Pedophilia Remains a Rarity for Priests

By Whitham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 16, 1996 | Go to article overview

Pedophilia Remains a Rarity for Priests


Whitham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


True or false? The more educated a society becomes, the more it puts behind religious prejudice and social hysteria.

For Philip Jenkins, who studies social panics, the proposition is false when it comes to the controversy about Roman Catholic priests and pedophilia.

"Anti-Catholicism is alive and well today," said Mr. Jenkins, a religion professor at Pennsylvania State University. "Maybe these panics spread especially in well-educated times."

Mr. Jenkins, an Episcopalian who was raised Catholic, has applied his model of social hysteria to reports, beginning in the early 1980s, that priests had been sexually abusing children.

First of all, he states in his newest book, "Pedophiles and Priests," his approach does not discount the cover-ups and criminality where they happen.

What also happens, however, is a lot of skewing of information, fanned into a social panic by the media and age-old suspicions of Catholic machinations.

"The whole issue grew because it became helpful to various groups," Mr. Jenkins said in an interview. "Initially, conservative Catholics raised it to show the danger of modernism, homosexual clergy and the breakdown of episcopal control."

Then "liberals said, `Look, this is what happens when you don't have married priests, women priests and a stop to a secretive church."

Then the media caught wind: "They presented it as a distinctly Catholic issue, which it was not."

Conceding that abuse is a hard field to document, Mr. Jenkins came up with no solid data to suggest a "pedophilia crisis" in the Catholic Church.

There are tragic cases - a notorious priest in Massachusetts, boys schools in Newfoundland and California, and priests in Louisiana, Chicago, Virginia, Santa Fe, and the D.C. area.

But the number of adult priests who prey on prepubescent children - pedophiles - is no more than the 1 percent in the general population, from store clerks to engineers. …

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