The Priestly Abuse Scandal and Homosexuality

The vast majority of priests are not abusers. I myself have never been abused by a priest, nor by anyone. But I used to work with sexually-abused children and teens, so I have knowledge of many cases of this type of crime (though none involving priests). I don’t really want to discuss the topic of priests who abuse children, as it is over-emphasized in the mass media. But I wish to correct a common misunderstanding about the child abuse crisis in the Church.

A recent expression of that misunderstanding is found at The ‘third rail’ of the priestly abuse scandal: the role of homosexuality. The article proposes that, in the child abuse crisis in the Church, “pedophilia was not the central issue; homosexuality was.” Author Phil Lawler’s reasoning is as follows: “Most of the victims of clerical abuse were male teenagers. Now who is more likely to go on the prowl for male teenagers: a heterosexual man or a homosexual man?”

The assumption is that an adult male abusing a male child or teen must have a homosexual orientation. But the situation is more complex, and the assumption is false. In society, most abusers are male heterosexuals, but they abuse children and/or teens without regard to the abuser’s orientation. In other words, many abusers act contrary to their orientation. An abuser who mainly targets boys usually has a wife or girlfriend with whom he is sexually active. The abuser is seeking gratification from sex and from power over the victim. The abuser is not acting on the basis of his orientation. The victim is treated like a genderless object, rather than a person.

Most child abusers are not homosexuals. Many child abusers are not pedophiles, in the narrow sense of the term; they do not have an exclusive sexual attraction toward children. They sexually abuse children because children (including teens) are easy prey. They do not care about morality or law or their own orientation or the age of their victims.

When I worked with abused children, we saw many cases of an adult male abusing male teens or male children. I don’t recall a single case of a homosexual male as the abuser. These were heterosexual males with adult male-female relationships, who also had sex with male children or teens.

As for Lawler’s claim that the victims were mostly teens, it may be the case that younger victims are underreported. It may also be the case that teen victims are easier to target, as younger children almost always have a parent or teacher watching them; teens are more often on their own. I would not jump to the conclusion that abusers spurn preteen victims because the abusers are gay. I also think it is a mistake for Lawler to discount the many female victims in the sex abuse crisis in the Church. Abusing priests might target males more often because they have greater access to males, not as a result of orientation.

In my opinion, homosexual males should not be admitted to the seminary, nor to the priesthood. But the reason is not a likelihood that they will become abusers, nor a likelihood that they will have an adult sexual relationship as a priest. A homosexual male can choose to be chaste, just as a heterosexual male can. Rather, a priest with a homosexual orientation is much less likely to support certain Church teachings: that homosexuality is a disorder, that homosexual acts are grave sins, and that true marriage is not possible for persons of the same gender. There is an inherent conflict between the orientation of a gay priest and the teaching of the Church on sexuality.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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