Monday, June 26, 2006

Was There Really a Priest Pedophile Problem?

I knew a battled hardened, old Paulist debater, Fr. James M. Gillis, who used to thunder at priests-in-the-making that we must insist on definition before we discuss any matter of serious import. A basic finding in debate research, he taught, is that the victory belongs to him who frames the debate.

In striving for precise definition and intelligent debate, it is essential to know the difference between the connotative and the denotative meanings of words. The connotations of a word can range all over the verbal landscape and can apply to all kinds of marginal meanings, including that which the listener might wish to inject into a concept. It can be a kind of Rorschach journey, akin to looking at floating clouds and giving a personal meaning or perception to each. On the other hand, the denotative meaning of a word is specific and univocal. There is practically and usually no other meaning to it. A debater might unethically use a word in a connotative sense and hope that his opponent doesn’t pick up his somewhat sloppy intellectual behavior. This occurs more than we like to admit. Unless one is used to demanding definition, it is highly possible that exchanges move off into what has been called “airy persiflage.” There is no common ground achieved but only hardening of respective positions despite fancy talk and impassioned articulation. All of us, certainly including this writer, must be honest in the use of our terms if we are to be faithful to the Spirit of the Lord and be helpful to others.

One fascinating example of the misuse of language, deliberate or otherwise, surfaced many times in the priest scandal reporting. This was the imprecise use of the word “pedophile” which has a denotative and specific scientific meaning. The word itself, taken from Greek roots, in the world of psychology, refers to the sexual molestation of and attraction to pre-pubertal persons ---i.e. before puberty, roughly and denotatively prior to the age of 12. The philia or “love” is toward children, who are younger than the stage of puberty. This is vastly and substantively different from being sexually attracted to adolescent or teen age persons.

Hence, when the media or special interest groups refer to the priest “pedophile” scandal, they are inaccurate or, more precisely, incorrect. The overwhelming majority of these cases has involved persons in the teen years, anywhere from 14 to 19. The professional categorization for teen age sexual molestation is called Ephebophilia, again from Greek roots, specifically and denotatively, meaning sexual attraction to older adolescents.

This distinction is well known and easily verifiable. So, the blurring of the word-usage is somewhat puzzling. In a recent public lecture I gave on the roots of Same Sex attraction[1] (homosexuality), I attempted to clarify the distinction (using perhaps a barbed wire approach) that there wasn’t a pedophile scandal at all but a homosexual one. A person who apparently identifies himself as “gay” was deeply upset by my distinction and wished to peg the word “pedophile” on the unfaithful priests. In the dialogue with him, it became clear that since both sick heterosexuals and sick homosexuals are probably equally guilty of molesting little children, the gay world preferred to label the priest “thing” as pedophilia thereby shifting the focus away from homosexuality. The hype stance was: “Don’t blame us (gays)—blame the Church.”

Actually the media (and many gay-friendly lawyers) often employ a very elastic and connotative use of the word “pedophilia” to include anyone under the age of 21. However, when the studies (particularly the John Jay report) came out clearly indicating that anywhere between 80% and 90% of the cases since 1950 have involved homosexual priests, there was a wild scurrying about to fog up the findings. We were told that these were not really homosexual priests but only priests seeking some kind of sexual discharge and the young men were the nearest sexual experience they could have without women. Whatever the internal tensions of these priests were, the descriptive word generally applied to an adult male having sex with a teen aged male is “homosexual”. In the mood of the old story, perhaps the King does have a beautiful suit on but he looks stark naked, not only to kids but to most people whose eyes are open.

Occasionally, some courageous and independent-minded journalists break out of the conformist mold and dare to confront the facts. One such was Joe Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald on March 11, 2002 when he blatantly entitled his column “Homosexuality is True Plague of Priesthood” which, predictably, raised the proverbial hackles of the gay Catholic community. He wrote “…militant homosexuals and their timorous allies in the politically correct movement are hell-bent on perpetuating the disingenuous notion that the crisis engulfing the Catholic Church has its roots in pedophilia. It does not. It has its roots in homosexuality, and to call it anything else is to insult the intelligence of anyone who’s paying attention, especially anyone with access to a dictionary.”

Even granting a touch of paranoia on my part, I have noticed the media tendency to imply not only that this is an on-going problem with Catholic priests but that it is massive in nature. The accurate (honest and fair?) appraisal is that the tragedy of these homosexual priests reached its apex in the 1970-1985 period, that it is, in a real sense, unhappy ancient history and that the situation has improved enormously. Why don’t we hear such statements in the media? Is there an agenda signaled by the word blurring, e.g. pedophilia and the little remarks about priest “pedophiles” periodically sneaked into some piece of Catholic news?

Recently, Cardinal Egan, the Archbishop of New York made the following public statement[2]:

“We must never lose sight of the fact the Archdiocese of New York has an extraordinary presbyterate and that our record is very likely the best in the nation. When compiling the list of allegations for the national audit, the Archdiocese amounted to less than 1% of the thousands of priests who have served and continue to serve the Archdiocese for the past 50+ years. The New York City Public Schools, on the other hand, had more allegations of sexual abuse of minors by teachers in the first semester of this academic year alone than the Archdiocese has had in more than fifty years.”

Dr. William Donahue, President of the Catholic Defense League and a professional sociologist, observes that in the year 2005, there were 21 allegations that involved minors as victims but only five were found credible, two were still under investigation and in two other instances, there was insufficient information. Ultimately, there were at most nine priest cases for the year. He notes that we had approximately 42,000 priests in 2005 which means that .02 percent had a credible accusation made against him. One unfaithful priest is too many for me but the facile implication of widespread abuse (by misuse of words and mindless statements) is dishonest and unjust. Why wasn’t it reported that in 2005, 99.98 percent of the priests in the United States had no credible accusation made against them? It was nowhere reported. Incidentally, Dr. Donahue sharply reminds us that the term ephebophile is never used to refer to heterosexual acts, only homosexual ones.[3] The term is probably ideologically coined and rarely used. But it is precise in its meaning. The overwhelming percentage of the heinous acts by those erring priests was with adolescent males. There have been feeble insinuations that priests will now molest altar girls but the interesting fact is that after 12 years of female serving at the altar, there are no such problems. As Donahue points out “…it is still the males that the molesters want.”

Dr. Donahue makes the bold assertion: “I am willing to bet that there is no institution, demographic group or profession in the United States today that has less of a problem with sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church…” So, from where come the vicious attacks? And why?

Obviously, there is some open, outright prejudice against the Catholic Church as Dr. Philip Jenkins of Penn State so brilliantly proved in his “The New Anti-Catholicism, the Last Acceptable Prejudice.”[4] This type of “enemy” is tolerable. The more serious and difficult to understand is the enemy within. In World War II, we were all familiar with the term of disgrace: “Quisling” which meant the Enemy within our own ranks, pretending to be loyal to our Cause but secretly working to destroy us, with full understanding or not.

It looks like we have the deepest problem with our own “troops.” One of the clear implications of the recent Vatican document establishing criteria for evaluating SSA seminary candidates, was the likely tendency of such candidates to have a false tolerance (such as that described by Rev. David Kennedy of Florida as the “last virtue of a degenerate society”) or even encouragement of intrinsically sinful behavior. The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior[5] is intrinsically immoral and can, in no circumstances, ever be approved.

Yet, resistance from within remains a factor. How can one explain priest-confessors (in the sacrament of Penance itself) advising SSA penitents that they should not be hasty in breaking up same sex “relationships” (read sexual)? Or advising that God understands their sinning? How come a Pastor in a “gay” neighborhood will become visibly indignant when he is challenged by a Courage member on the Pastor’s refusal to discuss Chastity from the pulpit? How come that Pastor suggests to his challenger that he “go somewhere else for Mass”? How come another Pastor will sugarcoat the Catholic teaching because the gays in his parish give generously whenever he needs money? How come another Pastor, with reputed ambiguous gender identity, will call Fr. John Harvey, loyal son of the Church and real founder of Courage, “a Bastard” when Harvey will reveal, with permission, frightening information given by Courage members? How come a Catholic Bishop announces publicly that he will no longer discuss the Church’s position on homosexual behavior lest it bother gay sensitivity?

Is this masking? Or lying? Is it that gender confusion/arrested development are in the clergy itself? Asking challenging and even uncomfortable questions will not surface all the causation of the problem. Nor will it reveal forms of resolution. It will, however, reveal the name of the real problem.

This is a serious situation. It is more than mere semantics or arguing about verbal nuances. The meanings under the words carry huge social and spiritual import. So, the question in the title “Was there really a priest pedophile problem?” is rhetorical. If the reader followed the reasoning presented above, it is obvious. Homosexual, yes. Pedophile, no. No wonder Church leaders are concerned about the sexual identity of priest personnel. If I were Pope, God forbid, I would be extremely concerned. Wouldn’t you?

[1] Same sex attraction (SSA) is a modern term used to describe the sexual tendency towards one’s own sex. It is thought to be more respectful than “homosexual” in that SSA regards the person as ordered while his tendency is disordered. The term “gay” has more of a pervasive sense to it, moving the person to equate his personhood with this tendency. Such an equation is rejected by the Catholic Church.
[2] To New York Priests’ Senate, May, 2006
[3] Catalyst; June 2006
[4] Oxford University8 Press, 2003
[5] This can mean any kind of sexual behavior exclusively reserved for husbands and wives in marriage Catholicism does not accept any definition of marriage other than that between a male and a female as defined in Genesis and Scripture in general.

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