Blame the apples? Cover the oranges

13281 512The official Vatican document at the heart of the “gay-priest ban” story is now available online and it turns out that the leaked version was accurate, only it was missing the footnotes from the authors. We may hear more about that in the next day or so.

But the reactions are beginning in the usual places. For the .pdf text, click here, and for the statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, click here. For William Saletan’s summary of why the Roman Catholic Church is wrong, click here. To follow the emerging thread on this at Amy Welborn’s “open book” blog, click here.

The Saletan piece is actually quite useful to reporters, although not in the way that one would expect. Part of his thesis is that the Roman Catholic Church, due to the homophobic sin of this pope, is failing to follow the logic of many Catholic scholars on issues of sexuality. As a result, Saletan documents two decades of infighting — one URL after another — behind the scenes in Catholic life. There are no new questions here, only the old debates between nature and nurture, between choices and conditions. Can human beings change their sexual behaviors? Catholics disagree with one another. This is no surprise.

Journalists can continue to let Catholics fight this out, pew to pew and altar to altar. The New York Times did precisely this the other day and did very little to define the flames that are burning under all of that smoke. In doing so, it also repeated many of the mistakes that continue to shape MSM coverage:

Similarly, some Catholics said that because the majority of victims in the scandals involving sexually abusive priests were boys, barring gay men from the priesthood would reduce the likelihood of such abuse in the future. But others said there was no link between homosexuality and pedophilia, especially many parishioners in Boston, an archdiocese profoundly affected by the sexual abuse scandal.

Once again let me stress: Very few cases of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic church involve “pedophilia” (sex with prepubescent children). Instead, the great majority — some say 90 percent or more — of the cases involve “ephebophilia” (sex with under-aged young people, and almost always boys).

Pedophilia is getting the headlines. Meanwhile, the hard questions are linked to male priests and teen-aged boys.

Here is how a Catholic progressive once explained it to me, crossing over into a discussion of heterosexuality to make the point. A 40-year-old straight male who wants to have sex with a 16-year-old Britney Spears wants to do something that is sick, sinful and illegal. But this straight male is not wrestling with the same psychological condition as a 40-year-old straight male who wants to have sex with a 6-year-old Britney Spears. These conditions are not the same, they are apples and oranges.

Researchers can and do make a strong case that homosexuals are, statistically, no more likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexuals. This is an important point, but not highly relevant to most cases of clergy sexual abuse in the all-male Catholic priesthood. The issue is sex with teen-aged boys. The MSM continues to ignore this crucial point. This is not surprising, since the U.S. Catholic establishment has not been anxious to discuss it, either.

To see how this error helps shape the MSM meta-narratives, check out this section of a recent “Points West” column by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez:

Church leaders might have been better off continuing to pretend there were no gays in the priesthood, or they could have stuck with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that’s made for hundreds of years’ worth of comfortable hypocrisy. But then came the molestation scandal, which was one reason for the new policy, the other being a so-called fear of a growing gay subculture in church life.

To Eric Barragan of Santa Paula, the rewritten gay policy makes perfect sense. “They’re trying to play the blame game,” he says.

You have an abuse scandal, you slam the door on people with “deep-rooted homosexual tendencies,” and it looks as if — like good Christian soldiers — you’ve zeroed in on the problem. Yeah, it was the homosexuals.

“But it’s apples and oranges,” Barragan says. “Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re a pedophile.”

This is true, but spin is spin, and nobody does it better than the church.

Lopez and Barragan are correct. The only problem is that they, and most of the MSM, are not covering the real story. Pedophilia is the safe topic, since these cases are very rare.

The Vatican is wrestling with two issues: Mature men having sex with teen-aged boys (and, often, with other men) and a subculture of professors, priests and bishops (many straight, many gay) that is actively opposed to the moral theology of the Roman Catholic Church. If journalists focus on these two stories, they will get closer to the heart of this bitter and painful struggle than if they continue to focus on the rare cases of pedophilia.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    I agree that “ephebophilia” is the issue, but I disagree with your ultimate logic because it mimics the mainstream view that same-sex pedophilia equals gay.

    Molesting teenagers is as much about being a sexual predator as it is about sexual attraction. Priests who have unlimited access to young teenage boys–but limited access to young teenage girls–are going to prey sexually on whoever is available. Like sexual abuse in prison, the military, and other all-male environments, the abuse is rarely about sex and mostly about power. Since male priests have unlimited access to boys, they become the prey.

    That’s where the focus on gays goes astray. It’s not the openly gay couple next door that molests young teens in the neighborhood, it is the married Boy Scout leader, the unmarried soccer coach, the married youth minister, and the local priest. None of these men view themselvese as gay and none of them will be filtered out during a gay purge.

    The predators will continue to graduate from seminaries after a gay purge and unsuspecting parents who believe the problem is solved will be shocked when another round of abuse allegations surface. But then the Vatican won’t have gays to scapegoat.

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  • catholicity

    Heb 12:11 Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield to them that are exercised by it the most peaceable fruit of justice.

  • Lee Podles

    Some priests who abused teenage boys were motivated by sexual desire for males; but others were motivated by something else: by a desire for control, but also by an anger at society, at the Church, at God. These abusers were not homosexual in the ordinary sense of the word; they simply sought to do something perverse, and having sex with boys was more perverse than having sex with girls. This type of sexual abuse often involved cruelty and a sacrilegious misuse of the sacraments. Boys were sometimes chosen because the abusive priest could more easily pretend they were Christ while the priest was abusing them.

    I’ve read hundreds of cases, and this second type of abuse seems to characterize many of them, although it would be difficulty to give any breakdown without reading many more cases.

    In other words, severely restricting the number of homosexuals in the priesthood would end some of the abuse, but not all of it, and especially not the worst abuse that verges on diabolism.

  • Bob Smietana


    How are you defining prepubescent? What age are you using for puberty onset. A information pamphlet from the American Assosiation of Pediatrics ( places male puberty at between 10 and 16 years of age.

    The John Jay report summarizes ages of alleged sex abuse victims in the Catholic Church this way:

    • The largest group of alleged victims (50.9%) was between the ages of 11 and 14, 27.3% were 15-17, 16% were 8-10 and nearly 6% were under age 7.
    Overall, 81% of victims were male and 19% female. Male victims tended to be older than female victims.
    Over 40% of all victims were males between the ages of 11 and 14.

    I’m no expert on this, but this sumary, unless you use an early onset of male puberty (before 11) seems to clash with your assertion about “ephebophilia.”

  • latinae

    The last paragraph of Get Religion is the heart of the matter. Their is no fame and no publicity in orthodoxy. The previous pope, bless his soul, did not fundamentally help the Church with his Dale Carneige training course and his cultivation of the media. There are too many Bishops and Priests who are willing to prostitute the Faith for soundbites of fame. They also seem congenitally afraid of conflict and possible unpopularity. This is the harvest of relativism. This is the harvest of people who envy ivy league degrees. This is the harvest of people who believe a phychology degree is not only worth something but is more valuable than a thorough knowledge of theology. And Michael has some real problems: first sodomy is not sex, however orgasmic it might be; and he appears congenitally unable to differentiate between an assertion and a logical proof. “Since male (their is no other kind) priests have unlimited access to boys,” (false in any event)… “they (logically illegal and false universal) become the prey.” No one has ever asserted this before. “Men” who even contemplate sodomizing others have not grown up; they have the worst kind of immaturity.

  • Michael

    “Men” who even contemplate sodomizing others have not grown up; they have the worst kind of immaturity.

    Unquestionably. That doesn’t, however, make them gay.

  • Roberto Rivera

    The point that is being neglected in Saletan’s and other’s takes is the shifting criteria being used by the Church’s critics: for years, we’ve been told that the genital aspect of homosexuality is a kind of sine qua non of gay identity and personhood. IOW, the distinction between the orientation and the act is meaningless; and insisting that a gay person refrain from genital relations is cruel and a denial of something that is intrinsic to their humanity.

    Now, the Church is being castigated, in effect, for taking their critics seriously: gay men can’t reasonably be expected to refrain from sexual activity. Prestodigitoniam! All of a f***ing sudden, the idea of a celibate homosexual is neither unthinkable nor ridiculous and thinking otherwise is evidence of deep-seated homophobia.

    So, which is it: an impossibility or something that gays, like straights, can reasonably aspire to? There’s a question I don’t expect Slate to ask.

  • Intellectual Pariah


    You make so many assumptions in your first post that, in effect, you’ve constructed an analysis of the Catholic sex scandals in which all blame is directed away from gays, a priori. How about an “in my opinion”, or a “it may be that” once in a while, instead of this pseudo-certainty?

    But do consider a few facts. First, parish priests (about 2/3 of the accused abuser) do not live in an all-male environment. Outside of the priesthood, most Church employees are women, as are most churchgoers.

    Second, there is some evidence that the so-called Lavender seminaries (i.e., ones with blatant homosexual subcultures) have turned out more than their share of sex abusers. That doesn’t necessarily contradict the notion that the sex abusers tend to suppressed gays, but it strongly tells against it. And it opens another perspective on the issue: maybe the practice of turning a blind eye to its gay subculture weakened the Church’s general ability to weed out unfit characters.

  • Novus

    Well, Michael, you are correct. That doesn’t make them gay. What SO MANY obviously don’t understand is that the Church teaches that homosexuality is disordered. In effect, there is no such thing as a gay man, or woman. Rather, they are straight people with homosexual problems. People who think they’re gay, by that reason, should not be allowed to become priests. Instead, we should help them realize the truth – they have a disorder. This is clearly identified in the Vatican document. If you didn’t get that, go read it again.

    Mr. Rivera, by way of my above reasoning, and as the Church CLEARLY teaches, one must conclude that you can’t expect “gays” to be able to control themselves. Since homosexuality in itself is wrong, then clearly they have one or more of many different sexual problems. If they have a sexual problem, then we probably shouldn’t let them near boys, girls, or really any lay person for that matter, at least not until they have overcome that problem. There is only one unforgiveable sin.

  • Michael

    During the time that most of the abuse took place, priests had little access to girls at the level they had access to boys. Alter boys and assistants were, well, boys. Priests taught in all-boy schools–where abuse took place. The profile of the victims were kids who played on sports teams, attended schools, participated in parish activities where priests were alone with boys almost exclusively. During the time the abuse took place, priests were rarely alone with girls.

  • Intellectual Pariah

    Michael, read the John Jay report — thoroughly — before indulging in more wishful thinking about the facts. AFAIK, only about 15% of accused abusers were teachers, and the majority of abuse took place in social situations outside of church.

  • Michael

    I have read the John Jay report, which reinforces my position that priests had disproportionate access to boys and thus boys became the primary prey for sexual predators. Priests are and were rarely alone with girls, but often alone with boys, including bringing them to residences. A family would balk at allowing a girl to go to a priest’s residence, but think nothing of having their son spend time in such intimate settings with a priest, thus great access to prey.

    Banning gays from the seminaries and priesthood will do almost nothing to prevent sexual predators from sexually abusing boys. The predators don’t self-identify as gay or live the “gay lifestylye” and therefore will fly completely outside a lavendar purge. And abuse will still continue. And the Vatican will have no one else to blame.

  • Tricia

    Here is an article on studies done in the past on these issues.

  • Libertine

    Am I the only one who finds it strange that Catholics take their marching orders on homosexuality from a guy who wears a dress and a suggestively erect hat? That’s pretty damn fruity.

    And guys, please–once you’ve kicked all the gays out of the seminary, would you just leave them alone afterwards? They’ll be as gay as they were before, and might be even gayer the next year. Calling their condition “disordered” isn’t going to stop them from putting their penises wherever they want to. …

    Oh, and the media coverage? I feel sorry for anybody who has to report the Catholic metric on anything. But if journalists want to be fair and balanced and all that, they’re going to need to read the Catechism. Somebody’s got to have a Cliff Notes by now.

  • Elizabeth McClintic

    Am I the only one who finds it strange that Catholics take their marching orders on homosexuality from a guy who wears a dress and a suggestively erect hat? That’s pretty damn fruity.

    Libertine, did not Jesus wear a dress? Does not the miter stand for the Old and New Testament?
    I’d rather see a preist in a dress or Roman Collar than see a preist hidding behind street clothes.

  • Micah Weedman

    I am fairly certain that the document stresses the church’s teaching that those with “homosexual tendancies” are to be afforded the utmost respect and dignity as humans with unique struggles. Asserting that, because the church teaches that gay men are unable to reach the maturity of the priesthood, gay men must be unable of reaching any maturity seems contrictory to the church’s teaching. The document makes clear that men with homosexual tendancies can in fact identify with Christ and his cross in a unique way.

    I think what is also missing from this story is the “priesthood” aspect. IOW, why is it *gay* *priests* that are abusing young boys, and not just gay catholics? Why is the combination of homosexual tendencies and the priesthood such a volatile mix.? It can’t just be celibacy–I’ve not doubt that monasteries are homes to gay monks who don’t abuse teenagers, or preteens, or anyone else.

  • Deborah

    Is it just me, or is there some sort of odd coincidence between the news of the alleged “lavender purge” and the front page article in this morning’s USA Today about the increasing number and/or prosecution of women who molest young boys? Is the MSM stepping up the “it’s not about being gay” rhetoric in response to this document’s release?

  • b harper

    The catholic church consdiers any sexual activity outside of marriage to be sinful.
    So,not considering their vows of celibacy,priests should not be having sex with anyone. Getting rid of gay priests will not solve the problem. The real horror of the story is not that some priests victimized children/teens-but that the church bishops moved these priests from parish to parish. They knew the priests were harming “the faithful” and committing crimes,but aided in the crimes by covering them up and giving the priests fresh victims.

    This focus on excluding gays is a diversion-the worse crime was the cover-up.

  • Libertine

    Libertine, did not Jesus wear a dress? Does not the miter stand for the Old and New Testament? I’d rather see a preist in a dress or Roman Collar than see a preist hidding behind street clothes.

    The Roman collars are snappy. Anything that resembles a choke collar is A-OK in my book.

  • Intellectual Pariah

    Tricia, that article is too hardcore, even for me. For example, it estimates the proportion of gay priests at 5%, which by far the lowest I’ve heard. As far as I recall, the rate of AIDS-related deaths among priests in the early 90s suggested that something like 20% were actively homosexual (a lot of variables there, of course). And obviously many homosexually oriented priests were chaste.

  • Intellectual Pariah

    Libertine, you’ve made a couple of interesting points. Yes, the robes and rituals were probably a factor in attracting so many homosexuals to the priesthood. The Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican church (“smells and bells”) is reputed to be far more gay than the mainstream church, for the same reason.

    And certainly, journalists covering the Catholic Church should read the Catechism. But surely you’re well informed enough to figure out what “disordered” means in a Catholic context. Hint: they aren’t playing psychologist. For Church, a homosexual orientation is not a sin itself, but it is an inclination to sin. So, it’s an “objectively disordered” passion, like many passions.

  • Novus

    Robes and rituals are what attracted “gays”. What attracted them was the attitude that it was “okay” for them to be that way. The Anglican Church has always been more liberal than the Catholic Church. It’s not tradition, it’s the very opposite. Actually, the changing from Amices, Albs, Cinctures, MANIPLES, Stoles, and Chasubles to the “robes” that we’re familar with today probably helped.

    Intellectual, you also bring up a good point. The temptation is not in itself a sin. However, let’s not understate the issue either. The Church DOES consider it a sin if any action is taken toward that end, whether that action be a physical action or simply a thought. And the thought is sinful if it is not pushed away immediately after it comes.

  • Michael

    Because of course gays would ONLY be attracted to the priesthood because of the clothes and drama. I

  • Intellectual Pariah

    Michael, I didn’t say it was the only reason, I said it was a factor. Would you say it’s not a factor?

  • Michael

    As much as it is a factor that straight men join the priesthood because of the free football tickets given to them by parishoners and because someone else will cook for them.

  • Michael

    Here is the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association memo on covering the Vatican story.

    When news organizations cover instances of sexual abuse by heterosexual adults against children of the opposite sex, they are not cast as stories about sexual orientation. They are accurately reported as crimes against children. News coverage about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has done more to link gay men with pedophilia than any other story in decades. Without balance, expert inquiry and opposing views, such charges can create long-lasting and inaccurate ideas that can damage the lives of LGBT people. As journalists we owe it to our readers and viewers to uphold a basic practice of our profession: Get all sides of the story and provide our audiences with all the facts.

  • Intellectual Pariah

    Nah, there are lots of jobs where you get free tickets, and lots of jobs that pay enough money to let you eat at nice restaurants or order in Chinese every night.

    As for pedophilia, it’s one thing to argue that men who are sexually attracted to young boys aren’t homosexuals in the usual sense. There’s a case for that, though clearly the gay-rights crowd would like to shut down debate on the issue. It strains credulity to argue that you can sever sexual attraction to adolescent boys from adult homosexuality (likewise on the heterosexual side).

    Now, tmatt may have overstated the role of “ephebophilia” (a controversial term) in the sex scandals, but, still, something like 2/3 of cases identified in the John Jay report fall into that category.

    “Ephebophilia” is a debated concept because it’s not psychologically abnormal for adults to find adolescents sexually attractive. Acting on any attraction is immoral, however. Critics claim that the term is an attempt to medicalize what is really a moral issue.

  • Jim the Prod

    “A 40-year-old straight male who wants to have sex with a 16-year-old Britney Spears wants to do something that is sick, sinful and illegal. But this straight male is not wrestling with the same psychological condition as a 40-year-old straight male who wants to have sex with a 6-year-old Britney Spears.”

    It is not sick for a 40 year old straight male to want sex with voluptuous 16 year old females. It’s the essence of normality. There are places, and times, where it’s not only not illegal, but it’s celebrated. But it certainly is sinful.

  • Patrick O’Hannigan

    Related essay (quoting TMatt) here:

  • Avram

    Jim, is it sinful? In most states of the US, a 16-year-old can get married with parental permission. If a 40-year-old man married a 16-year-old girl with her parents’ permission and had sex with her, would there be a traditional basis in Roman Catholic doctrine to complain? (Assuming the girl was willing, that this wasn’t some kind of sex slavery thing.)

  • Bob Smietana

    The problem with Terry’s comparison is that most of the victims weren’t 16 year old would-be Britney Spearss. According to the John Jay report, almot 60% were 11-14 year old, and the majority were boys. Is that “pedophilia” or is that “ephebophilia”?

  • Intellectual Pariah

    I think “ephebophiles” are attracted to pubescent rather than post-pubescent youths. Given male puberty typical falls in the range of 11-14, most of these cases would be “ephebophilia”.

  • Patty Sarver

    “homophobic pope”
    There it need to read further.