Anyone who picked up a major newspaper today knows that one of the hot stories on the other side of the Atlantic is the resignation of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Brugge, Belgium -- the latest star to fall in the current wave of clergy sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. But why did the bishop resign? This is where to plot gets more complicated. On closer inspection of the words located in between some crucial major-media quotation marks, it appears that we may have another translation problem on our hands. Yes, we're talking about the New York Times, again.
Here is the top of one report from Catholic News Service, a source that tends to take church documents very seriously. Let us attend:
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of a Belgian bishop who admitted to sexually abusing a young man.
Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Brugge, Belgium, said in a statement April 23, "When I was still a simple priest and for a certain time at the beginning of my episcopacy, I sexually abused a young man." ... In his statement, the Belgian bishop said, "Over the course of the last decades, I repeatedly recognized how I sinned against him and his family and I asked forgiveness. But this did not appease him. Nor me."
Here is another take on some of the pivotal language in that statement, care of The Independent:
In a statement yesterday, the bishop said: "When I was still a simple priest, and for a while when I began as a bishop, I sexually abused a young man in my close entourage. I profoundly regret what I have done and I offer my sincerest apology to the victim, his family, the Catholic community and society in general."
Note the quote that ends with "in my close entourage." Catholic News Service appears to have trimmed that direct quote just a bit.
Now, here is how the bishop's actions are framed in the Times.
ROME -- The longest-serving bishop in Belgium resigned Friday after admitting to sexually abusing "a boy in my close entourage" many years ago, becoming the latest cleric to quit in a spreading abuse scandal.
The development added to a corrosive catalog of disclosures that has damaged the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church and shaken the trust of many believers in their spiritual leaders. In a statement issued by the Vatican on Friday, Roger Vangheluwe, 73, the bishop of Bruges since 1985, said that the abuse had occurred "when I was still a simple priest and for a while when I began as a bishop."
Now, unless the bishop's complete official statement -- which I have yet to find online -- contains two different passages containing the "entourage" language, then we have clashing interpretations of a key term. Does the bishop's statement say that he abused a "boy" or a "young man." Note that the Times article also says that the abuse took place over a period of years, during his priesthood and early in his episcopate.
Now, I am well aware that the term "young man" may have been used in a rather formal manner and that this does not tell us anything about the age of victim when the abuse began. Still, if the term is accurately translated as "boy," this would point to a younger victim.
Why might -- I repeat, "might" -- this be important?
Once again, let me offer the following insight from a Catholic progressive here in America, a leader with years of experience overseeing the work and lives of Catholic seminarians. I am referring to Father Donald B. Cozzens, former vicar for clergy in Cleveland and rector of a graduate seminary in Ohio. He is the author of the very candid, and controversial, book "The Changing Face of the Priesthood."
Cozzens stressed that he agrees with researchers who believe sexual orientation is irrelevant in discussions of pedophilia. But what if pedophilia is not the issue?
By definition, pedophiles are sexually attracted to boys and girls who have not reached puberty. But Cozzens said reports he has studied, and his own experience as a counselor, indicate the more common problem among Catholic clergy is "ephebophilia." This is recurrent, intense sexual interest in post-pubescent young people -- teen-agers.
The term "ephebophilia" is rarely used in church debates and the press. Yet, Cozzens said that whenever clergy vicars held conferences 90 percent of the sex-abuse cases they discussed fell into this category. Church authorities are reluctant to investigate this reality.
Does this make a difference in terms of church law? No.
Does it make a difference in terms of secular law? No.
Does it make a difference in terms of moral theology and sin? No.
But does it make a difference in terms of accurate information, in terms of understanding what is going on in the clergy-abuse crisis crisis? That is where there is fierce debate and journalists need to be covering that debate in a balanced and accurate manner. It would help if the mainstream press acknowledged that the issue exists and that it matters.
As Cozzens told me, researchers believe that there no link between pedophilia and sexual orientation. However, when dealing with ephebophilia, the patterns of abuse appear to be different. Thus, with an all-male priesthood, patterns of ephebophilia would lead to the very statistics that have been generated by the abuse crisis. Pedophilia is very, very rare among Catholic clergy. Ephebophilia is what is taking place -- overwhelmingly.
Thus, it matters if the bishop abused a "young man" for several years, rather than a "boy."
Who did the translation work for Catholic News Services and newspapers on the other side of the Atlantic? How did the New York Times -- this culture's most powerful news institution -- end up with this alternative translation that differs on this one crucial point?