Sex and Priestly Integrity (III)
At a recent
discussion in a major American TV network, one of the analysts opined that perhaps there has been a "media frenzy" about the sex scandal that has been rocking the Roman Catholic Church.
After all, he said, the American clergy is the smallest minority in the Church in America and the number of sex cases involving priests is probably no different from those involving ordinary
citizens. He, indeed, had a point. Still, priests are religious leaders and are expected more than their flock to live a lifestyle consonant with their vocation.
I was struck by a
number of points that two articles sent by a friend from the United States presented. The articles appeared in the U.S. Jesuit magazine, America, April 1, 2002: "Beyond Myths
and Denials," by Pegi Taylor, free lance writer, pp. 7-10; "Psychological Treatment of Priest Sex Offenders," by Curtis Bryant, S.J., psychologist, pp. 14-17. Because these articles are
helpful but are not available to our readers, I wish to present some of the important points.
Many myths surround the problem of sexual abuse. Here are some:
- "Most sexual offenses are committed by strangers." In fact, the victims usually know the abusers. "They are usually family members, babysitters, boyfriends, teachers, or
co-workers." In the Philippines, we read news of many cases of sexual abuse by parents, uncles, etc.
- Only adult men commit sexual abuse. We find it very strange that a woman would be accused of rape. In fact a "1996 study [in the United States] found that women were
responsible for 20 percent of child sexual abuse." Moreover, "adolescents commit 20 percent of all sex crimes."
- There is no connection between family background and sexual offense. Sex offenders simply decide to be so. On the contrary, "about 30 percent of offenders were sexually abused
as children." It would seem that "trusted people in the past modeled deviant sexual behavior for them."
- "Most sex offenders re-offend." This myth holds that it is almost impossible to rehabilitate sex offenders. Most often they recidivate or commit the same offenses again.
But in fact, "without treatment, 35 percent recidivate. That number can be reduced to less than half when an offender engages in regular, long term treatment." In other words,
sexual recidivists constitute a small percentage of offenders but they "perpetrate a large number of crimes and generate a huge amount of media coverage." That is why many States
classify sex offenders into different categories and require completing their prison sentences.
- Sexual abusers can be cured. This myth holds on to the idea that treatment can decisively cure recidivist-sexual abusers. But in fact, "although many, if not most, sexual
abusers are treatable, there is no known 'cure.' Management of sexually abusive behavior is a life-long task for some sexual abusers." Another expert states: "Treatment
gives an offender the tools to aid him in his deviant behavior." He adds, "The Church can put safeguards into the offender's life, thereby helping to prevent future offenses."
i would also add another myth. Priest sex offense would at least be significantly reduced if priestly celibacy were to be abolished or if women were to be ordained. Many advocates
of the idea of a married clergy and of women's ordination are riding on the issue. It is not an argument in favor of one or the other. The research data bear out the fact that women
and married people do commit sex offenses against children and against minors.
Therefore, on the issue of priest sex offenders, it is absolutely necessary to go beyond myths and sloganeering
and discern the real root causes of sexual violations against priestly integrity. The response of Church authorities must be humble, courageous and honest -- healing to both victim and
offender, as well as to the whole Church that suffers because of the offense.