Sex Abuse is about Control and Power

The Catholic League has taken out a full-page ad in the NY Times that tries to be a point-by-point rebuttal to the Times’ reverberating prelude to Holy Week.

As rebuttal it is a tad weak -that’s what happens when your answer rightly requires 10,000 words and 350 is all you can manage in 18 pt Arial Narrow- but it hits its main targets; it manages to make one important point that is too-often ignored, that the church (and secular organizations as well) erred greatly in taking the advice of those psychological organizations who insisted throughout the 70’s and 80’s that the sexual abuse of minors was a “treatable” mental illness that could be remedied with a bit of therapy and a change of scenery.

The church made a huge error, back then, in trusting and aligning with understandings of “the times” and “the world.” Prosecutable cases should have been referred to civil authorities, those that had gone past the statute of limitations should have been prosecuted in-church, and in both cases, the bishops should have been responding with eyes that recognized a spiritual malady which precluded the possibility of public ministry.

All these years later, the church -thanks in large part to the current pope- is doing all of that, and more, but these decades-old cases are still haunting us specifically because, like the ghosts of our musings, they seek validation and address.

The Catholic League ad, however comes apart in the last third, where the organization’s president, Bill Donohue, becomes cringe-inducing:

The Times continues to editorialize about the “pedophilia crisis,” when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.

It’s a small point,
but if most of the abused were post-pubescent, then I suppose we should be talking about a “pederasty” crisis. Donohue rightly points out that most gay priests are “not molesters.” That’s damning with faith praise. I would probably have said, “most gay priests are celibate and faithful,” but more importantly, can Donohue really say that “most of the molesters have been gay?” In reading the case of Father Stephen Kiesle one sees that in 2004 he entered a plea of “no contest” on the charge of molesting a young girl in 1995. This was after he had left the priesthood, wherein he had gone after boys.

Given that most sexual abuse of minors takes place in the home
, among people the children know and trust, it seems self-evident that the sexual abuse of minors is not about homo-or-heterosexuality, or for that matter about celibacy. Say it with me, kids: the sexual abuse of minors is about feeding a sick appetite for power and control. It is also about opportunity. Kiesle’s activities suggest that most of the molestation victims were male, because males were more available, and that is all.

Donohue ends thusly:

Here’s what’s really going on. The Times has teamed up with Jeffrey Anderson, a radical lawyer
who has made millions suing the Church . . .so they can weaken its moral authority. Why? Because of issues like abortion, gay marriage and women’s ordination . . . Those who doubt this to be true need to ask why the debt-ridden Times does not spend the same resources looking for dirt in other institutions that occurred a half-century ago.

It is perfectly fair to ask why the crusading Times seems so disinterested in the epidemic of sex abuse occurring, not thirty years ago but today, right now, in our public schools. But Donohue’s timing and tone are both regrettable, and “so they can weaken its moral authority” only invites the response: “the church, by its actions -whether in-line with the times or not- has itself weakened its moral authority.”

The church was never supposed to embrace times and trends; in holy wisdom and spiritual humility it is supposed to transcend them, in ultimate obedience to its Bridegroom. Had it kept its eternal perspective, rather than adopted a temporal one, it would have understood that a diagnosis of “needs therapy” may have been the worldly (and expedient) answer, but the spiritual answer of “must not minister” was the right one.

Meanwhile, responding to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s recent remarks in Chile, Fr. Martin’s spirited piece makes an argument unwelcome to many*:

…nearly every reputable psychologist and psychiatrist definitively rejects the conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia . . . Pedophilia, say experts, is more a question of a stunted (or arrested) sexuality, more a question of power, and more a question of proximity (among many other complicated psychological factors). Simply put, being gay does not make one a pedophile.

Martin goes on to cite the USCCB’s own studies and adds,

Many of the victims of priest abuse were adolescents. So there were clearly some gay priests attracted to adolescent boys who preyed on them.

But not the vast majority of gay priests, who never abused anyone. This is a critical point. And this is also where the situation grows more complex. […] Most Catholics. . . know that homosexuality and pedophilia are not the same thing. Perhaps this is why Pope Benedict XVI himself, en route to the United States for his visit in 2008, responded this way to a question about the abuse crisis: “I do not wish to talk about homosexuality, but about pedophilia, which is a different thing.” And they know that there are thousands of celibate gay men in the priesthood and chaste men in religious orders who have never abused anyone and, moreover, lead generous, dedicated, and even holy lives.

Cardinal Bertone’s remarks -which were clearly his own opinion- had many smacking their foreheads. They do not represent the views of the pope and both the Vatican and the US Bishops have criticized them.

Fr. Martin’s piece is very good, and I urge you to read it all, but Martin should reconsider citing the opinions of the psychological and psychiatric communities; they were the very people advising churches and industries that a bit of therapy could manage the problem of child sexual abuse. That theory has been quietly put to rest. Theories abound but there is one truth: the sexual abuse of minors is a sin and a crime not defined by gender, class, sexual orientation, the celibate or married state, families or income: it is about power, control and opportunity.

At prayer over this, my heart became so heavy with grief for everyone: for all of the victims, who -in the screaming headlines- are not hearing about how effective and heroic they have been in fomenting real change, so that others will not have to suffer as they have; for the people in the pews, who wish it would all just go away; for the all of the good priests -gay and straight- who are being tainted with this scandal. We forget that someone like Bertone is merely a man and a priest who sounds like he is simply feeling the heat and saying, “don’t look over here – look over there” and throwing his gay brother priests under the bus.

I feel the same grief for Benedict who is being relentlessly demonized for understanding things differently in the past than he does today. He was clearly on the same learning curve as everyone else -secular and religious- on this issue and he has displayed, since 2001, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith attained provenance over these investigations, a rigorous determination to see things righted, to the apparent interest of no one.


Discussing this with a friend I realize how really tired I am of the whole notion of “gay” and “straight.” I really wish we could get to the point where people’s sexuality was a yawner. I am frankly as tired of the scolds and homophobes as I am with the “in your face about it” activists, who can’t get through a day without waving the rainbow flag. One of my favorite friends a transsexual woman who used to be an Air Force guy, and is quite the Lutheran scholar. She does not spend all her time talking about being a transsexual, because she is too busy being a woman on her own journey to God, and yelling at me about St. Thomas More.

Our jobs are not to judge, not to finger-point, not to consign each other to flames of woe over what we understand of God’s mind, but to simply love each other, as created creatures, all doing the best we can in a broken world, and to remember that God’s mind is not ours; we can never even begin to comprehend or approximate the largeness of his love for every single one of us, or his tender mercy.

But we must try. When St. Paul wrote, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” he nailed it.

And maybe that is the answer to this endless fixation on sexuality, which too often gets in our way, and becomes a stumbling block to our own spiritual lives, and our understanding. We are too wrapped up in “doing” rather than with “being.” We are wrapped up in our own “doings” and everyone else’s “doings.”

“Doing” is our obsession in the world. “What are you doing?” we ask a friend on the phone. “What do you DO?” is the first question anyone asks at a gathering. Perhaps the question should be “how are you ‘being?'”

Then we can all answer “I am ‘being’ as well as I can, with God’s help,” and keep our eyes on Jesus, only.

*Edited for clarity.

After an accusation, here is what happens at the Vatican
John Allen: Candor Creep about the Pope
George Weigel: The Limits of the Papacy
Alan Dershowitz and Ed Koch: Defending the Pope
Benedict: Dedicates General Audience to Priests
An Episcopal Priest: Discusses the issue

Shea: Media Distractions
Eric Sammons: Better, not Bitter
AP: and the question of Bad Journalism
Gender Issues in Main
Anglicans: Why are they Coming?
A Life-Changing Pilgrimage

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