Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Old Vatican Song and Dance: Again with the Gay Priests as Child Abusers Theme

John Aravosis reported yesterday that Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s U.N. observer, made a statement at the U.N. Monday blaming the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church on gay priests and suggesting that the problem of sexual abuse of minors is no greater in the Catholic church than in non-Catholic communities of faith. Aravosis’s article links to a piece about this by Riazat Butt and Anushka Asthana at the Guardian (UK).

The Guardian report quotes Archbishop Tomasi to say,

Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this [i.e., gay] sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17.

Tomasi claims that the majority of cases of abuse of minors by priests reported in the Catholic church involve not children but young adolescents (that is, they are cases of ephebophilia rather than pedophilia), and that “only” 1.5%-5% of Catholic priests have been involved in sexual abuse of minors.

Barbara Dorris of the highly regarded Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement Monday evening commenting on the Vatican claims. Dorris notes that,

In a long series of deceptive and callous statements from top Catholic officials about the church’s on-going clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis, this is one of the most pathetic and disturbing.

As she observes, the Vatican is playing a political, as opposed to spiritual, game of blame-shifting and refusing to admit its own responsibility and that of thousands of bishops for the abuse crisis. In Dorris’s view, this statement indicates that there is not much hope for self-reformation in the Catholic hierarchy: “If the church hierarchy can't even talk reasonably about this horrific crisis, it certainly cannot ameliorate it.”

SNAP has issued repeated statements noting that the Vatican is playing an insincere and dangerous political game in seeking to scapegoat gay priests for the clerical sexual abuse crisis. In December 2005, three women who are survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy—Ann Hagan Webb, Barbara Blaine, and Kathleen M. Dwyer—released a joint statement articulating the perspective of female survivors of clerical abuse in response to the Vatican’s attempt to lay blame for the abuse crisis at the feet of gay priests.

Hagan Webb, a psychologist and co-coordinator of SNAP in New England, was abused by a priest from kindergarten through 7th grade. She notes that there is a “myth” that girls have not been victims of clerical sexual abuse. She states, “And homosexual orientation in our abusers had nothing to do with it.”

Hagan Webb asks how statistics claiming that 80%-90% of victims are boys account for the fact that half of SNAP’s members are women? She maintains, based on her experience with SNAP, that many adult women who survived sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy when they were children remain afraid to speak out. Hagan Webb concludes,

The sexual abuse crimes of Catholic priests were perpetrated by adult, supposedly celibate men against minor children and vulnerable adults. Sexual orientation was a non issue.

Blaine, SNAP’s founder and president, agrees. She states:

We take issue with the bishops' claim that 80% of the victims of abusive clergy are male. First, this figure is based on a very flawed self-survey of bishops themselves. Second, we believe a disproportionate percentage of male victims report the crimes and are believed. Third, fully half of our 6,000+ members across the country are female. And finally, even if this 80% figure is correct, it may well reflect greater access to boys by priests rather than greater homosexuality among predators. (Many parents allowed their boys to go to the movies or on overnight trips with priests; few parents allowed their girls to do so.)

Dwyer, a member of SNAP in Boston, notes that she was abused between the ages of 5 and 8 by a priest, two Knights of Columbus, and her father, who brought her to the church to be abused. She maintains that the Catholic hierarchy “wants desperately to make invisible” female victims of clerical sexual abuse.

In Dwyer’s view,

Rather than role modeling a moral, supportive and loving way to address sexual abuse, the hierarchy, from the Pope on down, continues to cover up and blame others in order to protect themselves, their power and their money. But now, they are more focused and have settled on blaming Gays for all the abuse, even though countless studies indicate that most child molesters are heterosexual and/or are characterized as fixated -- being attracted to children, not to men or women.

In order to be successful in blaming Gays, the hierarchy knows that the sexual abuse of girls must be swept into invisibility and be internalized in the culture as a "rare exception." Something it has been doing since 2002. It should then not be a surprise to anyone that they ultimately decided to scapegoat Gays for what they are responsible for. By doing so they are able to "kill two birds with one stone" because if they can get the public at large to believe their lies about who was abused and what it is to be Gay, which helped create the myths, their chances of banning same gender marriages will also be increased.

A 4 March 2002 article by Michael Paulson at the Boston Globe about the Vatican’s attempt to shift blame for the abuse crisis from church leaders to gay priests cites another SNAP leader, David Clohessy, who rejects the Vatican’s analysis. Clohessy is SNAP’s national director. He tells Paulson,

The fact that there seem to be a disproportionately higher number of gays in the priesthood - I don't think it has a direct relevance to the pedophilia problem. The relevance of gay priests is somewhat like the relevance of celibacy in that both contribute to a culture of secrecy and that culture enables abuse to go undetected. But celibacy doesn't make one molest kids, and neither does one's sexual orientation.

Andrew Sullivan also deals with this story at his Daily Dish blog yesterday. His take:

But this is Ratzinger's real view: that the sex abuse crisis was basically a liberal plot to discredit the Church, rather than what it was, an international conspiracy for the molestation of children, enabled by the Vatican.

Scapegoating a vulnerable and targeted minority; passing the buck for blame that belongs primarily to church officials including those in the Vatican; changing the subject; refusing to admit that sexual abuse of minors at any age by adult authority figures is abhorrent; trying to spread the blame around to other communities of faith: Barbara Dorris is right. This is not what reformation or authentic spiritual leadership are about.

If the Catholic church is going to be reformed—and it gives every sign of needing thoroughgoing systemic reformation at this point in history—that reformation is not going to come from the top. Not from the men sporting fabulous scarlet silk trains and high hats. It’s going to come from the bottom and margins, including, I suspect, from the very marginal communities the Vatican and many bishops want to scapegoat now, to avoid their responsibility for an abuse crisis that is about the abuse of authority first and foremost.