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Jewish World Review May 7, 2002 / 25 Iyar, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Is it pedophilia? | Is it a pedophilia crisis? Or something else?

The Catholic Church is mired in a scandal that includes sexual abuse and exploitation, abuse of power, cover-ups and hypocrisy on a truly horrific level. Wicked, depraved priests have done horrible things to children in their charge while senior Catholic officials like Cardinal Law of Boston have gone to great lengths to cover it up, and, whether knowingly or otherwise, have actually facilitated it.

Every right thinking person is outraged. Perhaps nowhere more so than in the Catholic rank and file. Though the major media would have to be a close second. Fashionable news outlets like the New York Times have suddenly discovered the Catholic Church, seeing fit to publish two, three, and four stories a day on the crises unfolding within it. (For the record, I'm Presbyterian.)

What a twist: Our elite media and our popular culture, where anything goes sexually and no one dares offer a value judgment against things like, say, a president using a young intern for late-night trysts in the Oval Office, has suddenly decided that here the Catholic Church isn't being sexually "intolerant" enough.

Which brings me back to the question, is it "something else?" To date, it's clear that almost all the children who have been victims of these predatory priests have been boys. Further, almost all were teenagers at the time they were abused, meaning technically these are NOT cases of pedophilia, which by definition involves only pre-pubescent youngsters.

The distinction is important because true pedophiles exhibit a unique and actually relatively rare pathology. And if one is going to root out a problem, one has to have a clear understanding of what and where the problem is.

Yet such distinctions are totally ignored in the media frenzy surrounding the church scandal. Why? One possible explanation, of course, is that revealing the true nature of the abuse raises the very politically uncomfortable possibility that some homosexual men are predatory, that they are in the priesthood and they are attracted to extremely young males.

The Reverend Donald Cozzens is the author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood." On a recent episode of "Meet the Press," he said "I think we have to ask the question: Why are 90 percent to 95 percent and some estimates say as high as 98 percent, of the victims of clergy (abuse) teenage boys?. . .We need to ask that question, and I think there's a certain reluctance to raise that issue."

You bet there is. Today such discussions are far more taboo than the sexual activity being referred to.

But I actually think the explanation for the media's insistence that this is a "pedophilia" scandal is a little different. My sense is that the media and the popular culture feel "safe" in condemning pedophilia. It's a sexual scruple on which all good people agree (for now): Sex between adults and little children is wrong. So, if the media can conjure up images of priests having sex with seven-year-olds, well then elite culture is comfortable denouncing it.

But when those children get into their teens, a time when so many in our society would otherwise argue that they can surely "consent" to sexual activity, suddenly our "if it feels good do it" sex culture has a tough time executing a 180 degree turn and arguing that such activity is wrong.

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which is responsible for much of the sex-ed curricula found in America's public schools, ran an ad in the New York Times on. The difference between U.S. and European teen pregnancy rates. It said in part: "The difference isn't what teens do. It's how adults refuse to recognize that sexual development is an inherent part of adolescence. When we treat sexuality as adults-only, we abandon teenagers to learn about their sexuality on their own. . ."

Yep, when it comes to sex, "wrong" is just not a word our sex-obsessed culture likes to use. Our elites don't want to argue that a young priest having a sexual relationship with 16-year-old boy who supposedly "consents" is wrong. (Though of course it's statutory rape - a crime little recognized in our culture today.) So our popular culture and mainstream press instead mischaracterize the sex-scandal enveloping the Catholic Church as being about a sex sin they can comfortably still denounce - pedophilia.

I wonder what fashionable society will do when that taboo, too, is broken?

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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