Rev. D. Paul Sullins
Rev. D. Paul Sullins, Ruth Institute

Image via YouTube

On Friday, D. Paul Sullins and Ruth Institute announced a new study based on a review of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, data codified from the 1100-page Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report released in August 2018, and data from a 2002 survey of Catholic priests by the Los Angeles Times. According to the press release:

The Ruth Institute study shows:

  • a disturbing recent increase in the number of sexual incidents reported since 2010.
  • a strong correlation between the percentage of self-described homosexuals in the Catholic priesthood and the incidence of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy.

Why should we all care?

I care because what some people hear is that gay men are predisposed to be child molesters. Claiming that a minority group poses a threat to children is a familiar tactic to marginalize and demonize the group. Professor Gregory Herek at UC Davis reminds us:

Back in 1977, when Anita Bryant campaigned successfully to repeal a Dade County (FL) ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination, she named her organization “Save Our Children,” and warned that “a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children” …

It is a smear. It was untrue when Bryant spouted it and it is untrue when Ruth Institute (an anti-LGBT hate group) promotes it.

Rev. D. Paul Sullins (a married Catholic priest) is a prolific promoter of anti-LGBT junk science. This year he retired from full-time teaching at Catholic University and is now a “research associate” with Ruth Institute. Sullins has a fetish for demonizing gay people. He is the author of several crackpot “studies” claiming that terrible things happen to children raised by gay couples. That is contrary to study after study published to reputable peer-reviewed academic journals.

Sullins “publishes” his bigotry to substandard pay-to-publish journals that are not affiliated with any academic or professional institution. These publications are for-profit endeavors where “peer review” must not interfere with the revenue stream.

The “study” released on Friday is not published at all, except by Ruth Institute. According to Sullins:

The share of homosexual men in the priesthood rose from twice that of the general
population in the 1950s to eight times the general population in the 1980s. This trend
was strongly correlated with increasing child sex abuse.

Sullins writes about correlation but the intended inference is causation. He has no way of knowing how many priests are gay. Furthermore, the data does not support “increasing child sex abuse.” The Pennsylvania grand jury reported that “almost every instance of abuse” was too old to be prosecuted, though two priests were identified and charged.

If Sullins is correct about an increasing number of gay men in the priesthood then one could argue the infusion of gay men reduced abuse. I have a different hypothesis. Abuse was reduced because the Church stopped moving accused men around to new parishes where they could molest more children.

Yet, according to Sullins:

Since 2002 abuse has been rising amid signs of complacency by Church leaders, and
today is comparable to the early 1970s.

Sullins cannot determine the difference between total abuse and reported abuse. Sullins himself writes:

In the JJR [John Jay] data, the retrospective reports describe events that happened
an average of 24.3 years ago, with more recent reports looking back even farther. In the GJR [PA grand jury]
data, which contains sixteen years of more recent reports than JJR, the retrospective reports look
back an average of 28.7 years. When the large majority of abuse reports do not surface for close
to three decades…

Sullins’ assertion that abuse has been rising is based on a speculative calculation and is even more flawed because, since the Boston Globe Spotlight article on January 6, 2002, more people are willing to report abuse which means that the percentage of unreported abuse is not consistent across decades.

Priests enjoy considerable stature. There is a reason that the Pennsylvania grand jury found so much unreported abuse going back decades. People were reluctant to criticize what are believed to be God’s representatives on earth. 

Sullins is doing what Sullins always does. He starts with an anti-gay conclusion (real scientific inquiry begins with an hypothesis). Then Sullins devises methodology which, through trial and error, will produce fictitious evidence that conforms to the preordained conclusion  (scientific methodology, in contrast, is neutral and investigators follow the evidence). This is why Sullins is confined to scam journals while real science gets published to academic journals which subject articles to rigorous peer review.

Beyond that, Sullins is making the common error (in his case intentional error) of assuming that priests who abuse boys are gay:

Four out of five victims over age 7 were boys; only one in five were girls. Ease of access
to boys relative to girls accounts for about one fifth of this disparity. The number of
homosexual priests accounts for the remaining four fifths.

I am unable to discern how he arrives at his one-fifth estimate. Maybe it is 90%; or 85%; [fill in the blank]%. Here is Sullins’ baffling bullshit:

When the abusers could obtain
males more easily, they tended to do so, but even when they couldn’t, they still strongly
preferred male victims, conditional on higher proportions of homosexual men in the priesthood.
As a rough estimate, the ratio of the difference of the second and third panel correlations from
the overall correlation (.17-.21) with the overall correlation itself (.98) suggests that easier access
to males may account for up to a fifth of male preference among all victims, with the other fourfifths
accounted for by clergy sexual orientation.

The “calculation” is presented as factual but it is actually based on flawed assumptions, including the percentage of gay priests, and is essentially a reiteration of the percentages of girls abused vs. boys. In other words: Two plus two equals five which is proved by the fact that two plus two equals five.

At least he has the decency to present this as a “rough estimate.” The intent, however, is for people to read this as fact.

The offensive false conclusion

Estimates from these findings predict that, had the proportion of homosexual priests
remained at the 1950s level, at least 12,000 fewer children, mostly boys, would have
suffered abuse.

Sullins’ “findings” are the assumptions that conform to Sullins’ desired conclusion. When Sullins publishes to a respected peer-reviewed academic journal I might take him more seriously. Until then even my untrained and unerudite eye can find the flaws. Just imagine what someone like Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Stanford University would do.

We do not have to wait for Dr. Rosenfeld. Dr. Thomas G. Plante is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, a prominent Jesuit Institution. He is also an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine: In his book, Mental Disorders of the New Millennium, Dr. Plante wrote:

Although the majority of clergy abuse victims are males, homosexuality cannot be blamed. First, many of the pedophile priests report that they are not homosexual. This is also true of many non-clergy sex offenders who victimize boys. Many report that they target boys for a variety of reasons that include easier access to boys …

Catholics and non-Catholics generally expect a priest to have integrity. Sullins apparently believes that his credibility is established for supporting the teachings of the Church. However, what he does is to support a belief system, based on faith, with half-baked science based on specious evidence of his own manufacture.

As I said at the outset, when someone claims that gay men are predators of children, that is something that we all need to loudly reject. It is simply not so. Shame on D. Paul Sullins for promoting a falsehood while cloaked in the supposed dignity of a Catholic priest.

Related content:

By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.