This last quotation of Greeley's brings us to the most pernicious evasive maneuver of all. That is the attempt to define the problem away with the language of therapeutic expertise. Central to this effort has been the supposed distinction that, as Newsweek and a thousand other sources have put it, "The great majority of cases now before the church involve not pedophilia but 'ephebophilia,' an attraction to post-pubescent youths."
Indeed, the appeal of this pseudo-scientific distinction is one of the curious features of the scandal commentary. Social conservatives and traditionalists have embraced this distinction, as they have similarly the sociological language of author Philip Jenkins (who describes the current crisis as a "moral panic"). The attraction of this approach for traditionalists seems to be that it is marginally less damaging to the reputation of the Church if its priests are seen more as preying on teenagers than on pre-adolescents. Meanwhile, Church dissidents and gay activists have seized on it for a related reason--namely, that it is marginally less damaging to the reputation of homosexual priests if it turns out that the renegades in their ranks are having problems with teenage boys, rather than engaging in "true" pedophilia. The fact that this serves as yet another example of defining deviancy down--i.e., that ephebophilia is discussed not as a horror in its own right, but as a less-bad alternative to sex with little children--has been under-discussed, to put it mildly. In fact, of all critics and commentators, it is Wills who has best exposed the corrupt rhetorical uses of this distinction: "If 'real' pedophilia involves only the abuse of prepubescents," he writes, "that instantly reduces the number of priests who can be called pedophiles. Those who 'just' molest adolescents look less monstrous and even--somewhat--forgivable."
But there is a deeper problem than this rhetorical sleight of hand with the reliance on the pseudo-scientific ephebophile/pedophile distinction. The real problem is that the distinction is useless as a taxonomic description of most actual offenders. It does not begin to catalogue accurately the tastes of the most notorious abusers--i.e., the very people it purports to classify.
Pulling together the threads of case after case of prominent offenders proves the point. A very few abusers, of whom Boston's defrocked John J. Geoghan appears to be one, apparently found their sexual appetites limited to prepubescent children.4 But as Boston Globe reporters Michael Paulson and Thomas Farragher observed in March, "those cases [like Geoghan's], in which priests became sexually involved with multiple boys and girls who have not yet reached puberty, are actually relatively uncommon." Much more common, as anyone reading the details of cases will know, is a polymorphous pattern of abuse in which the easy therapeutic distinctions dominant in the media and the secular therapeutic worlds cease to apply. Some abusers--again, a minority--prey on boy children only, others prey on boy children and teenage boys, others still prefer teenagers and men, and some are what might be called sexually omnivorous, attracted to other gay men, teenagers, and young boys too.
Begin at the beginning, of sorts, with the notorious case that is explored at length in the opening of Jason Berry's Lead Us Not into Temptation--the case, indeed, that first put Catholic priest offenders into the headlines 15 years ago. The priest in question was Gilbert Gauthe of Louisiana, eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape and sexual abuse of more than three dozen boys. Sexually molested himself as a child, Gauthe went on to claim what may have been hundreds of boy victims as he was reassigned to one parish after another. Yet while Gauthe is frequently cited as a textbook prepubescent child molester--at times as the classic priest-pedophile--the reality is more complicated. For Gauthe's victims ranged in age from as young as 7 to as old as 15--and those are the limits gleaned only from Berry's account; the actual age span of his victims may have been wider. The point is that Gauthe did not appear to discriminate, as contemporary therapeutic language would have it, between adolescents and pre-adolescents. Frankly, and like many other offenders, Gauthe preyed on both.
Now consider the case of James Porter of Fall River, Massachusetts, who pled guilty in 1993 to the sexual abuse of more than two dozen children and is also thought to have claimed victims in the hundreds. Porter, another offender-priest who reportedly was molested as a child, attended seminary at the institution identified in Rose's book as the "Pink Palace." A clinical rarity, Porter appears to have been what can only be called pansexual. His many victims included a few young girls (the overwhelming majority of those he molested were boys). Before getting caught, moreover, Porter married and had children of his own. In fact, this pansexuality is what makes Porter's case remarkable, perhaps even singular, in the annals of priest offending, as the cases outlined below suggest.
Paul Shanley's is one case among many that belies the cut-and-dried distinctions now governing debate. Here was no textbook pedophile or ephebophile, but rather a sexually active gay man with a taste for children and adolescents too. (Shanley has written that he himself "had been sexually abused as a teenager, and later as a seminarian by a priest, a faculty member, a pastor and ironically by the predecessor of one of the two Cardinals who now debates my fate.") Just how many boys and teenagers Shanley molested may never be known, but given the years in which he was reshuffled from one place to another despite complaints, the number of each is assumed to be high. Note that word "each." To put the matter emblematically, the specific criminal charges against Shanley involve Gregory Ford, whom he is accused of raping between 1983 and 1990--in other words, over the course of seven years beginning when Ford was 6 years old. Under current therapeutic understanding, what would this pattern alone make Shanley--a pedophile when Ford is 6, and an ephebophile when he is 13?
To pose the question is to reveal its absurdity. Shanley was indeed sexually active with children, he was also sexually active with adolescents; and he moreover participated in various ways in openly gay Catholic society. To put the matter another way, while Shanley's pedophilia has never been in public doubt since his name hit the headlines--the most trumpeted fact about him is that he is thought to have been a founding member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association--his simultaneous standing in the gay community has barely been mentioned. Yet if anyone could be said to be a credentialed member of gay Catholic social and intellectual life, it would have been Shanley. He was, for example, affiliated with Dignity USA from its early days (he appears in its archives as a "major speaker" in 1975). He was also an expert speaker on the seminary circuit (not on pedophilia, of course, but on homosexuality). And he co-owned a gay resort with another gay priest.
And so the breakdown of the pedophilia/ephebophilia distinction goes. After Shanley and Geoghan, the most discussed arrested cleric in the Boston area is Ronald H. Paquin, who has admitted to having molested what the Boston Herald describes as "numerous boys," some for years on end. Currently in the headlines as a textbook case of a molesting priest repeatedly reassigned by Boston's Cardinal Law, Paquin reports that he himself was molested as a child by his own hometown priest. Some allegations against Paquin are particularly awful; he is accused by parents of bearing responsibility for one teenager's suicide, and another teenager was killed in a car Paquin was driving, allegedly upon return from one of many assignations with teenage boys. Incidentally, Paquin attended the same seminary as Paul Shanley.
Finally, consider a prominent case outside the Boston area, that of the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, who was shot in Baltimore last month by a man alleging that the priest had abused him over a three-year period. After that shooting, according to the Baltimore Sun, another man filed a police report claiming that Blackwell had also abused him as a teenager. According to a third man, Blackwell molested him from the time he was a fifth-grader "until the victim was 26 years old." These sexual encounters, the accuser said, occurred in the seminary Blackwell attended. This was the "Pink Palace." The charges against Blackwell are not proven. Church officials involuntarily removed him from his parish in 1998 because of what they call a "credible" accusation of "inappropriate activity" with a minor. Alleged victims are continuing to come forward. Blackwell, like others, is accused of preying upon boys of varying ages, up to adulthood. In sum, the standard pedophile vs. ephebophile explanation of how the scandals came to be is empirically unsound. No doubt for that reason, as Washington Post reporter Sandra G. Boodman put it in an unusually well-informed newspaper account, "experts in sexual abuse outside the Church rarely make this distinction."
A review of the details of the scandal cases yields three common denominators that arise in too many cases to be dismissed as incidental to the abuse. The first important fact suggested by the record so far--and one that obviously demands definitive study as soon as possible--is that some seminaries appear to be disproportionately represented in abuse cases. In one of the few secular discussions of this aspect of the elephant, two Boston Herald reporters examined one such seminary in some depth. Their report is worth quoting at length:
"A Herald analysis of cases of priests facing serious pedophile allegations in the state . . . shows that a disproportionate percentage attended [Boston's] St. John's in the late 1950s and 1960s. . . . Regardless of why, the numbers are staggering, especially for certain classes.
"The class of 1960 contained at least five men involved in pedophilia allegations. That's out of a class of approximately 77 graduates. Experts put the incidence of pedophilia in the general population at around 1 percent. For the St. John's graduates ordained in 1960, the figure appears to approach 7 percent--seven times the national average for men. . . .
Then came the class of 1968, which included six men accused of pedophilia, including Paul Mahan--target of some of the most vile allegations.
Significantly, this graduating class was far smaller than those that had passed through St. John's a decade earlier. With fewer than 50 members, the incidence of alleged pedophilia in the class rises to about 12 percent. . . .
One student described an atmosphere of frequent experimentation. Gay students quickly identified each other, he said, and established networks that would last in some fashion until years after graduation and ordination into the priesthood. . . .
A priest in the archdiocese who studied elsewhere but was involved in events at St. John's said the biggest concern among administrators was students who were torn between piety and banned sexual behavior. Many young men are "mixed up'' at that age, the priest said, and vulnerable to exploitation by older or more sophisticated classmates. . . .
"By the 1960s, despite sometimes iron rule in the archdiocese by Richard Cardinal Cushing, St. John's was the focus of dissent."
As this account suggests, some seminaries have been home to a highly combustible mix of ideology, rebellion, and future criminality. This aspect of the crisis has been decades in the making. How did it come to be? Perhaps one sort of rebellion breeds another. Perhaps, too--a point that comes up anecdotally in the scandal literature--some offenders are actually made worse by contact with like-minded men. If observers like Robert J. Johansen are correct and the problem is already on the way to amelioration, so much the better--that is information that both Catholics and a concerned public ought to have. Either way, the Vatican's decision to address the abuse cases in part through a review of the seminaries comes none too soon.
The second feature of the cases that arises too often to be dismissed as a coincidence is the fact that many of the offender-priests caught to date report that they were molested as minors themselves. This is hardly surprising. Clinical estimates for the rate of childhood victimization among abusers range as high as 80 percent. In other words, though not all victims of sexual abuse go on to become perpetrators, many perpetrators do seem to have started as victims.
This overlooked fact of the abuse cases has profound implications, including for Catholic bishops and other policymakers now asking how such cases may be prevented in the future. From the point of view of simple deterrence, it puts a red flag over any candidate who was himself sexually seduced by an adult as a child or adolescent. Ordination, after all, is not a civil right. Screening for a history of victimization might sharply reduce the likelihood of future generations of priests becoming fodder for headlines. Put simply, if such men had been turned away from seminaries during the last several decades, the scandals in the Church as we know them would never have reached today's scale.
Would screening for such victims (and admittedly, perfect truth-telling is unlikely) have the effect of discriminating against homosexually oriented men? The answer is very probably a qualified yes. This is because homosexuals as a group, according to a variety of clinical sources--including those by gay and gay-friendly researchers--are more likely to have been sexually abused themselves than are heterosexuals.5 As a simple matter of arithmetic, therefore, they might be disproportionately affected by such a standard compared to heterosexuals. But if such discrimination is the shortest cut to reducing the number of tomorrow's victims, it is hard to discern the competing moral principle on which it could be opposed.
The third and final implication of the abuse cases--this one society-wide, to return to the pope's words--is a corollary of the victim-turned-perpetrator phenomenon. The subject of early sexual experience and its role in future orientation needs to be allowed back into legitimate public debate.
This is, of course, a suggestion likely to be disputed by gay activists, whose ideology of "orientation" is exactly why the subject of environmental influences on sexuality has become verboten. This is not to suggest that the gay community alone holds such a view--far from it. What is almost universally called "sexual preference" is now believed by many Americans--including in some parts of the religious culture--to be inborn, as fixed as such genetic markers as melanin or the pattern of one's fingerprints, and presumably just as immutable.
The facts of the ongoing priest scandals, however, challenge that view. In the end, one must believe one of two things about the offenders: Either they were born with a sexual "orientation" toward molesting children; or somehow, just maybe, the experience of being molested themselves affected their future sexual feelings. If one holds to the "orientation" view, one faces the serious problem of explaining away as "coincidence" a broadly shared experience of childhood or adolescent molestation--one out of proportion to the general population. But if, on the other hand, sexual predators are made, not born, a currently forbidden hypothesis suggests itself: that other "sexualities," too, may be affected by experience.
Today, the few researchers and clinicians who dare touch this subject are treated as professional lepers. Think only of the calumny that has come the way of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which provides counseling to homosexual men and women who believe that sexual "orientation" is susceptible to change. Public opprobrium has also been the fate incurred by groups like Courage, a ministry to homosexuals from the perspective of traditional Catholic teaching. There is no doubt that the experience of groups like these--similar to those of the few writers who have dared dissent from the contemporary secular articles of faith about homosexuality--has had a chilling effect on public discussion, including discussion that could help identify, diagnose, and treat offenders in the future.
And here is where a contemporary secular taboo--that of questioning the ideology of "orientation"--crashes head-on into the greater public good. What the priest scandals demonstrate beyond argument is that what we need, right now, is in-depth study of the victim-to-perpetrator causal chain. We need answers to questions that, properly understood, will help prevent other boys from being preyed upon in the future--for example, why some children who are abused do not go on to become abusers themselves; why others become compulsive offenders whose victims number as high as the hundreds; and how institutions of all sorts might better screen and thwart and help the adults tempted by this profound evil. Today, however, because the ideology of "orientation" has effectively foreclosed discussion of just these issues, there is a tragically short supply of such theoretical and clinical exploration--and likely an even shorter supply of personal will and fortitude among potential researchers. As the JAMA article cited earlier noted suggestively--in a review, recall, of the clinical literature on the sexual abuse of boys--"No longitudinal studies examined the causal relationship between abuse and gender role or sexual orientation." There should be such studies. Interestingly, among the proposed reforms the bishops will discuss in Dallas, one promises that "we offer to cooperate with other churches, institutions of learning, and other interested organizations in conducting a major research study in this area"--namely, "the problem of the sexual abuse of children and young people in our society."
Such information would not only be useful to the bishops and the rest of the public in contemplating the matter of deterrence. It might also shed light on human sexuality more generally. In particular, it might help explain the prominence of the theme of man-boy seduction--which I have documented in two essays in these pages--in gay literature, journalism, and culture.6 It is now over 20 years since gay eminence grise Edmund White observed that "sex with minors" was one of two features of gay life "likely to outrage the straight community" (the other, he believed, was "sex in public places"). In the wake of the priest scandals, a few other gay voices have acknowledged just such a homosexual/heterosexual divide on the question of minors. As a writer for the Washington Blade put it with surprising candor, "These cases--where the 'victim' lies somewhere in between childhood and adulthood, and the 'abuser' may or may not also have a gay adult sexual life--prove far murkier than either the Catholic Church or many gay rights advocates seem willing to admit." But no gay writer has sounded a more poignant note than the unnamed man who wrote in a letter posted on Andrew Sullivan's website--which contribution Sullivan deserves credit for publishing: "I must disagree with your disavowal of any homosexual complicity in the Church scandal. . . . Until all queers are able to face the fact that we have created for ourselves a culture that values youth and beauty above all else, and to realize that this obsession creates, in at least some gay men, a deviant and abusive tendency toward sex with minors, we are doomed to continue to create victims as surely as the atrophied Church."
What this letter clarifies is why public gay reaction to the scandals has been an exercise in moral dissonance. It is incoherent to excoriate the Church for its child molesters, as all leading gay newspapers have done, and simultaneously to print an interview with a gay man saying (to take an example from the Blade) that "he doesn't think the older men who had sex with him [when he was a child] were ephebophiles or predators. . . . 'I personally hold them completely blameless.'" It is incoherent to denounce offending priests, as just about every gay-activist and activist-friendly source has done--and meanwhile run soft-core personal stories by gay men thanking the priests who allegedly molested them as teenagers. And finally, to take a particularly striking example of the same contradiction, it is preposterous to thunder piously against the Church, and on the other hand to hail as a "gay icon" the likes of assassinated Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn--which is exactly what some libertarian gay writers have been insisting upon since his death. Fortuyn's writings in favor of man-boy sex, including but not limited to a column in Holland's largest newsmagazine in praise of the "vision" of a famous convicted pedophile, are a matter of public record.7 Nor is that record obscure. Those writings have been brought to public attention by several authors in English these last few weeks, among them National Review's Rod Dreher (twice). In fact, precisely because of his soft spot for pederasty, Fortuyn is also mentioned favorably in pro-pedophile publications.
To observe all this is not, of course, to accuse Fortuyn's admirers of sympathizing with pedophilia. But it is to emphasize that for reasons we may never fully understand, on the subject of sex with minors, the dissonance issuing from the gay community is simply deafening. What most other people call "sexual abuse," some significant part of the gay counterculture knows as "initiation." What the criminal law calls a "perpetrator," the gay counterculture calls a "troll." And what parents and the rest of the world know as a human child is dubbed in that other world with the unspeakably inhuman designation, "chicken." That dissonance, which will continue in North America even if the Catholic church is razed to the ground tomorrow, is something the bishops should not hesitate to point to as they try to prevent anything like today's crisis from happening again.
NO MATTER what is decided in Dallas or elsewhere by the bishops and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy, some public reappraisal of homosexuality in American life seems very nearly an inevitable consequence of the Church's man-boy sex problem. In following through, we are all called to intellectual humility, and the Catholics among us to spiritual humility as well. For believing Catholics, more than any others, it makes no more sense to be "homophobic" than to be "contracepto-phobic," say, or "fornicato-phobic," or "phobic" of any other group falling short of the Church's rigorous moral demands. The Catholic church teaches compassion towards all mortals, homosexuals very much included. The Catechism, among other Church documents, emphasizes this particular call to charity: "This [homosexual] inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most a trial."
At the same time, today's ideological sensitivities must not be allowed to trump what ought to be a universal effort to protect the young. Much about human sexuality remains a mystery, and we may never know why men who abuse children do what they do. But if humility is now required of Catholics, so too is backbone. If it takes shutting down certain seminaries to protect boys of the present and future, close them now. If vocations to the priesthood should be so far reduced by stringent screening for abuse victims that American Catholics have to travel 50 miles to Mass, let them drive. And if protecting children means reopening the uncomfortable question of what makes sexual orientation, that too is a sacrifice that everyone should be willing to make. There is more than enough for all of us to do, Catholic and non-Catholic. As John Paul II said, this mission is society-wide.
Mary Eberstadt is a Hoover Institution research fellow and consulting editor to Policy Review.
1Of course, there was also more than a little human comedy in the fact that some of the public critics now demanding a married clergy for themselves were just the sort of people known elsewhere for loudly deploring the hardships of juggling family and career. As mentioned, the spectacle of a largely secular press attacking the Church for its own sexual sins, real and unreal, has not been without its (again, black) humor.
2This same essay is reprinted as a comment on the scandals in the current issue of Catholic World Report, and can be read online at www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Igpress/2000-11/essay.html.
3For an extended critique of the book which argues that the situation in the seminaries is no longer as dire as Rose describes, see Rev. Robert J. Johansen's essay in the May 2002 issue of Culture Wars magazine.
4I say "apparently" because, here as elsewhere, the public record is incomplete. According to published reports, Geoghan's victims ranged in age from 4 to 12. Like other offenders, Geoghan may well have more victims, of a larger age range, than has so far been revealed in print.
5In a recent review of the literature in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, two researchers noted that "abused adolescents, particularly those victimized by males, were up to 7 times more likely to self-identify as gay or bisexual than peers who have not been abused." "Sexual Abuse of Boys: Definition, Prevalence, Correlates, Sequelae, and Management," William C. Holmes, Gail B. Slap JAMA Dec. 2, 1998 vol. 280, No. 21. For a pro-gay-rights source making similar claims based on several other studies, see Caitlin Ryan and Donna Futterman, Lesbian & Gay Youth: Care and Counseling (Columbia University Press, 1998): "In a survey of sexual abuse victims who attended STD clinics, for example, 37 percent of gay men had been sexually abused as children or adolescents. And in an outcome study of lesbians and gay men who had completed inpatient substance abuse treatment, 44 percent reported having been sexually abused (37 percent of males and 67 percent of females) with abstinence being much more likely among those who had not experienced abuse. Prevalence of sexual abuse appears higher among gay males than heterosexual males, although gay males may be more willing to report such abuse."