Over the weekend, I finished the novel “The Priestly Sins” by Andrew Greeley. Greeley is a real-life Catholic priest who is also a sociology professor and novelist. He published “The Priestly Sins” in 2004. It’s about a young Catholic priest from the midwest who unwittingly discovers an older priest sexually abusing a young boy. Unapologetically, the young priest goes to authorities and reports the abuse, but then his archdiocese puts him in an insane asylum, then sends him off to graduate school.
The plot also deals with the protagonist’s enduring, and eventually transforming, love for a girl (now a woman) who he loved and almost married before he realized he was destined to be a priest. There’s also a fascinating sub-plot about his great-grandmother appearing to him as a ghost, taking care of him as he maneuvers through his first few years as a parish priest. In fact, the author creates several unexpected yet necessary characters in this book.
At the heart of the novel, however, is the sex abuse scandal that a number of Catholic priests caused in the Catholic Church and which, about 10 years ago, the Church could no longer hide from.
I grew up in the Catholic Church, went to a Catholic college, and defended the Church against its critics for many years. I tried very hard to believe in all the Christian stuff—all the miracles, the virgin birth, turning bread into Jesus’s body, the holy trinity, etc.—and, despite the naggings of my rational brain, I enjoyed some of my time in the church because it was such a respite from the noise of Life. In church, there was time to be quiet and think, read, ponder. I never got any satisfactory answers to my questions, but the search was still enriching. It continues to this day.
When I was in college, I had a roommate whose beloved father had recently been diagnosed with leukemia. He died soon after. My roommate, understandably devastated, sought grief counseling in her hometown. Her counselor was a Catholic priest and he sexually abused her. The Church settled out of court and the priest was sent somewhere else. (This occurred 10 years before the big public outcry against the Church allowing abusers to remain free and clear.)
Anyway, as someone who was always mystified by the Church’s teachings in addition to the already-difficult-to-believe Christian story, sex abuse in the Catholic Church is something I’ve paid attention to, and worried about, through the years. I have known some absolutely wonderful men who were priests, particularly my parish priest who served at my church when I was a teenager. At my college, I had a lot of philosophy classes with seminarians at the college. Many of these guys were outstanding human beings. Most of them eventually dropped out of the seminary, but a couple of them actually became priests.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I ran across an article about a statement recently made by Father Silvano Tomasi, an Archbishop and the Vatican’s “permanent observer to the UN,” whatever that means. (So what does he do, again?) I quote here from The Guardian, after which I will torture you with my own comments:
In a defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.
The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that “available research” showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.
He also quoted statistics from the Christian Scientist Monitor newspaper to show that most US churches being hit by child sex abuse allegations were Protestant and that sexual abuse within Jewish communities was common.
He added that sexual abuse was far more likely to be committed by family members, babysitters, friends, relatives or neighbours, and male children were quite often guilty of sexual molestation of other children.
The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would “be more correct” to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.
“Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17.”
The statement concluded: “As the Catholic church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it.”
First off, let me start by saying: WOW!
1) OK, so priest abuse was done by homosexuals, not pedophiles. –He seems to be implying that this makes abuse somehow more acceptable; otherwise, why the clarification?
Father Tomasi, please. If a priest is abusing children, I don’t care if he is gay, straight, or bisexual, or transgendered. Abusing children is a sin. You are a Catholic priest. Don’t you recognize a sin when you see it?
2) So these particular homosexuals were not pedophiles; they’re just sexually attracted to young boys and they act on it. But that’s what pedophilia is.
3) Next, we learn that Father Tomasi is proud that only 1.5% – 5% of Catholic clergy were ever involved in sexual abuse. This strikes me with a strong feeling of “So what?” Any case of abuse is horrendous.
4) As Father Tomasi said, Protestants and Jews sexually abuse children, too. Therefore, stop being so hard on the poor Catholic Church and go after the Jews instead. After all, they are the people who killed Jesus.
5) Sex abuse also happens in the greater community, not just in religious communities. Leave us priests alone.
6) Um, in case you didn’t gather this earlier, ephebophilia is so much more noble than pedophilia. What’s so bad about a grown man being sexually attracted to a young boy? For goodness sake, it’s not like he’s fornicating with a woman or something.
7) Finally, why doesn’t everybody butt out of the Catholic Church’s business and let us priests do our job? Go harrass somebody else. Some of our priests just love boys, OK? We’re not hurting anybody.
–I have realized that perhaps priests really don’t think sex abuse is sex abuse. In the Catholic Church’s eye, for a person to have sex without being open to conceiving a baby is sinful. (Reality check: Yes, it’s 2009 A.D. and the Catholic Church still does not allow for birth control except the reliable old “rhythm method.”)
So, maybe these ephobophiliacs don’t think it’s really sex when they abuse boys, because there’s no chance they’re going to make a baby this way, right? I know it’s silly but I really wonder if this could be the unconscious attitude.
As for priests who molest other people, including female children and my adult female roommate in college, I’m sure they have another excuse. In any case, screw ’em. Although I’m sure Father Tomasi could logically explain these instances away, too.
But on the redeeming end of the issue is my old friend Father Greeley, who cared enough to write a book about the issue and examine the inner workings of the Church’s completely assinine reaction to the scandal. If they would have turned these jerks over to the law, we wouldn’t have needed a scandal in the first place.
So thanks, Father Greeley, for your work. And, I understand you’ve been ill. I hope you are feeling better every day. Here’s to you and your work.