A new report commissioned by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops has kindly concluded that gay priests were not the cause of the explosion of child abuse cases that has, you should pardon the expression, bedeviled the Church over the past several decades. In fact, echoing the argument gay activists have made forever, the study found that more openness among gay priests is actually one of the reason reports of abuse have been declining.
But that hasn’t stopped the congregants in the far right pews of the Church from insisting that it’s still all our fault.
The study, 300 pages and five years in the making, was undertaken by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In a case of the fox paying for an investigation into the hen house break-in, the Church anted up half the $1.8 million needed for the study. As might be expected given the funding source, the report reaches a number of unusual conclusions, including the fact that a vanishingly small number of priests were actually pedophiles—just four percent of all the priests convicted of child abuse—a statistic arrived at by defining pedophilia as attraction to children aged 10 or younger. Or, in other words, by using a definition no one else uses.
But the report also dismissed the canard that the scandal had anything to do with gay priests. In fact, it says, gay priests were part of the solution to the problem. It directly correlates rise in the number of gay priests starting in the 1970s to “a decreased incidence of abuse—not an increased incidence of abuse.” Funny, we could have told them that and the church could have used the $2 million to recruit more gay priests and cut down on child abuse in the church!
Needless to say, that conclusion did not set well with that segment of the Church that seems to miss the good old days of the Inquisition. William Donohue, the one-man band behind the ultraconservative Catholic League, told The New York Times that “the authors go through all sorts of contortions to deny the obvious – that obviously, homosexuality was at work.” George Weigel wrote in the National Review online that the conclusion smacked of “clinicians ideologically committed to the notion that there is nothing necessarily destructive about same-sex behaviors.” As opposed to far right activists ideologically, and nonsensically, committed to destructive prejudices about homosexuality!
So why did priests abuse children? The report claims opportunity, for starters. If most of the victims were male, that’s because the Church has very few roles for female minors. Aha, sexism is partly to blame! Now we are getting somewhere! Also, the report insists that priests were somehow confused, by the sexual revolution, an idea that has been called the “Blame Woodstock” defense. Nothing like shifting cultural norms to make you want to go out and abuse a minor, apparently. The idea that sexual liberation actually would not only inspire adults to a healthy open sexuality but kids to report their abuse was apparently lost on the researchers.
In any case, according to study researcher Karen Terry, “the problem is largely historical” and consistent with patterns of increased deviance in society” in the 1960s and 1970s. As for the bishops who made a parlor game out of reassigning clerical abusers to new parishes to cover up past offenses (also the officials funding the story), they largely get off the hook. In fact, the report goes out of its way to praise the hierarchy, even though it closed the barn doors decades late and only after it had been forced to by a small army of victims who went public. When it comes to reports, you get what you pay for.
Of course, the main issue that has gone unaddressed is why this happens in clerical settings when it doesn’t happen in openly gay ones. For one, the Church didn’t have guidelines in place decades ago for interactions between priests and minors. Gay groups have been far more scrupulous—dare we say moral—about instituting guidelines to protect minors from being preyed upon.
But never let it be said that the Church could actually learn a thing or two from a group that it likes to characterize as intrinsically evil.
Photo Credit: Lori Grieg