First published at 365gay.com on April 16, 2010
Comments earlier this week by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone linking homosexuality to pedophilia have drawn almost universal condemnation from medical experts, gay-rights organizations, and government officials.
Speaking at a news conference in Chile, the cardinal stated,
“Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and pedophilia but many others have demonstrated, I was told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. I have the documents of the psychologists. That is the problem.”
He’s nearly half-right.
But first, let’s underscore where he’s wrong. He’s wrong to connect homosexuality with pedophilia, and especially wrong in citing psychologists’ support for this link. (It is telling, but not at all surprising, that Cardinal Bertone has yet to release these alleged documents he cites.) Every mainstream health and welfare organization that has commented on the issue has stated the opposite.
Even Church leaders have distanced themselves from Bertone, one of Roman Catholicism’s highest-ranking prelates. Rev. Marcus Stock, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, stated in the wake of the cardinal’s comments,
“To the best of my knowledge, there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to child sexual abuse….In the sexual abuse of children, the issue is the sexual fixation of the abusers and not their sexual orientation.”
But Bertone’s statement is not just factually wrong, it’s morally irresponsible. It slanders gay people—including many decent gay priests—and directs our attention away from the real threats to children.
Which brings us to where he’s nearly half-right. He’s right to claim that the problem is not celibacy.
It’s tempting to point out that people who have sex with children are not celibate—they’re people who have sex with children. But that response misses the point of the objection, which is that enforced celibacy, even when undertaken voluntarily, is unhealthy. Doesn’t the strict avoidance of sex make it more likely that people will act out sexually in unfortunate, and occasionally tragic, ways? Doesn’t the exclusion of married men (and women) from the Roman Catholic priesthood make it a less healthy institution overall than it might otherwise be?
These are reasonable questions, but they’re not ones that we can answer from our armchairs. They involve, among other things, empirical claims about the incidence of sexual abuse among those living under a rule of celibacy—and such claims are notoriously difficult to verify given the Church’s culture of secrecy.
That culture of secrecy is where the real problem lies.
The trouble with Bertone’s statement is not merely that it’s scientifically unfounded and false—although it is surely both of those things.
It’s that, by focusing on the causes of pedophilia, Bertone distracts us from the other great crime in the story: the Church’s ongoing cover-up.
Church officials, up to and including the current pope, have repeatedly ignored, downplayed, and concealed the rape of children. Worse yet, they enabled its ongoing occurrence by reassigning priests guilty of abuse to posts where they could continue youth ministry.
This is not a homosexual problem. This is not a celibacy problem. It is a complicity problem.
Bertone—like Catholic League president Bill Donahue and other recent defenders of the hierarchy—have done their best to distract us from this complicity problem. In doing so, they perpetuate a grave evil. Shame on them.