The official Vatican document at the heart of the "gay-priest ban" story is now available online and it turns out that the leaked version was accurate, only it was missing the footnotes from the authors. We may hear more about that in the next day or so. But the reactions are beginning in the usual places. For the .pdf text, click here, and for the statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, click here. For William Saletan's Slate.com summary of why the Roman Catholic Church is wrong, click here. To follow the emerging thread on this at Amy Welborn's "open book" blog, click here.
The Saletan piece is actually quite useful to reporters, although not in the way that one would expect. Part of his thesis is that the Roman Catholic Church, due to the homophobic sin of this pope, is failing to follow the logic of many Catholic scholars on issues of sexuality. As a result, Saletan documents two decades of infighting -- one URL after another -- behind the scenes in Catholic life. There are no new questions here, only the old debates between nature and nurture, between choices and conditions. Can human beings change their sexual behaviors? Catholics disagree with one another. This is no surprise.
Journalists can continue to let Catholics fight this out, pew to pew and altar to altar. The New York Times did precisely this the other day and did very little to define the flames that are burning under all of that smoke. In doing so, it also repeated many of the mistakes that continue to shape MSM coverage:
Similarly, some Catholics said that because the majority of victims in the scandals involving sexually abusive priests were boys, barring gay men from the priesthood would reduce the likelihood of such abuse in the future. But others said there was no link between homosexuality and pedophilia, especially many parishioners in Boston, an archdiocese profoundly affected by the sexual abuse scandal.
Once again let me stress: Very few cases of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic church involve "pedophilia" (sex with prepubescent children). Instead, the great majority -- some say 90 percent or more -- of the cases involve "ephebophilia" (sex with under-aged young people, and almost always boys).
Pedophilia is getting the headlines. Meanwhile, the hard questions are linked to male priests and teen-aged boys.
Here is how a Catholic progressive once explained it to me, crossing over into a discussion of heterosexuality to make the point. A 40-year-old straight male who wants to have sex with a 16-year-old Britney Spears wants to do something that is sick, sinful and illegal. But this straight male is not wrestling with the same psychological condition as a 40-year-old straight male who wants to have sex with a 6-year-old Britney Spears. These conditions are not the same, they are apples and oranges.
Researchers can and do make a strong case that homosexuals are, statistically, no more likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexuals. This is an important point, but not highly relevant to most cases of clergy sexual abuse in the all-male Catholic priesthood. The issue is sex with teen-aged boys. The MSM continues to ignore this crucial point. This is not surprising, since the U.S. Catholic establishment has not been anxious to discuss it, either.
To see how this error helps shape the MSM meta-narratives, check out this section of a recent "Points West" column by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez:
Church leaders might have been better off continuing to pretend there were no gays in the priesthood, or they could have stuck with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that's made for hundreds of years' worth of comfortable hypocrisy. But then came the molestation scandal, which was one reason for the new policy, the other being a so-called fear of a growing gay subculture in church life.
To Eric Barragan of Santa Paula, the rewritten gay policy makes perfect sense. "They're trying to play the blame game," he says.
You have an abuse scandal, you slam the door on people with "deep-rooted homosexual tendencies," and it looks as if -- like good Christian soldiers -- you've zeroed in on the problem. Yeah, it was the homosexuals.
"But it's apples and oranges," Barragan says. "Just because you're gay doesn't mean you're a pedophile."
This is true, but spin is spin, and nobody does it better than the church.
Lopez and Barragan are correct. The only problem is that they, and most of the MSM, are not covering the real story. Pedophilia is the safe topic, since these cases are very rare.
The Vatican is wrestling with two issues: Mature men having sex with teen-aged boys (and, often, with other men) and a subculture of professors, priests and bishops (many straight, many gay) that is actively opposed to the moral theology of the Roman Catholic Church. If journalists focus on these two stories, they will get closer to the heart of this bitter and painful struggle than if they continue to focus on the rare cases of pedophilia.