Friday, April 2, 2010

Catholic League's Bill Donahue Blames the Gays for the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis

They can't keep their hands off the boys, don't you get it?
-Bill Donahue of the Catholic League
Image from Ingoc Man
     In the wake of news reports that tie Pope Benedict XVI to certain cases of covering up sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church, many (conservative) Catholics have come to his defense.  Most argue that the Church is a big church and Ben couldn't have known about the abusive priests under the umbrella of his delegated authority.  Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League has taken it up a notch in recent days.

     Donahue placed an ad in the New York Times attacking the paper's reports that tied the pope to failures in reprimanding sexual predators and protecting children.  Since then, Donahue's been babbling across the cable news circuit.  On CNN, he blamed the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church on the gays saying:
     “It’s been a homosexual crisis all along....As I said in the ad, which I wrote, most gay priests are not molesters, but most of the molesters have been gay. And I also said, that there’s no such thing as a — that homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior. Let me give you a quick example. I’m Irish. Everybody who has half a brain knows that the Irish have a bigger problem with alcoholism than the Italians or the Chinese, for example. Does that mean because you’re an Irishman, therefore, you are driven to become an alcoholic? Of course, not. What it means, though, if your group is overrepresented in a particular problem area, you ought to explore it. Yes, there’s a connection between Irish and alcoholism, and, yes, there’s a connection between homosexuality and sexual abuse of minors...They can’t keep their hands off the boys, don’t you get it?”  [Thank you to Towleroad for transcribing most of this quote.]
     First of all, the Irish/alcoholic, gay/pedophile correlation/metaphor is just plain stupid, ignorant, and wreaks of inherent racism/homophobia.

     Secondly, the crisis is not a homosexual crisis.  It's a sexual abuse crisis and a crisis of the repeated failure of Catholic leadership to sufficiently protect children from known perpetrators and to minister to adult victim-survivors.

     Thirdly, if Donahue really wasn't a homophobic bigot, he wouldn't make generalizations and degrading statements such as "They can't keep their hands off the boys." 

     Donahue quotes the John Jay Report as proof for his claim that gays are responsible for the crisis, but the report did not conclude this.

Factors contributing to the abuse problem, as stated by the report:
  • Failure by the hierarchy to grasp the seriousness of the problem.
  • Overemphasis on the need to avoid a scandal.
  • Use of unqualified treatment centers.
  • Misguided willingness to forgive [abusiver preists].
  • Insufficient accountability.
     The cause of the crisis was that the hierarchy and bishops did not respond in a way that decreased sexual abuse, but that enabled it by reshuffling abusers in the name of avoiding scandal.

     In 2004, America reported extensively upon the common myths about the sexual abuse crisis that the John Jay Study proved false.  Here are a few:
     Myth: These offending priests were “dirty old men.” Fact: Half the priests were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse.
     Myth: Many of the abusive priests had been victims of sexual abuse as children. Fact: Fewer than 7 percent of the priests were reported to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children.
     Myth: Celibacy caused the sex abuse crisis. Fact: 96 percent of priests (all of them obliged by celibacy) were not involved in sexual abuse.
     Myth: Homosexuality caused the abuse crisis.  Fact: No one knows the exact percentage of priests who are homosexual. Estimates have ranged from 10 percent to 60 percent [in my experience living among priests, the number of gay priests seemed more like 50 to 75 percent]. In any case, most homosexual priests were not involved in the sexual abuse of minors.
     Myth: The abuse is a result of the seminary training after the Second Vatican Council (1963-65). Fact: Almost 70 percent of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970, after attending pre-Vatican II seminaries or seminaries that had had little time to adapt to the reforms of Vatican II.
     These are important points for many reasons.  Celibacy, homosexuality, and previous experiences of being abused were not the cause of priests perpetrating sexual abuse against minors.  The vast majority of celibate gay priests do not sexually abuse.

     My question is that if 93% of the perpetrators had never been sexually abused, then where did they learn to abuse?  What about the system, in which they were formed, lived, and worked, allowed them the opportunity to realize their abusive potential?  What was it about the pre-Vatican II formation that resulted in an atmosphere that formed 70% of the abusers?  I'm not blaming this pre-Vatican II formation for the crisis, but asking is there something that can be learned from changes in formation, psycho-sexual development, etc. that took place in priestly formation after Vatican II that reduced the number of priest-perpetrators?

     These are the types of questions that the John Jay Report rose in 2004, demanding further study and analysis, but then why has the church failed to continue to explore these issues and implement changes?  Why are bishops still quietly putting abusive priests back into ministry situations with access to children?  Why are people still scapegoating homosexuals, when the church won't allow for any studies on the number of homosexual priests in the clergy?  As long as there is a closet, there can be no hard data.

     The other fallacy in Donahue's argument is that since 81% of the victims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse were male, Donahue concludes that their perpetrators were homosexual.  It's possible that those priests did not self-identify as homosexual.  They may have believed they were bisexual or even heterosexual .  Many closeted individuals claim to be straight, while still seeking homosexual sexual experiences.  Their shame, confusion, and sexual repression and/or underdevelopment keep them in the closet. 

     Perhaps the study that needs to be realized is how the mandatory closet that the Catholic church forces on its clergy and seminarians surrounding their homosexual or bisexual orientation effects clergy's sexual development and/or ability to live celibate chastity.  Of course, this study will never take place as long as the bishops and pope continue to deny that there are gays in the seminary and priesthood, preferring a closet of sacred silence instead.

     In response to Donahue's anti-gay rhetoric, many groups are speaking up.  GLAAD reports:
     “As the media attempt to look at the root causes of the abuse crisis, Bill Donohue’s attacks against gay people and the media only serve to take away focus from the real victims here: the thousands of children who have been abused by Catholic clergy and nuns,” said Jim FitzGerald, Executive Director of Call To Action, a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society.  “Even the Pope during his 2008 visit to the United States said that this crisis is not about gays and lesbians,” FitzGerald said. “U.S. Catholics are tired of hearing about the false causes of this crisis from people like Bill Donohue and, instead, are ready for the Church to address the real causes of the crisis: lack of accountability and cover-ups.”
     Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance: “I do not question Mr. Donohue's desire to speak out on issues concerning his church and the Pope.  But I find his reasoning repugnant. To claim this is a ‘homosexual crisis’ rather than a ‘pedophilia crisis’ is a misguided insult to the millions of gay men and women who find this scandal as devastating as their heterosexual counterparts.”
     GLAAD urged any outlets that are considering whether to elevate Donohue’s rhetoric to dig below the surface of his latest attack. “It’s telling that when media start taking a closer look at the recent revelations in the abuse crisis, Donohue instantly tries to change the subject by blaming the media and casting gay people as sexual predators,” said Rashad Robinson, Senior Director of Media Programs at GLAAD. “But Americans are getting sick of this ugly, vicious scapegoating. Donohue is feeding a hostile climate that gay people continue to face in this country. It’s wrong, it’s unacceptable, and no credible media outlet should be providing a platform for these kinds of attack."