Pedofilia clerical



The Elephant in the Sacristy
Beneath the scandals now consuming the Catholic church is a cluster of facts too enormous to ignore.
by Mary Eberstadt
06/17/2002, Volume 007, Issue 39

"The abuse of the young is a grave symptom of a crisis affecting not only the church but society as a whole."

--Pope John Paul II, speech to American Cardinals, April 2002

AS THE AMERICAN BISHOPS gather in Dallas next week to address the continuing devastation and humiliation of the Catholic church, they could do worse than begin by meditating on a defrocked priest from that city named Rudolph Kos. One of the most notorious child abusers in recent history, Kos was, in every sense, the stuff of which today's ecclesiastical nightmares are made. Now serving a life sentence for assaults on boys of all ages whose total is presumed to number in the hundreds, he was also responsible, in 1998, for the largest settlement yet made in such a case: $119.6 million, later reduced to $31 million.

The reason why the bishops ought to bear Kos particularly in mind is that he is typical of many of the other offender-priests who populate the headlines these days. By his own account, Kos was himself abused as a child. As a teenager, he either molested or attempted to molest other, younger boys. With the help of some priest-mentors who were aware of his personal history and apparently indifferent to it, Kos then gravitated to the priesthood--specifically, to a seminary in Texas where homosexuality was apparently out of the closet. One of his teachers would go on to become a celebrated gay writer. Paul Shanley--the most notorious child abuser among the Boston area clergy--was a guest lecturer on homosexuality there. As a priest, in addition to abusing boys from teenagers down to 9 years of age, Kos was also (as he later described himself) a "gay man." Indeed, court documents show that a fellow priest once complained in a letter of the "boys and young men who stay overnight with you [Kos]."

What even this brief recitation makes clear is a cluster of facts too enormous to ignore, though many labor mightily to avert their eyes. Call it the elephant in the sacristy. One fact is that the offender was himself molested as a child or adolescent. Another is that some seminaries seem to have had more future molesters among their students than others. A third fact is that this crisis involving minors--this ongoing institutionalized horror--is almost entirely about man-boy sex. There is no outbreak of heterosexual child molestation in the American church. In the words of the late Rev. Michael Peterson, who co-founded the well-known clergy-treating St. Luke Institute, "We don't see heterosexual pedophiles at all." Put differently, it would be profoundly misleading to tell the tale of Rudolph Kos--what he was and what he did--without reference to the words "homosexual" and "gay."

Of course, as the bishops and many other savvy observers of the debate will also know, just such distortion has become commonplace--indeed, is the literary norm--in the daily renditions of what the tragedies in the Church are actually "about." The dominant view in the press right now--what might be called the "anything-but-the-elephant" theory--reads like this. Whatever the scandals may appear to be about--as it happens, man-boy sex--they are actually about something else. "It should be clear by now," as the New York Times put it in a classic formulation, "that this scandal is only incidentally about forcing sex on minors." Similarly, the New Republic: "We all know that the sexual abuse of minors is horrific; but somehow the bishops did not react with horror. That is what truly shocks." And the New Yorker: "The big shocker has been not so much the abuse itself--awful and heartbreaking though it is--as the coldly bureaucratic 'handling' of it by hierarchs like [Boston's Bernard] Law and the current archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan." And, for good measure, the New York Review of Books: "The current scandal is not a sex scandal."

Some writers do draw attention to the elephant--but only in order to dismiss it. Here is A.W. Richard Sipe, for example, a psychiatrist and former Benedictine monk who is as widely quoted as any other authority on the scandals: "It's not a gay problem; it's a problem of irresponsible sexual behavior and the violation of boundaries" (emphasis added here and below). Here is a Jesuit writing in the English Catholic magazine the Tablet: "The problem is not the abusing priests' homosexuality, but rather their immaturity and their abuse of power." Thereby has developed what might be called the cultural imperative of the scandal commentary--the proposition, as the president of the gay Catholic organization Dignity put it, that "Homosexuality has nothing to do with it."

Such strenuous, willful, and perverse denial of the obvious, repeated unceasingly on paper and airwaves and websites these last several months, has been injurious to the greater good on at least two critical counts. First, the insistence on false definitions has deflected attention from where it ought to be--i.e., on who, exactly, has been injured in all this, who has done the injuring, and how restitution might be made. Second, and what is even more dangerous, this widespread repudiation of sheer fact has been inimical to the most important mission facing the bishops and, indeed, all other Catholics. That is the responsibility of doing everything in one's power to prevent this current history, meaning the rape and abuse of innocents by Catholic priests, from ever being repeated. Insisting that things are not what they appear subverts that end, to say the least.

In what follows, therefore, I propose that we tunnel down through the diverting abstractions in which the debate has been shrouded, and then reason back upward from the level of simple fact. For in focusing precisely on the uncontested facts of cases, we do learn something potentially useful not only to the bishops as they hammer out policies for the future, but also to the victims, and possibly even the perpetrators, of this evil. In order to get there, however, we must be able to call the elephant by its name. The real problem facing the American Catholic church is that a great many boys have been seduced or forced into homosexual acts by certain priests; that these offenders appear to have been disproportionately represented in certain seminaries; and that their case histories open questions about sexuality that--verboten though they may have become--demand to be reexamined.


That the Catholic church is an institution sustained of, by, and for sinners is not exactly news to anyone acquainted with human history, let alone to any Catholic or other reader of today's papers. Even so, there is something surpassingly wicked about the scandal now exploded in North America. Of all that Christianity has represented since its inception, there has been one teaching in which believers could take particular historical pride. That was the notion, virtually unique to Christianity (and Judaism), that not only were sexual relations between adults and children wrong--a proscription that puzzled and irritated the ancient pagans, as it does the pagans of today--but that this particular exploitation of innocents was an especially grievous sin. Accordingly, from the earliest Church histories to the present, penalties for the seduction of boys by men have abounded. Anyone who doubts the historical consistency of the Church's teaching here should know that the advocates of pedophilia in the world today--the outright public enthusiasts for man-boy sex--vociferously deplore the Church specifically on account of its millennia-old condemnation of the sexual exploitation of the young.

It has therefore been perverse in the extreme, at least for many ordinary Catholics, to see that one prominent public reaction to the scandals has been to blame matters not on the molesters, but--incredibly--on the non-molesting rest of the Church. This is, after all, the meaning of the widespread attack on priestly celibacy. As one writer asked in Slate with apparent hopefulness, "Does the celibacy rule turn priests into child molesters?"

There was, to put the matter delicately, more than a touch of schadenfreude in this reaction to the scandals--even some humor, albeit very, very dark. After all, it is not as if all those dissenting Catholics, lapsed Catholics, and outright anti-Catholics chastising the Church these many months had hitherto shown much enthusiasm for its teachings about sexual morality. In its way, the fact that just such critics took out after celibacy did make perfect, if surreal, sense. As First Things editor Richard John Neuhaus shrewdly observed, "The celibacy rule is so offensive to many of today's commentators, Catholic and otherwise, because it so frontally challenges the culturally entrenched dogma that human fulfillment and authenticity are impossible without sexual intercourse of one kind or another."

The nagging problem with the attack on celibacy, however, has been that it does not hold up under any sort of inspection, and this for several reasons. There is, first, the historical point that celibacy has been widely practiced by various religions over the centuries (for a representative list, see the entry on "celibacy" in the "Encyclopedia of Religion"). While the sexual molestation of minors is not unknown in that history, neither does it break out all over--as it would if current critics of celibacy vows were right about the connection between the two. Americans being less historically minded than some others, it is perhaps understandable that the point did not surface more often. But there was also, as it turned out, a pragmatic problem with the same attack. Millions of baby boomer American Catholics had direct experience of being educated and otherwise influenced by priests, and they knew from personal experience that most priests had not been turned by celibacy into moral monsters.1

But the biggest problem with the argument against celibacy has been that it simply affronts common sense. To argue that vows of chastity lay somehow at the root of the priest scandal is like arguing that tee-totaling causes drunkenness, or that quitting smoking will increase the risk of lung cancer. The purported causality of the thing, as Michael Novak and others patiently explained, simply could not hold. Even more illogical, if that is possible, has been the idea that allowing priests to marry would somehow reduce the kind of sexual offenses of which the scandals were made. "Right," in conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher's tart words. "As if wives are the answer to the sexual urges of men who get their kicks from adolescent boys."

When the American cardinals returned from their April meeting with the pope, bearing the news that the Vatican was not about to abandon the celibacy rule no matter how many lapsed, anti- and un-Catholics in the United States demanded it, there surfaced another purported explanation of how the scandals came to be--that they were the outcome of a "culture of secrecy" within the Church. This argument had particular force because it has been put forward by the well-known reporter and Catholic Jason Berry, whose remarkable 1992 book, "Lead Us Not into Temptation," remains the single best factual account of the forces and personalities at work in the prophetic first round of scandals over a decade ago. "The crisis in the Catholic Church," as Berry put his larger argument recently in the New York Times, "lies not with the fraction of priests who molest youngsters but in an ecclesiastical power structure that harbors pedophiles, conceals other sexual behavior patterns among its clerics, and uses strategies of duplicity and counterattack against the victims." Closely related to this argument of Berry's was a similar procedural explanation of the origins of the scandals--that they were the result of "clericalism," or undue emphasis on the privileges and prerogatives of the clerical estate.

Both charges were, and are, undeniably true in a limited sense. No doubt, shameful efforts by some Church authorities to dodge rather than comply with the criminal law have allowed priests to continue molesting when they might instead have been confined in a cell. No doubt, either, that the personal grandiosity of certain prelates has also inhibited the desire to clean Catholic house. The criticism now raining down on the American hierarchy for its negligence is largely deserved.

Even so, in the effort to understand how the crimes happened, as well as the even more pressing business of deterring them in the future, the arguments about "secrecy" and "clericalism" amount to a sideshow. For while both phenomena obviously made the sexual assault of children possible, neither secrecy nor clericalism caused the assaults in the first place. Plenty of other institutions, from the CIA to 4-H clubs, keep institutional secrets all the time, and with no visible upswing in the sexual abuse of male children as a result. It is certainly arguable that post-Vatican II Catholic America has been bounded by a three-way collusion among disobedient priests, disobedient lay people, and child-molesting clergy benefiting from general laxity--a kind of ecclesiastical Bermuda triangle in which discipline and traditional moral teachings have mysteriously disappeared. But this is hardly the problem that writers who finger Catholic "secrecy" as the main factor in the scandals have in mind.

Yet another theory that serves to evade the elephant, this one prominent in some Catholic circles as well, is the argument that what "actually" lay at the root of the scandals was something called sexual (sometimes "psychosexual") "immaturity." Referred to frequently by A.W. Richard Sipe, among others, this theory blames minor molestation not exactly on molesters themselves, but on the all-male religious communities through which they pass. "There is a structure within the Church that fosters immaturity," as Sipe put it recently on PBS. "We're boys together, and the Church supplies all that. It is a kind of adolescent attitude, and there are those who turn to adolescents because of their immaturity."

Such analysis has a strong following not only among the sophisticated secular media, but also within the American Catholic hierarchy, as the language of its scandal-managing sometimes shows. (Thus, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said recently that what is needed is "to assure the people that the candidates for the priesthood are suitable people, and any problems that might lead to immaturity in behavior would have been caught or addressed in seminary.")

Nevertheless, even a cursory examination of reality brings the abstractions of "immaturity" up short. There is, first, the uncomfortable fact--or what ought to be an uncomfortable fact, especially for Catholics--that the explanation from "immaturity" bears no resemblance to the language of sin and redemption. It simply medicalizes the problem, emptying the abuser's acts of moral meaning and (literally, in this case) defining deviancy down. But that is not its only limitation. Rather, the fundamental shortcoming of the "psychosexual" argument is that it does not explain what it purports to explain--namely, where the scandals came from.

For if the argument is that perpetrators are somehow "frozen" in a stage of "immaturity," the objection immediately presents itself that most 9-, 13-, even 16-year-old boys do not act the way offending priests do. Immaturity in a boy may present itself in varied ways--sibling-teasing, homework-losing, bathroom humor--but a compulsive search for adult-orchestrated homosexual esoterica is usually not among them. Child and adolescent sexual exploration, to be sure, is hardly unknown; one thinks especially of Britain's famous boarding schools. But "intergenerational sex," with its inevitable elements of adult power and coercion, is not something children gravitate toward intuitively.

The theory about "immaturity" is perhaps a useful heuristic tool for theorists. But it obscures the real-life point that priests who molest the young do not sexually or psychologically resemble typical adolescents and children in the least. The exception, of course--and this is a point to which we will return--is that of children who are themselves sexually abused. For such children, compulsive sexuality--the attempt to inflict on other, younger children what they have been forced to learn themselves--is a well-documented clinical norm. (This is true for heterosexual and homosexual abuse alike.) But the psychosexual theory, recall, is that the institutions rather than the individuals explain the abuse cases. The problem with perpetrators, however, is not that they are "immature"; the problem is that they are all too mature, they are predatory, and they are also, according to most case studies, largely unrepentant.


When these sorts of substantive or quasi-substantive arguments failed to become the definitive case for what the scandals were "actually" about, another, more ideological response began circulating throughout the media. This was the argument that the "real" problem at hand was that Catholic conservatives would use the scandals as the pretext for a "witch hunt" to "purge" the Church of homosexuals. In the past several months, virtually interchangeable essays to that effect have appeared all over the American media--from mainstream newspapers and magazines to gay-activist or activist-friendly sources, including the Advocate, the Independent Gay Forum, Slate, Salon, and many more.

It is certainly true that some Catholic traditionalists--precisely because they have been unconstrained by the secular cultural imperative of evading the elephant--have been willing to point to one or another feature of it. "You cannot blame people," as Rod Dreher of National Review put it in one of his many plain-spoken contributions to the discussion, "for asking if there's something about the culture of homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood that fosters this phenomenon. . . . [I]t is not homophobic to ask." Writing from a very different corner of the Catholic world, Germain Grisez--one of the Church's leading moral theologians in the United States--has been equally blunt: "The bishops and those who speak for them," as he wrote recently, "should acknowledge honestly that most clerical sex crimes that have come to light have been seductions of adolescents and young men by homosexual priests." Other traditionalist lay Catholics have also violated the cultural imperative in their own discussions of the scandals.

One singularly fearless such examination was published well before the Boston scandal broke in January. This was an extraordinary essay called "The Gay Priest Problem," published in the magazine Catholic World Report in November 2000.2 In it, Jesuit Paul Shaughnessy took aim in orthodox language at what he called "the ugly and indisputable facts: a disproportionately high percentage of priests is gay; a disproportionately high percentage of gay priests routinely engages in sodomy; this sodomy is frequently ignored, often tolerated, and sometimes abetted by bishops and superiors." Citing controversial Kansas City Star pieces reporting that priests were dying of AIDS at some four times the rate of the general population, Shaughnessy also drew attention to the fact that certain orders and institutions were noticeably more affected than others. (Of seven novices ordained in the Missouri Province of the Jesuit order in 1967 and 1968, for instance, he reported that "three have (to date) died of AIDS, and a fourth is an openly gay priest now working as an artist in New York.") He further noted that gay priests themselves "routinely gloat about the fact that gay bars in big cities have special 'clergy nights,' that gay resorts have set-asides for priests, and that in certain places the diocesan apparatus is controlled entirely by gays." Shaughnessy also sounded a prescient note in daring to question what he called "the dogma that the preponderance of male victims [of clerical sexual abuse] is entirely unrelated to priestly homosexuality."

Another examination of homosexuality in the clergy from a traditionalist perspective--this one also written before the recent round of scandals, but published in tandem with them--comes in the form of Michael S. Rose's newly released book "Goodbye, Good Men," a scathing polemic charging that the "lavenderization" of American seminaries has driven vocations down. Much discussed in traditional Catholic circles, and largely, though not entirely, the object of cultural omerta outside them, Rose's book outlines in part the charge that a "gay subculture" has come to flourish in many seminaries.

There are, for example, the seminaries so homosexualized that they came to be known as "Notre Flame," "Theological Closet," and the "Pink Palace." In some, says Rose, seminarians make public outings to gay bars together. In others pornography is ubiquitous. In still others, sexual access to young men is so taken for granted as a perquisite that sexual-harassment lawsuits by former seminarians long ago ceased to be remarkable. Rose also reports--as has a recent, post-scandal story in Newsweek--that the role of the heterosexual seminarian in such a world is not an enviable one. He details cases of non-sexual harassment--by disciplinary action, coercive "counseling," or social ostracism--by which "lavender" seminaries punish or exclude heterosexual men who are perceived as theological or social threats. Rose's book is more anecdotal than systematic, and more than one review has criticized his impressionistic approach. But such charges do not diminish the shock effect of such anecdotes--or their effectiveness in illuminating just how lax in various ways authorities in some seminaries have been.3

DESPITE THESE and other piecemeal attempts by orthodox Catholics to assay the beast, however, the fact is that it is not Church traditionalists who have been in the forefront of diagnosing and publicizing the man-boy sex scandal. In fact, if traditionalists as a whole can be said to have shared a single fault in the scandal history, it is that many of them chose to look the other way as compelling evidence emerged--starting with Jason Berry's articles for the National Catholic Reporter in the 1980s--that both active homosexuality and minor molestation were increasing among priests. To many traditionalists, no doubt, these were subjects summoning such personal repugnance that they could not be faced. Some simply refused to believe that priests had been sexually active. To others--and this reaction remains powerful still--the mere notion of airing the Church's dirty laundry in the media is unthinkable. Either way, certain evils were not seen. In the New York Review of Books, Garry Wills has taken traditionalists to task for opting over the years toward the view that the scandals were being blown out of proportion. Evident though Wills's anti-orthodox agenda may be, on this point he is right. Confronted with the horrifying facts about man-boy sex instigated by Catholic priests, many such Catholics behaved as if the explosion of sexual abuse cases were just an expression of anti-Catholic bias.

Even so, the reluctance of the orthodox to face as much proves exactly how wrong the charge of a traditionalist "purge" really is. Orthodox American Catholics, far from brandishing their torches, are in fact (exceptions already noted) coming late to what others have established. What the "purge" argument really does is to deflect attention from something much more interesting--namely, the fact that points like Shaughnessy's and Rose's have been made repeatedly over the years by other writers, including some who cannot possibly be described as ideological tools of the would-be "purgers."

One such authority is Donald B. Cozzens, whose 2000 book "The Changing Face of the Priesthood" came endorsed, among others, by Theodore Hesburgh, liberal icon and former president of Notre Dame. Cozzens--a priest, professor of theology, and former president-rector of a seminary--observed that "the need gay priests have for friendship with other gay men, and their shaping of a social life largely comprised of other homosexually oriented men, has created a gay subculture in most of the larger U.S. dioceses. A similar subculture has occurred in many of our seminaries."

Like Rose, Cozzens emphasized two other consequences of this gaying of the priesthood: the reordering of what had been masculine social life along feminized lines drawn by gossip, favoritism, and cliques; and the consequent deterrence of some unknown number of actual and potential heterosexual seminarians. "Not infrequently," Cozzens explained, "the sexual contacts and romantic unions among gay seminarians create intense and complicated webs of intrigue and jealousy leading to considerable inner conflict. Here the sexually ambiguous seminarian drawn into the gay subculture is particularly at risk. The straight seminarian, meanwhile, feels out of place and may interpret his inner destabilization as a sign that he does not have a vocation to the priesthood." Writing in the Boston Globe earlier this year, Cozzens took the opportunity to put the same point even more forcefully: "My own experience as a former seminary rector made it clear to me that the growing number of homosexually oriented priests is deterring significant numbers of Catholic men from seriously considering the priesthood. Moreover, seminary personnel face considerable challenges dealing with the tensions that develop when gay and straight men live in community."

If the example of Cozzens suggests that there is more to the concern over active homosexuality than a traditionalist witch hunt, the example of Jason Berry proves the point. Berry's treatment of the role of overtly gay priests in the scandals, as National Review contributor Stanley Kurtz has acutely observed, is "all the more striking for coming from the pen of a Catholic who would himself like to see a liberalization of the Church's sexual teachings." Moreover, Berry obviously takes pains to be charitable toward gay priests. Even so, the reporter in Berry is unable to avoid the correlation of the scandals having grown in tandem with openly and actively gay priests. His own groundbreaking work on the scandals is shot through with ambivalence about just that.

Here, for example, is Berry writing of that very uneasiness ten years ago in "Lead Us Not into Temptation":

"I felt sympathy for most of the gay priests I interviewed; I also found myself troubled by things some of them said. Of eighteen priests . . . I interviewed on a [National Catholic Reporter] assignment about clergy, only two claimed to have honored celibacy. . . . It would be irresponsible not to note that a strain of gay culture is taken up with youth love. . . . Many gay bookstores feature books celebrating man-youth (if not man-boy) sex. . . . There are also some homosexuals who are drawn to an age zone of young manhood that hovers close to the age of legal consent."

The case of Stanley Kurtz is comparable. Though he writes most frequently for National Review, Kurtz, a non-Catholic, has stated publicly that he does not believe homosexuality is a sin. Nevertheless, he has been more adamant than any other observer in connecting the dots between the priest scandals, on the one hand, and such explosive political issues as gay marriage, on the other. "The uproar over priestly sex abuse," he argues, "offers spectacular confirmation of nearly every warning ever issued by the opponents of gay marriage." The American church presents "a case in which gay sexual culture has not been tamed, but has instead dramatically subverted a venerable social institution." In defending this essay, Kurtz also linked the scandals with yet another issue of society-wide significance: gays in the military. "Surely much of the difficulty" in the Church cases, as he put it, "derives from an institutional setting in which large numbers of gay men, whatever their internal psychological state, room and travel together, and are given intimate access to young men. Gay-rights advocates have tried to pretend that, in cases like the military, such access does not matter. But it does. . . . [O]ne lesson of this scandal is that the integration of homosexual and heterosexual men in the same living areas can in fact break down 'unit cohesion,' thereby causing institutional disruption."

The idea that the crisis is being stage-managed as a traditionalist plot ought finally to be put to rest by another whistleblower who has consistently exposed and decried both the scandals and the proliferation of active homosexuality in Church life. In 1989, this Catholic complained: "Blatantly active homosexual priests are appointed, transferred and promoted. Lavender rectories and seminaries are tolerated. National networks of active homosexual priests (many of them administrators) are tolerated." The United States, this writer went on to charge, is developing "a substantially homosexual clergy, many of whom are blatantly part of the gay subculture."

The author of these and many other unminced words on the subject is no icon of Catholic traditionalists, but rather their bete noire Andrew Greeley--jet-setting Jesuit sociologist, racy novel writer, and no one's idea of a Church reactionary. Here is Greeley again, in 1990, urging the archdiocese of Chicago to "clean out the pedophiles, break up the gay cliques, tighten up the seminary, and restore the good name of the priesthood." Greeley, for one, has not hesitated to identify the elephant. In that sense, his unassailable standing as a political liberal in all other respects has likely proved invaluable. Recall the outcry that greeted Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit in recent weeks for observing that the Church's problem was "a homosexual-type problem" and that "it is an ongoing struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.'' Yet Maida's are milder words on the subject than many of Greeley's over the years. One can only imagine the explosion had any traditionalist recently written, as Greeley was quoted years ago saying, that "the two phenomena [of homosexuality and pedophilia] shade into one another."

If this is the stuff of a Catholic traditionalist "purge," it has acquired an unusual officer corps.



This last quotation of Greeley's brings us to the most pernicious evasive maneuver of all. That is the attempt to define the problem away with the language of therapeutic expertise. Central to this effort has been the supposed distinction that, as Newsweek and a thousand other sources have put it, "The great majority of cases now before the church involve not pedophilia but 'ephebophilia,' an attraction to post-pubescent youths."

Indeed, the appeal of this pseudo-scientific distinction is one of the curious features of the scandal commentary. Social conservatives and traditionalists have embraced this distinction, as they have similarly the sociological language of author Philip Jenkins (who describes the current crisis as a "moral panic"). The attraction of this approach for traditionalists seems to be that it is marginally less damaging to the reputation of the Church if its priests are seen more as preying on teenagers than on pre-adolescents. Meanwhile, Church dissidents and gay activists have seized on it for a related reason--namely, that it is marginally less damaging to the reputation of homosexual priests if it turns out that the renegades in their ranks are having problems with teenage boys, rather than engaging in "true" pedophilia. The fact that this serves as yet another example of defining deviancy down--i.e., that ephebophilia is discussed not as a horror in its own right, but as a less-bad alternative to sex with little children--has been under-discussed, to put it mildly. In fact, of all critics and commentators, it is Wills who has best exposed the corrupt rhetorical uses of this distinction: "If 'real' pedophilia involves only the abuse of prepubescents," he writes, "that instantly reduces the number of priests who can be called pedophiles. Those who 'just' molest adolescents look less monstrous and even--somewhat--forgivable."

But there is a deeper problem than this rhetorical sleight of hand with the reliance on the pseudo-scientific ephebophile/pedophile distinction. The real problem is that the distinction is useless as a taxonomic description of most actual offenders. It does not begin to catalogue accurately the tastes of the most notorious abusers--i.e., the very people it purports to classify.

Pulling together the threads of case after case of prominent offenders proves the point. A very few abusers, of whom Boston's defrocked John J. Geoghan appears to be one, apparently found their sexual appetites limited to prepubescent children.4 But as Boston Globe reporters Michael Paulson and Thomas Farragher observed in March, "those cases [like Geoghan's], in which priests became sexually involved with multiple boys and girls who have not yet reached puberty, are actually relatively uncommon." Much more common, as anyone reading the details of cases will know, is a polymorphous pattern of abuse in which the easy therapeutic distinctions dominant in the media and the secular therapeutic worlds cease to apply. Some abusers--again, a minority--prey on boy children only, others prey on boy children and teenage boys, others still prefer teenagers and men, and some are what might be called sexually omnivorous, attracted to other gay men, teenagers, and young boys too.

Begin at the beginning, of sorts, with the notorious case that is explored at length in the opening of Jason Berry's Lead Us Not into Temptation--the case, indeed, that first put Catholic priest offenders into the headlines 15 years ago. The priest in question was Gilbert Gauthe of Louisiana, eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape and sexual abuse of more than three dozen boys. Sexually molested himself as a child, Gauthe went on to claim what may have been hundreds of boy victims as he was reassigned to one parish after another. Yet while Gauthe is frequently cited as a textbook prepubescent child molester--at times as the classic priest-pedophile--the reality is more complicated. For Gauthe's victims ranged in age from as young as 7 to as old as 15--and those are the limits gleaned only from Berry's account; the actual age span of his victims may have been wider. The point is that Gauthe did not appear to discriminate, as contemporary therapeutic language would have it, between adolescents and pre-adolescents. Frankly, and like many other offenders, Gauthe preyed on both.

Now consider the case of James Porter of Fall River, Massachusetts, who pled guilty in 1993 to the sexual abuse of more than two dozen children and is also thought to have claimed victims in the hundreds. Porter, another offender-priest who reportedly was molested as a child, attended seminary at the institution identified in Rose's book as the "Pink Palace." A clinical rarity, Porter appears to have been what can only be called pansexual. His many victims included a few young girls (the overwhelming majority of those he molested were boys). Before getting caught, moreover, Porter married and had children of his own. In fact, this pansexuality is what makes Porter's case remarkable, perhaps even singular, in the annals of priest offending, as the cases outlined below suggest.

Paul Shanley's is one case among many that belies the cut-and-dried distinctions now governing debate. Here was no textbook pedophile or ephebophile, but rather a sexually active gay man with a taste for children and adolescents too. (Shanley has written that he himself "had been sexually abused as a teenager, and later as a seminarian by a priest, a faculty member, a pastor and ironically by the predecessor of one of the two Cardinals who now debates my fate.") Just how many boys and teenagers Shanley molested may never be known, but given the years in which he was reshuffled from one place to another despite complaints, the number of each is assumed to be high. Note that word "each." To put the matter emblematically, the specific criminal charges against Shanley involve Gregory Ford, whom he is accused of raping between 1983 and 1990--in other words, over the course of seven years beginning when Ford was 6 years old. Under current therapeutic understanding, what would this pattern alone make Shanley--a pedophile when Ford is 6, and an ephebophile when he is 13?

To pose the question is to reveal its absurdity. Shanley was indeed sexually active with children, he was also sexually active with adolescents; and he moreover participated in various ways in openly gay Catholic society. To put the matter another way, while Shanley's pedophilia has never been in public doubt since his name hit the headlines--the most trumpeted fact about him is that he is thought to have been a founding member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association--his simultaneous standing in the gay community has barely been mentioned. Yet if anyone could be said to be a credentialed member of gay Catholic social and intellectual life, it would have been Shanley. He was, for example, affiliated with Dignity USA from its early days (he appears in its archives as a "major speaker" in 1975). He was also an expert speaker on the seminary circuit (not on pedophilia, of course, but on homosexuality). And he co-owned a gay resort with another gay priest.

And so the breakdown of the pedophilia/ephebophilia distinction goes. After Shanley and Geoghan, the most discussed arrested cleric in the Boston area is Ronald H. Paquin, who has admitted to having molested what the Boston Herald describes as "numerous boys," some for years on end. Currently in the headlines as a textbook case of a molesting priest repeatedly reassigned by Boston's Cardinal Law, Paquin reports that he himself was molested as a child by his own hometown priest. Some allegations against Paquin are particularly awful; he is accused by parents of bearing responsibility for one teenager's suicide, and another teenager was killed in a car Paquin was driving, allegedly upon return from one of many assignations with teenage boys. Incidentally, Paquin attended the same seminary as Paul Shanley.

Finally, consider a prominent case outside the Boston area, that of the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, who was shot in Baltimore last month by a man alleging that the priest had abused him over a three-year period. After that shooting, according to the Baltimore Sun, another man filed a police report claiming that Blackwell had also abused him as a teenager. According to a third man, Blackwell molested him from the time he was a fifth-grader "until the victim was 26 years old." These sexual encounters, the accuser said, occurred in the seminary Blackwell attended. This was the "Pink Palace." The charges against Blackwell are not proven. Church officials involuntarily removed him from his parish in 1998 because of what they call a "credible" accusation of "inappropriate activity" with a minor. Alleged victims are continuing to come forward. Blackwell, like others, is accused of preying upon boys of varying ages, up to adulthood. In sum, the standard pedophile vs. ephebophile explanation of how the scandals came to be is empirically unsound. No doubt for that reason, as Washington Post reporter Sandra G. Boodman put it in an unusually well-informed newspaper account, "experts in sexual abuse outside the Church rarely make this distinction."


A review of the details of the scandal cases yields three common denominators that arise in too many cases to be dismissed as incidental to the abuse. The first important fact suggested by the record so far--and one that obviously demands definitive study as soon as possible--is that some seminaries appear to be disproportionately represented in abuse cases. In one of the few secular discussions of this aspect of the elephant, two Boston Herald reporters examined one such seminary in some depth. Their report is worth quoting at length:

"A Herald analysis of cases of priests facing serious pedophile allegations in the state . . . shows that a disproportionate percentage attended [Boston's] St. John's in the late 1950s and 1960s. . . . Regardless of why, the numbers are staggering, especially for certain classes. "The class of 1960 contained at least five men involved in pedophilia allegations. That's out of a class of approximately 77 graduates. Experts put the incidence of pedophilia in the general population at around 1 percent. For the St. John's graduates ordained in 1960, the figure appears to approach 7 percent--seven times the national average for men. . . .

Then came the class of 1968, which included six men accused of pedophilia, including Paul Mahan--target of some of the most vile allegations.

Significantly, this graduating class was far smaller than those that had passed through St. John's a decade earlier. With fewer than 50 members, the incidence of alleged pedophilia in the class rises to about 12 percent. . . .

One student described an atmosphere of frequent experimentation. Gay students quickly identified each other, he said, and established networks that would last in some fashion until years after graduation and ordination into the priesthood. . . .

A priest in the archdiocese who studied elsewhere but was involved in events at St. John's said the biggest concern among administrators was students who were torn between piety and banned sexual behavior. Many young men are "mixed up'' at that age, the priest said, and vulnerable to exploitation by older or more sophisticated classmates. . . .

"By the 1960s, despite sometimes iron rule in the archdiocese by Richard Cardinal Cushing, St. John's was the focus of dissent."

As this account suggests, some seminaries have been home to a highly combustible mix of ideology, rebellion, and future criminality. This aspect of the crisis has been decades in the making. How did it come to be? Perhaps one sort of rebellion breeds another. Perhaps, too--a point that comes up anecdotally in the scandal literature--some offenders are actually made worse by contact with like-minded men. If observers like Robert J. Johansen are correct and the problem is already on the way to amelioration, so much the better--that is information that both Catholics and a concerned public ought to have. Either way, the Vatican's decision to address the abuse cases in part through a review of the seminaries comes none too soon.

The second feature of the cases that arises too often to be dismissed as a coincidence is the fact that many of the offender-priests caught to date report that they were molested as minors themselves. This is hardly surprising. Clinical estimates for the rate of childhood victimization among abusers range as high as 80 percent. In other words, though not all victims of sexual abuse go on to become perpetrators, many perpetrators do seem to have started as victims.

This overlooked fact of the abuse cases has profound implications, including for Catholic bishops and other policymakers now asking how such cases may be prevented in the future. From the point of view of simple deterrence, it puts a red flag over any candidate who was himself sexually seduced by an adult as a child or adolescent. Ordination, after all, is not a civil right. Screening for a history of victimization might sharply reduce the likelihood of future generations of priests becoming fodder for headlines. Put simply, if such men had been turned away from seminaries during the last several decades, the scandals in the Church as we know them would never have reached today's scale.

Would screening for such victims (and admittedly, perfect truth-telling is unlikely) have the effect of discriminating against homosexually oriented men? The answer is very probably a qualified yes. This is because homosexuals as a group, according to a variety of clinical sources--including those by gay and gay-friendly researchers--are more likely to have been sexually abused themselves than are heterosexuals.5 As a simple matter of arithmetic, therefore, they might be disproportionately affected by such a standard compared to heterosexuals. But if such discrimination is the shortest cut to reducing the number of tomorrow's victims, it is hard to discern the competing moral principle on which it could be opposed.

The third and final implication of the abuse cases--this one society-wide, to return to the pope's words--is a corollary of the victim-turned-perpetrator phenomenon. The subject of early sexual experience and its role in future orientation needs to be allowed back into legitimate public debate.

This is, of course, a suggestion likely to be disputed by gay activists, whose ideology of "orientation" is exactly why the subject of environmental influences on sexuality has become verboten. This is not to suggest that the gay community alone holds such a view--far from it. What is almost universally called "sexual preference" is now believed by many Americans--including in some parts of the religious culture--to be inborn, as fixed as such genetic markers as melanin or the pattern of one's fingerprints, and presumably just as immutable.

The facts of the ongoing priest scandals, however, challenge that view. In the end, one must believe one of two things about the offenders: Either they were born with a sexual "orientation" toward molesting children; or somehow, just maybe, the experience of being molested themselves affected their future sexual feelings. If one holds to the "orientation" view, one faces the serious problem of explaining away as "coincidence" a broadly shared experience of childhood or adolescent molestation--one out of proportion to the general population. But if, on the other hand, sexual predators are made, not born, a currently forbidden hypothesis suggests itself: that other "sexualities," too, may be affected by experience.

Today, the few researchers and clinicians who dare touch this subject are treated as professional lepers. Think only of the calumny that has come the way of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which provides counseling to homosexual men and women who believe that sexual "orientation" is susceptible to change. Public opprobrium has also been the fate incurred by groups like Courage, a ministry to homosexuals from the perspective of traditional Catholic teaching. There is no doubt that the experience of groups like these--similar to those of the few writers who have dared dissent from the contemporary secular articles of faith about homosexuality--has had a chilling effect on public discussion, including discussion that could help identify, diagnose, and treat offenders in the future.

And here is where a contemporary secular taboo--that of questioning the ideology of "orientation"--crashes head-on into the greater public good. What the priest scandals demonstrate beyond argument is that what we need, right now, is in-depth study of the victim-to-perpetrator causal chain. We need answers to questions that, properly understood, will help prevent other boys from being preyed upon in the future--for example, why some children who are abused do not go on to become abusers themselves; why others become compulsive offenders whose victims number as high as the hundreds; and how institutions of all sorts might better screen and thwart and help the adults tempted by this profound evil. Today, however, because the ideology of "orientation" has effectively foreclosed discussion of just these issues, there is a tragically short supply of such theoretical and clinical exploration--and likely an even shorter supply of personal will and fortitude among potential researchers. As the JAMA article cited earlier noted suggestively--in a review, recall, of the clinical literature on the sexual abuse of boys--"No longitudinal studies examined the causal relationship between abuse and gender role or sexual orientation." There should be such studies. Interestingly, among the proposed reforms the bishops will discuss in Dallas, one promises that "we offer to cooperate with other churches, institutions of learning, and other interested organizations in conducting a major research study in this area"--namely, "the problem of the sexual abuse of children and young people in our society."

Such information would not only be useful to the bishops and the rest of the public in contemplating the matter of deterrence. It might also shed light on human sexuality more generally. In particular, it might help explain the prominence of the theme of man-boy seduction--which I have documented in two essays in these pages--in gay literature, journalism, and culture.6 It is now over 20 years since gay eminence grise Edmund White observed that "sex with minors" was one of two features of gay life "likely to outrage the straight community" (the other, he believed, was "sex in public places"). In the wake of the priest scandals, a few other gay voices have acknowledged just such a homosexual/heterosexual divide on the question of minors. As a writer for the Washington Blade put it with surprising candor, "These cases--where the 'victim' lies somewhere in between childhood and adulthood, and the 'abuser' may or may not also have a gay adult sexual life--prove far murkier than either the Catholic Church or many gay rights advocates seem willing to admit." But no gay writer has sounded a more poignant note than the unnamed man who wrote in a letter posted on Andrew Sullivan's website--which contribution Sullivan deserves credit for publishing: "I must disagree with your disavowal of any homosexual complicity in the Church scandal. . . . Until all queers are able to face the fact that we have created for ourselves a culture that values youth and beauty above all else, and to realize that this obsession creates, in at least some gay men, a deviant and abusive tendency toward sex with minors, we are doomed to continue to create victims as surely as the atrophied Church."

What this letter clarifies is why public gay reaction to the scandals has been an exercise in moral dissonance. It is incoherent to excoriate the Church for its child molesters, as all leading gay newspapers have done, and simultaneously to print an interview with a gay man saying (to take an example from the Blade) that "he doesn't think the older men who had sex with him [when he was a child] were ephebophiles or predators. . . . 'I personally hold them completely blameless.'" It is incoherent to denounce offending priests, as just about every gay-activist and activist-friendly source has done--and meanwhile run soft-core personal stories by gay men thanking the priests who allegedly molested them as teenagers. And finally, to take a particularly striking example of the same contradiction, it is preposterous to thunder piously against the Church, and on the other hand to hail as a "gay icon" the likes of assassinated Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn--which is exactly what some libertarian gay writers have been insisting upon since his death. Fortuyn's writings in favor of man-boy sex, including but not limited to a column in Holland's largest newsmagazine in praise of the "vision" of a famous convicted pedophile, are a matter of public record.7 Nor is that record obscure. Those writings have been brought to public attention by several authors in English these last few weeks, among them National Review's Rod Dreher (twice). In fact, precisely because of his soft spot for pederasty, Fortuyn is also mentioned favorably in pro-pedophile publications.

To observe all this is not, of course, to accuse Fortuyn's admirers of sympathizing with pedophilia. But it is to emphasize that for reasons we may never fully understand, on the subject of sex with minors, the dissonance issuing from the gay community is simply deafening. What most other people call "sexual abuse," some significant part of the gay counterculture knows as "initiation." What the criminal law calls a "perpetrator," the gay counterculture calls a "troll." And what parents and the rest of the world know as a human child is dubbed in that other world with the unspeakably inhuman designation, "chicken." That dissonance, which will continue in North America even if the Catholic church is razed to the ground tomorrow, is something the bishops should not hesitate to point to as they try to prevent anything like today's crisis from happening again.

NO MATTER what is decided in Dallas or elsewhere by the bishops and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy, some public reappraisal of homosexuality in American life seems very nearly an inevitable consequence of the Church's man-boy sex problem. In following through, we are all called to intellectual humility, and the Catholics among us to spiritual humility as well. For believing Catholics, more than any others, it makes no more sense to be "homophobic" than to be "contracepto-phobic," say, or "fornicato-phobic," or "phobic" of any other group falling short of the Church's rigorous moral demands. The Catholic church teaches compassion towards all mortals, homosexuals very much included. The Catechism, among other Church documents, emphasizes this particular call to charity: "This [homosexual] inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most a trial."

At the same time, today's ideological sensitivities must not be allowed to trump what ought to be a universal effort to protect the young. Much about human sexuality remains a mystery, and we may never know why men who abuse children do what they do. But if humility is now required of Catholics, so too is backbone. If it takes shutting down certain seminaries to protect boys of the present and future, close them now. If vocations to the priesthood should be so far reduced by stringent screening for abuse victims that American Catholics have to travel 50 miles to Mass, let them drive. And if protecting children means reopening the uncomfortable question of what makes sexual orientation, that too is a sacrifice that everyone should be willing to make. There is more than enough for all of us to do, Catholic and non-Catholic. As John Paul II said, this mission is society-wide.

Mary Eberstadt is a Hoover Institution research fellow and consulting editor to Policy Review.

1 Of course, there was also more than a little human comedy in the fact that some of the public critics now demanding a married clergy for themselves were just the sort of people known elsewhere for loudly deploring the hardships of juggling family and career. As mentioned, the spectacle of a largely secular press attacking the Church for its own sexual sins, real and unreal, has not been without its (again, black) humor.

2 This same essay is reprinted as a comment on the scandals in the current issue of Catholic World Report, and can be read online at www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Igpress/2000-11/essay.html.

3 For an extended critique of the book which argues that the situation in the seminaries is no longer as dire as Rose describes, see Rev. Robert J. Johansen's essay in the May 2002 issue of Culture Wars magazine.

4 I say "apparently" because, here as elsewhere, the public record is incomplete. According to published reports, Geoghan's victims ranged in age from 4 to 12. Like other offenders, Geoghan may well have more victims, of a larger age range, than has so far been revealed in print.

5 In a recent review of the literature in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, two researchers noted that "abused adolescents, particularly those victimized by males, were up to 7 times more likely to self-identify as gay or bisexual than peers who have not been abused." "Sexual Abuse of Boys: Definition, Prevalence, Correlates, Sequelae, and Management," William C. Holmes, Gail B. Slap JAMA Dec. 2, 1998 vol. 280, No. 21. For a pro-gay-rights source making similar claims based on several other studies, see Caitlin Ryan and Donna Futterman, Lesbian & Gay Youth: Care and Counseling (Columbia University Press, 1998): "In a survey of sexual abuse victims who attended STD clinics, for example, 37 percent of gay men had been sexually abused as children or adolescents. And in an outcome study of lesbians and gay men who had completed inpatient substance abuse treatment, 44 percent reported having been sexually abused (37 percent of males and 67 percent of females) with abstinence being much more likely among those who had not experienced abuse. Prevalence of sexual abuse appears higher among gay males than heterosexual males, although gay males may be more willing to report such abuse."

6 See Pedophilia Chic, June 17, 1996, and "Pedophilia Chic" Reconsidered, January 1 / January 8, 2001.

7 Readers can find the Dutch text at www.pim-fortuyn.nl by following the "columns" link to "30-10-1999 De moderne schandpaal." An English translation can be found here.



May 4, 2002

Is the Pope Catholic?


Pope John Paul II turns 82 this month, and he looks more mortal by the day. In his photo op with the American cardinals last week, he was so infirm and unintelligible that you wanted to avert your eyes out of pity. But let's not. The uncomfortable and largely unspoken truth is that the current turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church is not just a sad footnote to the life of a beloved figure. This is a crisis of the pope's making.

I do not mean that the pope condones child abuse, although his zeal to combat it ranks right down with that of, say, Cardinal Bernard Law, the pedophile-juggling head of the Boston archdiocese. Despite what you may have read, the pope has not apologized for anything, nor has he acknowledged anything amiss in the hierarchy's decades of dissembling — or, as he dismissively put it, the way church leaders "are perceived to have acted." The fact that the pope's passing reference to the rape of children as a "crime" was treated as a bolt of divine enlightenment reflects just how eager we are to let him off the hook.

It should be clear by now that this scandal is only incidentally about forcing sex on minors. There is no evidence so far that predator priests are more common than predator teachers or predator doctors or predator journalists. The scandal is the persistent failure of the church hierarchy to comprehend, to care and to protect. The Boy Scouts, not an organization in the vanguard of sexual enlightenment, adopted a clear, firm policy to protect children from molestation 19 years ago. The Catholic bishops and their Vatican handlers, meanwhile, are still parsing the rhetorical fine points of "zero tolerance," which is at best an empty slogan (does anyone favor "10 percent tolerance"?) and at worst a way of abdicating responsibility.

The pope lamented last week that the child abuse scandal is eroding trust in the church. But that is rather backward. American Catholics have reacted so explosively to this sordid affair precisely because they felt so little trust to begin with. The distrust is the legacy of Pope John Paul II.

One paradox of the Polish pope is that while he is rightly revered for helping bring down the godless Communists, he has replicated something very like the old Communist Party in his church. Karol Wojtyla has shaped a hierarchy that is intolerant of dissent, unaccountable to its members, secretive in the extreme and willfully clueless about how people live. The Communists mouthed pieties about "social justice" and the rule of the working class while creating a corrupt dictatorship of bureaucrats. Russians boiled this down to a cynical adage: We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us. For American Catholics, the counterpart is: They pretend to lead, and we pretend to follow.

Like the Communist Party circa Leonid Brezhnev, the Vatican exists first and foremost to preserve its own power. This is disheartening for the many good Catholics who hope this crisis will provoke a renaissance in their church. Nobody quite says it this way, but one reason many Catholics see the moment as ripe for reform is that this pope is on his last legs. Soon, the hope goes, a vigorous new leader may emerge.

Maybe so. But like the Communists, John Paul has carefully constructed a Kremlin that will be inhospitable to a reformer. He has strengthened the Vatican equivalent of the party Central Committee, called the Curia, and populated it with reactionaries. He has put a stamp of papal infallibility on the issue of ordaining women, making it more difficult for a successor to come to terms with the issue. He has trained bishops that the path of advancement is obsequious obedience to himself. Alarmed by priests who showed too much populist sympathy for their parishioners, the pope, according to the Notre Dame historian R. Scott Appleby, has turned seminaries into factories of conformity, begetting a generation of inflexible young priests who have no idea how to talk to real-life Catholics.

Next month, after years of resistance, the American church is supposed to begin requiring that theologians teaching in Catholic universities accept a "mandatum" from their bishops, a pledge of allegiance to doctrinal orthodoxy. The American bishops fear this will stifle intellectual discussion, but the pope insists. No glasnost on his watch.

Nor is the pope about to let America's uppity laity exploit the current crisis to claim a greater voice in their own affairs. The American policy on handling sexual abuse is to be dictated by Rome. And while a large majority of Catholics want leaders who mishandled marauding priests to resign, the culpability of bishops is not even on the Vatican's agenda. It now seems clear that the pope declined to let Cardinal Law resign because he feared it might give the laity the idea their opinion mattered. Cardinal Law promptly marched home and quashed efforts by restive Boston Catholics to organize an association of parish councils. How Soviet is that?

What reform might mean in the church is something I leave to Catholics who care more than I do. I am what a friend calls a "collapsed Catholic" — well beyond lapsed — and therefore claim no voice in whom the church ordains or how it prays or what it chooses to call a sin.

But the struggle within the church is interesting as part of a larger struggle within the human race, between the forces of tolerance and absolutism. That is a struggle that has given rise to great migrations (including the one that created this country) and great wars (including one we are fighting this moment against a most virulent strain of intolerance).

The Catholic Church has not, over the centuries, been a stronghold of small-c catholic values, which my dictionary defines as "broad in sympathies, tastes, or understanding; liberal." This is, after all, the church that gave us the Crusades and the Inquisition.

That seemed destined to change after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, which relaxed the grip of the papal apparat and elevated the importance of individual conscience. The Vatican II spirit of a more open and dynamic church invigorated American Catholic support for civil rights and other liberal causes. But it soon ran smack-dab into the sexual revolution.

Probably no institution run by a fraternity of aging celibates was going to reconcile easily with a movement that embraced the equality of women, abortion on demand and gay rights. It is possible, though, to imagine a leadership that would have given it a try. In fact, Pope Paul VI indicated some interest in adopting a more lenient view of birth control, and he handpicked a committee of prominent Catholics who endorsed the idea almost by acclamation. The pope agonized, and then astonished Catholics by reaffirming the old ban.

"If you want to look for where credibility on human sexuality got lost, it got lost there," said the Catholic University sociologist William D'Antonio.

There is some reason to believe the man who changed that pope's mind on birth control was the Polish cardinal who would succeed him. Whether or not that is true, once Cardinal Wojtyla ascended to the papacy he adhered to the most austere, doctrinaire view of sexual ethics, and the most hierarchical concept of church governance.

Implored by Catholics to consider, at least, the lifesaving power of condoms in the age of AIDS, John Paul II was unyielding. He actually grouped contraception with genocide in a litany of "intrinsically evil" acts that condemn sinners to hell for eternity. "The vast majority of Catholic married couples, that is, stand on the wrong side of the abyss with Hitler and Pol Pot," as Charles R. Morris observed in his splendid history of American Catholicism.

In America most Catholics ignore the pope on this, as they do on divorce and remarriage, abortion, sex out of wedlock, homosexuality and many other things Rome condemns as violations of natural law. It seems fair to say that a church that was not so estranged from its own members on subjects of sex and gender, a more collegial church, would have handled the issue of child abuse earlier and better.

There is a dwindling population of older Catholic conservatives who say, in effect, the pope's the man, love it or leave it. And there is a growing population of American Catholics who are doing just that — withdrawing tacitly from Rome while keeping the faith in their own parishes, if they happen to have accommodating clergy, or in their own hearts. Whether the church will reform, or fracture, or continue this continental drift, I have no way of knowing, but I wonder how long faith withstands such a corrosive rain of hypocrisy. 


May 23, 2002



By Garry Wills

The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest's Crisis of Soul
by Donald B. Cozzens
Liturgical Press, 148 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Don't Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys
by Michel Dorais, translated by Isabel Denholm Meyer
McGill-Queen's University Press, 210 pp., $65.00; $19.95 (paper)

The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality
by Eugene Kennedy
St. Martin's Griffin, 214 pp., $12.95 (paper)

History has a way of proving over and over the truth of the grim line in Lucretius (1.101):

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. ("How suasive is religion to our bane.")

We are regularly told, with regard to the scandal of child abuse by priests, that pedophilia affects a minority of men in all walks of life, that the occurrence among priests is extraordinary neither in kind nor in frequency. But the intrusion of religion into the picture does affect its character and probably its rate. For one thing, pedophilia outside the priesthood leads to abuse of little girls as much as or more than of little boys. There have been few reported cases of girls as the object of priestly molestation, even though—as Michel Dorais points out in Don't Tell—boys find it harder to report their abuse, since it involves cultural biases against homosexuality, beyond just the experience of coercion. Where (as in Australia) the Catholic religious orders ran separate orphanages for boys and girls, frequent molestation was reported only in the former institutions.

Priestly pedophilia is also set apart from other varieties by the fact that the seduction technique employs religion. Almost always some form of prayer has been used as foreplay. The very places where the molestation occurs are redolent of religion—the sacristy, the confessional, the rectory, Catholic schools and clubs with sacred pictures on the walls. One of the victims of Father Paul Shanley, of the Boston archdiocese, says that his ordeal began in the confessional, when he confessed the "sin" of masturbation. The priest told him that masturbation could be a "lesser evil" and that he would help him work out his problem. He did this by taking him to a cabin he kept in the woods, where the priest taught the boy how they could masturbate each other.[1] This pattern occurs over and over—a conjunction of the overstrict sexual instruction of the Church (e.g., on the mortal sinfulness of masturbation, even one occurrence of which can, if not confessed, send one to hell) and a guide who can free one of inexplicably dark teaching by inexplicably sacred exceptions. The victim is disarmed by sophistication and the predator has a special arsenal of stun devices. He uses religion to sanction what he is up to, even calling sex part of his priestly ministry. One victim of Father Shanley says that he represented his sexual predation as an act of "healing." According to a gay weekly, Shanley had made the same claim in a public speech.

In the archdiocese of Milwaukee, a thirteen-year-old was putting on his cassock in the sacristy before serving as an altar boy at a funeral Mass. The priest who was about to say the Mass, Richard Nichols, came over to him before going out to the altar and fussed with the cassock, saying he was making him look better. After the Mass, the priest came up behind him, plunged his hands (which had just consecrated the eucharistic host) down the front of his pants, and grabbed his penis, saying, "I can see funerals really excite you." The boy broke away, but afterward the priest made it a point to come over and compliment him on his looks whenever he saw him.

For a long time the boy was ashamed to tell his parents of the incident, but when he did, his parents went to the chancery and complained about the priest. Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote the boy asking him to forgive Father Nichols, and offered counseling with a therapist. The archdiocesan communications director urged the parents not to report the matter to the police. Father Nichols had by then become a practicing child psychologist, in addition to performing the priestly duties still being authorized by Archbishop Weakland. Nichols later admitted to having performed oral sex with one of his boy patients in 1978 (three years after his molestation of the altar boy in the sacristy). The priest retired to a condominium he owned with his mother.[2 ]

Another pattern is manifested here —the belief of the predators that they can counsel both victims and other predators. Father Shanley repeatedly suggested that he become a counselor to priests accused of molestation or that he run a "safe house" for them. Indeed, the instinct of the predators leads them by a kind of radar to children already disturbed in some way, to whom they could offer their sexual "ministrations" as a solution to their problems. Alberto Moravia's novel The Conformist, about a man molested as a child, is remarkably insightful on the way the child is presented as "needing" because of his previous disturbance—but to whom the "healing" becomes a curse. Apologists for the priests have used this neediness in the child to exonerate the priest, saying that the child provoked him. A report of one of Father Shanley's talks in the 1970s says: "He stated that the adult is not the seducer, the 'kid' is the seducer, and further the kid is not traumatized by the act per se, the kid is traumatized when the police and authorities 'drag' the kid in for questioning."


It might be thought that churchly surroundings and sacred rites would discourage the priest's sexual aggression. They seem rather to have stimulated them, providing a frisson of the forbidden. It was while celebrating an Easter meal with a family in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, that a priest, William Effinger, suggested that the son in the family serve his Mass the next day, and stay overnight at the rectory so he could rise early for that assignment. At the rectory, Father Effinger said that there was only one bed, so they would both have to sleep in it. No doubt there was a crucifix on the wall, as in most priests' bedrooms. In Moravia's The Conformist, the defrocked priest is kept from raping a young boy by the sight of a crucifix. (On a later occasion he does assault the boy, but only after removing the crucifix from the wall.)

Father Effinger was not inhibited by any sacredness of site or symbols from raping his victim—whose shamefaced agony was so obvious to his mother the next morning, when she went to see him serve Mass, that she quickly got the story from him and took it to Archbishop Weakland, who promised her that Father Effinger would be reassigned where he would not have access to children. He recommended for the boy a psychologist the archdiocese used, who reported back to the chancery, as part of his services to it, that the boy's father "had the rare and God-given sense not to scream both to the police for justice and to heaven for vengeance"—so Father Effinger was reassigned to a parish by Weakland, where he was convicted of molesting another boy and sentenced to ten years in prison, where he died. When the boy finally brought suit for damages, a judge threw out the case because the statute of limitations had expired—and the archdiocese successfully countersued for the $4,000 it had spent on the court procedure.[3]

Some who are defensive about the Church's terrible record try to throw doubt on the credibility of the victims' stories (though many priests have admitted to the charges or have been convicted in trials). These defenders also point out that the accusations go back for decades—since admitting to what happened to them was especially painful for victims whose parents were unwilling to accept that priests could be so vile. Going back to the early careers of priests who have successfully hidden their crimes for years is an important aspect of these cases, since it involves the ethos of Catholicism from the mid-twentieth century, when the priest was an especially holy figure. This was borne in upon altar boys, who were forbidden (like all lay people) to touch the eucharist. When the altar boy poured water from a cruet into the chalice, it was over the joined fingers and thumbs of the priest—the so-called consecrating fingers which hold the eucharistic host when pronouncing the words that transform it into Christ's body. To impress us with the importance of these fingers a nun told us of a Jesuit missionary in Canada who had his fingers chewed off by a "squaw" as part of his torture—so he could not say Mass until the pope gave him a dispensation to use other fingers. In the ordination rite, those fingers are tied in linen strips, setting them apart from profane use. It was the custom in the United States to give these strips to the mother of the ordained man, and she often was buried with them in her coffin.


The special tie of the priest to his mother was part of that infantilizing of the priesthood that has much to answer for in the current scandals—an infantilizing process that was encouraged by the old custom of beginning training for the priesthood as soon as boys could be induced to desire it, with the permission of the parents, which often meant with the encouragement of the mothers. Early applicants were set apart in "minor seminaries" (high school equivalents), where dating girls was blocked. It was a common saying that a woman never lost a son who became a priest. Pope John Paul II even used a mother's special connection with the priesthood through her son to argue that there is no need to ordain women as priests, since their sons are their surrogates as priests.[4]

An eighty-year-old priest recently wrote to a friend of mine that he regrets having become a priest to satisfy his mother, a devout alcoholic, who thought she was redeeming her own life by offering him to God. When he tried to turn back before ordination, her tears deterred him. He realized too late that this was a strategy "the Church has for replenishing itself in its priesthood." Donald Cozzens, former rector of a seminary and diocesan director of vocations, notes in The Changing Face of the Priesthood that "it is not uncommon for some mothers of priests to build their primary identity on their status as a 'mother of a priest,'" which can reduce the son to a puer aeternus. I observed the special relationship of priest and mother in 1981. After writing some columns about our local cardinal's financial dishonesty, I was surprised to find a package arrive at my office containing a priest's chalice studded with precious gems. I called the chancery to see if a chalice had been stolen, and found it had. Apparently the thief or a fence wanted to return it, but not to the cardinal. The priest who came to pick it up told me that his widowed mother had put her engagement diamond, and all her other jewels, on the cup as her present when he was ordained.

Eugene Kennedy, an emeritus professor of psychology who has been a counselor to priests for years, reminds me that the sentimental climax of the movie Going My Way had the priest played by Bing Crosby fulfill the dearest hope of his dying pastor (Barry Fitzgerald) by bringing his mother to America from Ireland. Lest that be seen as just a fiction, we should remember that Cardinal Bernard Law wheeled his mother out in Rome when he was consecrated a cardinal and led his Boston delegation in singing the Irish song "A Mother's Love Is a Blessing."[5]

The current pope encourages this fixation on the mother by telling priests that they should think of their mothers as the Virgin Mary—they are "offered up" by their mothers, just as Jesus was offered up by Mary. This idealization of the mother-as-Mary may have something to do with the taboo some priests (not all, obviously) feel against touching women, making boys an apparently safe way of avoiding that taboo. Dorais argues that fear of dealing with women makes some pedophiles seek a substitute in the "feminine" aspects of boys—inducing more guilt in the boy, who suspects himself of being targeted because he is not a "real boy." The matter is not helped by the way boys have been dressed in skirts (as altar boys or choir boys) to enter the sanctuary with the priest, the pair of them set off in their special insignia. The effeminate, in the eyes of the priest-pedophile, is not a female, so he is not breaking his vow of celibacy. The partner he chooses is doubly unmarriageable, since he is not only below the legal age for marriage but of the wrong gender as well. Such men have not betrayed their mothers by having relations with a rival woman. The promise was kept: she did not lose her son.

The infantilized priest is given prerogatives dangerous in the hands of the immature. His powers are emphasized and revered. Altar boys see the hands that were once bandaged wrapping large elaborate bandages all around the priest's consecrated body before it approaches the altar—layer on layer of anachronistic clothing that cinctures, insulates, and turns the man into an object entirely set apart from daily use. Until the Second Vatican Council, even the language the boys were supposed to be sharing with the celebrants of Mass was a mystery to them. A nun taught me to make one of the Latin responses by thinking of "Etcom Spiri 2-2-0." Only in high school would I learn that the words were divided this way: Et cum spiritu tuo. When priests took off their Mass vestments, they donned their clerical dress, with a special collar acting as a kind of barrier; and monsignori and bishops and cardinals became more flamboyantly sacred icons, in capes with red piping or large bishops' rings.


In the early Sixties, I spent a day with John Wright, then the bishop of Pittsburgh, who loved to sweep around town in his chauffeured limousine, greeting people with his ring thrust forward for the kissing. At one point he directed his limousine to a Church-run home for deserted pregnant women, an admirable institution. Before we went inside, he had the chauffeur open the car trunk, which was entirely filled with large boxes containing Barbie-like dolls. (They may have been Barbies, in fact; I could not have told, since I was not then familiar with the product.) He told me a Catholic businessman had given him the dolls to hand out as presents, so he had the chauffeur load his arms with these toy-adult figures to bestow on the expecting mothers. His satisfaction in playing Lord Bounteous made it impossible for him to recognize the ludicrous inappropriateness of the gifts. They were infantilizing tokens, delivered by one who was himself infantilized.

Back in his mansion, the bishop took me to a large locked room that contained his favorite treasures—books, manuscripts, relics, memorials, paintings, and statues, all of them celebrating Saint Joan of Arc. He boasted that he had every movie made about his heroine, beginning with silent treatments. He had projection equipment to show them all, and said that he had not only been an expert adviser for the 1948 film Joan of Arc, but got to know its star, Ingrid Bergman. Some Catholics censured Ms. Bergman after she publicly deserted her husband a year after Joan of Arc's release; but her contribution to his self-importance made Wright forgive her. I left the mansion certain that I had been in the presence of a large fat baby who would never grow up. Later, as a cardinal appointed to the Curia in Rome, he would prove that he could be more pompous than any Italian prelate. (I was surprised not long ago, when studying the John Singer Sargent murals on the top floor of the Boston Public Library, to see that a whole room there now contains the Wright collection of Joaniana.)

The combination of arrested boyhood and numinous supernatural power makes for some very strange personalities, recalling Aristotle's dictum that a man outside normal social relations is either subhuman or superhuman, "clod or god."[6] The priest is not just a mentor, like a scoutmaster, not just a buddy, like a coach. He has the power to forgive sins—which involves the prior ability to define, assess, and assign responsibility for the sin. He is not like other men, and everything is done to keep him aware of that fact. Father Donald Cozzens says that this puts a priest in the precarious position where he may belittle or betray his baptismal identity (as a fellow Christian with all Christians) in the name of his special ("higher") calling:

Operating just below the surface of consciousness, a complex of psychic forces encourages behaviors and attitudes which subvert his conscious desire to serve the people of God. Included among these attitudes and behaviors are clericalism, elitism, careerism, legalism, envy, and competition. When gripped by these psychic forces it is easy for the priest to over-identify with his priestly persona and thereby lose touch with his baptismal identity. The need to buffer his exalted priestly identity may well abort his potential for honest relationships with men and women. His priestly persona becomes his rock of identity and the wellspring of his solace. The subtle balance between his baptismal and priestly identities is lost. The line is crossed and he treasures the bitter-sweet belief that he is not like other men [emphasis in the original].

The American priests' superiors did not rebuke their tendency to hold themselves above others. They encouraged it. Their bishops had not only imitated Italian princes, but Italian princes of the Renaissance. As Eugene Kennedy writes in The Unhealed Wound, a predecessor of Cardinal Law in Boston, Cardinal William O'Connell, set the tone for ecclesiastical style in the twentieth century when he returned from Rome "with an entourage that included a coachman, a valet, and a music master":

Not only had he built a large, antique-filled residence in Boston, but he further signaled his identification with a Brahmin class by maintaining a winter home in the Bahamas and a summer one at Marblehead. So often did he travel to the former that his priests referred to him as "Gangplank Bill." On the edge of the Cape, he strode the beach in his flat black hat and frock coat, his episcopal chain glinting in the sun, his gleaming limousine trolling the sands behind him.

Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago was equally special:

He transported treasures from the Continent and re-created Roman sites and scenes, such as the Barberini bees he set swarming on the library ceiling of his country-estate seminary forty miles north of his many-chimnied mansion on the city's North Side. On the seminary grounds, he slept in a brick-trimmed replica of Mount Vernon and was driven back and forth to Chicago in a limousine with crimson-strutted wheels.

This grandeur proved to bishops' mothers that they were indeed God's chosen. Yet Catholics were not the only ones who inflated priestly egos. Non-Catholics could be even more deferential. That showed in little things like the way people who slipped into the occasional "Damn" or "Hell" in a priest's presence would murmur, "Pardon me, father." It showed in special privileges assumed or asserted. A man recently told me how a priest drove him to the airport to pick up a friend. The priest drove to the entryway, clearly marked "No Parking," and got out of the car to meet the plane. When his passenger asked if he wasn't afraid of getting a ticket, the priest pointed to his "Catholic Clergy" sign in the windshield and said "They'll never ticket that car." They didn't.

A man without a wife to puncture his pomposity, without children to challenge his authority, in relations carefully structured to make him continuously eminent, easily becomes convinced of his superior wisdom. Since many priests have been only sketchily educated outside their formal subjects, they feel that the source of their wisdom must be their supernatural powers, not their intellectual development. It is generally easy for religion to move from the numinous to the antinomian, to the idea that believers are above the rules that bind others. This is where religion and sex slide easily into each other, and there is much in Catholic iconography that can encourage a sexual religiosity, from the mystic writings of ecstatic union to the statues of the naked and suffering Saint Sebastian, the "classic pincushion of homoerotic art."[7] (Waugh chose very well the name of his narrator's homosexual friend in Brideshead Revisited.) The art–religion nexus is as true of heterosexual as of homosexual imagery. Bernini's orgasmic Saint Teresa in Rome's Santa Maria della Vittoria is well known, but even more explicitly sexual is his Blessed Lodovica Albertoni in the same city's San Francesco a Ripa. And there are more lurid images still—I think of Francesco Vanni's painting of Saint Catherine licking the bloody wound in Christ's side (this is in the Convent of San Girolamo in Siena).

The "innocent" sexuality of antinomian sects is made even easier for a man who is so clearly marked off from others, for whom he prescribes the rules for absolution of their sins. This makes more explicable the fact that the priest-pedophile, even one who admits what he has done, shows so little awareness that it was wrong. Perhaps, for others, it is wrong. Not for him. Not for the antinomian. Father Cozzens, who has investigated and counseled pedophile priests, writes:

I sensed little guilt for their seductions. The only regret I could identify was associated with their being caught. For the most part, the men I worked with were more concerned about themselves and their futures than for their victims. From my relatively brief work with them I came to see them as focused sociopaths—little or no moral sense, no feelings of guilt and remorse for what they had done, at least in this area of their lives. When it came to their misconduct with minors there was minimal evidence of conscience. I remember having to ask, "Are you sorry for the harm you did, for the suffering of the victim?" They answered, not surprisingly, "Yes" —but with little conviction. I don't remember one priest acknowledging any kind of moral torment for the behavior that got him in trouble [emphasis added].

This conviction that they are above the law has much to do with the compliance of their victims. Not only is the priest a guardian of mysteries, respected by the victims' families and other authority figures, taking the victim into special places marked off from the "profane" and explicable. His own conviction adds to his weight of authority. If he is so sure that it is all right, who is the youngster to challenge his credentials?

In his sensitive analysis of the cases of thirty victims of (nonclerical) pedophilia, Michel Dorais notes that most cases of sexual assault in his study are by fathers or father figures (stepfathers, uncles, older brothers, or cousins). They account for twenty-two of the thirty cases. The victim is not only temptingly available, but dependent on the father figure for support, used to obeying in other areas of life, conditioned to respect the elder's demands. A priest is a father-figure plus. The child is available to him, or made available, in surroundings where his authority is sanctioned by all the accumulated culture of Catholicism. He and the boy are joint partakers of the mysteries at the altar and in the confessional. The child has been taught to confess to the priest intimate matters he would never reveal to his own father. His mother lends her support to the priest's authority. Until recently, unwillingness to believe allegations against priests imposed a silence on the victims. One of the abused boys in Boston was struck in the face by his mother when he told her a priest had molested him. What is unthinkable to mothers becomes unsayable to victims.


The observations made in the preceding paragraphs receive a chilling confirmation in the personnel file, kept by the diocese, of the Boston pedophile Paul Shanley, a file released by the lawyers for his victims. The man expresses no feelings of guilt in these documents, and his superiors never suggest that he should. In fact, though he admitted in treatment to sexual acts with minors, he continues to feel that he is the wronged person. A victim trying to have him removed from contact with children is a "stalker"—a judgment Boston's Cardinal Law seemed to support when he wrote him a letter expressing sympathy: "It must be very discouraging to have someone following you." Shanley defied archdiocesan efforts to make him give up living with a young male roommate ("Do you prefer that I have a female roommate?"). Allowed to go to California with full priestly credentials (he pleaded that poor health made him seek a "support group" there), Shanley duns the archdiocese for more funds, saying he is forced to make beds or act as a security guard in a hotel in order to earn money for his medicine. He does not say that he and a fellow priest are co-owners of the hotel, a gay resort.

In the file, Cardinal Law and several of his administrative bishops express unfailing support and sympathy for Shanley, and no sympathy—indeed little curiosity—about the minors he had sex with. One reason may lie in this communication by Shanley to an archdiocesan administrator: "I have abided by my promise not to mention to anyone the fact that I too had been sexually abused as a teenager, and later as a seminarian by a priest, a faculty member, a pastor and ironically by the predecessor of one of the two Cardinals who now debates my fate." His superiors worried little about what he did. Was that because they were more concerned with what he knew?

—This is the first of two articles on pedophilia in the Church.


[1] From the Shanley documents released by the law firm of Greenberg, Traurig, Boston.

[2] Meg Kissinger, "Making Peace with Past," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 14, 2002. The question of victims' credibility I shall be addressing in my second article on this subject.

[3] Tom Kertscher and Marie Rohde, "Archdiocese Fought Hard in Court," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 15, 2002.

[4] Che cosa ha detto il Papa sulle donne (Rome: Paoline Editoriale, 1996), p. 60.

[5] Jack Thomas, "Scandal Darkens a Bright Career," The Boston Globe, April 14, 2002.

[6] It is hard to translate the alliterative jingle of Aristotle's saying (Politics 1253a29) that outside the polis one is either degraded or divine, therion or theos, where therion means a (subhuman) animal.

[7] Ellis Hanson, Decadence and Catholicism (Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 338. Discussing the appeal of Catholic ritual and images to gay men, Hanson concludes (p. 372): "I would have to admit that the turbines of Christianity have traditionally spun with an extraordinary quantity of queer steam." See also Mark Jordan's comments on his fellow "Liturgy Queens" in The Silence of Sodom (University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 187–194.



June 13, 2002


Priests and Boys

By Garry Wills

Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain
by Philip Jenkins
Aldine de Gruyter, 275 pp., $45.95; $24.95 (paper)

Beyond Tolerance: Child Pornography on the Internet
by Philip Jenkins
New York University Press, 290 pp., $24.95

Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis
by Philip Jenkins
Oxford University Press, 214 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex
by Judith Levine, with a foreword by Dr. Joycelyn M. Elders
University of Minnesota Press, 299 pp., $25.95

Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church
by Michael S. Rose
Aquinas, 276 pp., $27.95


Philip Jenkins was a fairly obscure historian until 1996, when reactionary Catholics made him an improbable star. He began his career as a professor of criminal justice at Pennsylvania State University, specializing in the debunking of alleged "crime waves." For criminological journals he wrote four articles on what he considered the unjustified fear of serial murderers in England.[1] In his 1992 book, Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain, he broadened his analysis of "constructed" social fears to cover "witch hunts" over Satanism, rape, incest, pedophilia, child pornography, homosexuality, and drugs. In each case an "imaginary menace" is manufactured by "moral entrepreneurs" as a form of "symbolic politics."

These panics, he argued, are often interconnected: "There is a natural tendency for activists who have been successful in exploiting one fruitful issue to employ similar rhetoric and examples in related causes." Jenkins calls this phenomenon "problem convergence." Feminists, for instance, exploit the issues of rape, serial murder, child abuse, and pornography to promote their agenda. The state is often brought in to control these nonexistent threats, creating its own real threat of repression based on hysteria. The British pedophile scare, for instance, involved "a more or less covert assault on homosexual rights." When the pedophilia involved Anglican choirboys, fears drew upon "a powerful image of anticlericalism."

After Jenkins had established his libertarian and permissive standards, he made one exception to it in his 2001 book, Beyond Tolerance. Despite his criticism of panic over child pornography, he found one form of real exploitation on the Internet, filmed sexual acts with real prepubescent children. Even this he did not want to outlaw, since bringing in the state is an invitation to repression—current porn- ography laws, for instance, pose a threat to legitimate portrayals of adolescent sexuality like Lolita or American Beauty. Only China and Burma have suppressed child pornography—by suppressing freedom.

Jenkins thinks that much of the panic over child abuse is derived from a confusion of two different things, each going under the same name: pedophilia. For him, real pedophilia (child-love) concerns only prepubescents. He disapproves of this, but says that restraining it may threaten quite different sex acts with postpubescents, which he calls ephebophilia (boy-love). He holds that statutory rape laws should not outlaw such youth-love, since there is nothing in nature (as opposed to local custom) to deny the power of consent to even very young teenagers: in America "the age of consent for girls stood at ten years from colonial times until the 1880s." Pornography involving teenagers is difficult to distinguish from Gap ads, and therefore from Internet pornography in general, on whose beneficial effects Jenkins is positively lyrical, contrasting it with the false prettiness of mainline pornography:

We can, in fact, argue that the highly democratic and easily accessible nature of sex on the Internet creates a social benefit by so frequently depicting real people, with all their visible flaws and imperfections, rather than the distorted and overidealized imagery that so long characterized X-rated magazines and movies.

He notes with approval that even plain and fat women have become sex stars on the Internet, affecting the norms of female beauty "in a way that many observers would consider highly positive," since it makes smut more egalitarian. Playboy offered the girl-next-door image. The Internet brings us the slob next door, which Jenkins considers a great step forward.

How did this praiser of pornography and boy-love become a hero to reactionary Catholics? The man who has devoted his professional life to denouncing the opportunism of those who create panics became, himself, the occasion for an anti-panic opportunism. Neglecting all the other things he has to say, and the reasons he has for saying things in general, conservative Catholic journals fastened on what they found useful in his 1996 book, Pedophiles and Priests. That book just applied to the American Catholic situation what he had said of secular and Anglican pedophiles in England. Since by his definition all such panics are artificial, one has only to apply the cui bono principle to see who is manufacturing any panic. The principal villains he found in the priest-pedophile crisis of the 1990s were anti-Catholics, greedy lawyers, self-promoting prosecutors, sensationalistic newspapers, therapists seeking clients, and feminists with their "theology of abuse." He never seems to consider the possibility that the panic was not manufactured, or that many factors impeded rather than promoted the revelation of priestly misconduct. Reluctance to believe, report on, or expose priests is deeply built into American culture.

American bishops and their defenders gladly promoted Jenkins's claim that there was nothing to the priest-pedophile phenomenon but bad faith on the part of those "exploiting" it. They even said that his testimony was stronger and more disinterested because Jenkins is not a Catholic. With his help they dismissed or minimized the "panic," which allowed Cardinal Bernard Law and others to continue sending accused priests about their ordinary ministry with the results we have seen in Boston and elsewhere. When Cardinal Law in the 1990s called down God's judgment on The Boston Globe, he was just putting in his own way Jenkins's attack on "the political interests of the activists and groups who used the media to project their particular interpretation of the putative crisis."



Despite the unhappy results of following Jenkins's lead in the last decade, some conservatives continue to use his method in responding to the current situation. TV commentator Robert Novak repeats on Crossfire that Catholic liberals are just attacking Cardinal Law because of his strict stand against contraception—though it is mysterious why anyone should care about Law's views when the vast majority of Catholics (up to 80 percent in some polls) ignore them. It is a strange liberal conspiracy against Law that has so many conservative Catholics calling for his resignation—William Buckley, William Bennett, Patrick Buchanan, and Bill O'Reilly among them. Even the far-right Manchester Union Leader has called for the resignation of New Hampshire's Bishop John McCormack for his collaboration with Law in reassigning accused pedophiles. Others think that people need a liberal "agenda" in order to care about the molestation of the young. ("Agenda" is the current swear word—say anyone has such a thing and he or she is instantly disqualified from expressing an opinion. Apparently only the directionless or clueless are worth listening to.)

Actually, much of the defense of Cardinal Law has come from those not previously thought of as conservatives. The formerly liberal journal Commonweal has editorialized against the panic in a purely Jenkinsian mode, comparing it to "the anti-Communist witch hunts of the early 1950s."[2] Peter Steinfels, a religion editor at The New York Times who is married to the editor of Commonweal, wrote in his paper that Cardinal Law did a good job of cleaning out pedophile priests in the 1990s but made a mistake in not publicizing his effort, which gave lawyers an opportunity for "inflating charges and using the news media to play on public fears and prejudices in the hope of embarrassing the church into settlements."[3] Kenneth Woodward, the formerly liberal Catholic editor at Newsweek, told Don Imus that lawyers specializing in the defense of alleged victims should be ashamed to tell their children how they make their living.

This blackening of accusers' reputations seems to go beyond a laudable concern for the rights of the accused, and it ignores the fact that only suits by the abused have forced the Church to reveal what was happening. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has latterly been boasting about the comprehensive plan he instituted last year for investigating and exposing pedophilia. He neglects to mention that this detailed eleven-point plan was forced on a reluctant diocese by one priest's victim who made it a condition of settling his suit.[4] He gets credit for not calling the crisis artificial—but only because legal pressure forced him to what he now calls the enlightened position. Woodward and Steinfels must, by the logic of their position, consider that the cardinal has now joined the "witch hunt."

It is easy to stigmatize lawyers, of course, and some major firms have now taken up cases of alleged abuse. But people with small practices pioneered in bringing these suits, since the prospects of taking on the Catholic Church seemed so dim. The Dallas lawyer Sylvia Demarest took part in the effort that won record damages in a Dallas case in 1997 because she came to know the victims and their families. The jury was so outraged at what it took to be the bishop's lies in that case that it wrote him a note of rebuke and awarded his priests' victims $119 million. When the diocese pleaded that this would put undue hardship on it, the victims agreed to accept only a fourth of what was owed to them. But it should be remembered that private settlements involving large sums were sometimes proposed by the bishops, in order to avoid letting juries express their views by exacting even higher penalties and to make silence a part of the bargain, keeping the matter secret. That was the dynamic at play in Cardinal Mahony's settlement involving new policies as well as an agreed-on sum of money.

There is good reason to fear false accusations, as in the attacks on day care centers that involved very young children with cultivated memory "recovery." But most of the accusations against priests have not involved children with recovered memory but adolescents struggling to deal with shame and the minatory aura of the Church. The most recent thorough review of findings on pedophile cases in general suggests that about 5 percent of accusations have proved false.[5] But that is a survey of cases with both male and female children victims, with both lay and clerical predators. It is probable that the number of false accusations is lower where only boys are at issue, where the pressures against resistance and revelation involve religious authority and familial disbelief in that authority's errancy, and where a cultural bias against admitting to same-sex molestation is strong. Michel Dorais argues that the latter factor inhibits boy victims of men from speaking out, even where religion does not enter into the crime.[6]

Dorais also stresses the psychological importance of reaching financial settlements as a form of societal endorsement of their legal complaint's validity. It is important that some authority endorse their condition, since the pedophiles rarely if ever do—and, in the case of priestly abuse, because the hierarchy has avoided admission or apology short of legal compulsion. Many parents of abused boys asked only for apology and assurance that the priest would be sequestered from children—and some sued only when they found that the apology was minimal or hollow and the assurance of sequestration was a lie. Dorais writes:

Certainly, material compensation cannot soften interior pain. It can, however, allow the seeking out of better services to help the victim face up to what he is going through. It is essential that the damages caused by sexual abuse be fully recognized. Too many abused boys feel that nothing has been done for them and never will be. Paradoxically, if they are to be allowed to turn the page, it must be first recognized that they have been victims.



One reason the hierarchy's defenders still rely on Jenkins's Pedophiles and Priests is that they like the book's distinction between pedophiles and ephebophiles. Kenneth Woodward in his frequent television appearances rarely fails to stress the importance of this distinction. If "real" pedophilia involves only the abuse of prepubescents, that instantly reduces the number of priests who can be called pedophiles. Those who "just" molest adolescents look less monstrous and even—somewhat—forgivable. As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said in Rome, there is a difference between a pedophile and a priest who, "perhaps under the influence of alcohol, engages in an action with a 17- or 16-year-old young woman who returns his affection."[7]Jenkins writes: "In the Catholic church law, the age of heterosexual consent is sixteen rather than the eighteen common to most American jurisdictions."

Since the bishops' defenders are making so much of the pedophile– ephebophile distinction, it is worth taking time to sort out the linguistics of the matter. The word at issue is Greek pais, with the stem paid- (boy) as in boy-training (paideia). Since it is the same word used in "pediatrics" (boy-healing) and "encyclopedia" (circle of boy-training), William Safire says we should pronounce the word "peedophile." But then he would have to say peedantic and peedagogue. There is no linguistic norm to pronunciation here, only usage. Jenkins tries in Intimate Enemies to distinguish the pedophile from the pederast (or peederast)—the latter as another word for an ephebophile. There is no justification for this in the Greek phenomenon that gave us the words and the concept. The Greeks used paiderastia and paidophilia, with exactly the same meaning, for sexual interest in adolescents. They had, therefore, no need for the term "ephebophile," which is a modern coinage and should be discarded.

For the Greeks, the adolescent boy loved could be a philos (dear one) as well as an ero¯menos (loved one), and both words referred to an adolescent. Theognis refers to the boy loved as philos, the lover as paidophile¯s, and the bond between them as philia. The word pais did not mean "child" (which was paidion) but "lad" (or sometimes "lass"), one able to acquire paideia, to herd swine (Iliad 21.282), to have sex (Lysistrata 595), to be Zeus' wine steward (Ganymede). The word was even used, like garçon, for a servant of any age—the same as the old insulting use of "boy" for a black man in the South, or the use of "lads" for a leader's underlings.

It is said that pedophilia is limited by some modern therapists to mean sex with prepubescents. That may be useful in sorting out different forms of treatment. But that is not the meaning of pedophilia in history nor in the broader culture. Jenkins claimed in Priests and Pedophilia that the National Catholic Reporter began calling priests who have sex with a teenager "pedophiles" as part of a rhetoric of denigration.[8] But the word is not an invention of malice—it is used even by those who defend boy-love. See for instance, Harris Mirkin's article on what he expressly calls pedophilia.[9] The rhetorical dodges here are Jenkins's own.

Admittedly, there is a difference between sex with young people before and after puberty. In the law, of course, they are both acts of sex with a minor. But the coercion is clearly greater with a child, and the adult is more clearly pathological. Nonetheless, the harm done is not of necessity always greater. Sex with a child, heinous though it is, may be for the child part of an inexplicable world not to be connected with other realities. Child psychologists point out that children can learn so much so rapidly because they are ruthlessly efficient in dismissing information not useful to them.[10] But Michel Dorais, in his close study of abused boys, argues that abuse of adolescents is especially disorienting because it occurs at a time of challenged identity, uncertain standards, and shadowy guilt. It is all too clearly connected with other realities, mysterious in themselves. Those who argue that most priests' crimes are with adolescents are actually granting that their memories are more trustworthy, since recovered memories are most questionable when they are recalled (supposedly) from early childhood.

Adolescent guilt and inhibition were especially powerful for Catholic boys raised in a culture of sexual ignorance and guilt. Nuns were reluctant to speak about sex except in vaguely threatening language. Priests were mechanically judgmental in the confessional. The ignorance of the Catholic culture about sex was brought home to me and my wife-to-be in 1959. We were ordered by our parish priest to attend a "Cana Conference," the lay-taught marriage preparation course set up in most parishes. There we were separated by gender, to be told "the facts of life" by a husband-wife team as if we knew nothing about sex. Besides being warned against contraceptives, we were given how-to tips on happy married life. The men's group was advised to be tender in hugging and praising a wife, since that was all she was going to get—women are incapable of orgasm. My wife and I were in our twenties, and could afford to laugh at this officially sponsored stupidity. And I'm sure the same was true of most of the eighteen-year-olds attending. But what ignorance could a predatory priest rely on when dealing with fifteen-year-olds in such a culture?

What is shocking in the currently revealed cases is not the number of Catholic priests who have preyed on children—though that is dismaying enough—but the repeated loosing of these predators (whatever their number) for numerous repeated acts on such a vulnerable population as Catholic boys disarmed by benighted instruction or lack of instruction on sexuality. To say that this is not so bad since it is not "real pedophilia" is a further violation and abuse of the victims.



A serious temptation, for those who (like Kenneth Woodward) favor the fake category of ephebophiles, is to blame the victims, saying that, unlike children, they must have granted some degree of assent to what was done to them. Cardinal George limited his charge of complicity to a sixteen-year-old girl, but a monsignor in Dallas who helped shuffle a pedophile priest from parish to parish went further. Father Robert Rehkemper said of the victims: "They...knew what was right and what was wrong.... Anybody who reaches the age of reason shares responsibility for what they do. So that makes all of us responsible after we reach the age of 6 or 7"—the age at which Catholic children were considered responsible enough to own up to sins in the confessional.[11]

The monsignor is more permissive even than Jenkins, who at least rules out prepubescents as candidates for consensual sex. But some Catholic apologists are lending tentative support to the Jenkins view of minors' ability to consent—a position now energetically defended by some. Judith Levin, like Jenkins, dismisses "the pedophile panic" in her book Harmful to Minors. She studies at great length the case of a thirteen-year-old girl who met a twenty-one-year-old man on the Internet, fell in love with him, ran off, and remains true to him, though her parents had the man pursued, tried, and imprisoned, where he might become the victim of sex not as voluntary as hers was. Levin introduces only indirectly and in muted ways the fact that the man involved had been unable to hold jobs, had conceived two children in abusive relations, and had a history of mental disturbance as well as a "fairly hefty sheet of [criminal] charges pending against him." She thinks it a mitigating rather than an aggravating factor that, despite the nine years' difference between them, the man was close to the girl's age "emotionally and intellectually." Levin thinks that the parents were at fault in persecuting this Romeo and Juliet, in "demonizing" the man, treating him as a monster—as if they had no responsibility for trying to save their daughter from the consequences of an irresponsible choice. Asked by Salon what she would do if her own daughter were in such a situation, Levin said that she would use persuasion on her.

Though Levin is very good on certain aspects of our society's attitude toward sex—especially on the absurdities of the Republican success in equating sex education in the public schools with abstinence promotion— she often reads evidence selectively. After telling us that we should listen to teens, to find out what they really want, she dismisses a survey that has shown that women regret having sex at an early age. This just shows, according to Levin, how our culture imposes guilt feelings where they are inappropriate. So much for listening.

Harris Mirkin's case for what he frankly calls pedophilia is that women's rights and homosexuality were once considered unnatural but then won acceptance, so the same thing is bound to happen to pedophilia. One could as well argue that incest and murder have been considered unnatural, so they are bound to become respectable. Once again, one has to wonder what conservative Catholics are doing in this company. One answer is that they were shepherded there by Philip Jenkins, who seemed to offer their priests an escape from the charge of pedophilia. It looks like a step up for priests to be having sex with "consenting" partners, not helpless children. They are still doing something wrong. But they are not monstrous.

Admittedly, it is possible for an older adolescent who is gay to have a tender relationship with an older man; but the power disparity between the two always makes questionable the quality of consent in the boy and of responsible love in the adult, especially where religious authority is involved. Objections to teacher–student sex, or even to employer–employee sex where the employee is an adult, have a certain force—but not nearly the force that applies between priest and boy. Besides, the cases at issue are ones where the accusers are claiming a measure of coercion, not of trusting love.



A second temptation for conservatives who adopt an ephebophile strategy—after blaming the victim—is a tendency to think that homosexuality leads to child molestation. If the teenagers are consenting, what is wrong with the act? Conservatives have been quick to say that it is not sex that is wrong but same-gender sex. For them, teen sex acts or adult sex acts are both wrong if they are homosexual acts. In order to blame gay men, some would attribute the abuse cases to the high number of homosexuals in the priesthood. This has assumed a conspiratorial air in right-wing circles. Michael Rose argues, in Goodbye, Good Men, that the priesthood is being tacitly dismantled in seminaries by gay priests who want to destroy the Church's doctrine not only on sexual matters but on other beliefs.

Calmer Catholics, like Cardinal Avery Dulles, claim that gay and radical people were admitted to the seminaries in the evil Sixties, but that the conservative direction of the present pope is slowly remedying this situation.[12] But Rose paints a picture of good and faithful candidates for the priesthood still being turned away from the seminaries or driven out of them. Both the calm and the hysterical conservatives imagine that there is a pool of people in the Catholic populace who do not agree with the 80 percent or so who have rejected the papal teachings. They also neglect the fact that many of the pedophiles apprehended entered the seminary before the Sixties.

There is no reason to think that homosexuality of itself, any more than heterosexuality of itself, makes a man a child molester. But the pressures to cover up priestly molestation are greater in the Catholic Church than in secular life, or in other religions, which do not condemn homosexuality. Other Christian denominations have openly debated the ministry of gays, and some have gone on to admit them as pastors. That kind of open discussion has been aborted for Catholics by the Vatican's blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity, making gay priests live furtive lives, participating in the cover-up of other things by the hierarchy.

The current scandal is not a sex scandal. It is a dishonesty scandal. It entails what I described, two years ago in my book Papal Sin, as "structures of deceit." Until the hierarchy can "come clean"—to themselves, to the faithful, to the world—an instinct toward shifted blame and righteous denunciation will stand between it and the truths it claims to preach. The problem is not with the Church, with the people of God, but with those who claim to be the Church, in a structure honeycombed with pretense, hypocrisy, and evasion. The core of solid belief, the common sense of the faithful, the deep belief in the saving truths of the creed, will stand more solid after this clumsy scaffolding of lies thrown up around it has collapsed.

This is the second of two articles on pedophilia in the Church.


[1] Myth and Murder: The Serial Murder Panic of 1983–1985," Criminal Justice Research Bulletin, Vol. 3 (1988); "Serial Murder in England, 1940– 1985," Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 16 (1988); "Sharing Murder: Understanding Group Serial Homicide," Journal of Crime and Justice, Vol. 13 (1991); "Changing Perceptions of Serial Murder in Contemporary England," Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 7 (1991).

[2] The Whole Story," Commonweal, April 5, 2002.

[3] Peter Steinfels, "Beliefs," The New York Times, February 9, 2002.

[4] William Lobdell, "Diocese's Policies Reflect Settlement," Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2002.

[5] M.D. Everson and B.W. Boat, "False Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Children and Adolescents," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 28 (1989), pp. 230– 25.

[6] Michel Dorais, Don't Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys translated by Isabel Denholm Meyer (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002), pp. 42–48.

[7] Catherine Caporusso Harman, "NOW Shoots First," Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2002.

[8] Jenkins repeated this charge against the National Catholic Reporter in a Wall Street Journal article (March 26, 2002), "The Catholic Church's Cultural Clash."

[9] Harris Mirkin, "The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality, and Pedophilia," Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 37 (1999), pp. 1–24.

[10] Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, Patricia K. Kuhl, The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn (Morrow, 2000), pp. 45–52.

[11] Ed Housewright, "Parents of Abused Boys Share Blame in Kos Case, Ex-Diocese Official Says," Dallas Morning News, August 8, 1997.

[12] Avery Dulles, S.J., "The Jesuit Enigma," First Things, April 2002.


Secrecy and shame

A tragic story of betrayal among American Catholics

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The scandal, the coverup, the aftereffects
Two books examine the sex abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church
Reviewed by Joseph Di Prisco
Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Silence We Keep

A Nun's View of the Catholic Priest Scandal

By Karol Jackowski

HARMONY; 209 Pages; $23.


Our Fathers

The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal

By David France

BROADWAY; 656 Pages; $26.95


Read this article here                        


Behind a bodyguard of lies

Vivid re-creation of a scandal's actors, enablers

By R. Scott Appleby, 3/14/2004

Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal

By David France

Broadway, 656 pp., $26.95

Read this article here               

Saint who covered up for child abusers

Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent
Thursday April 15, 2004
The Guardian


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Sins of the fathers

Karen Liebreich invites us to draw comparisons across the centuries with her account of paedophile priests in 17th-century Italy, Fallen Order

Miranda France
Saturday May 22, 2004
The Guardian

Fallen Order: A History
by Karen Liebreich
384pp, Atlantic, £16.99

     Read this article here