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Clergy scandals summarized.

Some months have passed since I wrote about the sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. Catholic Church. In June 2002, Catholic Insight published "U.S. Cardinals visit Rome." In the October 2002 edition we published an eight-page overview of what the bishops in Dallas had decided to do in June and the reaction thereto; plus reflections by Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, who pointed out that the main issue is not paedophilia but homosexuality, and that one of the bishops' main problems in the past had been the acceptance of advice of psychologists and psychiatrists at various treatment centres who assured them that abusing priests could safely be returned to parish work. We added a section of short biographies of eight homosexual bishops who have been forced to resign over the last ten years.

Father Harvey sees the root cause for the crisis in so many clergy abandoning solemn Catholic moral teaching. The theological and popular dissent which began during Vatican II reached its high point with the rejection by many laity, priests, and theologians of Humanae vitae (On human life) in 1968. This encyclical opposed separating the procreative aspect of marriage from its love-union aspect by means of contraception, whether by Pill or device.

Since the time of writing, Father Harvey has been joined in this opinion of the consequences of dissent by the editors of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., Professor Hudson of Crisis magazine, Philip Lawler of Catholic World Report, Fr. Richard Neuhaus of First Things, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, George Weigel, author of "The courage to be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church," and many others.

The facts appear incontrovertible. Once people rebelled against Humanae vitae, justifying contraception, they followed it up by justifying sexual intercourse before marriage (as part of a process of "self-fulfilment"), allowing pornography, together with justifying masturbation and, logically enough, same-sex pleasuring. By this time, many of the dissenters had also quietly begun to accept the killing of the unborn. As we know, they were backed by leading members of the American Catholic Theological Society who published their 'new morality' views in 1975 (Kosnick, et al).


Dissent as a cause for deviant behaviour has another side to it, namely, the refusal of bishops to denounce false teachers--which in North America was left principally to Rome. This, in turn, was accompanied by their decision to be silent in the public forum about Catholic sexual and marital moral truths. In Canada, for example, after the bishops themselves had pushed the encyclical Humanae vitae aside in their September 1968 Winnipeg meeting, they threw themselves into the promotion of social justice, hoping to make up for silence on sexual-marital issues by loudly supporting economic and political activity on behalf a large variety of justice issues, national as well as international.

The American Conference of Bishops did the same thing. Thus it is said that Humanae vitae did not fail; it was just never preached or taught. The bishops had chosen the easy way out. Works of social justice were popular, opposing the morally permissive society was not.

One further point: Kenneth Whitehead points out in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Fall 2002, that as early as November 1968, the American bishops in their pastoral letter Human life in our day, had included a section entitled "Norms of licit dissent." Although the theoretical conditions they described there bore no resemblance to the open rebellion that was actually underway, it cut the ground from under the feet of those bishops who might have been willing to take action. Eventually, only two did, Cardinal Boyle of Washington, and Bishop McNulty of Buffalo.

New norms and Cardinal Law

Before presenting the facts and figures of this survey, I should mention two other events. On November 13, 2002, the U.S. Bishops approved the Vatican authored "revised norms," including how to dismiss guilty priests from the priesthood. Some now fear that secrecy will be reintroduced into the newly created tribunals contrary to Dallas where the bishops wanted lay participation for the sake of openness and transparency. All this remains to be seen. The new norms do provide the accused with proper legal procedures in his own defence.

The second event is the December 2002 resignation of the Cardinal- Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Law. It was in Boston that the revelations of massive abuse by priests began in the fall of 2001, due to the relentless probing of the Boston Globe, which blew the issue of priestly sex abuse wide open across public America. The Boston cardinal is hardly a sacrificial lamb. His errors were numerous: moving abusive priests from parish to parish without giving much thought to the victims or to the idea that crimes had been committed which should have been reported to the police and the courts. He appears to have "followed a policy of covering up accusations, ignoring the pleas of victims, and placing priests back into ministry with little concern for the children," states Commonweal (December 20, 2002). Whether his resignation is conducive to greater openness among bishops remains to be seen. Of the two things the Dallas meeting refused to discuss, one was finding the reasons for the crisis, the other was discussin g the accountability of bishops. No public progress has been visible on this last subject since then.

New York Times

On Sunday January 12, 2003, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times published the most complete compilation of data on the U.S. priestly abuse crisis hereto. She titled her article, "Trail of pain in church crisis leads to nearly every diocese."

The New York Times (NYT) is not a Catholic-friendly paper; its reporters carry with them the liberal bias for which this daily is famous. The fact and figures however are sufficiently comprehensive to allow one to see them independently of the newspaper's predilection. Here are some of the numbers.

The survey compiled the names and histories of 1205 accused priests. It counted 4,268 people who have claimed publicly or in lawsuits to have been abused by priests. (Observers believe that there are many more who have remained silent.)

* The survey found accusations of abuses in all but sixteen of the 177 Latin-rite dioceses in the United States.

* Every region was seriously affected:

206 priests in the West;

246 in the South;

335 in the Midwest;

and 434 in the Northeast.

* The abuse reached not only big cities like Boston or Los Angeles, but smaller ones like Louisville, with 27 priests accused, and St. Cloud, Minn, with 9 priests accused.

* The priests counted included both diocesan and religious order priests.

* The total (which may still rise) comes to 1.8 percent of all priests ordained between 1950 and 2001, a 50-year period.

* Dioceses which have fully opened their books--or were forced to do so by court orders--and which have provided complete lists, show much higher percentages of abusive priests. (Baltimore 6.2 percent; Manchester, N.H., 7.7 percent; and Boston 5.3 percent. The Boston percentage comes to 94 priests.)

* A number of dioceses have not published complete lists, or have even refused to identify any priests, though the survey did not say how many.

* During the twelve months of 2002, 432 accused priests have resigned, retired, or been removed from priestly ministry. So far, only 11 of them have been defrocked.

* Fifty percent of the priests in the database were accused of molesting one minor; 33 percent of three minors; 16 percent of five or more.

* Again, 57 percent stand accused of molesting teenagers (13 years and older); 43 percent were accused of molesting boys of 12 years or younger. (Not in the survey is the fact that only a handful are accused of paedophilia, that is, of abusing pre-pubescent children). Four out of five victims were male.

Ordination classes

* The 1956 ordination class is the first class which has a significant proportion of accused priests (32). But many of them did not commit their offences until the 1960's or 1970's.

* Actual accusations of abuse per decade looks as follows:

1950's: 63 priests accused

1960's: 256 priests accused

1970's: 537 priests accused

1980's: 510 priests accused

1990's: 211 priests accused

(Some think that the figure for the 1990's is low because the victims have not yet come to terms with their victimization).

Los Angeles poll

The NYT survey does not mention the Los Angeles poll of October 2002, which revealed that currently the American priesthood has a much higher percentage of homosexuals than does the general population. The poll shows "...a combined 15% of priests identified themselves as homosexuals (9%) or "somewhere in between, but more on the homosexual side" (6%). But, said the poll, "among younger priests--those ordained 20 years or less--the figure was 23%. (Ordination classes in the eighties and nineties have been much smaller than in the forties and fifties).

The percentage of male homosexuals in the general population is between 1 1/2% to 2%. The 1993 Alan Gutmacher Institute Study found 1.1% of males to be homosexuals (Wanderer, Jan. 18/03).


The above NYT statistics demonstrate that the incidence of abuse coincides with other factors, of which the survey mentions only two. First, the NYT sees it as coinciding with the relaxation of priestly discipline which began in the early 1960's, supported--so it was claimed--by the new spirit of Vatican II: get off your pedestal; wear sports clothes; be one with the laity; leave your collar at home.

Secondly, as mentioned, it runs parallel with the theologians' revolt against Catholic moral teaching that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). This reached its unchallenged popularity in the seventies and continued into the eighties.

Thirdly, not mentioned by the NYT is that the rate of increase of abuse by clergy coincides with the "Gay" drive for homosexual equality which was well underway at the end of the sixties and then went public in a big way during the following decades. The NYT, together with practically all large liberal dailies, supports the homosexual lifestyle, and does not care to throw an adverse light on it which it would do if it connected it to abuse by homosexual priests.

A fourth event worthwhile recollecting is that Pope John Paul II was elected Pope in October 1978. One of the first things he did was to halt the laicization of priests, restore discipline, and then begin a program of re-catechizing both priests and faithful especially in the defence of traditional marital-sexual-morality in direct opposition to the permissive society.

Some other observations:

The (defensive) claim by some Catholics that "people are outraged at the negligence of what amounts to relatively few bishops" is not acceptable. The bishops in question are not few; they are many. As the New York Times survey observes, only 16 out of 177 Latin-rite dioceses have so far been free of priestly abuse. Last year the Dallas Herald reported, on the opening day of the bishops' meeting there, that 114 dioceses out of 177 have records of bishops moving abusive priests from one parish to another. Again today, as the NYT survey mentions, a number of bishops are not cooperating.

Also, the number of U.S. bishops who have been forced to resign over the last ten years is not insignificant either. In October 2002, Catholic Insight listed eight bishops forced out because of homosexual affairs. Meanwhile, affairs with females have led to the resignation of two Archbishops (Atlanta and Texas), and several other bishops as well.

Similarly, the idea that the percentage of abusing priests is "only" 1.8 percent and therefore "below" the 2 percent of the American average, has nothing to recommend itself either. What is that observation supposed to mean? After all, we are speaking of more than 1200 priests where there should have been none.

Third, some commentators continue to speak about the abusing priests as "pedophiles." Pedophiles are those who abuse little children; they indeed number a handful. The great mass of priest abusers are homosexuals. Psychologists have coined the term ephebophiles for those who abuse boys after pubescence. Some people take this to mean that these priests, therefore, are not homosexuals. It's a suggestion which should be ignored.

Fourth, there have been reports of people--including apparently commentators in Rome--who blame or have blamed the media for this crisis. That is also dangerous, indicating a state of denial which could be very harmful to resolving this crisis. The media did not create the crisis; the priests and the bishops did.

A final comment:

Vocal Catholic dissenters have for years supported the homosexual lifestyle in one form or another, either by backing equality for "sexual orientation," or by thinking that it can't be so bad when so many do it, or in some other way. These "supporters" are not pleased with the turn of events the clergy scandals have taken.

First of all, they dismiss the idea that dissent has played a major role. Others turn the tables around and aggressively charge that John Paul II's "rigidity" is to blame, not their dismissal of Catholic teaching.

Others, such as the Jesuit magazine America, defend ordaining homosexuals. Others again try to force the debate by charging that homosexuals are being "scapegoated" as, for example, Fr. Andrew Britz, editor of the Prairie Messenger in Saskatchewan did when he wrote the sentence, "Efforts by the hierarchy to find a scapegoat--the homosexual priest--only deepened the crisis." (Editorial, Feb. 12.03). The truth is that the large majority of American bishops have completely ignored the issue of homosexuality and have done nothing to slow down the continued pro-homosexual propaganda among their own faithful by diocesan approved "gay" ministries and even bishops such as the auxiliary bishop of Detroit Thomas Gumbleton.

The future

The clergy abuse scandals will take years to resolve. Meanwhile, let us not be disheartened. Even though the number of priests involved is not small, nevertheless, as individuals and as a group, they do not represent the Church and any effort to use them as such will fail.

Homosexual activity remains a sin, as it always has been and as it always will be. "Hate the sin but love the sinner" remains the Church's philosophy, no matter what the Globe & Mail and Canadian judges may say.

Meanwhile, we pray for reform, we pray for sinners, and we pray for ourselves that we may not also be tempted. As Father Neuhaus put it: Fidelity to the Magisterium. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.

Father Alphonse de Valk is a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil (C.S.B.). He is the editor of this journal.
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Author:Valk, Alphonse de
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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