Removing gay men from the priesthood will not end the sexual abuse crisis. Priest abusers are not gay men having homosexual relationships, they are abusers treating human persons like objects.
In a recent article at NCRegister, Msgr. Charles Popes writes well about the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, especially among the clergy. He notes that most victims were male adults, and so he categorizes those priest-abusers as homosexuals: “This is not pedophilia. It is homosexual attraction.” Then he notes that, of course, some of the victims were minors, which would seem to imply that those abusers are pedophiles.
Here is what Msgr. Pope and many other commentators do not understand. In society in general, when an adult male sexually abuses a male child, the abuser is usually not a pedophile, and almost always not a homosexual. In the vast majority of cases, the man who abuses a boy also has sexual relationships with adult women; he has a heterosexual orientation. And this is also true of adult men who abuse a male teenager or young adult. The abuser usually does not have a homosexual orientation; he is heterosexual.
I know this from having worked with victims of sexual abuse, full time, over the course of two years (many years ago). I have met many abusers. I have participated in many meetings with family therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists as they described the situation with the abuser (once we found out who that was). I know for a fact that this is the case, most of the time. I worked with over 200 victims of abuse, and most of them had been abused by multiple different persons.
How can this be? A pedophile is someone with an exclusive (or nearly exclusive) sexual attraction to children. Most abusers of children are not pedophiles. They are heterosexual men who have sex with children, male or female, because they seek sexual pleasure and also they enjoy abusing power (they enjoy the abusive nature of the act, not just the venereal pleasure). The abuser treats the victim like an object, and objects do not have a gender. Heterosexual men abuse boys, even though the men are not gay, and not pedophiles. And this is true of the majority of cases of sexual abuse of children and teens.
So I object to the assumption that the priests who abuse children, teens, and young adults are gay. And though they abuse children, they might not all be pedophiles; most abusers of children are not. The fact that many of the victims are sexually mature also supports the conclusion that most priest-abusers are not pedophiles. But they also are not gay.
It is still a problem in the Church, when homosexual men are ordained and then receive positions of teaching and leadership in the Church. But the abuse crisis is a different kind of problem. If the Church had zero homosexuals in the priesthood and zero pedophiles, we would still have a substantial sexual abuse crisis. And that point must be understood widely, or we will never solve the abuse crisis.
By the way, I never dealt with a case where the abuser was a priest. I’ve never been abused myself by anyone. My understanding of this issue comes from dealing with victims of another sexual abuse crisis, that in secular society. The sexual abuse of children occurs in every city and town, in every neighborhood. It is so widespread that a large percentage of boys and girls will be sexually abused before they reach the age of consent for sex. Out of all inpatients on child and adolescent psychiatric units, 75 to 80% are there because they were sexually abused. If there were no sexual abuse of children, three-fourths of all child and teen psych units would have to close for lack of patients. It is an extreme crisis in this country, and it has only gotten worse since the advent of the internet and the concomitant spread of pornography.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian