Being Right

The figures are staggering: perhaps 5% of all priests have committed sexual abuse on minors, with the US alone accounting for 6,000 such priests and 100,000 victims within the past half-century. The Philippine Catholic Church apologized in 2002 for the sexual abuses of more than 200 priests, and President Duterte himself confessed to being molested by a Jesuit as a teen.
What to make of the foregoing?
Most of the blame, previously, was heaped on the priestly celibacy of the Catholic Church. But this runs up against the fact that families have even a worse record in terms of sexual abuse: a 2009 study from the University of Barcelona reported the prevalence of incest rapes of around 34.4% for Africa, 23.9% for Asia, 10.1% America, 9.2% for Europe. Numbers far higher than priestly abuses.
The problem is not celibacy but homosexuality. This was pointed out by — of all publications — the liberal Washington Post, in an article by Robert Mickens (July 2018): “There is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis. With such a high percentage of priests with a homosexual orientation, this should not be surprising.”
For once, agreement is made by conservative commentators. Matt Walsh demonstrating with utter clarity that: “Sexual activity between priests, and between priests and seminarians, is not uncommon. I think it is rather difficult to separate these facts from the fact that teen boys were so often sexually victimized. Is it just a coincidence that gay priests exist in such large numbers, protected by gay cabals within the Church, and at the same time there happen to be a bunch of priests molesting pubescent boys?”
But this is where it gets confusing: the Catholic Church persistently balks about admitting its homosexuality problem when studies clearly show that the number of gay priests have increased exponentially since the 1970s, all the while trying to look the other away from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches that the homosexual orientation is “objectively disordered” and that no homosexual act is morally justifiable, and finally ignoring a warning by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that “increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. xxx The Church’s ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view.”
Defense is made that the abusive priests are not homosexuals but pedophiles. But this was debunked by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice study “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,” which found that only 4% of the 6,000 identified abusive priests were pedophiles.
And yet, as Walsh correctly states, “80% of the victims in the Church have been males. Is it difficult to see how thousands of boys may have been spared this experience if there had not been so many homosexuals in the priesthood? Or are we going to pretend that even a heterosexual may attempt to get his thrills by molesting a 15-year-old boy? If so, I have no idea what the words heterosexual and homosexual mean anymore.”
Having said that, ultimately the problem also lies with society’s current confusion towards sexuality: as noted above, incest rape rates are truly depressing. But then one has increasing numbers of single teen mothers, the sexual revolution’s correlation to female depression and anxiety, and the cultural push to do away with gender.
What is unfortunate is that the priesthood is reflecting the struggles that society is grappling with right now rather than being the objective unchanging signpost pointing the faithful to the proper way.
Rev. Thomas Berg (writing for First Things, July 2018) perceptively writes that a “fact that has been overlooked for too long is the connection between priests who abuse minors and priests who are sexually active with adults. Toleration of the latter sin has made it harder to detect, criticize, and root out the former.”
Which is commonsensically correct: Fr. Jaime Achacoso, secretary of the Canon Law Society in the Philippines, in a 2017 interview for Al Jazeera, confirms that in some remote dioceses in the Philippines, “one in five priests has had children.”
The Catholic Church’s response to this crisis must be to be even stronger, unambiguous, and unabashed in teaching and defending its doctrines.
And while giving greater emphasis to priestly formation, the priests themselves (including the bishops, perhaps even more so) should step back and encourage the laity to assume greater responsibility for the Church — perhaps even over certain aspects of the clergy, badly in need of monitoring, discipline, and transparency.
The Catholic Church has consistently taught about the evils of “clericalism.” Now is a good time to truly get rid of it.
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.
Twitter @jemygatdula