While American cardinals and bishops meet at the Vatican to discuss the crisis that has occurred in Boston, the state legislature of Massachusetts struggles with the wording of a bill that would add clergy to the state's mandatory child abuse reporting law. The conflict at the Vatican, it appears, is over the power of Christian conversion versus the power of going to jail. The conflict in Massachusetts, according to media reports, is over how to effectively amend the law without violating Roman Catholic confessional rights. What is amazing is that it has taken so many decades for the American public, the news media, and the powers in and of Rome to address the issue.
While it is true that the Roman Catholic Church has no exclusivity when it comes to the sexual abuse of children, it is also true that reports of clerical abuse are nothing new. For that matter, there is also a long history of physical abuse within Catholic schools that has gone unnoticed, possibly because many parents openly sanctioned the whacks and whippings that were for years administered to their children. Physical abuse of Catholic school children has probably stopped, except perhaps in isolated cases, but I cannot recall ever hearing the church apologize for the behavior.
Most people know little about sexual abuse, in spite of the numerous magazine articles and television shows devoted to the subject, and people tend to lump all perpetrators into one category. Priests (and others) who are attracted to children exclusively suffer from pedophilia, a condition that is often accompanied by a compulsive disorder which renders them unable to stop the molesting behavior. The harm caused to the abused children is well documented: they are likely to become adults who have problems with trust, sexuality and self-image. They may develop anxiety disorders, become depressed, abuse substances or molest others.
When an authority system--a nuclear family, a neighborhood or a church--uses secrecy and/or denial to defend against the commission of sexual abuse, the abused person feels violated again. The victim is told, sometimes explicitly, that it is her or his duty to protect the perpetrator and the authority system to which the perpetrator belongs. The abuse itself becomes buried under layers of minimizing and covering up. The resulting message is "You don't count--the authority system is more important than you are." In other words, Get Over It and Don't Embarrass the Church.
Where there is denial, there is scapegoating, and the handiest scapegoat around is the gay male community. Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit (who has spoken out in favor of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's maintaining his church position) has stated that behavioral scientists think "it's not truly a pedophilia type problem but a homosexual type problem." I cannot imagine where Cardinal Maida found these "behavioral scientists." The plain fact is that a high percentage of men with pedophilia are not heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual: they are attracted to children, and are incapable of having any type of sexual attraction to adults. Some are attracted to boys, some to girls, some to both genders. But priests are labeled as gay when they are found out as abusers. And in the Catholic Church, being gay is considered yet another sin.
Consider the words of Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: "It is an ongoing struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men." The implication is a deadly one, and does nothing but add fuel to the fire of gay-haters and further confuse a public that does not understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse. Almost as disturbing is the belief that the rule of celibacy is somehow related to the abuse of children. Though this rule indeed discriminates unnecessarily against hundreds of worthy candidates for the priesthood, it is absurd to think that a pedophile will stop abusing children once he is married.
What is perhaps most outrageous is that no one is publicly calling for the indictment and prosecution of the church officials who have covered up the abuse and who have shuffled the abusers back and forth among their parishes. The network talking heads aren't discussing this omission of justice, nor are their guests. The offending, psychiatrically disturbed priests are looking at possible jail time, but the authority figures--their co-conspirators--are looking at nothing more confining than the walls of the confession booth.
In the meantime, the church is having trouble finding priests. But married men (or men who would like to be married), gay men, and women--no matter how spiritually and psychologically healthy they are--need not apply.