Promiscuous vs. Predatory: How to Tell the Difference

Promiscuous vs. Predatory: How to Tell the Difference June 23, 2018

In response to the McCarrick case, Fr. Longenecker, with whom I generally agree, writes something I think is horribly mistaken.  He describes McCarrick’s behavior as “sex games,” which he attributes to sexual immaturity.  Fr. L. is correct in saying that sexual immaturity  is a problem; I think he is wrong in asserting that McCarrick was not being predatory.

We are both, of course, basing our analysis on the publicly-available allegations against the cardinal, and may be lacking crucial additional information.  For readers here, though, the question is relevant not because we are judge and jury concerning McCarrick, but because we may find ourselves in the position of having to make the call in other situations.  Promiscuous behavior among consenting adults is gravely immoral but it isn’t harassment.  I think the allegations against McCarrick are allegations of harassment and molestation.

Yesterday’s post contains links to assorted accounts, some of them quite detailed, of the allegations against McCarrick.

See if this sounds like “sex games” and “horsing around” — from excerpts of the civil suit the Archdiocese of Newark settled concerning sexual harassment claims against McCarrick:

As he continued touching me, I felt more afraid. He even tried several times to force his hands under my shorts. He tried to roll me over so that he could get on top of me, but I resisted, I felt sick and disgusted and finally was able to jump out of bed. I went into the bathroom where I vomited several times and started to cry.

That’s no game.

Here are a few things I’ve written about thwarting sexual predators operating in parish youth programs.  When the victim is an adult, sexual harassment is still a crime.  The same concepts apply:

My big three red flags are all present in the McCarrick Case:

  1. Inappropriate Intimacy: The Behavior Doesn’t Match the Context.  A group of people sharing a hotel room, dormitory, or other communal housing do not therefore automatically engage in sexual activity with one another.
  2. Intentional or Persistent Behavior.  McCarrick wasn’t accidentally rolling over and bumping into someone, apologizing, and making sure it didn’t happen again.  He was actively groping.
  3. Won’t Accept No.  This is the flag that tells us there was no game.

Promiscuity will involve making a pass at one’s intended sexual partner.  If McCarrick started with a brush of the hand, and read the signs that an advance was welcome, and thus found one (or several) young men who were interested in a sexual liaison, that would be immoral — Fr. Longenecker’s “sex games” — but it wouldn’t be necessarily predatory.

By definition of course we can ask ourselves if there is true consent between a seminarian and a bishop, since there is a clear power imbalance at play.  But we can at least imagine it’s possible.

predator, in contrast, pursues the victim despite the victim’s efforts to escape the encounter.   People don’t run to the bathroom and vomit over an awkward case of crossed signals.  If the allegations are true, McCarrick was a predator.

So why would Fr. Longenecker, often a very clear-headed analyst, fail to make this distinction?  I’ve written about that, too:

For those who are pure, it is tempting to believe all things are pure.  Wise as serpents doesn’t come easily.


If you are trying to catch up on this topic, here are a few other links that may be of interest:

The temptation is to over-simplify.  If you have no experience with what abusive relationships look like, give thanks to God and then inform yourself.

File:Pfarrkirche Going, 160623, ako.jpg

Artwork via Wikimedia, Ansgar Koreng / CC BY-SA 4.0


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