9 Myths about Priestly PedophiliaCRISIS E-LETTER
The horror and tragedy of priests involved in the sexual abuse of minors can hardly be overstated, but some of the reporting has contained falsehoods and downright fabrications. So Crisis has put together a list of the ten most common false media claims — along with fact-filled responses to them.
- Catholic priests are more likely to be pedophiles than other groups of men.
This is just plain false. There's absolutely no evidence that priests
are more likely to abuse children than are other groups of men. The use and abuse
of children as objects for the sexual gratification of adults is epidemic in all
classes, professions, religions, and ethnic communities across the globe, as figures
on child pornography, incest, and child prostitution make abundantly clear. Pedophilia
(the sexual abuse of a prepubescent child) among priests is extremely rare, affecting
only 0.3% of the entire population of clergy. This figure, cited in the book Pedophiles
and Priests by non-Catholic scholar, Philip Jenkins, is from the most comprehensive
study to date, which found that only one out of 2,252 priests considered over
a thirty-year period was afflicted with pedophilia. In the recent Boston scandal,
only four of the more than eighty priests labeled by the media as "pedophiles"
are actually guilty of molesting young children.
Pedophilia is a particular
type of compulsive sexual disorder in which an adult (man or woman) abuses prepubescent
children. The vast majority of the clerical sex-abuse scandals now coming to light
do not involve pedophilia. Rather, they involve ephebophilia — homosexual
attraction to adolescent boys. While the total number of sexual abusers in the
priesthood is much higher than those guilty of pedophilia, it still amounts to
less than 2 percent — comparable to the rate among married men (Jenkins,
In the wake of the current crisis in the Church,
other religious denominations and non-religious institutions have admitted to
having similar problems with both pedophilia and ephebophilia among the ranks
of their clergy. There's no evidence that Catholic prelates are more likely to
be pedophiles than Protestant ministers, Jewish leaders, physicians, or any other
institution in which adults are in a position of authority and power over children.
- The celibate state of priests leads
Celibacy bears no causal relation to any type
of deviant sexual addiction including pedophilia. In fact, married men are just
as likely as celibate priests to sexually abuse children (Jenkins, Priests and
Pedophilia). In the general population, the majority of abusers are regressed
heterosexual men who sexually abuse girls. Women are also found to be among those
sexual abusers. While it's difficult to obtain accurate statistics on childhood
sexual abuse, the characteristic patterns of repeat child sex offenders have been
well described. The profiles of child molesters never include normal adults who
become erotically attracted to children as a result of abstinence (Fred Berlin,
"Compulsive Sexual Behaviors" in Addiction and Compulsive Behaviors [Boston:
NCBC, 1998]; Patrick J. Carnes, "Sexual Compulsion: Challenge for Church Leaders"
in Addiction and Compulsion; Dale O'Leary, "Homosexuality and Abuse").
- Married clergy would make pedophilia
and other forms of sexual misconduct go away.
— including a few vocal dissenting Catholics — are exploiting this crisis
to draw attention to their own agendas. Some are demanding a married Catholic
clergy in response to the scandal, as if marriage would make men stop hurting
children. This flies in the face of the aforementioned statistic that married
men are just as likely to abuse children as celibate priests (Jenkins, Pedophilia
Since neither being Catholic nor being celibate predisposes
a person to develop pedophilia, a married clergy wouldn't solve the problem ("Doctors
call for pedophilia research," The Hartford Currant, March 23). One has
only to look at similar crises in other denominations and professions to see this.
The plain fact is, healthy heterosexual men have never been known to
develop erotic attractions to children as a result of abstinence.
Clerical celibacy was a medieval invention.
Wrong. In the
Western Catholic Church, celibacy became universally practiced in the 4th century,
beginning with St. Augustine's adoption of the monastic discipline for all of
his priests. In addition to the many practical reasons for this discipline —
it was supposed to discourage nepotism — the celibate lifestyle allowed priests
to be more independent and available. This ideal also called diocesan priests
to live out the same witness as their brothers in monastic life. The Church hasn't
changed her directives for celibacy, because over the centuries she has realized
the practical and spiritual value of the practice (Pope Paul VI, On
the Celibacy of the Priesthood;, Encyclical letter, 1967). Indeed, even
in the Eastern Catholic Church — which includes a married clergy — the
bishops are chosen only from unmarried priests.
Christ revealed the
true value and meaning of celibacy. Catholic priests from St. Paul to the present
have imitated Him in their total gift of self to God and others as celibates.
Although Christ raised marriage to the level of a sacrament that reveals the love
and life of the Trinity, He was also a living witness to the life of the world
to come. The celibate priesthood is for us a living witness to this life in which
the unity and joy of marriage between a man and a woman is surpassed in the perfect,
loving communion with God. Celibacy properly understood and lived frees a person
to love and serve others as Christ did.
Over the past forty years, celibacy
has been an even more powerful witness to the loving sacrifice of men and women
who offer themselves in service their communities.
Female clergy would help solve the problem.
no logical connection between the deviant behavior of a tiny minority of male
clergy and the inclusion of women in their ranks. While it's true that most statistics
on child molestation show that men are more likely to abuse children, the fact
is that some women are also child molesters. In 1994, the National Opinion Research
Center showed that the second most common form of child sexual abuse involved
women abusing boys. For every three male abusers, there's one female abuser. Statistics
on female sex offenders are more difficult to obtain because the crime is more
hidden (Interview with Dr. Richard Cross, "A Question of Character," National
Opinion Research Center; cf. Carnes). Also, their most frequent victims (boys)
are less likely to report sexual abuse, especially when the abuser is a woman
(O'Leary, "Child Sexual Abuse").
There are reasons why the Church cannot
ordain women (as John Paul II has explained numerous times). But that is beside
the point. The debate about women's ordination is completely unrelated to the
problem of pedophilia and other forms of sexual misconduct.
- The Catholic hierarchy has done nothing
to address pedophilia.
While we can all agree that the hierarchy
hasn't done enough, this claim is nevertheless false. When the Church's Code
of Canon Law was revised in 1983, an important passage was added: "The cleric
who commits any other offense against the sixth precept of the Decalogue, if the
offense was committed with violence or threats, or publicly or with a minor who
is under 16 years [now extended to 18 years], must be punished with just punishments,
not excluding expulsion from the clerical state" (CIC 1395:2).
certainly isn't the only thing the Church has done. The bishops, beginning with
Pope Paul VI in 1967, issued a warning to the Catholic faithful concerning the
negative consequences of the sexual revolution. The pope's encyclical letter,
Celibacy of the Priests," addressed the question of a celibate priesthood
in the face of a culture crying out for greater sexual "freedom." The pope affirmed
celibacy even as he called on bishops to take responsibility for "fellow priests
troubled by difficulties which greatly endanger the divine gift they have." He
advised the bishops to seek appropriate help for these priests, or, in grave cases,
to seek a dispensation for priests who could not be helped. In addition, he urged
them to be more prudent in judging the fitness of candidates for the priesthood.
In 1975, the Church issued another document called "Declaration
on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" (written by Joseph Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger) that explicitly addressed, among other issues, the problem of
homosexuality among priests. Both the 1967 and 1975 documents addressed kinds
of sexual deviancy, including pedophilia and ephebophilia, that are is especially
prevalent among homosexuals.
In 1994, the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual
Abuse issued guidelines to the nation's then 191 dioceses to help them develop
policies to deal with the problem of sexual abuse of minors. Almost all dioceses
responded and developed their own policies (USCCB document: Guidelines for
dealing with Child Sexual Abuse, 1993-1994). By this time, pedophilia was
recognized as a disorder that could not be cured, and a problem that was becoming
more prevalent due to the increase of pornography. Before 1994, bishops took their
cue from experts in the psychiatric profession who believed pedophilia could be
successfully treated. Priests guilty of sexual abuse were sent to one of several
treatment facilities across the United States. Bishops often relied upon the judgments
of experts in determining whether priests were fit for ministry. This doesn't
mitigate the negligence on the part of some in the hierarchy, but it does offer
In response to the recent scandals, some dioceses are
setting up special commissions on child abuse, as well as victims' advocacy groups;
and they are officially acknowledging that any legitimate allegation of abuse
must be dealt with immediately.
The Church's teaching on sexual morality is the real problem, not pedophilia.
The Church's teaching on sexual morality is rooted in the
dignity of the human person and the goodness of human sexuality. This teaching
condemns the sexual abuse of children in all its forms, just as it condemns other
reprehensible sexual crimes such as rape, incest, child pornography, and child
prostitution. In other words, if this teaching were lived out, there'd be no pedophilia
problem at all.
The notion that this teaching somehow leads to pedophilia
is based on a misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation of Catholic sexual
morality. The Church recognizes that sexual activity without the love and commitment
found uniquely in marriage undermines the dignity of the human person and is ultimately
destructive. As far as celibacy is concerned, centuries of experience have proven
that men and women can abstain from sexual activity while living fulfilling, healthy,
and meaningful lives.
- Catholic journalists
have ignored the pedophile problem.
As any reader of CRISIS
knows, this claim is patently false. Our October 2001 cover story featured "The
High Price of Priestly Pederasty," an expose on the scandal that wouldn't erupt
into the mainstream press for another three months. You can read our full article
And we weren't the only ones who have covered the pedophilia/pederasty
problem. Charles Sennot, author of Broken Covenant, Rod Dreher of The
National Review, CRISIS co-founder Ralph MacInerny, Maggie Gallagher, Dale
O'Leary, the Catholic Medical Association, Michael Novak, Peggy Noonan, Bill Donohue,
Dr. Richard Cross, Philip Lawler, Alan Keyes, and Msgr. George Kelly have all
covered the issue exhaustively.
Just because the mainstream media have
chosen to ignore our work doesn't mean the work hasn't been done.
Requiring celibacy limits the number of men as candidates for the priesthood,
resulting in a high number of sexually unbalanced priests.
First of all, there isn't a "high number of sexually unbalanced priests." Again,
the vast majority of priests are normal, healthy, and faithful. Every day they
prove themselves worthy of the trust and confidence of those entrusted to their
Secondly, those who do not feel called to a life of celibacy are
ipso facto not called to be Catholic priests. Indeed, most men are not meant to
be celibate. However, some are — and of those, some are called by God to
A priestly vocation, like a marriage, requires the mutual
and free consent of both parties. Thus, the Church must discern that a candidate
is indeed worthy and fit mentally, physically, and spiritually to commit to a
life of priestly service. A candidate's desire for the priesthood does not constitute
a vocation in and of itself. Spiritual and vocation directors are now even more
attuned to the character flaws that would make an otherwise qualified man an unfit
This article originally appeared in the CRISIS Magazine e-Letter. It is printed
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