Homosexuality is not the cause of the Church’s abuse crisis

The child abuse problem in the Church is not caused, in the main, by having gay men in the priesthood. The John Jay Report recognizes this fact:

“As generally understood now, homosexual behavior is the commission of a sexual act with someone of the same sex, in contrast to a heterosexual act, or sexual behavior engaged in by persons of different sexes. What is not well understood is that it is possible for a person to participate in a same-sex act without assuming or recognizing an identity as a homosexual. More than three-quarters of the acts of sexual abuse of youths by Catholic priests, as shown in the Nature and Scope study, were same-sex acts (priests abusing male victims). It is therefore possible that, although the victims of priests were most often male, thus defining the acts as homosexual, the priest did not at any time recognize his identity as homosexual.”

“The data do not support a finding that homosexual identity and/or preordination same-sex sexual behavior are significant risk factors for the sexual abuse of minors.”

Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., is a professor at both Santa Clara and Stanford Universities and a licensed psychologist in Menlo Park, CA. He has edited and contributed to a book on the Church’s abuse crisis: “Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002–2012. He also wrote a 2004 book on the same subject: “Sin against the Innocents: Sexual Abuse by Priests and the Role of the Catholic Church”.

Dr. Plante notes that most offenders are straight, not gay:

“Sex-offending clergy frequently report that they victimize boys (even if they report being heterosexual) because boys are a victim of convenience (Plante, 2004). They often report that they have ready access to and trust with boys rather than girls.”

Thomas Plante was interviewed by Catholic Baltimore about the abuse crisis (Feb. 10, 2019). Extensive quotes from that interview follow.

He noted that the good quality empirical data on this topic is available, but it doesn’t get into the popular press. If it doesn’t fit their narrative, they ignore it. Plante was asked if priests are more likely to abuse than persons in the general population, such as teachers, coaches, ministers of other faiths. His response was the abuse rate with priests was about 4%. For public school teachers, the rate is 5 to 7%. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) says about 5% of men can be expected to abuse children. Similar numbers were found, about 4%, in a study of Anglican clerics.

Plante: “In fact, the vast majority of sex offending that goes on happens in families.” Usually the abuser is a male family member. About 80% of all sex offending occurrences are in the family, not at school or church. Starting in the 1980’s the numbers for abuse have been decreasing, in the Church as well as in society.

Plante: “So that’s the thing that people are misled by. The data is very clear that sexual abuse of kids, tragically and very sadly, is fairly common. And that this has been true probably since the dawn of time….And it’s common, most notably, in the home and in any kind of institutional environment where people have ready access to kids, and authority over kids….”

And abuse is not restricted to religious environments. It happens anywhere kids are alone with adults with authority. The data suggests, though, that the likelihood is less for Catholic priests (4%) than for authority figures, like teachers, in secular society (5 to 7%).

Plante: “And certainly since the early to mid-1980s, again, those numbers have tanked. And certainly after the Dallas Charter, they have really tanked to a trickle.”

Plante notes that “the Church has made great strides” in reducing the child abuse by clergy. “If you look at the hard data, it’s really quite impressive in terms of what the numbers used to look versus what the numbers look like today.”

He was asked if clergy abuse is linked to homosexuality or to celibacy.

Plante: “No, we would say these are red herrings. First off, in terms of the celibacy issue” priests are less likely to abuse than persons in secular society. So it’s not celibacy. A lot of people in society are not having sex because they don’t have a partner, or can’t find one, and that doesn’t cause them to turn to children for sexual gratification. “So we don’t think celibacy really is the issue.”

Plante: “And then in terms of homosexuality, sadly people often want to blame homosexuals for this problem because of who they are, but we know, research is very clear here as well, sexual orientation by itself isn’t a risk factor for pedophilia. So people will point to the fact that 80% of victims in the Church are male, and say, ‘Well, see, that makes it a homosexual problem.’ But they don’t understand the psychopathology of pedophilia. They don’t understand that research has found that clergy offenders are generally what we call ‘situational generalist’ which means they are going to abuse what they find. And that was made clear in the John Jay Reports. That’s been clear in research that I’ve done, other people have done.”

Plante: “Over time, for the most part, priests have had more trust and connection with boys, particularly back in the day, when we had all boys schools and we had minor seminaries and we had all-boy altar boys, and so forth. And so really it’s an issue of what’s available, as opposed to targeting.”

Plante: “But to think that just become someone’s homosexual, that they’re at high risk of violating a child, is just not following the data.”

Plante: “The Dallas Charter is a great instrument…. The Dallas Charter seems to be working. Since the Dallas Charter came into play, the incidents of abuse are really down to a trickle. Now that’s due to a variety of reasons, not just the Dallas Charter.”

Note: Thomas G. Plante has been these “psychological screening evaluations for a wide variety of dioceses and religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church (as well as for the Episcopal Church) for 25 years, completing more than 600 evaluations to date.” [Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002–2012 (Abnormal Psychology) (Kindle Locations 2421-2422). Kindle Edition.]