October 06, 2005

Column: Papal bull

Daily Illini

By Sam Harding-Forrester
Published: Thursday, October 6, 2005

The Catholic Church is still reeling in the wake of an outpouring of sexual abuse claims which peaked in 2002, bringing the number of US priests accused of sexual misconduct to around four percent of all U.S. priests, or about 2,125. This scandal was exacerbated by revelations that the Church often shuffled offending priests between parishes until statutes of limitations had expired, or new victims had been abused.

In the wake of the scandal, the late Pope John Paul II initiated an investigation into Church policy on homosexuality, which has now culminated into a draft document banning homosexual men from ordination as priests. As Catholics await Pope Benedict XVI's imminent publication of the directive, there is also word of an "apostolic visitation" to American seminaries, during which Church investigators will search out "evidence of homosexuality" even in the form of "particular friendships."

While official Church policy has technically rejected homosexual candidates for the priesthood since 1961, these developments reflect an unprecedented effort to enforce such exclusions, departing from the previously dominant practice of accepting homosexuals on the condition of celibacy. The new directives are in large part responses to a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which found that 81 percent of the victims molested by a priest from 1950 to 2002 were male. The percentage of priests who are homosexual is often estimated at upwards of 30 percent, and Catholic leaders have increasingly invoked such figures in explaining the scope of priestly abuse.

It is tempting to condemn the Church's post-scandal initiatives as bigoted conflations of homosexuality with pedophilia. Yet pedophilia, strictly defined, was only part of the abuse scandal. The John Jay study found that 51 percent of victims were aged 11 to 14, while 27 percent were aged 15 to 17. The Church must be faulted for seeking to address the entire spectrum of priestly misconduct by concentrating on homosexuality alone and also for producing a directive that targets all prospective homosexual priests rather than focusing on the minority likely to abuse. Countless studies confirm that no connection exists between healthy homosexuality and same-sex child abuse, and many homosexual priests have harmlessly put Catholicism's notorious eroticism to good use with other adult men. But it seems clear that some sizeable minority of the Church's abuse cases were expressions of troubled homosexuality, as opposed to pedophilia.

Posted by kshaw at October 6, 2005 09:48 AM