The media, egged
on by a small group of dissenting Catholics, have been having a field day over
the tragedy of priests involved in sexual abuse. And the reporting has been
littered with falsehoods and outright fabrications. So CRISIS has put together a
list of the ten most common false media claims — along with their fact-filled
responses to them.
priests are more likely to be pedophiles than other groups of men.
just plain false. There's absolutely no evidence that priests are more
likely to abuse children than are other groups of men. The use and abuse of
children as objects for the sexual gratification of adults is epidemic in
all classes, professions, religions, and ethnic communities across the
globe, as figures on child pornography, incest, and child prostitution make
abundantly clear. Pedophilia (the sexual abuse of a prepubescent child)
among priests is extremely rare, affecting only 0.3% of the entire
population of clergy. This figure, cited in the book Pedophiles and Priests
by non-Catholic scholar, Philip Jenkins, is from the most comprehensive
study to date, which found that only one out of 2,252 priests considered
over a thirty-year period was afflicted with pedophilia. In the recent
Boston scandal, only four of the more than eighty priests labeled by the
media as "pedophiles" are actually guilty of molesting young children.
Pedophilia is a particular type of compulsive sexual disorder in which an
adult (man or woman) abuses prepubescent children. The vast majority of the
clerical sex-abuse scandals now coming to light do not involve pedophilia.
Rather, they involve ephebophilia — homosexual attraction to adolescent
boys. While the total number of sexual abusers in the priesthood is much
higher than those guilty of pedophilia, it still amounts to less than 2
percent — comparable to the rate among married men (Jenkins,
Pedophiles and Priests).
In the wake of the current crisis in the Church, other religious
denominations and non-religious institutions have admitted to having similar
problems with both pedophilia and ephebophilia among the ranks of their
clergy. There's no evidence that Catholic prelates are more likely to be
pedophiles than Protestant ministers, Jewish leaders, physicians, or any
other institution in which adults are in a position of authority and power
celibate state of priests leads to pedophilia.
Celibacy bears no causal relation to any type of deviant sexual addiction
including pedophilia. In fact, married men are just as likely as celibate
priests to sexually abuse children (Jenkins, Priests and Pedophilia). In the
general population, the majority of abusers are regressed heterosexual men
who sexually abuse girls. Women are also found to be among those sexual
abusers. While it's difficult to obtain accurate statistics on childhood
sexual abuse, the characteristic patterns of repeat child sex offenders have
been well described. The profiles of child molesters never include normal
adults who become erotically attracted to children as a result of abstinence
(Fred Berlin, "Compulsive Sexual Behaviors" in Addiction and Compulsive
Behaviors [Boston: NCBC, 1998]; Patrick J. Carnes, "Sexual Compulsion:
Challenge for Church Leaders" in Addiction and Compulsion; Dale
O'Leary, "Homosexuality and Abuse").
Married clergy would make pedophilia and other forms of sexual misconduct go
Some people — including a few vocal dissenting Catholics — are exploiting
this crisis to draw attention to their own agendas. Some are demanding a
married Catholic clergy in response to the scandal, as if marriage would
make men stop hurting children. This flies in the face of the aforementioned
statistic that married men are just as likely to abuse children as celibate
priests (Jenkins, Pedophilia and Priests).
Since neither being Catholic nor being celibate predisposes a person to
develop pedophilia, a married clergy wouldn't solve the problem ("Doctors
call for pedophilia research," The Hartford Currant, March 23). One
has only to look at similar crises in other denominations and professions to
The plain fact is, healthy heterosexual men have never been known to develop
erotic attractions to children as a result of abstinence.
Clerical celibacy was a medieval invention.
Wrong. In the Western Catholic Church, celibacy became universally practiced
in the 4th century, beginning with St. Augustine's adoption of the monastic
discipline for all of his priests. In addition to the many practical reasons
for this discipline — it was supposed to discourage nepotism — the celibate
lifestyle allowed priests to be more independent and available. This ideal
also called diocesan priests to live out the same witness as their brothers
in monastic life. The Church hasn't changed her directives for celibacy,
because over the centuries she has realized the practical and spiritual
value of the practice (Pope Paul VI,
On the Celibacy of the Priesthood;,
Encyclical letter, 1967). Indeed, even in the Eastern Catholic Church —
which includes a married clergy — the bishops are chosen only from unmarried
Christ revealed the true value and meaning of celibacy. Catholic priests
from St. Paul to the present have imitated Him in their total gift of self
to God and others as celibates. Although Christ raised marriage to the level
of a sacrament that reveals the love and life of the Trinity, He was also a
living witness to the life of the world to come. The celibate priesthood is
for us a living witness to this life in which the unity and joy of marriage
between a man and a woman is surpassed in the perfect, loving communion with
God. Celibacy properly understood and lived frees a person to love and serve
others as Christ did.
Over the past forty years, celibacy has been an even more powerful witness
to the loving sacrifice of men and women who offer themselves in service
Female clergy would help solve the problem.
There's simply no logical connection between the deviant behavior of a tiny
minority of male clergy and the inclusion of women in their ranks. While
it's true that most statistics on child molestation show that men are more
likely to abuse children, the fact is that some women are also child
molesters. In 1994, the National Opinion Research Center showed that the
second most common form of child sexual abuse involved women abusing boys.
For every three male abusers, there's one female abuser. Statistics on
female sex offenders are more difficult to obtain because the crime is more
hidden (Interview with Dr. Richard Cross, "A Question of Character,"
National Opinion Research Center; cf. Carnes). Also, their most frequent
victims (boys) are less likely to report sexual abuse, especially when the
abuser is a woman (O'Leary, "Child Sexual Abuse").
There are reasons why the Church cannot ordain women (as John Paul II has
explained numerous times). But that is beside the point. The debate about
women's ordination is completely unrelated to the problem of pedophilia and
other forms of sexual misconduct.
Homosexuality isn't connected to pedophilia.
This is plainly false. Homosexuals are three times as likely to be
pedophiles as heterosexual men. Although exclusive pedophilia (adult
attraction to prepubescent children) is an extreme and rare phenomenon, one
third of homosexual men are attracted to teenage boys (Jenkins, Priests
and Pedophilia). The seduction of teenage boys by homosexual men is a
well-documented phenomenon. This form of deviant behavior is the most common
type of clerical abuse and is directly connected to homosexual behavior.
As Michael Rose shows in his upcoming book, Goodbye! Good Men, there's an
active homosexual sub-culture within the Church. This is due to several
factors. The Church's confusion in the wake of the sexual revolution of the
1960s, the tumult following the Second Vatican Council, and the greater
approval of homosexual behavior in the culture at large created an
environment in which active homosexual men were admitted to and tolerated in
the priesthood. The Church also came to rely more on the psychiatric
profession for screening candidates and for treating those priests
identified as having problems. In 1973, the American Psychological
Association changed its characterization of homosexuality as an objectively
disordered orientation and removed it from the Diagnostic and Statistic
Manual IV (Nicolosi, J., 1991, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality,
1991; Diamond, E., et. al.,
Homosexuality and Hope,
unpublished CMA document). The treatment of deviant sexual behaviors
While the Church's approach to those who struggle with homosexual
attractions has been compassionate, she has been consistent in maintaining
the view that homosexuality is objectively disordered and that marriage
between a man and woman is the proper context for sexual activity.
Catholic hierarchy has done nothing to address pedophilia.
While we can all agree that the hierarchy hasn't done enough, this claim is
nevertheless false. When the Church's Code of Canon Law was revised
in 1983, an important passage was added: "The cleric who commits any other
offense against the sixth precept of the Decalogue, if the offense was
committed with violence or threats, or publicly or with a minor who is under
16 years [now extended to 18 years], must be punished with just punishments,
not excluding expulsion from the clerical state" (CIC 1395:2).
But that certainly isn't the only thing the Church has done. The bishops,
beginning with Pope Paul VI in 1967, issued a warning to the Catholic
faithful concerning the negative consequences of the sexual revolution. The
pope's encyclical letter, "On
the Celibacy of the Priests," addressed the
question of a celibate priesthood in the face of a culture crying out for
greater sexual "freedom." The pope affirmed celibacy even as he called on
bishops to take responsibility for "fellow priests troubled by difficulties
which greatly endanger the divine gift they have." He advised the bishops to
seek appropriate help for these priests, or, in grave cases, to seek a
dispensation for priests who could not be helped. In addition, he urged them
to be more prudent in judging the fitness of candidates for the priesthood.
In 1975, the Church issued another document called "Declaration
on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics"
(written by Joseph Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) that explicitly addressed,
among other issues, the problem of homosexuality among priests. Both the
1967 and 1975 documents addressed kinds of sexual deviancy, including
pedophilia and ephebophilia, that are is especially prevalent among
In 1994, the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse issued guidelines to the
nation's then 191 dioceses to help them develop policies to deal with the
problem of sexual abuse of minors. Almost all dioceses responded and
developed their own policies (USCCB document: Guidelines for dealing with
Child Sexual Abuse, 1993-1994). By this time, pedophilia was recognized
as a disorder that could not be cured, and a problem that was becoming more
prevalent due to the increase of pornography. Before 1994, bishops took
their cue from experts in the psychiatric profession who believed pedophilia
could be successfully treated. Priests guilty of sexual abuse were sent to
one of several treatment facilities across the United States. Bishops often
relied upon the judgments of experts in determining whether priests were fit
for ministry. This doesn't mitigate the negligence on the part of some in
the hierarchy, but it does offer some insight.
In response to the recent scandals, some dioceses are setting up special
commissions on child abuse, as well as victims' advocacy groups; and they
are officially acknowledging that any legitimate allegation of abuse must be
dealt with immediately.
Church's teaching on sexual morality is the real problem, not pedophilia.
The Church's teaching on sexual morality is rooted in the dignity of the
human person and the goodness of human sexuality. This teaching condemns the
sexual abuse of children in all its forms, just as it condemns other
reprehensible sexual crimes such as rape, incest, child pornography, and
child prostitution. In other words, if this teaching were lived out, there'd
be no pedophilia problem at all.
The notion that this teaching somehow leads to pedophilia is based on a
misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation of Catholic sexual
morality. The Church recognizes that sexual activity without the love and
commitment found uniquely in marriage undermines the dignity of the human
person and is ultimately destructive. As far as celibacy is concerned,
centuries of experience have proven that men and women can abstain from
sexual activity while living fulfilling, healthy, and meaningful lives.
Catholic journalists have ignored the pedophile problem.
As any reader of CRISIS knows, this claim is patently false. Our October
2001 cover story featured "The High Price of Priestly Pederasty," an expose
on the scandal that wouldn't erupt into the mainstream press for another
three months. You can read our full article at:
And we weren't the only ones who have covered the pedophilia/pederasty
problem. Charles Sennot, author of Broken Covenant, Rod Dreher of
The National Review, CRISIS co-founder Ralph MacInerny, Maggie
Gallagher, Dale O'Leary, the Catholic Medical Association, Michael Novak,
Peggy Noonan, Bill Donohue, Dr. Richard Cross, Philip Lawler, Alan Keyes,
and Msgr. George Kelly have all covered the issue exhaustively.
Just because the mainstream media have chosen to ignore our work doesn't
mean the work hasn't been done.
Requiring celibacy limits the number of men as candidates for the
priesthood, resulting in a high number of sexually unbalanced priests.
First of all, there isn't a "high number of sexually unbalanced priests."
Again, the vast majority of priests are normal, healthy, and faithful. Every
day they prove themselves worthy of the trust and confidence of those
entrusted to their care.
Secondly, those who do not feel called to a life of celibacy are ipso facto
not called to be Catholic priests. Indeed, most men are not meant to be
celibate. However, some are — and of those, some are called by God to the
A priestly vocation, like a marriage, requires the mutual and free consent
of both parties. Thus, the Church must discern that a candidate is indeed
worthy and fit mentally, physically, and spiritually to commit to a life of
priestly service. A candidate's desire for the priesthood does not
constitute a vocation in and of itself. Spiritual and vocation directors are
now even more attuned to the character flaws that would make an otherwise
qualified man an unfit candidate.
originally appeared in the CRISIS Magazine e-Letter. It is printed with