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!”
  3. “CLERICALISM!”

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.”

A THEOLOGY TEXTBOOK ENCOURAGED SEMINARIANS TO PURSUE THEIR ILLEGAL SEXUAL DESIRES!!!!!!!!

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.

Update

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.)

10 thoughts on “What Did Theologians Teach About Pedophilia? (Part 1)

  1. jason

    You say that celibacy and homosexuality cannot be blamed, because non-celibates and heterosexuals also sexually abuse children.

    It may be helpful to compare the percentage of priests who abused children against the percentage of the population who have abused children.

    I would guess that the of percentage of celibates (priests) who abuse children is higher than the percentage of non-celibate abusers. Which indicates that celibacy may be a factor, even if some don’t want to admit it.

    Additionally, the fact that a vast majority of priests chose victims who shared their gender is significant as well. Among sexual abusers, what percentage involved abusers who were the same gender as their victims?

    You used Epstein as an example. But to my knowledge, he abused young girls, not boys.

    Without that information, how can we conclude that celibacy and homosexuality are not significant contributing factors?

    1. John Gravino

      Jason’s comment: “I would guess that the of percentage of celibates (priests) who abuse children is higher than the percentage of non-celibate abusers. Which indicates that celibacy may be a factor, even if some don’t want to admit it.”

      My response: Jason, I’ve studied the priest scandal pretty thoroughly. As I reported in my first book, the rate of abuse among priests is less than half that of the general male population according to experts in the field. Yet most people (64%, according to a WSJ poll) believe that the Catholic Church has a bigger problem with sexual abuse than outside the Church. Why are so many people deceived about the scandal? Media saturation and redundant reporting creates a misperception. In other words, FAKE NEWS is responsible for your perceptions. A liberal media is out to demonize the Church because they hate the Church’s teachings. Why did they pounce on a 15-year-old Catholic school boy? Because they hated everything he stood for. They hated his MAGA hat. They hated that he was in a pro-life march. They hated that he was Catholic.

      The point of this article was to show that sexual abuse increased in the Church at a time when seminaries were DISCOURAGING priests from practicing celibacy (because it was supposed to be psychologically harmful). Thus, celibacy is NOT linked to the abuse scandal. It is the DISAPPEARANCE of celibacy that created the scandal.

      Here is an article that I wrote for the Stream that gets into the question of causation a bit more deeply. Its argument comes from my first book: https://stream.org/how-neuroscience-explains-sex-abuse-and-vindicates-prayer-and-fasting/

      Also see my video on the sidebar. Lots of helpful data there. JG

  2. phummrrhucmo

    Married Priests is not a ‘Heresy’ since it wasn’t an original doctrine of Christian Theology. Celibate Priesthood was an ‘Innovation’ of the Western Catholic Church, so that Priests couldn’t pass on any Church Property or Dioceses to their children. Priests may have been encouraged to maintain Celibacy, but it wasn’t an enforced doctrine until the middle ages. And all other ancient Christian Denominations allow married Priests, only the Monks maintain Celibacy and the Bishops are selected from the Monks.

  3. Sam Mac

    “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. … And the prominent blogger and former Catholic Rod Dreher is an active apostle for this heretical theory.”

    Uh… no he isn’t.

    1. John Gravino

      I’m assuming that you’ve come from Rod Dreher’s blog over at the American Conservative. Welcome! (For those of you that don’t know, Dreher posted a link to this article on one of his posts today: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/bishop-joseph-hart-cheyenne-wyoming-sex-abuse-catholicism/ )

      In the comments section, he acknowledges that he subscribes to the Sipe theory without naming Sipe. (The theory blames celibacy for creating a climate of secrecy that allowed the scandal to spread.) So, I haven’t misrepresented Dreher’s views.

      1. Sam Mac

        “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.”

        Dreher does not “blame the scandal on church doctrine.” If anything he blames the refusal to ENFORCE church doctrine. I am not familiar enough with Sipe’s work to assess your paraphrase of his argument, but Dreher certainly does not, “blame celibacy for being psychologically harmful,” nor does he “advocate for the sexual liberation of Catholic priests and nuns.” Quite to the contrary.

        If that is Sipe’s “heretical theory” then you are wrong to say that Dreher champions is.

        If anything, most observers take Dreher to task for laying too much blame on gay clergy and the looseness of seminary formation.

        Dreher does admire Sipe’s work, but not uncritically. Over the years he has cited it, but always says that the problem defies a silver-bullet solution.

        It is absolutely laughable to say that Dreher believes that the solution resides in “the sexual liberation of Catholic priests and nuns.”

        Sticking with that assessment destroys your credibility.

        1. John Gravino

          Here’s a link to a Rod Dreher piece on Sipe: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-death-of-richard-sipe/

          You say Dreher was not uncritical of Sipe? Where is the criticism in that article?

          I would say that you are reading my article uncharitably. I merely cited Dreher as an example of someone who promotes Sipe’s views. And in fact he does do that. It’s a theory that blames celibacy, and Rod Dreher explicitly promotes that dimension of the theory. That was my point. It was NOT the point of the article to get into all of the nuances and subtleties of Dreher’s thought. (It was *Sipe’s* views that I was highlighting—not Dreher’s.) I think a charitable reader of my article could see that. Dreher himself should be able to see that my characterization of his views could hardly be called a “false accusation” as he describes it at the end of his article: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/bishop-joseph-hart-cheyenne-wyoming-sex-abuse-catholicism/

          Nevertheless, I will concede that I have never read anything from Dreher that could possibly associate him with Sipe’s Freudian/psychological perspective. Quite the contrary in fact. Dreher is quite a fan of the sociologist Philip Rieff and his book “The Triumph of the Therapeutic.”

          I will post an update that makes this distinction.

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  5. Fr Gregory

    Thank you for your post.

    We are facing a similar crisis in the Orthodox Church. Some of our theologians are now putting more stock in psychology than the Scripture and Church fathers.

    God bless you and your work!

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

    1. John Gravino

      Thank you, Father. I am happy to send you a copy of the book. It’s only in e-book format, so I can send it to the email address that you used to send your comment. Pax Christi, John

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