Sexual Intelligence: Gay Priests? No, Confused Priests

Social scientists at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice have been researching the causes of the Catholic Church’s modern scandal over the molestation of boys by priests. In releasing their initial findings, researchers said they cannot attribute the scandal to gay priests or seminaries for teenagers.

“We do not have data to support those assertions,” said Karen Terry, lead researcher for the two- million dollar study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She believes that the priests had sex with boys mainly because they had access to boys. “Even though there was sexual abuse of many boys, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the [priest] had a homosexual identity,” she said.


After all, male soccer coaches who have sex with teen girls and step-fathers who have sex with their step-daughters don’t do it because of “heterosexuality.” Such adult sexual behavior is caused by internal torment about sexuality, a collapse of boundaries, lack of empathy, a breakdown of ethics and confusion about power…just like priests sexually exploiting boys.

The question of what defines a person as gay is interesting and relevant to people of every persuasion, including straights. Many male public figures who have been caught being interested in other men have loudly denied they’re gay. Some are (understandably) frightened liars, but many others, such as Senator Larry Craig, are likely telling the truth.

As Alfred Kinsey first showed Americans a half-century ago, same gender fantasies, curiosity, desire and the occasional fling do not alone define someone as gay. And if an adult has sex with children who happen to be the same gender, that doesn’t define him or her as gay, either. It defines him or her as interested in children, which is its own orientation (permanent or otherwise).

The church has more than a bad-apple-gay-priest problem. It has a who-becomes-a-supposedly-celibate-priest-anyway problem. Like the French Foreign Legion, the job description itself cannot possibly attract enough psychologically healthy people. And given the church’s tortured, inhumane attitude about sexuality, it’s hardly the institution to heal any sexual problems revealed or developed by its shepherds (much less its flock).

What Dr. Terry’s project is almost certain to find is that the priests who sexually exploited children are a heterogeneous lot–some of them gay, most of them straight, some of them angry (some surely angry at their God), many of them lonely and some developmentally primitive.

Astonishingly, many so-called morality groups used the revelations of 2002 and beyond as an opportunity to demonize homosexuality–blithely overlooking the church setting that was the dominant feature of every one of these exploitative interactions. Talk about chutzpah. That’s like discussing car accidents without discussing cars, or alcoholism without discussing alcohol.

People don’t do bad things because they’re gay. People do bad things because of who they are. Some of those people are blond, some are left-handed and some are gay. Many of them lack empathy–the ability to truly understand the experience, including the pain, of others. That’s the place to start cleaning up the church.

At the top, by the way.