What's Really Behind the Catholic Church's Sexual Abuse Problem?
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The global Catholic Church is confronting an extraordinary crisis not faced since the Reformation, which began with sharp criticisms of the Church and ended with a schism out of which emerged the establishment of a separate Protestant Church.
Today, sexual abuse allegations against priests are surging in a startling array of nations: the United States and Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Bolivia, Mexico, Brazil and Chile. New abuse scandals erupt daily. The John Jay School of Criminal Justice estimates that, in the U.S. alone between 1950 and 2002 hundreds of thousands of children have been sexually abused by Catholic Clergy.
In fact, the Catholic Church has a 2,000 year history of sex abuse. In their acclaimed book, Sex, Priests and Secret Codes (2006), Father Thomas Doyle, with former monks Richard Sipes and Patrick Wall, used its own documents to confirm the Church’s 2,000-year problem with clerical sex abuse.
Why has the Church been plagued by so much pedophilia – predominantly homosexual? And why has a scandal regarding this situation erupted only now?
As to the first question, the sheer extent of homosexual pedophilic abuse within the Church prompts my speculation that an extremely patriarchal institution, combined with the all-male hierarchy’s repudiation of women as equal partners in service and governance, perhaps engenders a homoerotic internal culture that attracts homosexual men to the priesthood. However, those factors alone cannot explain the predominance of homosexual pedophilia. After all, a high proportion of nuns operating in Catholic all-female environments tend to be lesbians — but not lesbian pedophiles (See Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence by Rosemary Curb, LibraryThing).
A therapist who treats abuser priests, Leslie Lothstein, proffers another possible explanation. Lothstein implicates the sexual immaturity of priests, who by entering the seminary often as young as 14, miss a critical passage of maturation — first-time sexual experimentation — that is accessible to their non-seminarian peers. Caught in a bind of stunted sexual growth, such men may be driven emotionally to claim and possess their past unexplored adolescent territory that the rules of a celibate priesthood had placed out of bounds.
My own complementary explanation derives from working with two active priests, two former priests, and several ex-seminarians, who quit their studies partly out of disgust with the sexual abuse to which their teachers subjected them. My work demonstrated, sadly, that sexual abuse at the seminary can simultaneously initiate youngsters into homosexual pedophilia and impart the lesson that Catholic institutions tolerate pedophilia. Moreover, such abuse can also cause a victim to later appropriate his former abuser’s predatory/aggressive behavior as psychological compensation for the shame he had felt during the time he was being abused at the seminary.
Let us take note, however, as we consider these issues, that, yes, homosexual pedophilia predominates behind the Church’s walls. Priests do have greater access to males than to females within Catholicism’s sex-segregated communities — there are no altar girls. Priests take boys, not girls, on retreats and camping trips. And yes, solid evidence invites speculation that the generational reproduction of homosexual pedophilia within the Church is partly attributable to a role-reversal syndrome playing out among officials — from priests to bishops — who themselves had been child victims of abuse. All that being as it may, equally solid documentation exists to show that female children, too, are sometimes the victims of sexual abuse within the Church. In fact girls are one quarter of the victims and they are disproportionately under eight years old.
The second and, I think, more crucial question, is why has this long history of a major church’s institutional practice of pedophilia been exposed only now? Why has silence about an explosive open secret persisted for millennia among a leading church’s Faithful, yet been fully exposed within a single decade? What is happening in the world that is prompting Catholics to expose the criminal behavior of numerous “Godly” and “infallible” custodians of their faith?