Bertone’s grain of truth

Massimo Introvigne

Via Eric Masseus I find yet another interesting article. Author Massimo Introvigne writes about moral panic in the light of the abuse crisis, focussing especially on the occurence of pedophilia among priests. It’s an interesting piece in itself, so go read it.       

What drew my attention, also in light of the comments by Fr. Federico Lombardi about Cardinal Bertone’s statements linking pedophilia and homosexuality, is the following passage:  

While it may hardly be politically correct to say so, there is a fact that is much more important: over 80 percent of paedophiles are homosexuals, that is, males who abuse other males. And – again citing Jenkins – over 90 percent of Catholic priests convicted for sexually abusing minors have been homosexual. If a problem has sprung up in the Catholic Church, it is not due to celibacy but to a certain tolerance of homosexuality in seminaries, particularly in the 1970s, when most of the priests later convicted for the abuses were ordained.       

Philip Jenkins


The Jenkins that Introvigne refers to is historian and sociologist Philip Jenkins of Pennsylvania State University, who has done a study about the influence and value of moral panic and how it contributes or blocks resolving a problem. He concludes that they usually don’t help at all. It reminds me of my opinion, mentioned here before, that modern society often remains stuck in the emotional response, indeed the moral panic of Jenkins’ study.       

In considering the above statements, I would also like to include a few words  from Fr. Lombardi. About Cardinal Bertone’s comments he said: “[R]eferred to here obviously is the problem of abuse by priests, and not in the population in general.”       

If we then take the priestly population as our subject, rather than the wider population of all people (men and women, hetero- and homosexual), we do see a different picture. The Zenit article I linked to above also mentions:       

These statements are backed by the report published in 2004 by John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, regarded as the most complete report on the sexual abuse crisis.       

On studying the charges of sexual abuse presented against clerics between 1950 and 2002 in the United States, the report stated that an overwhelming majority of the victims — 81% — were males.       

Considering these facts and studies, we can draw some conclusions: in the priestly population, for various reasons, sexual abuse is chiefly of a homosexual nature (a possible reason could be the fact that most children and young people who had regular dealings with priests were male). In that sense Cardinal Bertone was correct. It was a clumsy thing to say, but it now seems he did have the data to back it up. If only he’d made that clearer.       

Of course, such conclusions do nothing to resolve the problem. They don’t help the victims or the offenders. What they do allow, is a renewed consideration of the formation of priests (here I go again). Introvigne also writes:       

If a problem has sprung up in the Catholic Church, it is not due to celibacy but to a certain tolerance of homosexuality in seminaries, particularly in the 1970s, when most of the priests later convicted for the abuses were ordained.       

And isn’t that directly related to the political and social climate? As far as the sexual revolution goes, it ran absolutely rampant in the 1970s. In the Netherlands, for example, political parties and members of parliament actively advocated legalising pedophilia (the same parties and individuals which now viciously attack the Church, as a poignant aside. PvdA, I’m looking at you).       

This is no excuse for the crimes committed by priests, but they point at the main problem. That is not homosexuality, celibacy or pedophilia, but the formation and education of priests. A priest is a man of God who, if he works in a parish, is also a man of the world. There is a careful balance to be achieved there, which is not always easy, especially for seminarians and young priests who are only just getting started. In order to maintain that balance you need clear demarcations and a good development and awareness of yourself. From my own limited knowledge of seminaries, that formation is part of the tripod of their education program, at least in the first few years: philosophy, theology and spiritual formation.       

Saying “the homosexuals did it” is pointless for finding a solution. But the facts above must be taken into account: we need them to figure out the problem and resolve it. The moral panic as described by Introvigne and Jenkins blurs those facts, and so does more damage for the sake of political correctness. Reality hurts. A lot sometimes. But sometimes pain makes us stronger. I am convinced that we, society as a whole, must relearn that.