The Major Factor In Abuse Study Is Homosexuality

WASHINGTON — It has been called the “elephant in the sacristy.”

In the Catholic clergy abuse scandal, most of the activity was homosexual in nature, and yet this central fact of the abuse has been treated as almost unmentionable in the Church's internal discussions.

But now that the abuse picture has been thoroughly studied, the elephant is making a racket.

The John Jay study and National Review Board reports released in February on the scope and causes of the crisis confirm what preliminary findings had suggested and many observers suspected: A large majority of the 4% of priests who reportedly offended against one or more minors since 1950 did so against post-pubescent males. The average age of the victims was 13, and 81% of all the victims were boys.

“It's become clear we have a problem with homosexuality,” said Pennsylvania-based psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, who has written on the abuse crisis and worked with clergy struggling with homosexuality.

The lay review board report was similarly direct: “There are, no doubt, many outstanding priests of a homosexual orientation who live chaste, celibate lives, but any evaluation of the causes and context of the current crisis must be cognizant of the fact that more than 80% of the abuse at issue was of a homosexual nature.”

Despite the profile of the homosexual offender, the bishops' lay review board and Bishop Wilton Gregory, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president, have refrained from declaring that homosexuals should be automatically excluded from seminary or the possibility of priestly ministry. Some Catholic health professionals, including those who conduct psychotherapy to help heal men and women of same-sex attraction, say they should.

According to the review board report, released Feb. 27 in Washington, D.C., “Such decisions are the prerogative of a bishop, although it seems clear to the board that the paramount question in this area must be whether a candidate for priesthood is capable of living a chaste, celibate life, not what that candidate's sexual orientation might be.”

However, the report added, “given the nature of the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors, the realities of the culture today and the male-oriented atmosphere of the seminary, a more searching inquiry is necessary for a homosexually oriented man by those who decide whether he is suitable for the seminary and for ministry. For those bishops who choose to ordain homosexuals there appears to be a need for additional scrutiny and perhaps additional or specialized formation to help them with the challenge of chaste celibacy.”

Still Room

As for the homosexual priest question, Bishop Gregory left room for the continued ordination of homosexuals.

“We as bishops should not simply be examining those who may have a homosexual orientation. Our screening should look at all unhealthy psychological behaviors,” he said at a press conference the day the reports were released. “We as bishops will not fulfill our responsibility simply by focusing on one dimension that may have need for greater scrutiny and ignore all the others. I don't want anyone in the seminary who is selfish … I don't want anyone in the seminary who has a distorted view of himself, the narcissistic personality.

“If we are to do a credible job as bishops in reviewing and screening our candidates, we should look for those that demonstrate sound moral, psychological and spiritual health … and not focus exclusively on any one potential difficulty.”

Some bishops reported to the board that they do exclude homosexuals from their seminaries, and a 1961 Vatican directive to superiors of men's religious orders specifically advises exclusion of “those who are afficted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.”

In his 2002 meeting with U.S. cardinals, Pope John Paul II said that the lay faithful must know that there is no place in the priest-hood for those who would harm the young. Then he added: “They must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.”

Likely to Act Out

Fitzgibbons, who co-wrote a Catholic Medical Association article titled “Homosexuality and Hope,” said he fears the Church could be putting young people at risk by accepting what he considers an unscientific idea: Homosexuality is genetically determined and cannot be helped.

“If you're just thinking it's genetic — you're born that way — you're highly vulnerable. There are some who are committed to celibacy, but there are some who are profoundly influenced by this culture and are highly likely to act out,” he said.

There are no studies that show a genetic cause for same-sex attraction, Fitzgibbons said, but there are studies to show that therapy has helped people change from being homosexual to heterosexual.

Philip Mango, a psychotherapist for 30 years who directs St. Michael's Institute for the Psychological Sciences in New York, said he would recommend homosexuals be screened from seminaries because it's not enough for priests to be celibate — they also need to be masculine.

The problem is deeper than whether someone will “act or not act out,” he said. “It's about being men who know what leadership is. A man who is homosexual can't do it. It's not his fault. He can be very nice, he can be very good, but he can't do those things that Christ did, because he wants to be liked. He hasn't been affirmed. If you want to be loved, you cannot lead.”

Fitzgibbons said this dynamic only feeds the vicious circle of abuse.

“The reality is those with same-sex attraction have a vulnerability toward adolescent males because during their own adolescence they felt woefully inadequate,” he said. “The major psychological dynamic for those who have sex with minors is weak masculine identity and a profound sense of isolation and loneliness. When this is present, these individuals become a potential risk to adolescents — under stress they're likely to act out in that manner.”

“Those priests with same-sex attraction have a responsibility to protect the Church from further shame and sorrow by resolving emotional conflicts,” he said.

Ellen Rossini writes from Richardson, Texas.

Numbers From The Report

The John Jay report was an extensive, thorough study of allegations — not convictions, not certain cases of abuse, and not unreported abuse. No other institution has studied child abuse as thoroughly.

• Of those priests accused of sexual abuse from 1950 to 2002 were made against 2.5% of religious-order priests compared with 4.3% of diocesan priests across all regions.

• 68% of the priests were ordained between 1950 and 1979.

• 71% were ordained between the ages of 25 and 29.

• 56% were accused of abusing 1 minor; 27% were accused by 2 to 3 alleged victims; nearly 14% accused by 4 to 9; 3.4% were accused of abusing more than 10 minors.