means of denigrating gay people. If nothing else it makes the cash registers ring.
The Church, on the other hand, makes the same assertion for other, less cynical, reasons. Leadership is searching for answers. Because of the way that the bishops handled child abuse, which included cover-ups and moving priests around, the Church never adequately studied the issue. Perhaps it will going forward and perhaps it can come up with better answers than blaming gay men.