Scandal & scapegoats

Are Catholic priests the only religious leaders guilty of sexual misconduct?

Just curious.

This is not about trying to go easy on the Catholic Church by spreading the blame around. Matter of fact, go ahead and add me to the rapidly growing list of disgusted individuals who cannot begin to comprehend the ridiculously slow, arrogant, circle-the-wagons response of the church hierarchy to an extremely serious problem. Let me say that the Detroit archdiocese seems to be taking a harder line than the Vatican has asked. Still, denial and delay are not acceptable responses to pedophilia.

Nevertheless I find it interesting that all this pedophilia-inspired attention is still focused on the Catholic Church alone. Perhaps this is because the Catholic Church is arguably the most powerful and most influential religious institution on the planet. Given that, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that folks pay extraordinary attention when the most powerful religious denomination on Earth is accused of harboring and protecting child molesters within its ranks.

Then again, maybe it’s because Catholicism is the only major religious denomination I’m aware of that requires its leaders to live lives of celibacy. To your average non-Catholic Joe — or Josephine — this kind of voluntary lifestyle tends to come off as a bit strange, even if it’s strangely admirable. You’ve got to admit that anyone willing to give up sex for life for whatever reason is someone willing to make a serious commitment. I mean a real serious commitment. Most of us tend to look up to those extraordinary few who are both willing and able to make those kinds of sacrifices and commitments that the rest of us can’t — or won’t. That’s why there’s such extreme disappointment when they tumble from grace back down to the same level of humanity as everyone else. There’s no uglier sight than heroes falling to earth.

But then maybe this is about more than the prominence of the Catholic Church or of the celibate lifestyle that the church imposes upon its clergy. Maybe this is about a way of life — or more specifically a way of being — that is what’s really attracting all the attention. Maybe this is about homosexuality.

Sure, everyone is upset about the revelations that so many young boys were sexually abused and preyed upon by grown men. But what is even more upsetting to a considerable number of folks is the grossly erroneous assumption that gay members of the clergy are to blame for these incidents. To these folks it is just so obvious that if there are gay Catholic clergy, then naturally this is where the problem lies. Root out the gays and presto! Problem solved.

Except that homosexuality and pedophilia are not synonymous. Homosexuality and immorality are not synonymous. To be quite honest, young boys are more likely to be assaulted by a heterosexual he-man than by a predatory gay male. There are more than enough statistics around to prove that the vast majority of violent crimes committed in America are committed by straight men, not by gays. And as anyone even vaguely familiar with prison can tell you, a man doesn’t have to be gay to sexually assault another man. He just has to be sick in the head.

But here’s the deal. There are estimates that as many as 50 percent of Catholic seminarians are gay. And as one former priest who is gay put it, rooting out gays would mean “a lot of empty seminaries.”

To a religious, conservative-minded individual who views homosexuality as a sin — not yours truly, by the way — that probably means an alarming number of gays being groomed for leadership positions within the most powerful and influential religious denomination on earth.

So if you brand an easily identifiable segment of the population as the culprit responsible for tarnishing the image of this very powerful religious institution, then the crisis suddenly becomes much easier to manage, right? Especially if you can narrow down that population segment to what is also an easily identifiable target area. Gays — the culprit population — have infiltrated the Catholic Church, which is the targeted area. Remove gays from the targeted area and Catholicism will be saved.

But if the pedophiles aren’t necessarily gay, then how can they easily and quickly be identified? The emphasis being on “easily” and “quickly” because with all this scrutiny going on you can best believe that the pressure is on to get this problem solved in one hell of a hurry.

However, even if a quick and easy way is found to accurately screen out pedophiles from within the ranks of the Catholic clergy, how can this method then be applied to other religious denominations?

Or is the Catholic Church the only religious denomination that is dealing with a pedophile problem?

Catholic League President Bill Donohue made the point recently in the on-line journal Slate that it isn’t. He pointed specifically to the Anglican diocese in British Columbia, Canada, which is “going bankrupt because so many ministers can’t keep their hands to themselves. And these men are married.”

So then it’s not just the Catholics, after all. And it isn’t the gays who can be blamed for the problem. Know what I think the real problem is? This isn’t about the sexual molestation of little boys, even though it should be. This is about the preservation of the traditional power structure within the Catholic Church.

Even in the church, power has the potential to corrupt.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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