Archbishop’s Aide: Gays to Blame for Church Child Abuse
The Catholic church has fed into popular fears that gay men may be more likely to molest children sexually by responding to the clerical sexual abuse crisis with an edict that openly gay men may not enter seminaries.
That response bolsters the myth that gays are more sexually exploitative of youth than are straights, but until now the church has not openly declared that gay men are abusers.
That changed with remarks made by Father John Owen, who publicly stated that the sexual abuse of children that shattered the faith of many in the Catholic church was being carried out by gay men.
Fr. Owen’s remarks were made on air on BBC1’s program "The Big Questions," according to a May 24 item in the UK newspaper The Guardian.
Fr. Owen, who is the archdiocese of Cardiff’s communications officer, made his comments while discussing a new report on the pedophile priest scandal’s effects in Ireland.
The Ryan Inquiry report, a document of 2,565 pages, was published May 20.
The article recounted that the host of "The Big Questions" asked Fr. Owen about the church’s priorities, wondering whether the church has less concern about children than about how the church is viewed.
Owen lost no time in laying blame for the abuse of children by priests at the feet of gay men, who he claimed were solely responsible for the worldwide pattern of abuse that sent shock waves through the Catholic world when widespread headlines about the abuse broke some years ago.
Said Fr. Owen, "These matters are so ghastly that people don’t want to look at them, they can’t believe these things are taking place within the orbit of a Christian church, perversion of Christianity."
Owen added, "Let me tell you of course before you go too far, most of the offenses are being committed by homosexuals."
The Guardian article said that two others who sat on the show’s panel with Fr. Owen were abuse victims themselves, and they attempted to speak out against the characterization that Owen was making.
Fr. Owen, however, shushed then, declaring himself to be correct in his assertion and ordering them to "be silent," the Guardian reported.
Anti-gay religious organizations seeking to tar gays in general with charges of pedophilia have often asserted that while most sexual abuse is committed by men who identify as heterosexual, gays-who they say represent only 1 to 3 per cent of the population at large-commit a higher rate of sexual abuse against children than heterosexuals.
The claim, made by organizations such as the Traditional Values Coalition, is that though gays are such a tiny fraction of the population at large, they commit up to one-third of sexual assaults against children.
Based on those claims, such organizations challenge anti-discrimination and civil rights legislation designed to protest GLBT Americans.
The Traditional Values Coalition also claims that sexual abuse against boys may be higher than is reported because societal shame prevents boys and young men from stepping forward about the abuse they have suffered.
However, such organizations rely on polls for the estimates they quote regarding the prevalence of homosexuality in the general population, and do not factor in the possibility of under-reporting in such polls for identical reasons of societally-imposed shame.
Critics of such claims question the mathematical validity of the assumptions being made, as well as the rate of abuse that children suffer at the hands of gay men.
A comprehensive essay on the subject posted at Box Turtle Bulletin examines the question with the best interests of children at heart, looking to determine whether such rhetoric simply misdirects the fears of parents, leaving families vulnerable to attack by heterosexual pedophiles.
The essay determines that the information and statistics used by anti-gay groups is so flawed as to be unreliable.
"Because of the great uncertainty surrounding these statistics--and the logical fallacy surrounding the use of the three percent figure [for the prevalence of gays in the general populace]--there is no basis for concluding that gays are responsible for a disproportionate amount of child sexual abuse," the essay concludes.
"But because the data is so unreliable, we also can’t prove that those who behave homosexually are not abusing children disproportionately, regardless of whether they claim to be gay or not.
"That means that if we really want to understand what’s going on, we have to look much more closely at the predators themselves."
In subsequent paragraphs, the essay does just that--and shows that pedophiles are typically heterosexual, based on their physiological responses to photos of women and of children.
But the rhetoric does not take these data into consideration. Writes the essay’s author, Jim Burroway, "These anti-gay activists know that their claims are false. They’ve read the research from the most knowledgeable experts in the field--the same research I reviewed here in this article.
"They must know that the falsehoods they are spreading contradict what the researchers themselves are saying. But they keep spreading their accusations because they know how effective they are," Burroway continues.
"Every parent would consider it his or her worst nightmare to discover that their innocent child has been sexually violated," Burroway adds.
"And anti-gay activists feed on that fear to further their agenda because, as Colorado for Family Values founder Tony Marco observed, ’It is easier to nauseate than it is to educate.’"
The true injury that results from such rhetoric, Burroway argues, is not done to GLTB Americans who civil rights are continually denied and challenged based on spurious statistics and empty claims that gays are by and large dangerous to children.
Rather, "The real harm is to our children," Burroway writes.
"As long as we remain suspicious of the wrong people, predators will continue to have free reign to abuse innocent children.
"If they remain free from scrutiny because everyone else is focusing on gays and lesbians, more young lives will continue to be shattered and more parents will suffer the agonizing heartache of learning that they trusted someone who destroyed their child’s future."
Another claim made by anti-gay groups is that most victims of the pedophile priests were teenage boys and that therefore this must mean that gay men were the perpetrators.
Indeed, Fr. Owen relied upon this rationalization, saying that the "vast majority" of the abuse perpetrated by priests in the UK had targeted adolescent males.
Claiming that to be a "fact," Owen asked, "Now what does that tell you?"
As critics of such claims point out, gays and pedophiles are distinct groups that may share some overlap, but current understanding indicates that belonging to one group does not automatically indicate that an individual belongs to the other.
As UC Davis’ Dr. Gregory M. Herek notes in an online resource, "The distinction between a victim’s gender and a perpetrator’s sexual orientation is important because many child molesters don’t really have an adult sexual orientation.
"They have never developed the capacity for mature sexual relationships with other adults, either men or women.
"Instead, their sexual attractions focus on children --boys, girls, or children of both sexes."
Another abuse victim, author Colm O’Gorman, also spoke out against Owen’s claims, saying that the archbishop’s aide’s claims were "ill-informed, ignorant, corrupt and dishonest."
Added Gorman, who wrote about the pedophile priest crisis in the book "Beyond Belief," "The church has created a link between homosexual sex and priests who rape and sodomize children."
Noted the author, "It scapegoats someone else and creates a side issue. It removes the criminal aspect and the rape becomes some sort of consensual adult behavior."
Added Gorman, "A child protection policy is only as good as the people implementing it."
One famous example of a pedophile priest active in America was Father Oliver O’Grady, an Irish priest who was shuffled from community to community on California and who was the focus of a documentary feature on the pedophile priest crisis titled, "Deliver Us From Evil."
The film recounts that O’Grady victimized a number of children of various ages, and reveals that when he had sex with adults, it was with women, as when O’Grady slept with a woman in order to gain access to her child.
For its part, the archdiocese also decried Owen’s remarks, issuing a statement that read in part, "[Fr. Owen’s] comments seeming to link abuse and homosexuality" were not officially endorsed by the archdiocese and did not express the archdiocese’s own "consistent views," the Guardian reported.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.