What Did Theologians Teach About Pedophilia? (Part 1)

As some of you may know by now, I published a new book this summer called Confronting the Pope of Suspicion. My purpose was to uncover the causes of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. You might be thinking to yourself, “John, the scandal has been on the front pages of newspapers all around the world now for nearly twenty years. We already know what caused the scandal!” Then you might proceed to offer me your favorite theory from an ever-expanding bounty:

  1. “Everybody knows that CELIBACY caused the scandal. Let the priests get married for goodness’ sake!”
  2. “Too many HOMOSEXUALS in the priesthood!”

And then there’s my favorite from the Catholic Theological Society of America:

  4. “The PATRIARCHY!”

Theories of sexual abuse multiply like so many loaves and fishes, but I’m sure it is NOT Jesus who is behind this particular multiplication. In any case, the stubborn lack of consensus has many explanations, and certainly one reason has to do with the fact that we are dealing with a complex phenomenon that is not so easy to analyze. Politics and ideology are other important factors. Some people, with a personal animus against the Church, are determined to blame the scandal on Church doctrine. This is most certainly the case with the Richard Sipe camp. Sipe was a former priest who left the priesthood to marry a nun. He blamed celibacy for being psychologically harmful and advocated for the sexual liberation of Catholic priests and nuns. The movie Spotlight was based on his interpretation of the scandal. And the prominent blogger and former Catholic Rod Dreher is an active apostle for this heretical theory.* [SEE UPDATE AT END OF ARTICLE]

I think Phil Lawler offers the pithiest counterargument to the Sipe theory. It goes something like this:

If celibacy is the cause of sexual abuse, then why do so many non-celibates do it?

And there is a corollary to Lawler’s theorem that refutes another popular theory:

If homosexuality is the cause of sexual abuse, why do so many heterosexuals do it?

You might call Jeffrey Epstein the three-dimensional counterexample to two of the most popular theories of sexual abuse.

Let me just say right now that if you’ve got some favorite theory you’ve been clinging to, I don’t really blame you. I was the same way—until the fall of 2018. It was then that Dr. Paul Sullins had published a new ground-breaking report on the scandal, and the Stream asked me to interview him. Sullins found that the abuse scandal was closely connected to the spread of gay subcultures in seminaries—seminaries that in some way tolerated or even approved of active homosexuality among seminarians. This agreed with one of the findings from the second John Jay report. Here’s what I wrote for the Stream:

“What was a key driver of clergy sexual abuse? A depraved seminary culture which corrupted future priests, forming them in a hedonistic, largely homosexual environment. Sullins writes: ‘Without the influence of the [homosexual] subcultures, a concentration of homosexual men in the priesthood would not have led to as large an increase in minor sex abuse as proved to be the case,’ (p.38). The report agreed with the conclusion of the 2011 John Jay Report  (p. 62) that homosexual activity during seminary ‘was significantly related to the increased likelihood of a male child victim.'”

Before interviewing Sullins, I had always assumed that the scandal was the fruit of bad seminarians: too many young men who had been corrupted by the sexual revolution were entering the seminary. But that theory assumed that the damage had been done prior to their entry into seminary. It’s quite a popular theory in fact. Janet Smith still promotes this theory, as you can tell from her recent article in the National Catholic Register. The natural consequence of such a theory is that its reform proposals naturally focus on improving seminary recruitment and screening procedures, which is exactly what Smith recommends in her article.

The problem with Smith’s theory is that it ignores the above finding of both the John Jay report and Dr. Paul Sullins that the problem was in the seminary itself. The real problem was with the gay subcultures that existed in some seminaries. So the question that needed answering was where were these gay subcultures coming from? Janet Smith doesn’t tell us. And Dr. Sullins’s report didn’t answer the question either. So I decided to find out for myself. The answer both shocked and sickened me.

What Did Theologians Teach About Pedophilia?

The problem, I discovered, was located in the theology departments of the late twentieth century. Embracing the ethos of the sexual revolution, theologians defended homosexuality and rejected the Church teaching that it is immoral and intrinsically disordered. Simply put, that was where the gay subcultures were coming from—from heretical theology departments that adopted the Freudian teaching that it is psychologically harmful to deny your sexual desires. But that’s not all!

One theology text used in some seminaries in the seventies was The Sexual Language by Andre Guindon. It specifically addressed the question of pedophilia. (Guindon uses the term pedophilia restrictively to denote sexual relations with a prepubescent minor.) According to Guindon, scientific research revealed that pedophilia was not harmful to children and that the real victim was “the defenceless pedophile” who is “scapegoated” by “parents and citizens who pose as do-gooders” (p. 374). One book reported that The Sexual Language was used at the seminary where Rudy Kos studied, a priest who was later convicted of pedophilia. That very same seminary hosted Fr. Paul Shanley to give a guest lecture. What was his topic? Shanley was a public advocate for the legalization of pederasty. After the Boston Globe report came out in 2002, Shanley was arrested and convicted of child molestation.

Another theology text, Human Sexuality, asked the ominous question about what to do if your particular desires are not approved by society. Here is its disturbing answer:

[E]nlightened and well integrated individuals might well free themselves of conflict by . . . reflecting on the relativity of their society’s sexual ethic and proceed discreetly with their own sexual project.

Human Sexuality—New Directions in American Catholic Thought, p. 56

Did you get that? If your desires are ILLEGAL, PROCEED ANYWAY! BUT DISCREETLY! On the same page, it explains its answer. The denial of one’s sexual desires is harmful to one’s “personal growth.”


Modernism and Scientism Caused the Sexual Abuse Epidemic

As I explained in my book, the cause of all of this insanity was a naïve faith in science and a corresponding lack of faith in Church teaching. St. Paul was replaced by Sigmund Freud. And so a fast-growing movement of theologians became convinced that the Bible’s sexual morality needed to be updated by modern psychology. And the new psychology taught that the denial of the sexual instinct was harmful to mental health. “Sexologists” were claiming that new research vindicated homosexuality as a “natural variant” of human sexuality. The Christian understanding that homosexuality was disordered and sinful was based on a Biblical understanding of sex that was ignorant of the new “scientific research.” So some theologians got busy rewriting sexual morality. I’ve already shown you what kind of rotten fruit their efforts produced.

The Jesuit Axis

And because this evil “theology” was never adequately identified and stamped out, it continues to bear its putrid fruit. Today, Fr. James Martin is the face of this movement, which seeks to extend to the universal Church what was basically an underground theological enterprise in the seventies and eighties. But thanks to Martin’s book Building a Bridge, and the successful promotional campaign that introduced this book to parishes all across the United States, the sexual revolution is openly preached to lay people as a legitimate substitute for the Bible and the Ten Commandments. Bishops and Cardinals openly support Martin’s book and message. It is the heretical message that “gay is normal” and not sinful. What has been Pope Francis’ response to Martin? The Jesuit pope gave his fellow Jesuit a promotion, making him an official Vatican consultant.

In an upcoming sequel to this article, I will discuss the active role that Pope Francis is playing to promote the very same heretical theology that caused the sexual abuse crisis. Of course, if you don’t want to wait for part 2, you can read the book now. It’s a very quick read that can be completed in a couple of hours.


Some fans of Rod Dreher have complained that I mischaracterized his views in this article. (See the comments below and at the end of this Rod Dreher article. See also the comments section of the Dreher article.) I stand by the claim that Dreher does promote the Richard Sipe theory that blames celibacy as a contributory factor in the sexual abuse scandal. His own comments in the above referenced article confirm as much, as does this article. That was really the only point I was making. It was not my intention to link Dreher to Sipe’s Freudian/psychological perspective. I have never read anything from Dreher that would suggest that he subscribes to that dimension of Sipe’s theory. Quite the contrary, in fact. (See my comments below in the comments section.)