Not Pedophilia

Not Pedophilia August 29, 2018

News reports of the recent revelations about the sex scandals in the Catholic church still claim that the crisis is about “pedophilia.” It’s not, as Philip Jenkins pointed out more than twenty years ago (Pedophiles and Priests).

The alliterative “pedophile priests” is rhetorically punchy but, Jenkins argued, misleading: “Both the words in question are open to controversy because they place a special construction upon the behavior: taken as a whole, the term makes the problem more serious, more dangerous, and more Catholic than it would otherwise appear. To speak of ‘priests’ severely limits the phenomenon of abuse by clergy because the word is commonly understood to refer to Catholic priests, as opposed to the pastors or preachers of other denominations (though priests conceivably also implies Episcopal or Orthodox ministers)” (7).

Pedophile is also misleading: “A pedophile is a man sexu­ally attracted to children below the age of puberty, but the vast majority of recorded instances of clergy ‘abuse’ or misconduct involve an interest in teenagers of either gender, often boys of fifteen or sixteen. The difference may seem trivial, but most psychological opinion holds that pedophiles are far more difficult to treat or control than offenders who direct their attention to older targets. Nor is it possible to speak of a younger child’s giving genuine consent to a sexual act, so that the conduct nec­essarily implies the use of force or grave deception. To speak of a ‘pedophile priest’ implies that the victims are younger and more defenseless than they commonly are and that the offenders are severely compulsive and virtually incurable. The very term most commonly used to describe this problem has powerful rhetorical conno­tations in its own right, even before a given writer or journalist has begun to select and describe cases to illustrate the phenomenon” (7).

Rather than pedophilia, most cases exhibit “pederasty” or “ephebophilia,” “the consensual preference for boys . . . upon puberty” (79). The “cases often suggest sexual liaisons between priests and boys or young men in their late teens or early twenties” (78). Jenkins adds, “The case that ruined Bruce Ritter involved a man of twenty-five who generally passed for nineteen. Other incidents were said to affect somewhat younger boys, but even if all the allegations against him were true, he would not count as a pedophile” (79).

The distinction isn’t meant to excuse. But getting the details straight does clarify what the moral issue actually is: “Suggesting that the church concealed or tolerated pedophiles is much more destructive than the charge that it granted a certain degree of tolerance to priests involved in consensual relationships with older boys or young men. In Catholic church law, the age of heterosexual consent is sixteen rather than the eighteen common to most American jurisdictions” (79).

Surprisingly, Jenkins argues that “the hostile imagery in the mainstream media from the mid-1980s onward resulted from the precedents set by Catholic newspapers and Catholic commentators, who excoriated the policies of the church hierarchy. It was the Catholic press, above all the liberal National Catholic Reporter (NCR), that broke ground for other media outlets in drawing attention to clergy sex scandals, in presenting the cases as part of a systemic problem, and by stressing the institu­tional context of the offenses. As early as 1985, it was NCR that pioneered the term ‘pedophile priests'” (15).

All this justifies Bishop Robert Morlino’s forceful recent statement about the crisis: “until recently the problems of the Church have been painted purely as problems of pedophilia — this despite clear evidence to the contrary. It is time to be honest that the problems are both and they are more. To fall into the trap of parsing problems according to what society might find acceptable or unacceptable is ignoring the fact that the Church has never held ANY of it to be acceptable — neither the abuse of children, nor any use of one’s sexuality outside of the marital relationship, nor the sin of sodomy, nor the entering of clerics into intimate sexual relationships at all, nor the abuse and coercion by those with authority. . . It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. The Church’s teaching is clear that the homosexual inclination is not in itself sinful, but it is intrinsically disordered in a way that renders any man stably afflicted by it unfit to be a priest. And the decision to act upon this disordered inclination is a sin so grave that it cries out to heaven for vengeance, especially when it involves preying upon the young or the vulnerable. Such wickedness should be hated with a perfect hatred. Christian charity itself demands that we should hate wickedness just as we love goodness.”

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  • Brian K

    Blah blah, priests rape older children too, so gays are bad. Fuck your distinction without a difference, and fuck you.

  • Lark62

    is ignoring the fact that the Church has never held ANY of it to be acceptable — neither the abuse of children, nor any use of one’s sexuality outside of the marital relationship, nor the sin of sodomy, nor the entering of clerics into intimate sexual relationships at all, nor the abuse and coercion by those with authority. . .

    This is disgusting to every moral human being. Consensual sex between adults is not equivalent to rape. Not the rape of children, not the rape of teens, not the rape of adults. Rape is immoral. Period. Full stop.

    Consensual sex between adults is in a totally different class. If your religion tells you that consensual sex is wrong under conditions B, C, D and E, that’s your business. But do not equate consensual sex with rape. By condemning all sex outside of heterosexual marriage equally, you encouraged a system where non celibate priests (at least 50% of all priests, but some estimations) were compelled to remain silent on rape and torture, because “all had sinned.”

    Forget the semantics of “pedophile” or “pederast.” We are talking about rape. And if you cannot see that rape is not the moral equivalent of two consenting adults getting it on without the church’s blessing, then you have no morality.

  • Ungodly Sweet

    Amazing how these children are no longer “children” or it considered rape, immoral or a sin when evangelical men “marry” 12-17 years old girls, so I guess twisting the truth to suit your bigotry when boys are the victims to blame LGBTI people is par or the course for pieces of shit like you.

  • Let’s not be scapegoating around to protect rapist priests, yeah?

  • Nathaniel

    “Now now, lets not be hasty. In our rush to protect children from sexual predators in frocks, we shouldn’t forget what’s really important: Forcing queers back into the closet, where those freaks belong.”

    I’d ask how you sleep at night, but since you’re writing a Christian blog, I unfortunately know the answer: Quite well indeed.

  • The destroyer

    My observation is this is evil pedophile behaviour. The majority seem to be on boys which make the culprits majority homosexual. But whatever the sexual preference this is all evil

    • TinnyWhistler

      Meh, considering that there are at least two studies I’ve heard of that found that the vast, vast majority of men who sexually abuse boys are straight, I’d say it’s more likely to do with access and power over the victims, the way most rapes are. In general, priests have more access to boys and young men than to girls and young women, so there are more male victims. The fact that they can use the Church’s official stance on homosexuality to say “You can’t tell anyone about this or you’ll go to hell” is just icing on the cake. People usually don’t rape people because they just can’t stand not having sex. It’s a power thing.

      • The destroyer

        There is no way that the vast majority of men who go for boys are straight, They would go for girls instead.

        • Nathaniel

          Young enough, boys and girls are quite physically similar. Its also quite well documented that men who claim to be straight can also be quite prodigious in molesting and raping boys. Jerry Sandusky was married.

          • The destroyer

            It is not well documented I am afraid

          • Nathaniel

            Oh really? What makes you say so?

  • kyuss

    way to jump through hoops to try and minimize the scandal. you’re a worthless piece of shit.

  • Douglas Michael Singer

    Interesting that an essay merely aimed at precision can stoke such a hot reaction. Thanks, Dr. L, for having the guts to think carefully, which apparently is taboo these days.

  • Jack

    And what exactly does the writer mean when he says puberty? Does she mean, the age at which a boy is able to ejaculate? Because, that’s not puberty. It starts literally about 1 year before that happens.