Are Gay Priests the Problem?

The sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church took yet another turn this week when statements by the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, second only to Pope Benedict, linked pedophilia to homosexuality.

Bertone said: "Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and pedophilia, but many others have demonstrated that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia."

France, where an estimated 60 percent of the population is Catholic, became the first country to officially dismiss the remarks when foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters, "This is unacceptable linkage and we condemn this. France is firmly engaged in the struggle against discrimination and prejudice linked to sexual orientation and gender identity."

Other church and lay leaders similarly have called the remarks outrageous and ill-informed. While en route to the United States in 2008, Pope Benedict said he considered homosexuality and pedophilia to be separate matters. So why would Cardinal Bertone make his statements? And what is the real truth behind any association of pedophilia and homosexuality?

Medical professionals agree that the majority of known pedophiles are heterosexual. Although statistics vary slightly, according to Thomas Plante of the department of psychology at Santa Clara University in California, most professionals agree that between 4 percent and 7 percent of people are pedophiles and that statistics in the priesthood roughly correspond to those findings.

It is also statistically verifiable that 80 percent of victims of sexual abuse are abused by a family member. The father of a family is 36 times more likely to abuse a child than a priest is, according to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Of about 3,000 reported cases of sexual misconduct among priests committed in the past 50 years, only 300, or 10 percent, of those cases involved true pedophiles. Pedophilia is psychologically classified as sexual attraction to prepubescent children, younger than 13. Ninety percent of the reported abuse cases involved Roman Catholic priests classified as ephebophiles, those attracted to teens between 13 and 19. Of those reported cases, 60 percent were homosexual abuse and 30 percent heterosexual abuse, according to the 2004 John Jay Report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Irresponsible to Link Homosexuality, Pedophilia

The statistics are helpful in distilling the underlying questions and concerns that arise. Certainly, no abuse of any kind is acceptable for a member of the clergy. As is church policy, there is zero tolerance for anyone accused and convicted of the abuse of a minor.

Although it was not always the case in the past, church guidelines require that internal and legal action in reported abuse be swift and just, with utmost concern for the victim involved. But why are sexual abusers present at all in ordained ministry, and what are the most effective means to prevent further abuse? This is where the issue of gay priests and the comments of Cardinal Bertone become germane.

To link homosexuality and pedophilia (or ephebophilia) is obviously erroneous, uninformed and irresponsible. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation. Pedophilia and ephebophilia are sexual disorders that afflict both heterosexuals and homosexuals, and mostly heterosexuals.

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