Breaking Glass

The Crime of Consistency

When future generations write the history of the Roman Catholic Church in North America, the year 2002 will loom large, since the crisis over child abuse by priests and other clergy has had such a devastating effect on the faithful.  Yet these same events also deserve to be remembered as marking a remarkable new low in the already none-too-estimable record of the American mass media.  Newspaper and television reporters covering the crisis have repeatedly indulged in a double standard so blatant that it is amazing they have not been challenged openly.  What the media have done, in short, is to denounce as monsters and fiends those men who have sex with teenage boys, but only if the men customarily wear a clerical collar.  If the perpetrators are laymen, then exactly the same behavior is laudable, desirable, and thoroughly progressive.

Ever since the abuse crisis erupted in Boston in January, it has been apparent that the much-hyped term “pedophile priest” is fatally flawed.  The notorious Father Geoghan was indeed a pedo-
phile—a man sexually interested in prepubescent children—and some other cases of this sort have turned up.  Yet such individuals account for only a tiny fraction of sexual misconduct cases involving clergy.  If there is a “typical” clergy abuse case, it involves a cleric sexually active with a young person aged between 15 and 17, more commonly...

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