Misconceptions people may have about sexual abuse, sexual harassment and homosexuality as elements of the ongoing crisis in the church can hinder efforts to address it, according to a leading psychologist and expert on the crisis.
The complex nature of each of the elements can make it “hard for the average Catholic in the pew” to grasp key differences among them, delaying the formulation of “good, smart solutions,” said Santa Clara University psychologist Dr. Thomas G. Plante.
A prolific author who also serves on Stanford University’s faculty, Plante has spent more than 30 years researching and treating psychological issues among Catholic clergy and laypersons.
Although many blame the abuse scandals on homosexuality among the clergy, same-sex attraction does not make priests more likely to sexually abuse children, Plante said.
“It’s perfectly understandable that people could be confused by this, because we know that 80 percent or more of the clerical sexual abuse victims are boys,” Plante said. “So people conclude that if you get rid of homosexuals in the clergy, then you’ve got the problem solved. And it doesn’t work that way.”
Most of the clerical sexual abuse perpetrators have been “situational generalists,” a term used throughout extensive John Jay College of Criminal Justice summary reports, the most recent in 2011, to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Generalists do not have a specific sexual preference for youth, but instead “turn to children as a sort of substitute” due to psychological and emotional difficulties in bonding with peers, Plante observed.
Such individuals – who often exhibit issues with substance abuse and impulse control — “can’t develop successful, negotiated, intimate relationships with adults,” said Plante, who recently served as vice chair of the USCCB’s National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth.
Since generalist offenders seek readily available victims, boys have historically — though by no means exclusively — been a target for many clerical abusers.
“Priests for the most part had access to boys, and trust with boys, much more so than girls,” said Plante, noting that this proximity has led to the erroneous correlation between homosexuality and clerical abuse.
Only a small number of abusive priests – and of sexual abusers in the general population – can be formally classified as pedophiles, according to the clinical definition used by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in its “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),” the authoritative guide used by mental health professionals worldwide.
“The classic pedophile is attracted to young, prepubescent children,” said Plante. Prepubescence is typically defined as less than age 11.
Priestly celibacy can also be discounted as an underlying cause of the clerical scandals. In an article Plante wrote Aug. 23 for Psychology Today, he pointed out that “the vast majority of sex offenders are regular men, often married or partnered, with 80 percent or more victimizing their own family members.”
Overall, men are far more likely than women to become abusers, which helps to explain the comparatively lower rates of abuse perpetrated by female religious.
This striking gap between the genders – with “90 to 95 percent” of perpetrators being male – is generally due to basic differences in the psychological makeup of the sexes.
“Men tend to have what we call more ‘externalizing’ problems when it comes to psychiatric issues, while women tend to have more ‘internalizing’ problems,” Plante said. “Women are more likely to exhibit depression and anxiety, whereas men tend to act out. They’re more prone to commit violence and sexual exploitation.”
Plante also stressed that sexual harassment, perpetrated by a number of clerical superiors against seminarians, should be distinguished from child sexual abuse.
“Both involve power and sexual violation, but they are different,” he said. “Sexually harassing people at the workplace is not a sexual psychiatric disorder. It could be a personality disorder; it could be a variety of things, but it’s not a sexual disorder. Every industry, every organization has a problem with this issue, where people abuse power and sexually harass their subordinates.”
Historically, child sexual abuse has occurred in the church and in human society “since the dawn of time,” said Plante, noting that St. Basil decried the problem in the fourth century.
In the United States, incidents of clerical sexual abuse rose during the 1960s and 1970s, paralleling a society-wide increase in other problematic behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual experimentation. By the early 1980s, the number of cases began to level off, due in part to increased research, mandated reporting, awareness and intervention strategies.
Because the traumatic nature of child sexual abuse tends to prevent victims from disclosing their attacks until years later, recent legal investigations do not always reflect current levels of clerical abuse, which have declined significantly, Plante observed.
“I think the average person on the street thinks this is rampant today in 2018, when it’s not,” he said, adding that annual data collections, independent audits, safe environment training and zero-tolerance policies have proven effective.
Although ongoing vigilance is required, Plante is hopeful about the Catholic Church’s ongoing prospects for protecting youth from clerical sexual abuse.
“I think we are using best practices now,” he said. “Sadly, we can’t change what happened 30, 40, 50 years ago, and we treat those victims with great compassion and respect. But thankfully for everybody, today’s church is very different from yesterday’s church.”
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So first and foremost, it should be acknowledged that the Church has a gay problem, apart from any cases of abuse, because a) a hugely disproportionate number of priests suffer from same sex attractions and many of these self-identify as “gay”, b) same sex attraction is intrinsically disordered, c) those who identify with this intrinsic disorder are far less likely to be “catholicly” faithful to the Church’s moral teachings.
Is same sex attraction intrinsically disordered? This USED to be the position of psychology, which gave into political correction and the logical conclusion of “sexual liberation” in the late 70s. If you deny that there is an intrinsic disorder in same sex attraction, as I am guessing he does, then despite the evidence that there is a disproportionately homosexual indication in the statistic your foregone conclusion is… it must be something other than homosexuality because there is nothing wrong with homosexuality. If most rapes occur at the hands of “heterosexual” males it would be incorrect to lable “heterosexuality” the problem, a correlation without causality. However, in this case a minority that in the general polulation makes up at most 5% of the whole, and perhaps as much as 50% of priests, represents 80% of perpetrators. The statistical likeliness that such a humongously significant statical anomily is a mere correlation is highly unlikely.
-John Jay Report: 81% of the victims were teenage boys.
-Pennsylvania grand jury report: 74% of the predators were homosexual.
The Church has a homosexual problem.
Please don’t trot out false and misleading articles like this thinking we’re idiots. Shame on you.
Reading the above reactions to this article, I guess we reap what we sow. Our Church has always been hostile to homosexuals and that hostility has caused great harm to a lot of people. Why should we be surprised that so many Catholics still cling to their prejudices when those prejudices were reinforced all of their lives from the pulpit. The harm the Church has done to gays and lesbians is just as awful and just as sinful as its culture of sexual abuse of children.
As I understand the scandals, the pedophiles were only about 5% to 10%. And abuse of females was less than 10%. 85% of the problems had been male-male, or HOMOSEXUAL. The victims were primarily adolescent to young adult males – high schoolers to seminarians. Any contention that the scandal has nothing to do with homosexual priests is absurd, Head-in-the-sand nonsense. I also find it offensive to have the term “gay” used in an article in a Catholic publication to refer to homosexual priests. That is the language of the homosexual movement – and is used to promote this disordered lifestyle.
The Church cannot survive by seeking to become part of the Culture of Death. It’s administrators have become insulated and disconnected.
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!
Thank you Ted for your comments. Unfortunately, many of those who are supposed to report on these matters honestly are afraid of being called bad names like homophobe and being disinvited from the ranks of the cool people. Wise up. The homosexual filth must be cleaned out of the Church.
Ted, Where I live there’s a 150-year-old street named, “Gay,” and it has nothing to do with homosexuals. I too find it offensive how the secular media has corrupted a word that means happy and was often applied to children. Male priests attracted to male adults and children are homosexual, and that is far, far from ‘gay.’
The problem with this argument is clearly acknowledged within the article itself. To quote: “The classic pedophile is attracted to young, prepubescent children,” said Plante. Prepubescence is typically defined as less than age 11.”
The sexual abuse scandal in the Church is largely an abuse of people older than 11 years old so the entire premise of this article is false. I cant help but think that it is an attempt to obfuscate the real problem. If one wants to argue that homosexuality within the clergy is not problematic, it is necessary to acknowledge this underlying fact.
If one wants to argue that the problem is not homosexual clerics per se, a better argument might be based on the percentage of homosexual priests that abuse boys compared to the population of homosexual priests. In other words, only x% of homosexual priests violate their vows of celibacy and of these only x% violate minors.