Church Sex Abuse Cases: homosexuality or pedophilia?

This article at, In the Church, The Problem is not Pedophilia but Homosexuality, claims that most cases of sexual abuse by priests is a result of homosexuality, not pedophilia. I disagree. The situation is more complex than that. Allow me to explain why.

First of all, I’ve never been the victim of sexual abuse or any other kind of abuse. But I did spend two years (a few decades ago) working with children and teens, most of whom were victims of sexual abuse. I worked full-time, directly with child and teen patients, on two in-patient psychiatric units. I did intake interviews; I interviewed patients as well as family members. I sat in on some family therapy sessions. I attended in-service training courses and weekly supervision meetings. I wrote patient notes in medical charts on a daily basis. So I understand this subject area better than most commentators.

I worked with about 200 different victims of abuse, ranging in age from 5 to 17. The young patients came from a variety of different family and life circumstances. I worked directly with the patients, and often heard from them disclosures of abuse. Often, the family therapist would discuss with the floor staff (including myself), the details of the situation. Sometimes a family member would visit the child or teen in-patient, and later we would learn that said person was the abuser. So I’ve met more than a few perpetrators, as well as a large number of victims. In some cases, I worked with youthful offenders as well.

What I can tell you from my work in this area is that adult men (and a few adult women) who sexually abuse minors of the same gender are usually not homosexuals. They have adult sexual relationships with persons of the opposite gender. This point was made clear, over the course many cases, based on information from psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, as well as my own knowledge of the victims and their families. The vast majority of abusers were neither pedophiles (having a sole or primary sexual attraction to children), nor homosexuals. They were heterosexual men who simply acted contrary to, or without regard for, their own orientation. Some men abused both girls and boys; some only boys, or only girls. Rarely was the abuser a homosexual who abused persons of the same gender.

Why does this happen? Essentially, most abusers treat their victims like sexual objects. Objects do not have a gender. Age seems irrelevant once persons become mere physical objects. These abusers are not primarily attracted to persons of a particular age or gender; or, if they are, they act with disregard to that attraction. They are so thoroughly immersed in sexual sin, in sex for the sake of pleasure, with no regard for the harm they do to other persons, that they abuse whichever victims are available to them.

Therefore, I reasonably conclude that, in the case of priests who abuse minors, the same idea applies. Most are probably not homosexuals or pedophiles. They are heterosexual men who abuse minors because they treat persons like objects. But why do so many priests abuse boys, rather than girls? I suggest one reason may be that they have greater access to boys. Another possible explanation is that an adult abuser of boys may have been abused himself as a boy, by a man; he then repeats the same behavior, regardless of his own orientation. All of the youthful offenders with whom I worked were older boys doing to other children what was done to them.

See my previous post: The Priestly Abuse Scandal and Homosexuality

The claim made by some conservatives is that priests who abuse minors are homosexuals. They assume so because the victims are the same gender as the abuser. But they don’t know what they are talking about. That is a facile assumption not warranted by the complexities of the psychological issues. Certainly, being gay does not prevent a man from abusing minors or other adults; fallen sinners do not become immune to one grave sin by committing a different grave sin. But it is a fact that most adults are not gay, and most priests are not gay. And it is a little known fact that most abusers of children or teens, of the same gender as the abuser, do not have a homosexual orientation. They have had adult sexual relationships with women for their entire adult lives. They are in fact not gay, even if they are men abusing boys.

The problem of priests who abuse minors arises from the laity of the Church. Priests are chosen from among the laity. If any grave sin is found among the laity, it will be found among priests. Many Catholics commit grave sexual sins, of one kind or another. A society which welcomes many grave sexual sins is in effect preparing the way for the grave sin of child abuse. Only when the Church and her members reject every kind of grave sexual sin, and the related sins of contraception, abortifacients, and abortion, will She be able to have a priesthood comprised of lambs without blemish.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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