How much do we really know about who’s likely to abuse children and who isn’t?
Welcome back to the latest edition of MB’s “Blame Fest 2002”. With all of the blame being flung around in the recent scandals, we’re taking a few weeks here to sort out who’s being blamed, for what, and whether they deserve the blame they’re getting.
We started with “Blame the Bishops.” Them we moved on to “Blame the Gays.” Last time, we discussed the possible reasons why a rather large percentage of today’s priests are homosexually oriented. We talked about the fact that, within that mix, there are faithful celibate men, and others who entered with no intention of living celibacy. We also talked about the unique struggles that even the best-intentioned homosexually oriented man would encounter attempting to live celibacy within a brotherhood of priests.
This week, I want to get to the heart of the “blame” – the connection being made between homosexuality and child abuse.
I want to confront this issue head-on, because I’ve heard some blanket statements lately that concern me. The wording varies, but they all run along the lines of “We need to stop ordaining gays, because they’re a threat to children.”
Are they? Are homosexual men more likely to abuse children or adolescents? Are these recent scandals just cases of “gay men doing what gay men do?” Is homosexuality (same sex attraction) and ephebophilia (attraction to adolescents) essentially the same thing?
Honestly, I don’t think so. But let’s look at the evidence.
I have encountered, in this area, a maddening lack of reliable statistics. The “blanket statement” people assert that homosexual men are “three times more likely” to abuse children than heterosexual men. But I’ve never seen this figure substantiated. And I rather doubt it could be substantiated, given the fact that Philip Jenkins, who has researched this issue thoroughly, told me personally that there are no reliable figures as to how often heterosexual men (or homosexual men, or almost anyone else except priests) abuse. Forget that we don’t know how often homosexual men abuse. If we don’t know how often heterosexual men abuse, how could we know that the gay rate is three times higher?
But let’s assume for the sake of arguments that those numbers were legitimate. Let’s do the math. They say that about two percent of priests have been accused of sexual abuse. (Catholic priests, thanks to this crisis, seems to be the only we have reliable numbers about.) We’ll assume, again for the sake of argument, that all of those men are guilty. (An assumption I wouldn’t make in real life.) It has also been asserted that priests don’t abuse any more often than the general population. So let’s assume the maximum and say two percent of heterosexual men are abusers. If we tripled that, it would mean that six percent of homosexual men are sexual abusers.
And 94% aren’t.
The question of whether or not any homosexually oriented man should be ordained is one I am willing to leave to the wisdom of the Church. (Note: the wisdom of the Church. Not the American bishops, who as a whole haven’t been exhibiting a whole lot of wisdom lately.) But the reasons should be made very clear. I find it abhorrent to say that we shouldn’t ordain homosexually oriented men because they, and they alone, pose a threat to children. Listening to some of the hue and cry about the subject, one would think that all – or most – homosexual men are child abusers. That’s not true, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair to the thousands upon thousands of Catholic, homosexually oriented men struggling to live chastity. It’s not fair to those Catholics – or former Catholics – who self-identify as “gay” and yet are horrified by the abuse of children.
And it’s a truly rotten way to approach a population we’re trying to reach out to in love.
The one factor that does seem to be consistent in most abusers is that they were themselves abused as children. Should we instead exclude all men from the priesthood who were sexually abused as children? I don’t know, maybe we should.
Or maybe we should just have better screening processes. Maybe we should really take our time, with the help of good Catholic psychologists, and look at each candidate, as an individual. Maybe we should closely examine his past, his sexual maturity, and his commitment to celibacy. Maybe that would help us determine each individual candidate’s suitability for the priesthood.
And maybe, if we’d done that all along, we wouldn’t be in this mess today.