Faulty diagnosis makes for wrong prescription. Unless a disease is diagnosed properly there is little chance of effective treatment. These principles should be brought forth, front and centre, today regarding the issue of pedophilia.
Why? Because there is an extremely simplistic, erroneous, slanderous and dangerous identification being made today in the world and the church. When you say the word pedophilia, people automatically think of “priest.” It’s the first thing that comes to their minds. Common sense today spontaneously connects: pedophilia—priest.
It then compounds this misjudgment by making yet another erroneous connection: Celibacy, lack of sex, is what creates pedophiles. It is seen as a celibate sickness, namely, celibates don’t have sex, as normal people do, thus they are, obviously, susceptible to this kind of thing.
That is what passes for common sense today. Yet the facts so belie this that one can only wonder whether these equations are the result of simple ignorance or whether they are the product of malice. Let’s look at some of the facts:
Fact one: Less than one per cent, in fact a small fraction of one per cent, of all pedophilia and sexual abuse is done by priests or other consecrated religious. That, of course, does not excuse the number of instances that are perpetrated by priests and religious. One sexual abuse instance by a priest or a religious is already one too many.
This is not in defence of those priests and religious who have sexually abused anyone. Rather the point here is that common sense has identified the problem with priests and religious—when more than 99 per cent of this kind of abuse has nothing to do with priests.
Statistically, sexual abuse of children happens in one out of every three or four houses on every street in North America. (I don’t know the numbers for Western Europe.) Given those numbers, given the magnitude of that tragedy, one can only wonder why the issue is so constellated around less than one per cent of its perpetrators.
Fact two: Pedophilia has no significant relationship to celibacy. It is an indiscriminate disease. It makes no difference, at least so the statistics show, whether one is married or unmarried, has lots of sex or no sex at all, as to whether one is likely to be a pedophile or not.
It is ironic in fact that consecrated celibates are proportionately less likely to be pedophiles than other people. Bottom-line, your child is more likely, not just in terms of sheer chance, but also in terms of statistical proportionality, to be molested by some person other than a priest, brother or a nun. This fact has rarely been brought to the fore.
Moreover, pedophilia as a pathology, much like rape, is, in the end, not so much a question of sex as it is of something else. Rape, as we all know now, is ultimately not a question of unruly hormones but of power and hatred.
Pedophilia, under diagnostic scrutiny, is also seen to be something more than frustrated hormones. Pedophiles are drawn to children because they are looking for their own lost childhood. All pedophiles were themselves first abused. There is a clinical axiom: every abuser was, himself or herself, first abused . . . and this is true too for every type of abuse, far beyond sex. Given all this, it is very misleading to make pedophilia a celibate sickness.
But it is more than misleading, it is unjust and dangerous.
Where is the justice in tarring all priests and religious with the stigma of pedophilia when the vast, vast majority of them are totally innocent of the accusation, when proportionately they are less likely to be part of the problem and when more than 99 per cent of the problem is perpetrated by others?
But injustice to priests and consecrated religious is, in the end, not the biggest danger here.
As priests and religious we do, in fact deserve some brutal challenges to clean up our act. One instance of sexual abuse is one instance too many. It is time some veins were bled. Hence some of the rage directed against us will, despite its inflations and distortions, do us good.
The real danger here is faulty diagnosis. By seeing this as a celibate sickness, by scape-goating priests and focusing our primary rage on less than one per cent of the problem , we continue to avoid facing the magnitude and horror of the issue.
When one out of every three or four children in our society is sexually abused, it’s time for deeper resolve, deeper understanding, greater courage and more radical honesty in looking at this issue.