What about Girl Victims?

By Eileen McNamara
Boston Globe [Boston MA]
December 4, 2005

Where is the long-awaited Vatican policy that would protect women and girls from priests who cannot control their "heterosexual tendencies?"

Where is the plan to evaluate every heterosexual seminarian to "assure that the candidate does not have sexual disorders that are incompatible with priesthood?"

Where is the National Conference of Bishops' Un-Holy Activities Committee to ensure that no man is ordained a Roman Catholic priest who has not "clearly overcome" anything more than a "transitory" sexual interest in the opposite sex?

Where, in short, are the witch hunters for the girls' team?

The Vatican directive issued last week that would ban most gay men from the priesthood has been widely interpreted as Rome's response to the worldwide clergy sex abuse scandal that has left especially deep scars on the Archdiocese of Boston. Can that be right?

Why would a church committed to purging from its ranks potentially predatory clerics focus its scrutiny on prospective priests with homosexual tendencies? That would imply two things we know not to be true: that the crisis in the church was triggered by sexual orientation, not by sexual misconduct and its coverup, and that the victims of rapists in Roman collars were all male.

Why would a church that claims to be intent on healing and reconciliation effectively erase the traumatic experiences of so many women and girls?

Kathleen M. Dwyer thinks she knows why. "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," said Dwyer, herself victimized by a priest.

If that's the plan, it seems to be working. Only two reporters, one for a subway giveaway, showed up at the chancery last week to hear Dwyer and four other women who were molested by priests denounce the Vatican's preoccupation with excluding homosexuals from ministry.

"I can only assume that women victims simply aren't newsworthy, regardless of what we have to say," concluded a dispirited Ann Hagan Webb, a psychologist who heads the New England chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Fifty percent of the organization's members are women. "The Vatican's decision to ban gay men from the priesthood is an insult to survivors of either gender. The vast number of girls and women abused by priests underscores the obvious, that banning gay priests will not solve the problem of sexual abuse in the church."

The decree from Rome never directly links the new policy targeting homosexuals to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, but Vatican officials have cited the presence of gay men in the priesthood as problematic since the scandal erupted in 2002.

The purge is being applied selectively, however. The new requirement that seminarians own up to their homosexuality does not affect ordained priests and their bishops. They are free to remain in the closet, exempt from what the document calls "the spirit of truth, loyalty, and availability that must characterize the personality of one who considers himself called to serve Christ."

What is curious is that the Vatican would oust not only homosexual seminarians who have broken their vow of celibacy but celibate gays "with deep-seated homosexual tendencies," a description it does not define.

If a well-developed sexual identity is thought to be the trigger for predatory behavior, why be timid? What about men with deep-seated heterosexual tendencies? If something as vague as what the Vatican directive calls "support for the so-called 'gay culture" is enough to get a homosexual ejected from the seminary, shouldn't heterosexuals be held to a comparable standard? If a seminarian with too many Bette Midler CDs in his music collection can be bounced, shouldn't the purity police be alert for the would-be priest who can't get enough of "Desperate Housewives?"

It would be funny if it were not so sad.


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