Monday, March 22, 2010

The Myth of Pedophile Priests

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Fr. Dwight is a well known writer, preacher and speaker.  He came to the Catholic Church as a married Anglican priest, and we are blessed to have him here in the Catholic Church.  He also has lived many years of his life in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America.  His heart is pure; his knowledge and wisdom are excellent.

He writes here about a book produced by a Penn State professor, Dr. Philip Jenkins, entitled
Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis. He also references an article from 2002 by Dr. Jenkins where he summarised his findings.  Dr. Jenkins concluded his article:
My concern over the "pedophile priest" issue is not to defend evil clergy, or a sinful church (I cannot be called a Catholic apologist, since I am not even a Catholic). But I am worried that justified anger over a few awful cases might be turned into ill-focused attacks against innocent clergy.

The story of clerical misconduct is bad enough without turning into an unjustifiable outbreak of religious bigotry against the Catholic Church.
It is far easier to target a faith, in particular the Roman Catholic Church over an issue that is terrible in the world, and should not be manifested anywhere, let alone within the RC Church clergy.  Fr. Dwight writes wisely about context and facts, both of which get forgotten in times of blaming and shaming, and when there is so much pain.  
As more pedophile priest scandals blow up across Europe we should be ashamed of the offenders and those who sheltered them and oppressed the victims. The guilty should be weeded out, removed from office and handed over to the civil authorities where they are guilty of crimes. Systems to avoid abuse must be established and rigorously maintained, and victims should be justly compensated for their suffering.
However, Penn State professor Philip Jenkins (who is not a Catholic) has written the most objective book on the subject, and he summarizes his arguments in this excellent article. In light of his work, we should remember some basic facts and principles:
  • Priestly celibacy is not the issue - married men are more likely to abuse children than unmarried
  • Most child abuse takes place within the home.
  • All religious groups have pedophile scandals, and the Catholics (while the largest religious group) are at the bottom of the list statistically.
  • Child abuse is prevalent in all areas of society: schools, youth organizations, sports, etc.
  • Statistically, of all the professions, Christian clergy are least likely to offend. Doctors, Farmers and Teachers are the professions most likely to abuse children--not clergy.
  • Among clergy offenders Catholic priests are least likely to offend.
  • Catholic cases of pedophilia make more headlines because of anti Catholic prejudice and because the Catholic Church is bigger and more lucractive to sue.
  • Pedophilia and Euphebophilia are different problems. The former is sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. The latter is attraction to teenagers. Most cases branded 'pedophila' are actually 'euphebophila.'
  • Most of the cases of euphebophilia are homosexual in nature, however the politically correct do not want this problem to be associated with homosexuality.
  • The number of Catholic priests guilty of pedophilia is very small.
  • What we now call 'cover up' was often done in a different cultural context, when the problem was not fully understood and when all establishment organizations hushed scandals. They did so for what seemed good reasons at the time: protection of the victims and their families, opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender, the avoidance of scandal to others. It is unfair to judge events thirty years ago by today's standards.
  • When lawsuits are looming people smell money. We must be wary of false accusations.
  • The accused must be entitled to a fair hearing. The church should insist on hard proof of the abuse, and for the sake of justice, ensure that the innocent are not prosecuted.
  • When guilt is established the offender must be punished, not sheltered.
  • Distinctions must be made between types of abuse. Some offenses are worse than others. Verbal abuse or corporal punishment during a time when that was acceptable, while lamentable, is not the same as sexual abuse or extreme physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse of an adult, or a sexually experienced older teenager is wrong, and damaging, and should be punished, but it is not the same as the sexual abuse of a younger, innocent child.
  • Number of offenses must be considered. One lapse is not of the same seriousness as repeated, persistent and premeditated offenses. 
I am in no way wishing to be soft of pedophiles and those who covered for them, however justice and truth demand an objective analysis of the facts. 
I have met many women who were sexually abused in their life times, because of a very close and dear friend.  I have never met one who was abused by a priest, not because it did not happen, but because as a proportion of all sexual abuse, it is a very small one.


JOSHUA S. said...


Thank you for this posting! I knew that statistically speaking the "pedophile priest" was no more prominent than any other kind of pedophile. And I agree entirely with the sentiment behind bringing them up to begin with. BRAVO!

Michael Brandon said...

Clearly I am in agreement with your sentiments.

Thanks you.