April 2002


Assessing Responsibility for the Scandal
Most clerical sex crimes are homosexual seductions of adolescents and young men.


By Germain Grisez


Most statements about clerical sexual wrongdoing issued by bishops and on their behalf never use the word homosexual. Statements sometimes speak of pedophilia and often use the phrase child sexual abuse. That expression is misleading, however, because most victims of the crimes are not young children but adolescents or young men. And most of those adolescents and young men have been seduced, not merely abused.


A priest and licensed psychologist who has advised the US bishops, Stephen J. Rossetti, published a book, which repays diligent study: A Tragic Grace: The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996). Rossetti generally talks about “child sexual abuse.” Sometimes, however, he makes distinctions. For example, in arguing that the Church should not regard guilty clerics as incurable, Rossetti says (88):


The statement, “Pedophilia is incurable,” is misleading. First of all, most perpetrators of child sexual abuse are not pedophiles. In a Saint Luke Institute sample of 280 priests who had sexually molested minors, only 20 percent were actually pedophiles. Pedophilia is a clinical term referring to someone whose sexual orientation is towards a prepubescent child. It is true that psychotherapy usually cannot change one’s sexual orientation….


The majority of perpetrators are involved with postpubescent children. All things being equal, they are more amenable to treatment. One of their goals is to develop satisfying relationships with age-appropriate peers.


As Rossetti says, pedophilia is a clinical term. The sexual disorder it refers to is listed among the paraphilias—that is, sexual deviations—in the American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), 522-32. According to the Manual (527) the pedophile’s deviant focus “involves sexual activity with a prepubescent child (generally age 13 years or younger).”


With pedophiles, Rossetti contrasts ephebophiles: “There are others who are ephebophiles, i.e. sexually attracted to postpubescent children.” (67) He often speaks of pedophiles and ephebophiles in the chapter of his book (64-79) where he articulates his professional opinions about the best ways to assess both candidates for ministry and adults charged with “child sexual abuse.” The reader is likely to be led to believe that ephebophilia, like pedophilia, is some sort of arcane mental disorder.


Understanding ephebophilia
However, if one tries to look up ephebophilia in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, one will not find it. Several years ago that Association decided that a homosexual orientation is not a disorder. Officially, homosexual behavior is no longer deviant but a healthy alternative to heterosexual behavior. Thus ephebophilia, being a kind of homosexuality, has no place in the Association’s catalog of mental disorders.


As Rossetti says (88), pedophiles are not amenable to treatment because “psychotherapy usually cannot change one’s sexual orientation.” But, as he also points out (68): “Many times adults who are sexually aroused by minors may also be aroused by adults as well.” The vast majority of clerical sexual molesters have been involved with postpubescent youths, generally age 14 years and over. Other things being equal, they are, Rossetti says (88), “more amenable to treatment,” for they can learn to “develop satisfying relationships with age-appropriate peers.”


In other words, clerics who have engaged in criminal sexual behavior with adolescent boys and young men can learn to satisfy themselves with consenting adult males, because that change in their behavior involves no change in their sexual orientation. Such clerics simply are homosexuals who have found underage partners attractive and convenient. But unlike most homosexuals, these clerics have been willing to commit crimes against adolescents and young men. Expecting their bishops to be tolerant and protective, they no doubt hoped to get away with those crimes, and for a long time their bishops did not disappoint them.


The adolescents and young men were victims of abuse. But in most cases, sexual acts involving such young people are not only abuse. To be sure, in some cases, the youngster did not understand what was going on and/or was unable to resist, and in such cases he was simply a victim of abuse. But in very many cases, as the victims’ own statements usually make clear, they were troubled by the sexual activity in which they were involved yet were submissive partners with the cleric, whose dirty secret they kept because he had lured them into making it their own.


Thus, such young people cooperated in the sexual activity: they were seduced. Their guilt may well have been venial and may even have been none at all—only God knows—and their cooperation in no way mitigates their seducers’ guilt. Indeed, seducing the victims into sexual sins was far graver than the clerics’ own sexual sinning.


In most cases the adolescents and young men had been entrusted to the clerics’ pastoral care. They betrayed that trust and led the adolescents and young men into sins grave in kind. Some victims say they have lost their faith. In every case, the betrayal was scandal in the strict sense, of which Jesus spoke: “Scandals are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Lk 17:1-2)


The bishops and those who speak for them should acknowledge honestly that most clerical sex crimes that have come to light have been seductions of adolescents and young men by homosexual priests. Because Jesus entrusts bishops to oversee the pastoral care of souls, those bishops who failed to do all that they could and should have done to prevent or limit a priest’s crimes ought to ponder very carefully the moral and spiritual nature and gravity of their own omissions and actions. Having done that, those bishops should reexamine their consciences, repent any sins they previously overlooked, and begin to do what they can and should do by way of restitution.


Regardless of the nature and degree of his own guilt, each bishop’s first concern should be to speak the relevant saving truths of the Gospel and to offer Jesus’ forgiveness not only to the crimes’ perpetrators but also to the men who were seduced and to all others whose sins have been occasioned either by those crimes or by the wrong ways in which they were handled. All the other steps that bishops have taken should be considered secondary. Public apologies and listening sessions may help dispose people to listen to the truth about their sins and repent them. Making financial settlements may be appropriate or unavoidable. Even providing psychological counseling may be helpful to a few. But doing all those things together falls infinitely short of making just restitution for complicity in scandal.


In most cases, bishops who tolerated ongoing criminal behavior are unlikely to be trusted by either the perpetrators, the victims, or others who suffered the bad consequences of their wrongdoing and negligence. Such bishops should recognize that a new bishop, not complicit in the corruption, probably will be far better able to undertake the necessary restitution. Recognizing at last that their first priority must be the care of the souls entrusted to them, such bishops will resign. If they fail to do so, the Pope must remove them, lest he become a party to ongoing pastoral negligence.

Germain Grisez is Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount Saint Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The three volumes of his Way of the Lord Jesus (Christian Moral Principles, Living a Christian Life, and Difficult Moral Questions) are available from Franciscan Press.