Sex Abuse Scandals in the Catholic Church: Wolves Among Shepherds and Sheep

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"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep." - John 10:14
Religion is frequently categorized as the sanctuary for the human psyche. Often times, people strive to strip bare their emotional inhibitions in order to more adequately bond with their creator. They seek to present themselves as humble innocent lambs to a divine creator who has forever promised to love and protect them as a shepherd-his flock. The occupation of shepherd to human souls has been passed down for centuries from Christ to his apostles, the original bishoprics, and unto their successors-modern day priests. The Roman Catholic Church has held tightly to this tradition; however over the past fifty years when young children knelt as sheep before their shepherd they met vile, sinful hands, not tender and compassionate ones. "Between 1950 and 2002 more than 10,667 boys and girls in the United States were victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy. More that 4,392 Catholic priests and deacons were their abusers" ("Report on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" 1). The church's credibility and the trustworthiness of the Catholic clergy have been devastatingly effected. Because incidents of sexual abuse are vastly underreported, and because over 50 percent of those victims waited 20 years or longer to report past abuse, members of the Catholic Church in the United States are only beginning to understand the crisis that has occurred ("Report" 1). Explanations for the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church of the United States include: psychological disorders, societal pressures, sociological instability among individual priests, and willful ignorance by church hierarchy.

The Catholic Church has often been labeled as a harbor for pedophiles. In order to understand the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal a clear and precise definition of pedophilia is called for. Pedophilia is defined as the act of engaging in sexual activity with a young child typically younger than the age of 11 or pre-pubescence. In his book Priests: A Calling in Crisis Rev. Andrew Greeley aptly describes pedophilia as, "The results from arrested and twisted sexual development - what Dr John Money (1968) calls 'vandalized love maps.'…exercises of power over those who are subject to priests or at least inferior in status." Greeley goes on to state that "The exertion of superiority and power are staples in many people's explanation of pedophilia in broad knowledge since 90% percent of rapists cite that sexual outlets are available to them"(1-2). The Catholic Church has received the stigma as a harbor for pedophiles, yet the definition is lacking as is the stereotype.

Several attempts have been made by various authors to profile the typical priest pedophile. Rev. Cozzens in his work The Changing Face of the Priesthood offers these generalizations: "All show little sign of remorse…. The pedophile often was abused himself… Many of the cases of pedophilia went on for years, so they probably weren't struggling or trying to bring it to a halt" (105).

Diagnosing the problem, however as pedophilia is a common inaccurate practice regarding the crisis in the church. The alleged events in question often do not meet the definition of pedophilia. Pedophilia has often been a misnomer perpetuated by mass media.

The correct label for the majority of cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is ephebophilia. This is the act of engaging in sexual activity with a pre-teen or a teen that ages 12-18 years of age. Rev. Christopher Coyne, an instructor at St. John's Seminary in Boston explains why some priests become attracted to adolescents: "'If you entered seminary as an adolescent, and had never had an opportunity to acknowledge who you were sexually, never got into a healthy relationships with others, than when you...
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