Wednesday, April 23, 2003

When you and I heard about the priests who abused boys under the age of consent, we thought it was child molestation -- the work of predators. Senator Rick Santorum thought,

In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship.

Where did he get that idea? From people like National Review's Rod Dreher:

The media will strain to avoid making the connection, for fear of being accused of homophobia. But this scandal cannot be understood and honestly dealt with in its absence....what we're seeing with priests is not pedophilia, which is a deep-seated psychological illness. What we're seeing is gay men who cannot or will not keep their pants up around teenage boys. Not teenage girls. Teenage boys.

You cannot blame people for asking if there's something about the culture of homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood that fosters this phenomenon....

A March 6, 2002, column by Joe Fitzgerald in the right-wing Boston Herald (quoted here) makes the distinction more explicit. Fitzgerald recounts a suspiciously unconversational-sounding discussion he says he had with a priest:

“Thanks for returning my call,” he said. “I have a take on what’s happening now, something no one else seems anxious to get into, including the people in your business whom I’m angry at, too. The papers keep talking about pedophilia. That’s the wrong word. The real issue here is homosexuality. It’s usually heterosexuals who are pedophiles, which is a psychological disorder that has something to do with arrested development, sending them back to an age where they last felt comfortable, identifying with someone who reminds them of themselves.”

“Where are you getting this from?” he was asked.

“From friends who are psychologists. John Geoghan? Sure, he was a pedophile. But of all the guys whose names we’re reading now, no more than a couple were pedophiles, a percentage probably consistent with the general population. The majority of these victims were not prepubescent; they were young teens, so it had nothing to do with pedophilia. It’s technically called ephebophilia, which is almost exclusively homosexual, and it isn’t about comfort; it’s about sex. The media don’t like talking about this because, by and large, they have come down on the side of gay rights, the advancement of the gay agenda, so there would be an uncomfortability because, again and again, gays are saying, ‘We’re no threat to children; that’s why we should be Boy Scout leaders, why we should be teachers, why we should be able to adopt.’ That’s always their justification for interactions with young people.”

"Ephebophile" and "ephebophilia" are terms that were popularized by an academic named Philip Jenkins; these terms were seized on by those who didn't want the Catholic Church to take responsibility for the harm done by its priests. Garry Wills has been the most passionate debunker of Jenkins (unfortunately his New York Review of Books article "Priests and Boys" is not part of NYRB's free archive). On this issue, Andrew Sullivan is also on the right side; he wrote in his blog on May 28, 2002:

The use of the term ephebophilia has been insisted upon by some Church conservatives for several reasons, it seems to me. It can help make the scandal seem less appalling to the general public (so helping to exculpate the hierarchy); it can help shift the onus of responsibility away from the abusers and toward the victims (arguments like "those teenagers were complicit," etc.); and it is a way to insist that this scandal is not about the abuse of minors or the abuse of power to cover such assaults up, but is in fact a function of the dreaded homosexuals, "conspiring" ... to destroy the Church.

Sullivan, of course, doesn't associate homosexuals with liberalism. But Santorum does.

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