Pedophiles, Ephebophiles, Ecclesiophobes

Surveying the clergy sex scandals of the past decade, one is reminded of Christ's prediction that "from him who does not have, even that which he seems to have shall be taken away" (Matthew 25:29). The rather prurient glee with which the media have covered these cases—primarily those involving Roman Catholic priests—highlights as it exacerbates the low morale of priests in the post-Vatican II world of dwindling numbers and confusion about their role. Kick 'em when they're down—that's the media way.

The cases, of course, exist, though not all accusations have proved true. The notorious false accusation against Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago marked the moral low point, and tabloid circulation high water mark, of the run of priestly pedophile stories. What remains unclear from media coverage is how common priestly pedophilia actually is, whether the incidence is significantly higher than in the past, whether the incidence varies greatly among religious denominations, how they are related (or unrelated) to current political footballs like priestly celibacy, and to what extent the priestly perpetrators are rehabilitable.

Enter Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University and no stranger to these pages. In Pedophiles and Priests, Jenkins (who is not a Catholic) brings great coolness and a laudable ability to make fine distinctions...

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