Editorial by John Ziegler

Cardinal's Apology Masks Lie

3/17/2002 11:37:07 PM

Cardinal's Apology is Hollow and Dishonest

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's extraordinary apology for sexual abuse on the part of Philadelphia area priests may have been well intentioned, but it fell woefully short of a satisfactory statement. In fact, I believe that the Cardinal was not only less forthcoming than the circumstances warranted, but he also may have lied.

In the written statement that was produced under pressure from media coverage of an ever-widening pedophile scandal among Catholic priests, the Cardinal declared:

"To suggest that the evil of sexual abuse of minors finds its perpetrators proportionately higher among the Catholic clergy is unfounded and creates a disservice to Catholic priests in particular and to the Catholic Church at large. Those who sexually violate minors are found in virtually every profession, every state of life, married and single, male and female, Catholic and non-Catholic, friend, relative and parent."

If the Cardinal truly believes that priests are no more likely to be pedophiles than average citizens, he is either delusional or extremely poor at math. My guess is that he is lamely lying in a desperate attempt for the Church to save some face on this issue that threatens the very credibility of his institution. He probably figures that no one will call him on it; after all, he is the Cardinal and Cardinals do not lie. Of course, none of us expect our priest to be a pedophile, either.

Cardinal Bevilacqua admitted that over the past several decades at least 35 area priests had been found to have committed sexual abuse against children and that six priests have recently been dismissed for such conduct. Compared to Boston, where 80 priests have been accused of being pedophiles over a similar period, Philadelphia's problem has been relatively "minor." However, even using these rather tame numbers reveal the Cardinal's statement to possess a reckless disregard for the truth.

There are about 800 priests currently in the Philadelphia archdiocese. Approximately 2,100 (many of those for short periods of time) have served the area since 1950. Let's forget momentarily that children would be far less likely to accuse a priest of sexual misconduct than other "regular" adults, that children were far less likely to report ANYONE decades ago than they are today, and that logically there were many other instances during this time that were suspected but not proven. Despite all of these concessions, Bevilacqua's assertion still flies directly in the face of the facts.

Can you imagine if a school system that employed 800 teachers tried to claim that getting rid of six PROVEN pedophiles put them right in the mainstream of society? Or how about one that was relieved that it only had 35 confirmed cases of child sexual abuse for the last 2,100 teachers that it had employed? I somehow don't think hat superintendent would have a job the next day.

But this is a matter in which the numbers are almost unnecessary. Simple common sense tells us that what the Cardinal alleges is just not true. The Cardinal's own words betray him. He uses much of his statement to talk about the lengths to which he and the archdiocese have gone to create, revise, and strengthen their policies on priests who are accused of pedophilia. If priests are no more prone to pedophilia than the rest of the public, then why has this element of his duties been taking up so much time and effort?

Bevilacqua's case is further weakened by the fact that there are clear explanations for why it is that, no matter what the Cardinal tries to profess, Catholic priests are indeed more likely to be pedophiles.

Catholic priests are all adult men, which automatically means that they are at least three times as likely to be a pedophile as the rest of the population. They are also forced to be celibate (even though the Church did not require this until the Middle Ages and the rule was instituted for economic, rather than religious, reasons).

The great debate over whether celibacy creates pedophilia has completely missed the crucial point. Celibacy dramatically alters the pool of people from which priests can come. Because they cannot be married, a vastly disproportionate number of priests are not heterosexual (experts have estimated that between 35-60 % of Catholic priests can be described as "homosexual" and a Kansas City Star investigation concluded that priests are four times more likely to die of AIDS).

According to Justice department statistics compiled by the Institute for Media Education, one must believe that homosexuals make up well over 10% of the overall population for there NOT to be (no matter how politically incorrect) a strong statistical correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia. Dr. Jim Pedigo of the Joseph J. Peters Institute in Philadelphia said on CN 8's "It's Your Call" last week that as many as 20% of priests could be identified as pedophiles.

In short, priests are a group of largely gay and often very lonely adult men who have access to young boys who trust them immensely. Therefore, it is not difficult for those of us who live in the "real" world to understand why we find more pedophiles among priests than in other professions.

As men of God, Cardinal Bevilacqua and others like him should have the courage to face the problem of pedophilia in the priesthood honestly and not try to pretend that it doesn't really exist. While in the short run their individual survival may be aided by taking the cowardly way out, the long-term existence of the priesthood is most certainly not.

This Column appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News

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