“We’ve been lied to.” Bill Donohue on clergy sexual abuse, homosexuality, and the media

Catholic World Report [San Francisco CA]

May 26, 2022

By Bill Donohue and Paul Senz

“Yes, we dropped our guard—particularly in the 1970s. It was a terrible, terrible decade. And the Church deserves criticism for what happened then. But also, if we’re going to be fair about it, we have to give credit where credit is due…”

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, earned a Ph.D. in Sociology from New York University. His writing, speaking engagements, and appearances on countless television and radio programs see him addressing many issues from a Catholic perspective, as well as through the lens of sociology. His recent books include Why Catholicism Matters: How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the 21st Century (Image, 2018) and Common Sense Catholicism: How to Resolve Our Cultural Crisis (Ignatius Press, 2019).

His latest book is The Truth about Clergy Sexual Abuse: Clarifying the Facts and the Causes (Ignatius Press, 2021). In it, he brings to bear his background as a sociologist, a faithful and observant Catholic, and his decades of experience in analysis of issues in the Church and the world. He tackles one of the most difficult to discuss issues, that of clerical sexual abuse.

“Donohue writes with a combination of penetrating intellect and relentless pugnacity,” says Fr. Paul Sullins, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Catholic University of America. “A great strength of the book,” notes Fr. Sullins, “is that it advances its arguments with competent social science analysis. Facts and claims are extensively cited and judiciously evaluated, attaining high standards for scholarship and sourcing.”

Donohue spoke recently with Catholic World Report about his latest book, and how Catholics can approach the scandal of clergy sexual abuse with clarity, context, and purpose.

Catholic World Report: What was the genesis of the book, and how did it come to fruition?

Bill Donohue: I’ve been working on this issue of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church for about a quarter of a century. I’ve been involved personally with different issues and been interviewed by the media. We have a huge file here at the Catholic League, so I decided the time has come for me to kind of set the record straight.

So much of the conventional wisdom out there is wrong. You know, sometimes it’s just misinformation. People make a mistake. Other times it’s disinformation. In other words, it’s distortion. It’s intentional. There’ve been some pretty good books out there on the subject, but not by a social scientist clearly … trying to look at the breadth of the entire issue and not just who was responsible for it. So I thought the time had come. I’ve been wanting to say something. It was inside of me and I decided, “Let’s go.” The timing is right.

CWR: The subtitle is “Clarifying the facts and causes of the abuse scandal”. So do you discuss that misinformation, disinformation, misunderstanding? What is it exactly that needs clarified?

Donohue: There’s no question that the media has convinced the public. I call it the poisoning of the public mind. They’ve convinced the public, and many Catholics as well, that the scandal is ongoing. In fact, the scandal is largely over and it’s been over for about a half a century. The worst damage that was done in the Catholic Church by molesting priests, almost all of whom were homosexual, was done between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s.

We still have cases of it here and there. What you’ll typically see in the media are reports of an old case, but a lot of times, people won’t read past the headline. And if you do, you find out this is back in 1963, 1971, 1985. And, by the way, they don’t bother to tell you almost all the molesting priests are either dead or they’ve been thrown out of ministry. The idea that the priests are walking around looking for kids is simply a lie, and it’s a vicious lie. So I wanted to set that straight.

The other thing is, we’ve made tremendous progress. We are down to single digits now in terms of the average number of substantiated accusations made against approximately 50,000 members of the clergy. There is no organization in the United States, secular or religious, which has a better record today in maintaining the safety of minors than the Catholic Church.

Yes, we dropped our guard—particularly in the 1970s. It was a terrible, terrible decade. And the Church deserves criticism for what happened then. But also, if we’re going to be fair about it, we have to give credit where credit is due: the Dallas reforms, as well as many other reforms that were taking place. We’ve made tremendous progress and I’m very proud of that. The Catholic Church has largely turned the corner on this issue.

CWR: Why do you think public perception is that the problem of sexual abuse of minors lies primarily within the Catholic Church? People hear about child sexual abuse and they think of priests. Why is that?

Donohue: That’s the perception. Well, it’s really not hard for me to figure out at this point. As someone who has a doctorate in sociology, the Catholic Church is hated by secular militants within the activist organizations, many of them legal organizations, non-profits, and large segments of the media, in large segments of education (particularly in higher education), as well as in other quarters.

And the reason for that is because we live in a society obsessed with sex. It’s not the Catholic Church which is obsessed with sex. It’s the secular militants who are. They don’t want any restrictions on anything they do, no matter how many people have wound up with STDs and in the grave as a result of practicing liberty-ism (liberty with license, without any restraints). They never seem to learn.

The Catholic Church—like our Jewish friends, and for that matter, Mormons and Muslims, evangelical Protestants—we all agree to an idea of sexual reticence, of a sexual ethics which emphasizes restraint. And marriage and sexuality should be entered into by a man and a woman—a biological man and a biological woman. And that other forms of sexuality are not really well-accepted. We live in a society today where the three most dreaded words in the English language are “Thou shalt not…”

So when they see bad news about the Catholic Church, they’re going to drum it up. They don’t want to let it go. They want to convince the public that the scandal will never end because they want to weaken the moral voice of the Catholic Church. And after they do that, they’ll go after the Orthodox Jews, evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Muslims and everybody else who agrees to a more traditional understanding of sexual morality. That’s why this is happening.

CWR: The public, for the most part, seems to ignore or deny the role that homosexuality and the sexual revolution in general have played in the abuse crisis, in the Church and across society. Why do you think that is?

Donohue: Well, the denial is in the Catholic Church as well. The denial is in the Vatican. Let me be very explicit about it: in the book, I talk about the Vatican summit in 2019. Everyone from the Pope on down, all the Cardinals: all they talked about was clericalism as the driving force of sexual abuse.

Clericalism, or a sense of elitism, certainly may have something to do with why some bishops were enablers, but has absolutely zero to do with why a priest would molest a minor. Nothing. They don’t want to talk about homosexuality.

Now, in fairness, the Pope and many of the Cardinals have talked about the necessity of making sure we don’t have men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies joining the Catholic priesthood. But at the Vatican Summit, they didn’t go that way. Now gays are one of the most protected, perhaps the most protected, class in America today, and people are afraid to tell the truth. When I tell my Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish friends that from my research, it’s clear that homosexuals accounted for over eighty percent of the sexual abuse of minors, they just look at me, say, “Of course, we know that. We don’t know the studies. We don’t read anything. But everybody knows it’s homosexuals.”

Pedophiles are about three and a half percent. When a man has sex with a post-pubescent—an adolescent or above—man, that’s homosexuality. I am not saying that all homosexuals are molesters. That would be gay bashing. What I’m saying is that gays, more so than heterosexuals, are more likely to abuse minors. And this is clearly the case in the Catholic Church.

Why? Because of the emotional and sexual immaturity that marks so many homosexuals—not all of them, but so many of them. And it is immaturity—sexual and emotional immaturity—that leads to this kind of sexual abuse, because these guys are stunted, and their psycho-sexual development hits a plateau. They can’t identify with anybody beyond adolescent age, which is why they associate with them. And, in some cases, molest them. That’s the God’s honest truth.

CWR: How would you assess the Church’s response to the problem of abuse by clergy?

Donohue: The Church certainly dropped its guard in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The ideas of the sexual revolution took fruition in the 60s and behaviorally the acting out was done in the 70s, inside and outside of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI deserves most of the credit here because he has been gutsy enough and smart enough to pinpoint the sexual revolution. What’s happened? I vigorously defend him on this because sociologically he’s on his game more than anybody else. And quite frankly, for other people not to acknowledge that, they simply don’t know what they’re talking about. We’re not saying that the sexual revolution exculpates or takes the burden off of people in the Church—but that’s what drove it.

But we also have to give credit where credit is due. The bishops, the priests in general, and the seminaries by and large have done a magnificent job in getting to the root of this problem. And that’s why you see so little of new cases of abuse that are taking place today. So, yes, I want to be fair about it. Criticize the Church where it was wrong and praise the Church today, where it’s done things mostly the right way.

CWR: Seminary application review processes have been changed, in order to better identify men who are good candidates for the priesthood, and weed out people who might who might have, for example, problems with abuse. Do you see hope in that? Or hope for other reasons?

Donohue: I see hope in that. And I see that instead of having the good men driven out of the seminary back in the 1970s—many of them were straight guys who couldn’t take living with so many gays who were promiscuous and got away with it. No, there’s a big change. The textbooks are changing. The formation has been changing. They’re following canon law. There have been all kinds of reforms and the guys are going in with the right attitude. They’re going in there now, knowing it’s a much better place for people to be. It’s a much more holy place than it was back 50 years ago.

And so I’m hopeful about the future. We always have to keep our guard up because if we slipped before, we could slip again, right? But I am optimistic about the future, at least in the near term.

CWR:What do you hope readers will take away from the book? What do you think the long-lasting effect of the book will be?

Donohue: I hope people will come to the conclusion that they’ve been given a lot of bad information, that the conventional wisdom has been wrong, that they’ll feel a sigh of relief, knowing that, yes, we know that we had a scandal, but that we don’t own this issue. We’ve been lied to.

Sexual abuse takes place all over. I want them to realize that the tremendous progress we’ve made and why it’s not recognized because the media have a vested ideological interest, as the lawyers do as well in keeping this thing going in people’s minds. And I want them to learn that were it not for the homosexual molesters, we wouldn’t have had this problem in the first place.

Paul Senz has an undergraduate degree from the University of Portland in music and theology and earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from the same university. He has contributed to Catholic World Report, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, The Priest Magazine, National Catholic Register, Catholic Herald, and other outlets. Paul lives in Elk City, OK, with his wife and their four children.