Catholic Defenders: ’Blame the Gays’ for Widespread Abuse

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 31, 2010

As a fresh global crisis mounts for the Catholic church, with questions being raised about pedophile priests abusing victims in Germany and Wisconsin--where one cleric reportedly abused deaf children--and whether Pope Benedict XVI, a Cardinal at the time, responded appropriately, anti-gay religious organization the Catholic League has seemingly renewed attempts to scapegoat gays, say GLBT equality advocates.

In a March 24 article titled, "Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys," the New York Times reported that the pope--at the time known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in charge of enforcing doctrine for the Vatican--did not respond to two letters from Milwaukee archbishop Rembert G. Weakland about the pattern of molestation allegedly demonstrated between 1950 and 1974 by Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy, who is suspected of having abused up to 200 boys who attended a Wisconsin school for the deaf. An investigation was begun internally at the behest of Ratzinger's second-in-command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

However, the article said, Ratzinger put a stop to the process after receiving a letter from Fr. Murphy, at that point near the end of his life. "I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood," wrote Murphy. "I ask your kind assistance in this matter."

The Catholic League took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on March 30, lambasting the paper for its coverage of the crisis and declaring that, "The Times continues to editorialize about the 'pedophilia crisis,' when all along it's been a homosexual crisis." The ad continues, "Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay."

The ad drew condemnation from GLBT advocacy group Truth Wins Out, which said in a March 30 posting at its web site that the Catholic League had "served as an enabler for sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and sought to deflect blame for the crisis by smearing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"The offensive ad sought to exonerate the Pope and other priests of blame who are ensnared in a widening sexual abuse scandal that reaches across the globe," the posting continued. "Instead of offering an apology for sinful behavior, the Catholic League served as apologists and used the ad to try to deflect the crisis by attacking gay priests."

The posting quoted Truth Wins Out founder and executive director Wayne Besen as saying, "Clearly, the Catholic League is more interested in finding scapegoats than solutions." Added Besen, "We should remind Donohue that there is no child sexual abuse crisis in gay community centers, neighborhoods, churches or social organizations. This nightmare has to do with Catholic pedophile priests and those who served as their enablers. The Catholic League thinks it is mounting a defense, but it is only exacerbating the pain felt by the defenseless who were taken advantage of by authority figures in the church."

The Buck Stops... Where?

Syndicated columnist Maureen Dowd also responded to the ad, writing in a March 30 op-ed that in the ad, which was written as a letter and signed by him, the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, was "still talking about the problem as an indiscretion rather than a crime. If it mostly involves men and boys, that's partly because priests for many years had unquestioned access to boys."

Donohue's ad also pointed out that although accused priest Lawrence Murphy seemingly began to molest his victims in the 1950s, it was not until twenty years later that the families of his victims spoke out--which Donohue said was a case of "Blame the victims."

Donohue appeared on CNN's The Larry King Show as part of a panel to discuss the crisis, along with musician Sinead O'Connor and pedophile priest victim Thomas Roberts. Two Catholic priests also appeared on the program, one of whom was the Rev. Edward Back, who pointed out that Pope Benedict XVI had "put in some of the strictest laws and legislation in the church around this issue of anyone previous to him," but added that, "the perception is, he's stonewalling." Beck said that the pope should "get out in front of it, about some of the wrongdoing, maybe talk a little about that case in Germany that kind of happened on his watch... people want to hear him say something."

The incident in Germany concerned a priest, referred to in a March 13 article in the U.K. newspaper The Times as H, who in 1980, was sent to Munich after being accused of assaulting an 11-year-old boy in Essen. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave the okay for the priest to stay in a rectory while he received therapy. The priest committed subsequent acts of child molestation, and was convicted of sexual assault in 1986. The priest in question, H, was suspended on March 16, following the story's appearance in the media.

The purported shifting of the German cleric from town to town mirrors the way American pedophile priests were moved from community to community by their superiors in the church hierarchy. Msgr. Gerhard Gruber took the blame for the priest's subsequent return to pastoral work, and told the media that Cardinal Ratzinger "could not deal with everything," given that there were more than one thousand priests in the diocese overseen by the Pope-to-be.

"The repeated employment of H in pastoral duties was a serious mistake," Gruber added. "I deeply regret that this decision led to offences against youths. I apologize to all those who were harmed."

But Thomas Roberts said on The Larry King Show that the pope is, in essence, the church's "manager." Said Roberts, "Bottom line, the buck stops with him." Roberts then went on to say that he would ask Donohue, who had earlier in the show slammed reportage of the crisis, "why the Catholic League doesn't use its vast resources... to stand up for the victims and stop shielding Pope Benedict or anybody else that is accused of these crimes, because we know they exist."

Panelist Sinead O'Connor, who claims also to have been abused by a priest, weighed in as well. O'Connor is remembered for an October 3, 1992 Saturday Night Live appearance during which O'Connor ripped a photo of Pope John Paul II in two while singing a version of Bob Marley's song "War," in which lyrics about racial prejudice were replaced with the words "child abuse." O'Connor told King that the Pope should instruct "any cleric who was involved to... go to the police, turn themselves in for prosecution as accessories to the crime." O'Connor also said that "if the pope has been wronged and been wronged about, then we all need to stand up and defend [him]."

Responding to O'Connor, Donohue said, "I'm not quote sure what to make of that one."

The Catholic League describes itself as non-partisan, but Donohue has made provocative remarks about gays over the years. Discussing the movie The Passion of the Christ, Donohue--who defended the film and its director, Mel Gibson--claimed that critics of the movie were "saying it's fascistic queer-bashing." Added Donohue, "I'm pretty good about picking out who queers are, and I didn't see any in the movie."

The Catholic League ad echoes claims made by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who has said that the perpetrators in the crisis are "ephebophiles" rather than pedophiles, the distinction being that ephebophiles are drawn to adolescents rather than to pre-pubescent children. However, Tomasi basis this on the claim he makes that most of the victims were boys aged 11 and older; a Wikipedia article notes that ephebophiles are attracted principally to adolescents (or either gender) between ages 15-19, whereas those preferring younger adolescents are actually hebephiles. Pedophiles and ephebophiles alike fail to fit into any stereotypical niche, according to an ezine articles essay. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of sexual abusers (greater than 90%) identify themselves as heterosexual.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.