The next gathering of the U.S. Catholic bishops is only days away.
Obviously, the topic of clergy sexual abuse of teens and children is going to get lots and lots of attention from the press. There is the outside chance that the bishops may also talk — thinking about Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick about the abuse of seminarians and young priests by those who have power over them.
Thus, reporters are looking for stories right now — new information about these issues to serve as background for what is ahead.
So, the other day I sent a URL to some Catholics in journalism. The massive double-decker headline proclaims:
Is Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Related to Homosexual Priests?
An interview with sociologist Father Paul Sullins, whose new study documents a strong linkage between the incidence of abuse and homosexuality in the priesthood and in seminaries.
One reporter’s reply went something like this: I predict this study will not be covered by The New York Times.
That’s a #DUH comment. For starters, check out this conservative priest’s mini-bio at The Ruth Institute. Spot any landmines?
Dr. Paul Sullins has a Ph.D. in sociology and is recently retired from teaching at the Catholic University of America. He is a married Catholic priest, and has written a book on that subject, Keeping the Vow: The Untold Story of Married Catholic Priests.
My question here is not whether this sociologist’s study — combining material from several different sources — is beyond debate. I am well aware that many Catholics will debate his conclusions.
That’s my point. The question is whether this study deserves mainstream press overage AND DEBATE.
But before we go there, let me remind GetReligion readers of where I stand on this particular issue, after several decades of following this story and interviewing some key voices on both the Catholic left and right. A quick summary, in order of importance in my opinion:
I: The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders – left and right, gay and straight – have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.
II. Classic pedophiles tend to strike children of both genders. However, in terms of raw statistics, most child-abuse cases linked to Catholic clergy are not true cases of pedophilia, but are examples of ephebophilia – intense sexual interest in post-pubescent teens or those on the doorstep of the teen years. The overwhelming majority of these clergy cases are adult males with young males.
III. One of the biggest secrets hiding in the bitter fog from all of these facts is the existence of powerful networks of sexually active gay priests, with many powerful predators – McCarrick is a classic example – based at seminaries and ecclesiastical offices. Thus, these men have extraordinary power in shaping the lives of future priests.
Now, the study materials are available right here.
A Q&A report at The National Catholic Register includes this summary, right up top:
The report — which indicates a very strong correlation between homosexual priests and homosexual subcultures and the incidence of clergy sexual abuse — is in part a response to the two important studies commissioned by the U.S. Bishops in the face of the sex-abuse crisis that were conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The 2004 study was entitled, “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States,” and the 2011 report was called, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.” …
The central thrust of the report is that the share of homosexual men in the priesthood rose from twice that of the general population in the 1950s to eight times the general population in the 1980s, a trend that was strongly correlated with increasing child sex abuse. At the same time, a quarter of priests ordained in the late 1960s report the existence of a homosexual subculture in their seminaries, rising to over half of priests ordained in the 1980s, a second trend that was also strongly correlated with increasing child sex abuse.
Here is a exchange late in the interview linked to a crucial topic in the McCarrick scandals and, perhaps, the clergy abuse scandal as a whole — seminaries.
Which seminaries? That’s the big question no one wants to answer.
You mentioned in your research that there is this presence of a homosexual subculture in a lot of U.S. seminaries. And as you’ve also noted, that the John Jay Report was unable to identify specifically which seminaries were particular problem areas for that, what needs to be done in your view with respect to seminaries in order to address this problem, especially given the high likelihood … that this is an ongoing problem that has yet to be resolved?
Well, the first thing that needs to be done is to stop the denial. We need to recognize that there’s a problem. And the idea that we want to keep from acknowledging that homosexual activity in seminaries or in the priesthood might be related to these kind of harms is really an important first step. The impulse that we don’t want to say anything that might stigmatize homosexual persons is an understandable one. But it has to be weighed against the potential for greater harm for these victims. …
I do not know exactly what steps should be taken in seminaries. I’m sure there are people that have much better ideas than I would about that, but the first step I would recommend is to investigate thoroughly what seminaries, what professors, what persons, were complicit in promoting this kind of activity, because we don’t know.
The John Jay Report let us know what diocese each offender was in, but did not let us know what seminary each offender had attended. Now, if we need just that piece of information, we could correlate abuse in the seminaries and find out which seminaries graduated priests that were engaged in less abuse; it seems to me that would be an important piece of information to know. And then we can begin to look at what the characteristics of those seminaries were; we might find that it’s related to particular professors and particular groups of persons, many of whom are still in the priesthood and still with us.
MAIN IMAGE: From a report at the conservative Catholic site Church Militant.