The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report is an 800-page study of the systemic rape and molestation of children on an industrial scale by hundreds of Catholic priests over decades in the state of Pennsylvania. The horrors include beating and raping children, making child pornography, hitting children with whips, forcing children to commit sexual acts on priests, and so on. Many families were victimized multiple times: in one family alone, a priest raped five girls. (To read the report, click here.)
This report is but the tip of the iceberg chronicling the abuse in one single state. Similar horrific levels of abuse have been identified with the church in other places around the world (e.g. Boston; Ireland). If past is prologue, one shudders to imagine what horrors of abuse remain to be discovered in the months and years to come.
So how is the Catholic Church responding to this revelation?
In the days since the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, a growing number of Catholics have been using this report as a way to attack gay people — gay men in particular: the attacks on lesbians are conspicuously absent for obvious reasons — by suggesting that the central lesson of the report is that priests with same-sex attraction are the problem.
In an article in First Things, Daniel Mattson, who is himself same-sex attracted, argues as follows:
“What unites all of these scandals is homosexuality in our seminaries and the priesthood: the result of the Church ignoring its own clear directives.”
According to Mattson, the Catholic Church’s problem with industrial-scale child molestation and rape traces back to the fact that same-sex attracted men are being allowed to become priests. As Mattson explains:
“Most of the horrific abuse detailed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report involved adolescent boys and young men. This isn’t pedophilia.”
I have to interject here. While I have not read the entirety of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, Mattson’s comment is disingenuous at best, and arguably contradicts the Grand’ Jury’s own presentation of their findings. The report is clear: the issue is not about “homosexuality”: it is about the targeting and abuse of children. The website where the report is available prefaces the report as follows:
“THIS SITE SERVES AS THE HOLDING GROUND FOR THE RESULTS OF A TWO-YEAR GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION INTO WIDESPREAD SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN WITHIN SIX DIOCESES OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN PENNSYLVANIA AND THE SYSTEMIC COVER UP BY SENIOR CHURCH OFFICIALS IN PENNSYLVANIA AND AT THE VATICAN.”
Note that the writers of the report present their findings as involving the sexual abuse of children. Open the report and you read the following on page 1:
“Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number – of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward – is in the thousands.
“Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all” (emphasis added)
In Pennsylvania, a child is defined as “a person under 18 years of age.” (source) Thus the Grand Jury Report chronicles the sexual victimization of children (i.e. persons under 18-years of age) by priests, period. The fact that “Most of the victims were boys” does not make it a “homosexual issue” any more than the rape of five girls from the same family is a heterosexual issue. Again, in all cases, the issue is the predation upon and abuse of children, period.
What about Mattson’s claim that the issue isn’t pedophilia? Again, this is misleading, at best. In colloquial usage, “pedophilia” involves adults experiencing sexual attraction toward children. As the recent Roy Moore case demonstrates, the popular usage includes teenagers Moore was allegedly targeting 14-17-year-olds and he was roundly condemned as a “pedophile”. A 30-year-old man who is targeting 17-year-old girls may not technically be a pedophile, but his attractions are disordered. They are not simply “heterosexual.” Likewise, a 30-year-old man who is targeting 17-year-old boys may not technically be a pedophile, but his attractions are disordered. They are not simply “homosexual.” And in both cases, this kind of behavior is colloquially described as pedophila.
What about technical usage? Is Mattson correct here? Once again, his statement is at best disingenuous because it obscures the fact that pedophilia is part of a continum of disordered sexual attraction to children (i.e. legal minors) Technically, the crimes of child abuse chronicled in the report are borne by a range of disordered sexual attractions including pedophilia (the disorder of being sexually attracted to children of 12 or younger), hebephilia (the disorder of being sexually attracted to children aged approximately 12-14), and ephebophilia (the disorder of being sexually attracted to children/young adults aged 15-19).
To sum up, when Mattson says the Grand Jury Report is about homosexuality rather than pedophilia, he is attempting to shift the discussion away from sexual attraction to and predation on children and onto the very different topic of male same-sex attraction simpliciter. But that’s not what the report is about at all. To characterize a male predator’s pedophilic molestation of a male child as a homosexual act is every bit as misleading as characterizing a male predator’s pedophilic molestation of a female child as a heterosexual act.
So here’s an obvious question: why are Catholics like Daniel Mattson misrepresenting the content of the Grand Jury Report and seeking to reframe the systemic sexual victimization of children as a matter of failing to identify and block the entry of same-sex attracted men into the priesthood? I can’t say for sure, but it certainly looks like an attempt to shift the spotlight away from the fact that the Catholic clergy has long been a haven for sexual predators and onto a familiar outgroup: the gay community.
This is a terrible thing to do. By seeking to reinvigorate old stereotypes about the relationship between same-sex attraction and child molestation, people like Mattson make it more difficult to identify the real problem of identifying sexual predators and their enablers. And in the process, they demonize and thereby alienate the very people they claim to want to reach.