Child and youth sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy
Part 2: Overview:
Ephebophilia and/or pedophilia? Role of
enforced celibacy. Role of lawyers. A book.
Ephebophilia and pedophilia among Roman Catholic priests:
It is extremely important that the public knows the precise nature of the evil that is
out there. The media has not been particularly helpful in educating the public.
They tend towards sensationalism.
One serious problem is that the meaning of "pedophilia" appears to be in a
state of transition. It is changing in two ways:
- In the past, it meant an adult who is attracted to
young, pre-pubertal, children -- typically less than 11 years-of-age. It is now evolving to mean the abuse of any person under the age of 18.
- The term is now used frequently to refer to
adults who are not only attracted to young children, but who actually abuse
them. There does not appear to be a word in common use that refers to a
Much of the media has implied that most of the sexual abuse by priests involves
pedophilia -- the
molestation of pre-pubertal girls and boys. This is not true.
The vast majority of cases appears to
be by abusive ephebophiles -- adults sexually attracted to post-pubertal adolescents.
This often takes the form of sexual activity by homosexual priests:
"...with young seminarians or 16- or 17-year-old boys. While such homosexual
activities with minors are criminal offenses -- and immoral -- they are
certainly not examples of pedophilia or child molestation." 1
Unfortunately, precise data on abuse is not available. Data is largely based
on experts' opinions. But perhaps the following might be helpful:
In another essay, we describe various
estimates of the percentage of Roman Catholic priests who engage in sexual
activities with persons under the age of 18. They range from 0.12% to 6%.
In the absence of precise data, a value of 3% might be a reasonable guess.|
||If the 3% value is accurate, then it is important to remember that 97%
of priests are not sexually abusive to children and adults.|
In the same essay, investigators have
estimated that between 90% and 98% of those abusing minors victimize post-pubertal
adolescents, while the rest assault pre-pubertal children and children going through puberty. A value of 95%
might be a reasonable guess.|
||The percentage of males in the general population who sexually abuse
young children is unknown. Some estimates are in the range of 1% |
||If those data are accurate then:|
||About 0.15% of priests sexually abuse young children.
||This is perhaps 1/8 the rate of men generally.
||Priests have a much lower rate of abusive pedophilia (that is, of pre-pubertal children) than does the
general population of men.
||The percentage of males in the general population who sexually abuse
post-pubertal youths is unknown. We know of no reliable estimates.|
||If the above data are accurate, the:|
||About 3% of priests sexually abuse adolescents.
||We cannot conclude whether abuse of adolescents is more common among
priests then among the general population of men. We have a hunch that
priests are significantly more abusive.
If the age of consent for homosexual activity were lowered
to the age of 16, as it is in many countries, most of the criminal acts would disappear.
Cases of ephebophilia would still represent an ethical quagmire, however. They would
be a gross violation of the priest's ordination vows, an abuse of his
power and influence, and would be
an extremely harmful experience to most of the teens. For example, in
Kingston, ON, Canada where our office is located, an Anglican church
organist was convicted of sexually abusing many youth.
Many people believe that two suicides eventually resulted from his molestations.
Is enforced celibacy the cause?
Priests, brothers and nuns take a vow of celibacy in which they promise to
never marry. Some orders also require their candidates to take a vow of chastity
-- of being sexually inactive. Some commentators have suggested that the lack of
contributes to sexual misconduct among Roman Catholic clergy. Unfortunately, there is
insufficient data to either confirm or negate this theory:
||Most Protestant clergy are free to
marry; most heterosexual ministers and pastors do marry. Unfortunately, we have
been unable to find reliable information about the level of abuse among
Protestant clergy either.
||There also does not seem to be any reliable information about
the level of child molestation among those Roman Catholic priests who are
married. The church in the U.S. has relatively few married priests. Thus any abusive pedophile
data would be of low accuracy. The existence of married priests within the Roman
Catholic Church is a surprise to many. When the Episcopal Church decided to ordain females,
many Episcopal ministers in the U.S. were so repulsed by the idea of sharing
the priesthood with women that some converted to Roman Catholicism in order to
remain in a purely male priesthood. The church allowed them
to remain married.
The role of lawyers:
According to author Daniel Lyons,
"Pedophile priests have sparked a
litigation gold rush...The focal point of this
tort battle is the Catholic Church. The Church's legal problems are worse even
than most people realize: $1 billion in damages already paid out for the victims
of pedophile priests, indications that the total will approach $5 billion before
the crisis is over. But this wave of litigation does not end here. Is there any
reason to think that the priesthood has a monopoly on child molestation? The
lawyers who are winning settlements from Catholic dioceses are already casting
about for the next targets: schools, government agencies, day care centers,
police departments, Indian reservations, Hollywood. Plaintiff ...litigators have
parlayed the priest crisis into a billion-dollar money machine, fueled by lethal
legal tactics, shrewd use of the media and public outrage so fierce that almost
any claim, no matter how bizarre or dated, offers a shot at a windfall." 2
Patrick Schiltz of St. Thomas University has
defended religious organizations in more than 500 sex abuse lawsuits. He said:
like warfare. Phase One was for plaintiff lawyers to maximize bad publicity and
destroy the credibility of the Church. Phase Two is to use that publicity to
push for legislative changes. Phase Three will be to collect." The problem,
he says, is that fraudulent claims could get paid off with legitimate ones. "Who's
going to doubt them? I worry about the person who was an altar boy 30 years ago,
and his life has been a disappointment, and now he realizes he has a lottery
ticket in his pocket." 2
A book describing the impact of clergy abuse at a personal level:
David Margolick, "A predator priest," a Kindle Single. Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com's online Kindle ebook store for $0.99
Amazon's product description;
"Much has been written about priests and pedophilia, but not about particular priests and their particular victims. This is the story about Father Bernard Bissonnette, a priest from Grosvenordale, Connecticut and the fifty-year path of destruction and heartache he left in his wake. There were dozens of victims, first in his home state and then in New Mexico, where the Catholic Church sent him to be 'cured,' only to recycle him in parishes throughout the state. It highlights the Deary family of Putnam, Connecticut, whose eldest son, Tommy – the second of their thirteen children – was one of Bissonnette’s earliest victims, and who, after struggling for many years with depression, marital problems, and his own sexual identity, eventually killed himself. And it follows the tireless efforts of his youngest brother to overcome the obstructionism and hostility of the Catholic Church and track down Father Bissonnette, confront him with his misdeeds, then bring him to justice – or at least get him thrown out of the Church."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition,"
American Psychiatric Association, (1994).
Daniel Lyons, "Sex, God & Greed: Pedophile priests have sparked a
litigation gold rush. The Boy Scouts, day care firms and Hollywood may
be next," Forbes Magazine, 2003-JUN-9, at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/
"Draft survey: 4,450 priests accused of sex abuse. Bishop: 'Very
sobering and important milestone'," CNN.com, 2004-FEB-17, at: http://edition.cnn.com/
Keith Peters, "Catholic Bishops Issue Update on Child Abuse
Scandal," Family News in Focus, 2005-FEB-21, at: http://www.family.org/
Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAY-8
Latest update: 2011-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson