In their continuing quest to marginalize the influence of the Catholic Church on the culture war issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is attempting to resurrect yet again the moral panic surrounding exaggerated claims of clerical sexual abuse. Denouncing the Vatican for adopting policies that “allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children,” the UN Committee demanded that the Church hand over its archives on sexual abuse of children so that the culprits, as well as those who concealed their crimes, could be held accountable.
Ignoring the fact that the Catholic Church has already handed over the files—and the culprits—the UN Committee took the opportunity to criticize the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception, and abortion. This was the real reason for the Committee’s diatribe against the now decades-old clerical abuse scandal—a scandal with wildly exaggerated claims and unsubstantiated allegations.
The reality is that counter to inflated statistics of “tens of thousands” of child-victims, and the image of the alliterative “pedophile priest,” nearly all of the cases of sexual abuse by priests involved homosexual liaisons between priests and very young men in their teens or early 20s. While homosexual activities with minors are criminal offenses, and immoral, they are certainly not examples of pedophilia or child molestation.
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Undeterred by data, the United Nations Committee ignores the fact that Catholic clergy are not represented in the sexual abuse phenomenon at a rate higher than or even equal to their numbers in the clerical profession as a whole. In a comprehensive study of more than 20 years of data on clerical abuse, Philip Jenkins, the Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor, and author of Pedophiles and Priests, found no evidence that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination.
Jenkins points out that the worst cases have involved non-Catholics—and non-celibate clergy: “One Canadian Anglican diocese was on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of massive lawsuits caused by decades of systematic abuse, yet the Anglican church does not even demand celibacy of its clergy.”
However, there are structural reasons that the Catholic Church has produced a number of nationally—and internationally—reported cases. Unlike a scandal in a Protestant congregation for instance, which would remain strictly localized because of the decentralized nature of that church, a scandal in a local Catholic Church, because of the hierarchy in which it exists, immediately is viewed as a “Vatican” scandal.
But, more important than these structural reasons, there are powerful cultural reasons that have combined to encourage the promotion of a panic over pedophile priests. This is the real reason that the United Nations Committee continues to try to fan the flames of the moral panic over the pedophile priest. For more than four decades, progressives have been engaged in a battle with the Catholic hierarchy over issues including abortion, sexual morality and homosexuality. The re-manufactured image of the pedophile priest and his craven bishop who has covered up his despicable deeds points to the need for a “new and improved” Catholic Church. Progressives want a Church that is created in their image—one in which the laity gets to choose its own leaders and decide its own doctrines.
It is likely that the panic will continue—not because there will be more abuse cases, rather, because there are so many with so much to gain by keeping the panic alive. For feminists lobbying for abortion rights and women’s ordination in the Catholic Church, the image they have created of the pedophile priest points to the need for women to fill those roles and create feminist friendly doctrine on contraception and abortion. For gay rights activists, intent on denouncing what they view as the Church’s hypocrisy on gay sexuality, maintaining the moral panic surrounding the pedophile priest offers a strong argument that the sexual repression of gay priests has led directly to the molestation of children. And, for the United Nations Committee re-creating the image of the pedophile priest helps them to make their argument for access to sexuality and full reproductive rights—including abortion—for children and adolescents.
Indeed, the UN Committee which claims to want to “protect children” now demands that the Church “amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion,” and directs the Church to reassess “the serious implications of its position on adolescents’ enjoyment of highest attainable standard of health and overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality.”
In other words, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is now lobbying the Catholic Church for the “Right of the Child” to enjoy access to unrestricted sexual behavior. Isn’t this exactly how a small percentage of Catholic clergy got in trouble to begin with? Every investigation of the clergy abuse scandal—including the John Jay study—revealed that the clergy abuse scandal was primarily about a small number of priests having sexual relations with adolescent boys.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has no authority to enforce any of its recommendations. The Church should ignore it.