Homosexuality a Risk Factor, Vatican Told: Experts Emphasize It Is Not Cause of Abuse; Message May Derail Document on Seminaries. (Church in Crisis)

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2003 | Go to article overview

Homosexuality a Risk Factor, Vatican Told: Experts Emphasize It Is Not Cause of Abuse; Message May Derail Document on Seminaries. (Church in Crisis)


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


Homosexuality is a risk factor in, but not the cause of the sexual abuse of adolescent males, according to experts who addressed a private April 2-5 Vatican symposium attended by officials charged with handling the abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic church.

One Vatican official who attended parts of the four-day event told NCR that this message came through "loud and clear" and predicted that it might help delay, or even derail, a much-anticipated document on the admission of homosexuals to Catholic seminaries.

The same official said Vatican observers were struck by criticism of zero-tolerance policies, suggesting that it may lead to guidelines about support of priests after they are removed from ministry.

An April 5 Vatican statement said the meeting featured eight of "the most qualified experts on the theme." There were four Germans, three Canadians and an American. All eight, in what planners described as a coincidence, were nonCatholic. The chief organizer of the symposium was Dr. Manfred Lutz, a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and a psychiatrist from Germany.

The idea, according to participants, was to expose Vatican officials to "state-of-the-art information" from a scientific point of view. Participants included officials from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Secretariat of State, as well as from the Vatican congregations for clergy, religious and Catholic education.

The lone American export was Dr. Martin P. Kafka of the Harvard Medical School, whose field is sexual impulsivity disorders. Kafka spoke to NCR April 5, after the close of the symposium.

Kafka said that homosexuality was not the main focus of the meeting, though there was interest in the subject. "We described it as a risk factor," Kafka said, noting that the majority of cases in the American crisis involve adolescent males between 14 and 17 victimized by adult gay priests.

Kafka emphasized, however, that this does not mean homosexuality causes sex abuse. "A risk factor is not a cause," he said.

"The great predominance of homosexual males are in no way sexual abusers," Kafka said. "There is, however, a subgroup at risk."

Kafka noted that since priests who abuse minors tend to perform most such acts within five to seven years after ordination, being recently ordained is another risk factor. That does not mean that being freshly ordained "causes" abuse, any more than homosexuality.

"We don't really know in a scientific way what the factors are" that cause abuse, Kafka said. "We don't have the evidence."

Other topics, Kafka said, included whether more effective screening could filter out potential abusers, and what promise rehabilitation programs might hold. Kafka said the experts were not optimistic about a "magic bullet" screening program. Presenters also stressed the need for open discussion of sexuality among young priests, and improving the ongoing supervision of priests.

"As a non-Catholic, I was impressed with the deep, genuine concern about the issue, the willingness to be open and listen, and the proactive approach to doing the right thing," Kafka said. "I was very encouraged by this meeting."

A Vatican official told NCR April 5 that the message that homosexuality does not cause abuse was clearly received. …

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