Faithful Catholics were still reeling from last month’s revelations of homosexual predatory behavior by former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick when the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report released the names and the graphic allegations of sexual assault and harassment by more than 300 clergy and lay leaders in the archdiocese. For some, it seemed like the reappearance of the same scandal that started in Boston in 2002 when pedophile priest Father John J. Goeghan was convicted and sentenced to prison for sexually assaulting a ten year-old boy. To many, it seemed that we had learned nothing.
In 2002, enamored with the alliterative phrase “pedophile priest,” some media outlets—like the Boston Globe—refused to acknowledge that that scandal, like the current scandal, was primarily a scandal surrounding homosexual predation. Those of us who tried to help people understand this scandal in 2002—by pointing out the demographics of the predation—were labeled homophobic. As a member of San Diego Bishop Robert Brom’s Advisory Board on Sexual Abuse from 2002-2006, I was often invited to provide a sociological overview of the demographics of the sexual abuse scandal. In an attempt to educate a panicked public on the real data of predator priests, I published op-eds in the San Diego Union-Tribune titled “The Myth of the Pedophile Priest” and “The Postmodern Pedophile.” Many other newspapers reprinted the op-eds but it seemed that few people—including those on my own campus at the University of San Diego—wanted to see the data.
Some blamed the messenger. Following a presentation replete with PowerPoint data on the demographics of the abuse—on my own campus—a group of gay advocates from off campus followed me to my office and refused to leave until I would agree to stop “blaming gays” for the scandal. They left when I was finally able to call campus security.
While I did not stop writing about the predatory priest problem, it began to be clear to me that we were in the middle of a moral panic. And like all moral panics, this panic was promoted by those who had much to gain by keeping the panic alive. Some have called for “solutions” which most often involve radical changes to the priesthood—everything from the ordination of women to the elimination of priestly celibacy. Once seen as the foundation of spiritual commitment and sacrifice that a young seminarian makes in his quest for holiness, celibacy is viewed by progressives as a form of deviance in an age of sexual liberation—a “cause” of deviant sexual behavior.
The truth is that celibacy has nothing to do with the kind of predatory homosexual behavior we see in the current Grand Jury Report of 2018, or in the John Jay Report of 2004. The John Jay study, which was commissioned by the USCCB, found that 19 percent of the more than 4,000 victims of predatory priests were female; 81 percent of cases of clergy sexual abuse involved priests and male victims. According to the John Jay study (see page 6 for the summary of demographics) the largest group (50.9 percent) of victims were between the ages of 11-14; 27 percent were between 15-17 years old; 16 percent were between 8-10 years old; and 6 percent of all victims were under 7. According to the John Jay Report, this was not a “pedophile priest” scandal, because the vast majority of cases involved post-pubescent males; it was a scandal of same-sex predation, though few wanted to acknowledge this.
However, the culture has changed, and today more are saying what many of us tried—somewhat unsuccessfully—to say in 2002 about the homosexual culture that has emerged in our seminaries, chanceries, and parishes.
Understanding the real causes of predatory behavior
Since the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, a number of bishops have decried what Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin has called the “depravity of sinners within the Church.” Bishop Morlino stated clearly: “There has been a great deal of effort to keep separate acts which fall under the category of now-culturally-acceptable acts of homosexuality from the publicly deplorable acts of pedophilia.” Acknowledging the role that homosexuality has played in the current scandal, Bishop Morlino wrote: “It is time to be honest that the problems are both and they are more.”
While critics of the Church continue to deny a same-sex predation problem among priests, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury 2018 data reflect very similar demographic data as the John Jay Study of nearly 15 years ago.
According to this analysis of the grand jury report, 74 percent of the predator priests mentioned in the Grand Jury Report abused male victims, and 23 percent abused female victims. Of the instances of same-sex predation, 11 percent involved true pedophilia (involving a pre-pubescent child); 60 percent involved a teenage boy; and 2 percent involved an adult. In total, 189 priests abused male victims and 58 priests abused female victims.
While the data are indeed depressing, the far more disturbing pages of the Grand Jury Report are the anecdotal stories and the plaintive letters written by victims, victims’ families, or teachers who tried to report the sexual abuse they learned about. On page 187 of the Grand Jury Report, there is a letter from a former teacher who wrote to Bishop Datillo of the Harrisburg diocese to complain of an ongoing pattern of horrific homosexual abuse by Father Joseph Pease, a priest at the high school. The exasperated teacher describes the problem, claiming that the identified priest was known by students as a “known pedophile” and homosexual who had been “bailed out by the bishop.” The letter-writer claimed that the identified priest had been arrested and asked the bishop, “Don’t you people keep records on these things?” The teacher’s letter to the bishop concluded with the plaintive: “You have done enough harm to the good people of the coal regions.” The letter was co-signed by “concerned parents and grandparents of the region.” Unfortunately, the Grand Jury Reports on page 189-190 that nothing was done for many years because the chancery staff worried that the information was based on “unsubstantiated rumors.” Eventually Father Pease was identified by victims themselves and was finally removed—but that was years after the initial contacts were made.
It is likely that such a letter would not go unanswered this time; even the Grand Jury Report acknowledged that the Pennsylvania bishops were indeed making progress in preventing the kinds of abuses of the past.
Unlike in 2002, when it was just a handful of lay Catholics like myself willing to even mention the role homosexual behavior played in the scandal, whose voices were silenced and marginalized as the “rantings” of a small group of homophobes, today we have a number of bishops who have stepped forward and stated clearly that this indeed is a crisis of homosexual predation. This week at Mass at my Connecticut summer parish, a letter to the faithful from Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford was read; he decried the “homosexual activity” that is “abhorrent to me and to you.”
There are other signs that there will be attempts to diminish the role of homosexuality in this scandal. The fact that the dais for the televised press conference for the Grand Jury Report featured 14 female victims of predatory priests and only three male victims was an indication of this. It is likely that prosecutors in the Pennsylvania case worried about offending the gay community. Worse, some bishops have warned against “scapegoating” the homosexual community. Bishop Barron was criticized for downplaying the importance of Catholic sexual morality in his response to the crisis. Now, Bishop Barron has always downplayed sexual morality in his writings, because he understands that sexual morality is not where evangelization needs to begin. But even Bishop Barron knows that in order to “move on,” we have to recognize the source of the problem, and it seems that this time we are actually doing that.
In a hopeful sign, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Archdiocese of San Francisco has said he will designate a day in his archdiocese when “together we can make an act of reparation.” We all have a lot for which to atone. I know I have been resentful at times that many Church leaders, and my campus colleagues in San Diego, did not exactly embrace my sociological analysis of the 2002 scandal. Perhaps it is time for us all to try and move beyond our anger and begin to plan our own days of penance and reparation. It is the only way we can possibly hope to rebuild the trust within our Church.
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