The Abuse of Children: What Role Did Homosexuality Play?

One of the thing I’d planned to cover originally was the role, if any, played by homosexuality. And this issue has gotten huge, as Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone openly suggested that homosexuality played a role. It immediately created a media firestorm, because it was the Vatican again refusing to just throw its hands up and say “It’s true: celibacy causes sex abuse, no matter what all the empirical data shows!” The French foreign minister directly attacked the Vatican for suggesting homosexuality was linked. The response from the Vatican to the firestorm was a pretty carefully worded statement by Fr. Lombardi which supported Cardinal Bertone’s point by providing a wealth of data backing him up. This was described as a “climbdown,” which I think is British for “backing off your original point,” suggesting that they completely missed Fr. Lombardi’s point.

There are two sacred cows of liberal dogma on the issue of sex abuse and homosexuality:

  1. Pedophiles don’t care about gender.
  2. Sexual attraction towards men is different than (and perhaps even antithetical to) sexual attraction to children.

While there’s obviously some element of truth in both of these claims, they’re both presented (falsely) as if they’re 100% true. And that assertion is without merit

I. Myth-Busting
A. Sexual Abuse in the General Population: The Gender Gap

If it were true that all (or even almost all) pedophiles find the sex of their victims irrelevant, we’d expect to find that a roughly equal rate of boys and girls were abused — there might be some discrepancies (girls may be viewed as easier to victimize, while boys are statistically less likely to report their abuse), but we’d be looking for something very near 50-50. That isn’t the case in real life. In 1994, David Finkelhor, Ph.D, published on “the Scope and Nature of Child Sex Abuse.” He wrote:

Considerable evidence exists to show that at least 20% of American women and 5% to 10% of American men experienced some form of sexual abuse as children. The rates are somewhat lower among people born before World War II, but there is little evidence of a dramatic increase for recent generations. […] Most sexual abuse is committed by men (90%) and by persons known to the child (70% to 90%), with family members constituting one-third to one-half the perpetrators against girls and 10% to 20% of the perpetrators against boys. […] The peak age of vulnerability is between 7 and 13.

So according to Finkelhor, girls are about two to four times as likely as boys to be sexually abused (or more: it’s “at least 20%”). In a population of 100 boys and 100 girls, approximately 5-10 of the boys, and at least twenty of the girls would be sexually abused. Assuming the highest rate of abuse for boys (10%) and the lowest for girls (20%), girls still make up over 66% of the abuse cases. A 1999 study cited to by the John Jay Report [Rebecca Bolen and Maria Scannapieco, “Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse: A Corrective Metanalysis” Social Service Review (1999): 281.] found something pretty similar: “the overall prevalence for male children who are sexually abused is 13 percent, and the prevalence of female children who are sexually abused ranges from 30 to 40 percent.” So again, girls are roughly two to three times more likely

to be sexually abused. Even adjusted for familial abuse (which disproportionately harms girls, for whatever reason), girls are still the primary target of sexual abuse.
B. Sexual Abuse in the General Population: What This Says About Homosexuality/Heterosexuality

Homosexuals make up somewhere between “fewer than one percent” (according to the Census) to upwards of “3-8%” (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force ) of the adult population. The 8% is almost certainly too high (it’s a gay advocacy group inflating its own numbers), while the under 1% is almost certainly too low and based upon self-reporting. Let’s assume the highest number, for the sake of argument: if (a) every heterosexual male pedophile abused girls, and every homosexual male pedophile abused boys; and (b) heterosexuals and homosexuals were equally likely to be pedophiles, and equally likely to serially abuse; we’d expect (on average) that out of every 100 cases of abuse:
  • 83 cases would involve men abusing girls;
  • 7 cases would involve men abusing boys;
  • 9 cases would involve women abusing boys; and
  • no more than 1 case would involve women abusing girls

In total, we’d expect there to be about 84% female victims, compared with about 16% male victims. And this, remember, is assuming that 8% of the population is homosexual, a number which is almost certainly unreliable: taking the Census numbers, we’d expect to see homosexual pedophilia virtually non-existant, and something like 90 female victims to every 10 male victims. Now, clearly, that is not what we find. Instead of finding that boys make up between a tenth or an eighth of the abused, as the numbers would predict, we find that they’re between one-fifth and one-third. In other words, they are dramatically overrepresented — even more so when the abuse is by a non-family member. So one or both of our assumptions about pedophiles in general society must be wrong.

C. Clerical Sex Abuse: The Gender Gap

Now compare that with the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal. The John Jay Report – the internal report which sought the scope, nature, and causes of the sex abuse scandal – broke down the known instances of sexual abuse. Just shy of 60% of the abuse happened to minors aged 10-14 (by comparison, ~14% of the abuse occurred to kids under the age of ten, and ~27% occurred to teens aged 15-17). And the Report found: “The results of our study indicated that of all victims whose gender was reported, (Table 4.3.1) 81% were male and 19% were female.” So while normally girls are two to four times as likely as boys to be abused, in the case of priests, those numbers are more than turned on their head; there, it’s the boys who are four times as likely.

And what makes this even more surprising is that the abusers are 100% male (compared to about 90% male in the normal population) – so if anything, we’d expect a slightly lower number of male victims.

D. Conclusion: What Clerical Sexual Abuse Data Says About The Role of Homosexuality/Heterosexuality

100% of Catholic clerics are male, obviously. If (a) every heterosexual pedophile abused girls, and every homosexual pedophile abused boys; and (b) the presence of homosexuals in the priesthood was less than or equal to their presence in the general population (8%, or more probably, much, much less); and (c) heterosexuals and homosexuals were equally likely to be pedophiles, and equally likely to serially abuse; we’d expect (on average) that out of every 100 cases of abuse, 92 female victims and 8 male victims. Instead of 8, we’ve got 80. Something is very wrong with these numbers. Going back to the original a, b, and c, this leads to a few possibilities:
  • (a) is wrong: That is, priests who are sexually attracted towards adult women are abusing a shocking number of boys.
  • (b) is wrong: The priesthood contains a disproportionately high number of homosexuals.
  • (c) is wrong: Homosexual priests abuse more often than heterosexual priests. This is the center of the controversy in the Catholic context.
  • Some combination of the above.

Personally, I think there’s some element of all three. From Section A above, we know that pedophiles typically show a clear sexual preference. While they’re not always gender-exclusive (that is, serial abusers will often abuse both male and female victims), they typically have a disproportionate number of victims of one sex or the other. So even if there were predator priests who genuinely didn’t care about the sex of their victims, they don’t come anywhere close to explaining the whole gender gap. We’re dealing with 80% male victims here, which suggests a clear preference for one sex over the other, so while there’s likely some truth to (a), it can’t be the complete story. For every girl who was abused, there were four boys, so even if every priest who molested a girl then went and molested a boy, that doesn’t come close to explaining the numbers. Besides that, the numbers show that among non-familial and particularly familial child abuse, the mostly-heterosexual general population abuses mostly heterosexual victims. So while a heterosexual serial molester might molest an occassional male victim, it makes no sense – either logical, or upon the facts that we know – to assume that a heterosexual serial molester would molest almost exclusively male victims.

The same thing for (b). For a variety of reasons, most people now estimate that priests have a disproportionately homosexual population. Historically, some number of young Catholic men, upon hitting puberty and realizing their lack of sexual attraction towards marriable women (be that due to homosexuality, sexual desires towards children, or both), found the promise of a celibate life that didn’t raise eyebrows appealing. Historically, seminaries were designed (amongst plenty of other things) to weed out those candidates for the priesthood, not only because they were a threat towards children and their fellow priests (because putting a homosexually-inclined man in an all-male environment is asking for trouble, particularly when there are other similarly-situated men), but because they make inferior priests.

The priesthood isn’t meant to be an escape; it’s meant to be an enormous sacrifice. Anyone who enters the priesthood to escape (be it from marriage, military service, or something else) should raise all sorts of red flags about their qualification to continue that calling. It’s an immature and illegitimate reason to pursue such a serious and demanding vocation. In the period immediately after Vatican II – particularly during the Sexual Revolution, from which the Church was not immune – many seminaries stopped doing their job in this regard. They didn’t want to be seen as authoritative or repressive, so they winked at the number of homosexuals in seminary, including sexually-active homosexuals.

But the sheer number of homosexuals in the priesthood can’t be the full story. Let’s take the obviously wildly-high number, and imagine that exactly half of the priests in the US are homosexual. Let’s assume further that (a) and (c) are true: that the homosexual 50% are no more likely to molest than the heterosexual 50%, and that when they do molest, neither care about a whit about gender. What results would we expect? Well, something very near 50-50, of course. And of course, that’s wrong. But let’s assume that (a) isn’t true, but that (c) is: that the homosexual 50% are no more likely to molest than the heterosexual 50%, but when they do, those attracted to men are more likely to molest boys, and those attracted to women are more likely to molest girls. What results would we find? The exact same – right around 50-50. And again, that’s completely wrong. So even if (a) and (b) are true, we still have to acknowledge that (c) is true.

Which brings us right to the controversy. Even if homosexual priests made up a full 50% of the population of priests, to explain why 80% of the victims are male, we’d have to conceed that they were violating their vows of celibacy at a shockingly disproportionate rate, and frequently with children as their victims. And that’s assuming that they make up a full 50% of the population of priests, which they don’t. In fact, the percentage of homosexual priests in the Church, while higher than the general population, is still almost certainly quite low. Which means that their rate of abuse is disturbingly high compared to their heterosexual counterparts. I have four theories which I think explain why this is so, at least in part:
  1. Homosexuals in the priesthood are in the priesthood for the wrong reasons. Since they entered the priesthood as an escape instead of a sacrifice for God, they were less spiritually prepared… and less serious about the vow of celibacy (which didn’t mean a hill of beans to those who were already aware that their sexual desires could never be satiated without displeasing God).
  2. Male victims are viewed less as victims, and are more likely to be willing participants. The number of sexual partners that homosexual men have is dramatically higher than heterosexuals or homosexual women.
  3. Man-boy sexual abuse is built into the homosexual subculture in a unique and startling way: for example, Harry Hay, the founder of one of the first major “gay rights” groups (Mattachine Society) and one of the first major social activists for the gay rights cause (he was active in the infamous Stonewall riots) openly advocated — with lots of gay rights groups siding with him (including the infamous ACT-UP) — on the right of NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love Association, a pro-pedophilia group, as the name suggests) to march in gay pride parades. Thus, in 1994, the pro-NAMBLA gay rights groups formed a counter-parade dubbed, “Spirit of Stonewall.”
  4. The Closet factor: It has been suggested that because adult homosexual behavior was already seen as scandalous and shockingly immoral, anyone prepared to satiate their sexual desires in the face of a strong wall of societal sexual ethics was less likely to ignore those sexual desires in other areas. Meanwhile, those of their peers who did oppose pedophilia on moral grounds were in an untenable position. To analogize it to a legal, rather than moral, context: bank robbers are probably more likely to use drugs than non-bank robbers, and those bank robbers who oppose drugs on legal grounds are in an absurd position.
  5. The same figures who could have stopped abuse from becoming serial abuse (seminaries, bishops, religious superiors), but were too scared of being given the label of “authoritarian” were particularly scared of it looking like an “anti-gay” purging from the priesthood. The media would (and eventually, did) have a field day with any attempt to stop homosexual men from becoming priests. It’s much easier to criticize cowardly bishops from the sidelines then to openly-yet-lovingly provide rebukes for those who genuinely want to be priests while struggling with homosexual urges.

Post-Script Other Factors

Here are some other factors which may play a part:
  1. The familial abuse distortion: One thing which sticks out with Finkelhor’s numbers is the striking difference between familial and non-familial child abuse. Sexual abuse committed by a parent makes up a much larger chunk of cases of female sexual abuse (33-50%) than male sexual abuse (10-20%). Two possible theories for this:

    One: parents are more protective of their daughters than their sons, and if they weren’t, there would be many more cases of sex abuse by non-family members (remember that 70-90% of the abuse was from people the victim knew, so when I say “non-family,” I don’t generally mean “strangers”).

    Two: much of the abuse is by fathers and grandfathers, who are much more likely to be heterosexual (since they have kids), which explains the dramatic difference.

    This might explain the stark difference in the numbers somewhat. On the other hand, if it was a question of trust, it might actually skew the clerical numbers in the opposite direction: much of the abuse we’re talking about here comes from a time when priests were considered extremely trustworthy, at least compared to other non-familial males. Remember that even among non-familial abusers, they were more likely to abuse girls, while priests were way more likely to abuse boys: if anything, parents would probably have been more trusting of leaving their girls alone with a priest than alone with a male non-family member.

  2. The question of access: Some have raised the fact that priests had more access to boys. They hung out with boys more, only boys were altar servers, and so on. To my knowledge, there’s no way to quantify this, but I think it’s safe to say that while parish priests were probably alone with boys more than girls, that doesn’t come close to explaining the entire disparity.
  3. Under-Reporting: The studies for sex abuse in general society which I mentioned earlier involved both known and estimated cases, based upon the fact that men under-report sexual abuse compared to women. There’s a lot of stigma for a man to admit that he was raped, even as a boy, and particularly by another man. As a result, we know that in addition to the cases we have knowledge of, there are a lot more out there. The John Jay study, in contrast, is only based upon known cases with reported gender. Which means that given that men are statistically less likely to report compared to women, the actual ratio of cases may be even more lop-sided, that is, it may be well above 80% of those abused were men.
  4. Pedophilia v. Pederasty / Ephebophilia – The term “sex abuse” is used to describe everything from a young priest having sex with a 17 year old to the rape of children. The data is thus innately skewed somewhat, and not all of even the scholarly sources are really clear on what defines “sexual abuse of children” in their definition. So even if it were true that pedophiles don’t care about the sex of their victims, the prevalence of pubescent and post-pubescent abuse renders this topic worth having. Any sexual abuse, whether of a child or a teen, is worth stopping. The John Jay Report’s numbers, as mentioned before, don’t distinguish between the genders of young and older children — they just don’t break the data down that way. Besides that, because puberty occurs at different points for individual males and females (with girls hitting it earlier, generally), it’s hard to accurately determine which instances were of a pre-pubescent. Still, it’s significant that about 3/4 of the abuse we’re talking about in the clerical context is of children aged 14 or younger. Are those who abuse teenagers more likely to care about the sex of the victim? Obviously: I don’t think anyone disagrees with that conclusion.

Finally, the point of this post is simply to note that homosexual priests, who make up likely an extreme minority of priests account for an overwhelming majority of sex-abuse cases. It is emphatically not to suggest that homosexuals are all (or even primarily) pedophiles. To analogize: although men make up slightly less than half of the population, they make up 90% of sex abusers in society. Maleness obviously is a factor in determining the likelihood of someone being a sex abuser, but it’s not fair to suggest that simply being male makes someone a sexual predator.

It also, by the by, supports precisely what Cardinal Bertone was originally saying, and supports the Vatican’s logic in trying to crack down on homosexual applicants to the priesthood (particularly those with a sexual history).


  1. My goodness, Joseph! A rational, thoughtful and research-based analysis of the problem of the abuse of under-18 persons by members of the Catholic clergy? Why would anyone ever attempt this?

    We know this is not the template adopted by a number of bishops. Better to “hire an expert” blindly and simply follow his or her recommendations.

    We know this is not the template of the New York Times, the Associated Press or any number of news outlets. Better to interview plaintiffs’ lawyers or “activists” whose agenda-driven analyses are so much more reliable than anything based on thoughtful logic.

    Joseph, you just don’t get it, do you?

    [PS Well done, my new friend!]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *