Friday, 16 April 2010

Homosexuality, paedophilia and the Church: Austen Ivereigh in The Age

Given that the debate on the link between homosexual priests and the child abuse scandal is now out in the open, we all need to be equipped with the facts. 

Healthy homosexuality?!

Not least to counter articles like that in The Age today (reproducing a piece from the Guardian) by Austen Ivereigh, described (clearly inaccurately) as a  'Catholic writer and commentator' (and unsurprisingly given pride of place by aCath News).

Why do I say he is not catholic?  Well his closing line gives the clue:

"...Are those priests paedophiles? No - although the damage they cause is considerable. Are they homosexual? Possibly - but not healthy ones. And to claim that their homosexuality is a cause of their abusing is as daft as suggesting that paedophilia is linked to heterosexuality. Bertone should be more prudent."

Here's the thing - there is no such thing, in the Church's view as 'healthy homosexuality'.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that homosexuality is inherently disordered.  The age of the participants in homosexual activity is irrelevant - it is always a mortal sin (though imbalances of power, violation of promises, and the abuse of position can make it a much worse one in the case of priests).

The case for the homosexual link to abuse within the Church

So here is Ivereig's article, given the Fr Z-esq treatment:

:The Vatican secretary of state's attempt to blame gay priests is foolish.

PRUDENCE is a cardinal virtue, but not a virtue always shown by Rome's cardinals. Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, recently denied a link between clerical sex abuse and celibacy, but has since claimed ''a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia'' which, he said, ''many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown''.

The cardinal's remarks were greeted with horror, [because it might spoil the campaign for normalisation of their behaviour] as well they should have been, for they imply that homosexuals are more inclined to the sexual abuse of minors than heterosexuals, which is simply false.

I don't know which psychologists Bertone has been reading, but the consensus among reputable mainstream ones is that the sexual abuse of minors cannot be and should not be conflated with homosexuality.

As Pope Benedict said in 2008 in a mid-air news conference with reporters en route to the United States, paedophilia was ''another thing'' to homosexuality. [Not really the same point.  The Pope was talking about paedophilia and homosexuality; Cardinal Bertone about child abuse and homsexuality]

Homosexuality is about orientation - same-sex attraction. Sexual abuse of minors is about malformed sexual orientation, immaturity and power. [Let's get real here.  Most sexual abuse by priests - 90% according to the latest figures released by the Vatican - was of teenagers.  It is not technically paedophilia.  And the age of consent is largely a social construct put in place to protect our notion of individual capacity to make decisions.  Age of consent laws were only introduced in the nineteenth century, and typically sat at around 12 or 13 in 1880.  It was only in the twentieth century that they moved upwards. Yes, sexual abuse is certainly about power and immaturity (as well as a few other things!), but to suggest that desire for someone who is a teenager is inherently sexually disordered is a big stretch.  It is not a defined pyschological disorder.]   The statistics that disprove any link between celibacy and the sexual abuse of minors - almost all of which takes place within the family, often by married men and women - are the same as those that undermine any attempts to conflate sexual abuse and homosexuality. [We need to distinguish here - between sexual abuse in general, and sexual abuse by priests.  Priests are a special sub-set for all sorts of fairly obvious reasons.]

So why are some tempted to? First, because the epidemic of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church between the 1960s and the 1990s coincided with the entry of very large numbers of gay men into the priesthood. [A truly amazing coincidence!] When Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector, claimed in an influential book 10 years ago that about half his seminarians were gay, it sparked shocked reactions but few denials.

I was at the British Catholic weekly The Tablet at the time, and phoned around seminary rectors to see if they agreed. Two did; the other two didn't want to say.

Second, because the vast majority of victims of clerical sexual abuse were teenage boys, not prepubescent children. The largest and most in-depth study of sex abuse of minors ever carried out by an institution was commissioned by US Catholic bishops and published in 2004. The independent research, carried out by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, found that just over 4 per cent of Catholic clergy in America had been accused of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002. About 80 per cent of the accusations were of abuse alleged to have occurred between the 1960s and the 1980s, after which they fell off sharply. Some 81 per cent of the alleged victims were male, and 78 per cent were between the ages of 11 and 17. In other words, the average victim of clerical sexual abuse was an adolescent male.

Karen Terry, the principal researcher on the John Jay team, said it was impossible to know if most of the victims were boys because of the orientation of the abuser, or because ''that's who they had access to''. [An importnat question that surely should have been pursued down to the ground.  Oh wait, it has been in other studies....that's why the Vatican has acted to insist that homosexuals not be permitted to enter seminaries.] The question of orientation was therefore removed from the statistical research. The scathing 145-page report which accompanied the John Jay findings did, however, address the question over several pages, concluding that ''a more searching inquiry is necessary for a homosexually oriented man by those who decide whether he is suitable for the seminary and for ministry''.

Hence the Vatican's November 2005 instruction saying men with ''deep-seated homosexual tendencies'' should not be admitted for training to the priesthood.

But this document suffered from the same category error as Bertone is making. It is not the homosexually inclined priest who is at risk of abusing: almost all gay priests lead healthy celibate lives. [And the evidence for this is?  More to the point, violations of celibacy are not the only crime we should be concerned about due to the infiltration of homosexuals in the priesthood]. The ones who are most at risk of abusing are emotionally stunted men whose psychosexual development has gone awry.

That does not make them paedophiles. Only a handful of clerical abusers have been authentic paedophiles, seeking out prepubescent children (male or female; paedophiles don't usually care) as victims. Those that there have been have had a very large number of victims and have wreaked havoc. [True enough]

But most accused priests fall into a different category. Almost all the accused are alleged to have molested one minor (only 3 per cent of the accused in the John Jay study had more than 10 alleged victims); the classic perpetrator was a priest in his 30s who spent some time, mostly less than a year, sexually involved with a boy in his early teens. That boy has usually been someone who has had his boundaries violated early in life, probably by a relative.

Are those priests paedophiles? No - although the damage they cause is considerable. Are they homosexual? Possibly - but not healthy ones. And to claim that their homosexuality is a cause of their abusing is as daft as suggesting that paedophilia is linked to heterosexuality. Bertone should be more prudent.

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