John Jay Report: On Not Blaming Homosexual Priests
The new John Jay Report on the “causes and contexts” of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church includes a finding that will probably surprise many observers. As David Gibson states in a piece on Religion News Service:
[T]he researchers found no statistical evidence that gay priests were more likely than straight priests to abuse minors—a finding that undermines a favorite talking point of many conservative Catholics. The disproportionate number of adolescent male victims was about opportunity, not preference or pathology, the report states.
What’s more, researchers note that the rise in the number of gay priests from the late 1970s onward actually corresponded with “a decreased incidence of abuse—not an increased incidence of abuse.”
How is this possible, particularly given the widespread stereotype of the abusive or predatory homosexual priest? How else to explain so many male victims of abuse?
First of all, nearly every reputable psychologist and psychiatrist, not to mention almost every scholarly study, decisively rejects the conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia, as well as any cause-and-effect relationship. The studies are almost too numerous to mention. Pedophilia, say experts, is often more a question of a stunted (or arrested) sexuality, more a question of power, and more a question of proximity (among other complicated psychological and social factors). The new John Jay College of Criminal Justice study, called “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,” points to, among other reasons: emotionally immature and psychologically maladjusted men entering seminaries; the difficulty of dealing with cultural upheaval in which priests found themselves in the 1960s and 1970s; as well as, again, the issue of proximity--young men and boys were abused because priests were more likely to be working with them, rather than with young women and girls. But simply put, being a homosexual priest does not make one an abusive priest.
Indeed, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned another extensive independent study in the wake of the American abuse crisis in 2002, also undertaken by John Jay College. In 2009, Margaret Smith, a researcher from John Jay, reported to the bishops, "What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse. At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now."
Second, there is a stronger argument against the frequent conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia: the lived experience of emotionally mature and psychologically healthy gay men (and women) who have never, ever abused a child; are not tempted to do so; are not attracted to children at all; and would, in short, never think of doing so. Being gay does not make one a pedophile.
This insight is, I believe, known by thoughtful bishops, experienced church leaders and seasoned Vatican officials. That is one reason why last year the Rev. Marcus Stock, the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, released a statement saying, "To the best of my knowledge, there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to child sexual abuse. The consensus among researchers is that the sexual abuse of children is not a question of sexual 'orientation', whether heterosexual or homosexual, but of a disordered attraction or 'fixation.'"
But despite the findings of the new John Jay report, and the warnings of psychology professionals against equating pedophilia and abuse, some both inside and outside the church may still find this new study difficult to accept. If these findings were true, they may ask, why would so many victims be not just young boys but adolescent males? Once again, researchers have always suggested that this has more to do a welter of reasons, including proximity: many priests were in the past responsible for the care of boys. In schools and parish settings, Catholic sisters cared for girls; priests for boys.
Certainly there were homosexually-oriented priests who were abusers, just as there were heterosexually-oriented abusers. (That much should be clear to anyone who has followed this terrible saga since 2002.) But, as the new study shows, the vast majority of homosexual priests (and heterosexual priests) never abused anyone. In fact, the increased numbers of homosexual priests coincided with a decrease in abuse cases. So where does the stereotype of the abusive homosexual priest come from? Here is where the situation grows more complex.
One of the main reasons that many persist in thinking that homosexuality is the root cause of the abuse crisis, and that homosexual priests are mainly pedophiles, is because there are almost no "public" models of healthy, mature, loving celibate homosexual priests to rebut that stereotype. An America magazine article published in 2000 looked at some of the reasons reasons why.
There are in the Catholic priesthood, and there have always been, celibate homosexual priests and chaste homosexual members of religious orders. How do I know this? Because, like most priests, I have known not a few of them. They are emotionally mature, psychologically healthy, genuinely loving, and beloved by those with whom they minister; they work hard on behalf of the "People of God," and they have never abused a single child. Many of these men are among the holiest people I've ever known. I consider a few of them saints. And let me repeat, so as to be clear: they are celibate. Or, in religious orders, they are chaste. (As an aside, using the word "gay priest" sets off alarm bells in some corners of the church, where "gay" is assumed to mean sexually active.)
Some of these men are public about their orientations only with close friends, their confessors or their spiritual directors. The reasons for non-disclosure are easy to identify, even if they are not always easy for the general public to understand.
First, these priests may be fearful of how their parishioners would react, especially if they are living in a parish where homophobia abounds. Second, they might feel, not without reason, that a public declaration might place more emphasis on the priest than on his ministry and, likewise, serve as a distraction and even cause a serious division within the parish. Third, they might be fearful of reprisals or punishments by some less-than-understanding bishops or religious superiors. Fourth, they may be unable or unwilling to do so for a variety of personal reasons. (For example, they may be of a generation where talk of sexuality simply wasn't done, or they may still be deeply embarrassed by their orientation, despite their celibacy and chastity.) And, in the wake of the abuse crisis, when some commentators linked homosexuality with pedophilia, some of their fears intensified. Finally, some priests may be explicitly forbidden by their bishops or religious superiors, fearful of publicity, from speaking about their orientation publicly.
Some of this came to a boil with the release of the Vatican's 2004 letter, completed after a lengthy Vatican "visitation" of the U.S. seminaries in the wake of the abuse crisis. The document, "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders," stated that men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" could not be admitted to the priesthood.
Since then the document has been interpreted in various ways in diocesan seminaries and in formation programs in religious orders, at least according to officials with whom I've spoken in the intervening years. Last year a diocesan seminarian wrote to tell me that in his seminary there was a "don't tell your brothers" policy, while in other seminaries any admission of one's homosexuality can lead, as I am told, to expulsion. On the other hand, some bishops and superiors of religious orders, recognizing the historical contributions of celibate gay priests, have interpreted the document to mean that "deep-seated" means that one cannot live celibately; ergo, if a gay man feels an authentic call to the priesthood, is emotionally mature and can live a celibate lifestyle, he can be ordained. One of the most pastoral approaches comes from Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, who wisely said on the document's release that a man who is homosexual and feels a vocation to be a priest "shouldn't be discouraged." Other bishops and religious superiors--it is admittedly difficult to say how many--have adopted similar approaches.
Still, the fear among many celibate homosexual clergy remains. Not long ago an experienced priest with many years in parish ministry told me that the only way that things will change is when all the homosexual priests decide one Sunday to "come out" to their parishes. But that is highly unlikely: besides the reasons stated above, the bonds that tie these men together are usually local, and mostly informal. Nonetheless, something of that nature could serve as a significant "teaching moment" for the entire church. On the other hand, many Catholic parishioners aren't ignorant of this fact: they are most likely aware that some of their priests are homosexual, and as long as they're celibate and loving and generous and prayerful, parishioners are accepting of them, and are usually grateful. The inspiring story of the Rev. Fred Daley, of Utica, New York, is one such example.
Most Catholics--including most bishops and archbishops--already know these things. The new John Jay Report will only confirm their accepting approach to the celibate homosexual clergy with whom they have worked over the years. They know that homosexuality and pedophilia are not the same thing. (This may be why Pope Benedict XVI himself, en route to the United States for his visit in 2008, responded this way to a question about the abuse crisis: "I do not wish to talk about homosexuality, but about pedophilia, which is a different thing.") They also know that there are many of celibate homosexual men in the priesthood and chaste men in religious orders who have never abused anyone and who, moreover, lead generous, dedicated, and even holy lives.
It's never seemed mysterious to me. As a heterosexual woman, one of the main reasons that I haven't given serious thought to entrance into a religious order is that God has given me a desire to be a mother (and a wife). I don't think that I would serve God badly as a nun, but believe I could do so better as a wife and mother. The choices are mutually exclusive, so the one desire precludes the other.
Given how difficult our society makes it for homosexual men to find vocations as fathers (through adoption, etc.), some gay men may feel less pull away from ordained ministry (to be a father, spouse, etc.). So it is possible that their choices may be clearer or simpler than that faced by straight men, at least in some cases.
While Fr. Martin is correct that merely because a person experiences homosexual feelings does not mean he will be an abuser you cannot ignore the fact that the abuse was largely homosexual in nature with teenage boys. This is classic pederasty not pedophilia. That cannot be fudged or ignored which is why this report is not credible. John Jay is a secular organization influenced by the spirit of the times: relativism and political correctness.
Thanks for the pretty graph Dave. It looks so real and authoritative. If you added color it would look even more impressive.
But the qustion is Dave: Is this report valid?
I am saying the report is likely not valid becasue its data is likely far from complete. The data this report is using is "reported allegations". If a sexual abuse incident is not reported it is not known. The extent of this problem is still not known is likely much larger than "reported ALlegations".
The report itself notes that most incidenta are not reported immeadiatley. Reporting is often delayed twenty or thirty years. This suggest some kind of strong inhibiting mechanism for not reporting incidents. How many incidents then are never reported? Or reported but covered up, not properly categorized or otherwise not correctly handled? How many managers would freely admit their organization has sexual abuse incdents? We know the answer from the Boston Globe 2002 articles : none. So is volunatary disclosure of a group or individual problem reliable? No. Not at all. So the "reprted alelgations" are essentially the the one revealed in court of some rare transparent process which ususal were not used in the past.
Si?n?c?e? ?the reporting of incidents is not reliable and flawed then you are guessing the extend of the problem and all of the problems statistical characteristics such as time and frequency of occurance. The peak you reference is a time frequency distribution of reported allegation which is not all incidents.
So a peak is just a peak. It is not valid if your database of "reported allegations?'" is not reliable becsue it is not complete. By accepting the time distrbution (the peak) you have accepted that you already know the time characteristics of all sexual abuse incidents. But you do not know how actual sexual abuse incidents are distributed over time becsues you do not have even a good guess of all sexual abuse incidents.
Which isn't to say that the 60's and 70's weren't a stressful period for any number of people, for any number of reasons. They probably weren't as stressful as Europe was in the 30's and 40's. Or the 1910's.
Why should sexual deviancy in the clergy suddenly begin in the 1950s and not before?
1. If a vocation is what we define it - a call from God - then ''attraction to the priesthood'' might better be viewed as attraction to do the will of God and to serve. I can see no reason why sexual orientation would have any impact on that desire, for a discerning Christian.
2. You don't say this, but you sort of imply that there is a predominance of gay men drawn to the priesthood. I don't recall having ever seen any reports on the subject, so I'm far from being an expert, but I can't help wondering if there might not be some stereotyping involved in the common assumption (you're certainly not the only one I've ever heard suggest this) that the percentage of gay priests is significantly higher than the percentage of gay men in the general population.
3. The Church teaches that homsexual persons must be celibate. For 1,200 years it has also taught that priests and religious must be celibate/chaste. If a gay Catholic man wants to live in integrity with those teachings, then it seems to me that the priesthood is at least as viable a vocation as any other, perhaps more so. And it's not hard to see why living such a vocation in a community of other chaste/celibate men who can be mutually supportive, regardless of orientation, might be attractive.
Just some thoughts.
You might look at Mark Jordan's The Silence of Sodom. It's controversial, but at least takes a stab at addressing some of the questions you're raising (among others). As a gay Catholic, I found that it made a lot of sense in my case and among many others that I know.
Times have changed since my adolescence. I don’t think it was ever a matter for me of finding a good “gay” role model. It was more, and still is, a matter of self-acceptance. The “gay business” has always been the stake in the ground to which I was tied to and around which my whole life centered. Shame is what shackled me to that stake. I couldn’t move beyond it.
I think if I was looking for a good role model in a priest, I’d really rather not know about his orientation; that would be bothersome to me. As an adolescent, it would have been more important, that if were a priest, that I have a model of what it is to be a man.
What I have found since I now have promised to live a chaste life, that the priests that I admire in their ministries; and not only priests, but deacons and lay ministers (mostly the lay ministers, actually) have become role models for me. I suppose, if I put my mind to it, I could riddle-out who the gay priests are. But, that would be a serious distraction in my living a chaste life. I can’t white-knuckle chastity; I have to consciously remind myself the true reason why I am doing so. When I see the same devotion in the words and actions of these priests, deacons and laymen and women, then I have a model to follow.
Same-sex-attraction isn’t a sin. I can’t accuse myself of it in the confessional. Gay or straight, celibate men struggle in their chastity. I certainly struggle. By necessity, I have to bring into the equation that I’m gay …integrate it… in developing a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus. It’s a private thing, though. I happily live in service to others, as an oblation. Do I have to tell other priests, deacons, laymen that “this is how a gay man would serve others”? Is there a gay way or a straight way to serve?
I do find it hurtful, painful to read that homosexuality is a deal breaker in admission to the seminary. I grit my teeth and walk away knowing why it came about, and that it was politically motivated; and I find that disturbing.
So much can be, and has been written on why priests are role models.
Just because I can know, doesn’t make it necessary that I know.
I’d rather be lead to what is transcendent, in a truly Christian friendship and brotherhood.
I’ve always admired your writing and thank you for this article.
Church officials can never be trusted to have the kids best interest at heart. They just do not care.
There is only one way to get these men stopped. Outside law enforcement and prosecutors need to take heed and investigate every single catholic diocese in the world. There is no other way to get this life long harmful abuse stopped.
Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
"Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests"
The danger for the church is not pedophilia but ephebaphilia.
The majority of cases were those that involved an attraction to teenage boys.
This is what Maciel and Gelmini and Groer were all about.
Those who lead us spiritually are cut off from us on an affective level.
St Augustine noted that when people became chaste or celibate they tended to develop a more avaracious nature. Many priests today live a very single life and there is a selfishness involved in that too.
Again I would advise all those who visit this particular posting to read what "Paul" wrote.This is a gay posting and so sure to garner more than 50 comments onAmerica but it will have been worthwhile if everybody reflects on what he says.
I never describe myself as “gay” because I see that word as a “political term” that distracts from the reality - I am a man attracted to men (a.k.a., SSA).
I am reading the report now and will comment when I am done.
Paul: you said: "Shame is what shackled me to that stake." As a non-celibate gay man who is even older than you, I learned a long time ago that there is a significant difference between “guilt” and “shame.’ Guilt is when an individual feels pain and personal remorse because of knowing that (s)he has violated what is deemed to be morality. Shame is where blame only attaches if the individual is seen by another to be at fault. I do hope that, if you must feel shackled by anything, it is because of guilt rather than shame.
I disagree that there is guilt in accepting yourself for what and who you are and consequently failing to live out your life in agreement with your being. But, irrespective of that, to let yourself be shackled by shame or, for that much, guilt, is sad. That kind of fear is not a lasting teacher of anything.
“There are gay Catholics who sincerely and deeply fear that to reject their sexual orientation is a gravely sinful act of defiance against the God who created them. Their confirmation of this fear is that their faculty of love - the ability to love not only another human being but God himself - is fundamentally impaired when they reject their orientation. This may not be true for some people, but I know from personal witness that it is true for others. This issue - which to my mind is the truly fundamental experiential issue - is often elided. Certainly the bishops and popes ignore it. Until this issue is addressed in concrete rather than abstract ways, the teaching the Church is promoting is incomplete and lacking a significant measure of credibility for people thus affected.”
Liam 2009-11-18 09 http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&id=81913739-3048-741E-5405178212524077#comments
Paul: you said: "Shame is what shackled me to that stake." As a non-celibate gay man who is even older than you, I learned a long time ago that there is a significant difference between “guilt” and “shame.’
Guilt is when an individual feels pain and personal remorse because of knowing that he has violated what is deemed to be morality.
Shame is where blame only attaches if the individual is seen by another to be at fault.
Then, I’d have to say that I feel shame and sometimes great anger because I am ashamed.
I don’t think its guilt. Officially, this June 1st, I have taken leave from all committees, ministries, promises to daily Mass, frequent confession, meeting with my spiritual director, with the intention of returning to my regular duties early September. I’m doing so in order to deal with what you describe as the guilt. I’ve tried every which way, exhausted myself to the point of collapse, to develop an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus, only to have every attempt fail because I, though I admit to my orientation, cannot accept my orientation. If I reject myself, how am I to approach Jesus? I set my standards too high, as I was told by a kindly nun just recently. I’m thinking Jesus would only want me if I was perfect (in whose eyes?). When I have tried self-acceptance, it was in a typically male way: I can do this myself. I can’t; I’m a witness to that I can’t.
So, this summer, I walk with Jesus and pour myself out to him and ask if he’ll accept me as I am.
The ones who have tried to hammer it into my thick skull, repeatedly, that God created me, all of me, have been religious men and women. None of them said “Jesus won’t have you.” Quite the contrary, when I felt rejected and abandoned, it was from those outside religious life. I’ve never met the Pope, and there are a couple of priests I won’t pass the time with, however, overwhelmingly, the few bishops I know, the priests and religious have been the most supportive. I’ve been the only impediment.
My opinion remains that addressing/approaching/integrating one’s sexuality needn’t happen in the market place. Chastity, poverty of spirit, fear of the Lord and obedience are a means of responding to God’s constant yearning for relationship. I’m thick headed. I’m only now understanding Jesus’ desire for me when he says “Peace be with you.” This is very personal and intimate. It’s not something I’m going to share, outside of a select few. Once I feel whole and complete, maybe like the woman at the well, where she shouted ‘He knows everything about me!’, once the shame is lifted in my relationship with Jesus, then, I’m sure, the shackles will be broken. It doesn’t mean that I then throw a parade; perhaps, rather, it means I can be more fully Christlike to others.
You do introduce and conflate another issue in all this, though, and unhelpfully: whether the Church should ordain ''gay'' men (whatever, and in however much quality, ''gay'' means). The Catholic Church has other reasons beyond the possibility of abuse to not ordain gay men. You may not agree, but I think if you choose to introduce this (separate) issue you should at least then, in all fairness, include the reasons (and not merely a straw man, as others have done-though I doubt you would) why the Church would rather not have gay men of ''deep-seated'' persuasion as priests.
If you in fact mean to argue that the issues are connected, or really just want to use the John Jay Report as an occasion to reiterate you frustration with Vatican policy-make that more clear, and please offer a bit more on *why* the Vatican might do such a thing. I do think their reasons (esp. as they are theological and not merely sociological) deserve a hearing.
Despite all that: your writing is always appreciated. Thanks.
Your misinterpreting what my atheit PhD friend an I are saying. We do not mean "secxual orientation". We are talking about "sexual deviance" where an adult has some kind of sexual interaction with a child, The ,more widespread "dsicovery" that "sexual deviance" of Catholic clergy abusing children goes on at a much higher rate than the general society we beleive is probably centuries old and not recent.
In other words before this report came out we beleived the 2002 discovery is just the first widespread recongnition of the extent the "sexual abuse of children" problem. Our conjecture is that this problem like many problems could be hushed up for centuries as not a fit topic of discussion or taboo or most people can be unaware of it. It is very posssible there was really no record or memory in society of theis abuse that was acutally going on.
I do not buy into the conclusion of this report that this problem began in the 1950s and then just as suddenly drastically tailed off in the 1989s. This sudden surge is a little too convient and tidy as if to say oops the problem is gone or this is aproblem of the 1960s or the 1970s but it gone now.
Thisproblem has an ongoing reporting problem. Remeber the ext4entive problems of 1960s and 1970s were not known or appreciated until the Boston Globe articles of 2002. An accumulation of reports and lawsuits of abuse happening years before finally surfaced probably for the first fime. It is possible more reports from child will continue to surface with the same twently or thirty year delay. But before 1950s rhere just is no record or no one alive to report their abuse.
THe report does not deal well with who are the people who do these things. It is not apparent that "sexual orientation" isor is not a factor.
My own observations of two adult people who later were found to abuse children was that they when out of their way to be with children and were always with children and had jobs or volunteered to be with children. So they were super attracted to children and allowed by their job or volunteer work to be around children extrensively. This was well thought out and planned. There was no pressure. Both adults were arrested one charges were not press becasue the organization employing the abuser would not want the publicity ar all. (Sound familiar?). The other was arrested becasue he was giving druge to little kids. He wsa arrested for drugs but he really was attempting to get sexual favors from kid by giving them drugs. These are rare events but ehy do happen and are not proparly reported .
Sadly this report does not fully recognize their modeu operande - these are enterprisng sexual predators whoa ctivley seek out children but othewise disguise themselves as camp counselors or religious instuctors.
I have no idea what makes people seek out children. I beleive this is a unique sexual deviance that may have nothing to do with sexual oreintation.
A few firends and acquaintances have a story they will recall that as kids about being sexually bothered by an adult. Sometimes fFamily members sujch as a father or brother beat up the abuser but no one ever contacted the police or any offical agency.
I don't doubt that there are celibate (chaste) homosexual priests. But aren't they intrinsically disordered? Whether their life style is driven by birth or by choice, I want no part of them. I would not not want the spiritual counsel of such men.
As a Jesuit educated man, I am saddened to see that the once proud Jesuits are now the defenders of perverts.
Here's one possible way forward. Most studies show that the percentage of gay men in the priesthood is many times higher than in the general population. Higher still among religious orders. (I've seen estimates from 30-70%, compared to about 7% if the general male population.) The leadership, bishops and religious superiors, MUST know this. Why couldn't a religious order, perhaps one that over and over commits itself to works of justice, issue a clear and bold statement that gay men are not a threat, but an important part of the ministry of the order? In other words, why couldn't a group of religious tell the truth about the fact that, as you say, there are gay priests who are ''emotionally mature, psychologically healthy, genuinely loving, and beloved by those with whom they minister; they work hard on behalf of the ''People of God''''?
If gay priests will not speak up for themselves, can't their leadership at least recognize that they exist?