More on Catholic abuse and Bill Donohue

May 23, 2011

I’m an avid viewer of an online American news show called The Young Turks. I don’t always agree with it, but it’s much better than the mainstream news and particularly on things like corporate lobbyists and tax avoidance, they’re usually bang on the money. Today I saw this video of theirs from last week in which the regular hosts Cenk and Ana comment on a new study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice:

I think that that commentary is completely unfair. First of all Cenk says that “there’s never been a dumber study in the history of mankind” and then criticises it based on the conclusion. That’s not the way this works. If you have a problem with a study you criticise it based on the method, or you look at the data and see that the conclusion isn’t supported, you don’t just say it must be wrong because it might be counter-intuitive.

Perhaps more importantly, the conclusions of the study that Cenk cites aren’t really the focus of the report. All I’ve read is the press release and the conclusion section of the full report (pg 118 onwards), which I don’t think is a huge amount to expect from someone doing a commentary on the content of a report, and the impression I was given is completely different to what they’re saying in the video. It’s as if they’ve formed their opinions from mainstream news outlets, which I wouldn’t expect from them. The main conclusion of the report is that there’s no single factor that could explain or predict abuse in the clergy, or in other words, that a lot of different things contributed to the high level of abuse.

The report does not say that the 60’s being a more “socially permissive time, and… Woodstock and all that” was the main reason for the abuse. What one of the authors of the report does say is that “the increased frequency of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time.” Now if Cenk doesn’t believe the level of abuse in society went up in the 60’s and 70’s (and I’ve no idea if it did or it didn’t), then that’s a valid basis for criticising the report, but don’t just exaggerate the claim that’s been made, that was just one of many factors.

Ana gets it right when she says that the report found that homosexuality and celibacy had no significant effect on the likelihood of abuse, but then turns that on its head (as if she thought they would) by dismissively saying the report blames it on the lack of “seminary training and emotional support to prevent them doing what they did”. It’s sort of true, the report says that a particular part of seminary training called ‘Human Formation’ was quite important, but it wasn’t just telling the priest not to rape children, as Cenk later implies. Basically what The Young Turks does here is pull out a couple of things that the report names as factors, and act as if the study is blaming the abuse on those factors, when actually the main conclusion is that no one factor can be identified as the cause.

But enough about the video, what about this conclusion that homosexuality wasn’t a factor in whether a priest abused or not? Given Bill Donohue’s tendency to blame the gays on every occasion when talking about this, will he stop making that claim now that he’s seen this report?

Of course not, it’s Bill Donohue.

Bill grandly states that “a homosexual is defined by his actions, not his identity”, and that therefore when the report says that tendency to abuse didn’t correlate with identity as a homosexual, they were missing the point. Obviously the abusers must be gay because they abused post-pubescent boys. Except that that is not what the report said. It concluded (emphasis mine):

Sexual behavior before ordination predicted sexual behavior after ordination; however, such conduct only predicted subsequent sexual interaction with other adults, not with minors. The clinical data do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity or those who committed same-sex sexual behavior with adults are significantly more likely to sexually abuse children than those with a heterosexual orientation or behavior. (p119)

So even if homosexuals are defined by their actions rather than their identity, homosexuality still doesn’t correlate. The report did name some other factors that did have an effect (emphasis mine):

Individual characteristics do not predict that a priest will commit sexual abuse of a minor. Rather, vulnerabilities, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk of abuse. Like non-priest abusers, the majority of priests who sexually abused minors appear to have had certain vulnerabilities to commit abuse (for example, emotional congruence with children or adolescents), experienced increased stressors from work (for example, having recently received more responsibilities, such as becoming a pastor), and had opportunities to abuse (for example, unguarded access to minors).

But rather than focus on those, Donohue decides to blame teh gayz. Maybe he should take a look at these factors, particularly the opportunity to abuse. Maybe his oft-cited fact that most of the victims were post-pubescent males has less to do with priests being homosexual, and more to do with the fact that priests have more access to post-pubescent males, since altar-servers tend to be post-pubescent, as do children in boarding schools. Maybe his flagrant homophobia is clouding his judgement. Just maybe.

Bill Donohue lies again

April 13, 2011

Via Pharyngula.

Remember Star Wars Episode 1? And Boss Nass, the King of the Gungans? Something about that slimy incomprehensible fat sack of crap reminds me of Bill Donohue:

One of the original 3 on the crotch-kicking list, Bill Donohue is the President of the Catholic League, who I’ve covered before on this blog, and he’s at it again. Defending abusers, that is. In this article released today, not only does he accuse those filing complaints of doing it for ideological or financial gain, but he once again blames homosexuals for the abuse crisis in the Church.

The refrain that child rape is a reality in the Church is twice wrong: let’s get it straight—they weren’t children and they weren’t raped. We know from the John Jay study that most of the victims have been adolescents, and that the most common abuse has been inappropriate touching (inexcusable though this is, it is not rape). The Boston Globe correctly said of the John Jay report that “more than three-quarters of the victims were post pubescent, meaning the abuse did not meet the clinical definition of pedophilia.” In other words, the issue is homosexuality, not pedophilia. (6th paragraph)

No, that is a lie. As I’ve covered before, it is absurd to use the John Jay report to say that the majority of abuse victims have been postpubescent males because the John Jay study only reported on victims under the age of 18. So even by his own logic, he is saying that if the victim is post-pubescent then the abuser is not a paedophile but a homosexual, and then he’s arbitrarily cutting off his dataset at 18 years of age. Studies done into abuse generally show that the majority of victims are adult females. Surely, then, it must be a heterosexual problem?

There are further problems with this claim that Donohue keeps spouting from his flabby jowls. The fact that a victim is post-pubescent and male doesn’t make the abuser homosexual. Abuse is rarely a case of the abuser just being hopelessly attracted to the victim, and indeed Margaret Smith, a John Jay criminologist who worked on the study has said that “the majority of the abusive acts were homosexual in nature. That participation in homosexual acts is not the same as sexual identity as a gay man.” It seems to me that opportunity to offend might have a much bigger impact on who the victim is.

Now let’s not forget that a man with a doctorate in sociology from New York University should be “not unacquainted with how to read the social science data” as the big man said himself. And yet, curiously, he has managed to misread the social science data. And despite having been corrected on it many times, he’s still coming out with the same tired old lies.

The man’s a joke. When will he realise that people don’t care if the victims were post-pubescent or not, or if they were male or not, or if they were raped or abused in some other way? People aren’t angry because of the (probably false) perception that there’s a higher incidence of abuse in the Church than elsewhere, they’re angry because when it was reported, it was covered up in a huge number of cases. And Donohue thinks pointing that out equates to persecution.

More on the homosexuality-paedophilia link

April 15, 2010

Just a quick one. You’ll have probably noticed that in the last few days, another leader of the Catholic community has commented on a link between homosexuality and paedophilia. This time it was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State of the Vatican and essentially number 2 in the Catholic hierarchy. The Church was quick to distance itself from his comments (although come on, it’s not like it was just some retired bishop this time, if this guy can’t be trusted to speak on behalf of the Vatican, then who can?). That’s good, it shows that this view is being frowned upon in the Church. I didn’t like the way they tried to partially excuse the Cardinal, however. The Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, said that the Cardinal’s remarks had been misunderstood, and that actually he was only referring to homosexual members of the clergy, and not to homosexuals in the general population. That’s all well and good, except that if you take a look at what he actually said:

Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and paedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia. That is true. That is the problem.

Then you realise that there’s no way that could possibly have just been referring to the clergy. Not only have there not (as far as I know) been psychological studies exclusively of paedophile members of the clergy, but he also offers no kind of explanation for why there should be a difference between homosexuals in the general population and homosexuals within the clergy, which you would expect if that’s what he meant. But whatever, it’s just a PR exercise, and Fr Lombardi did also say that the Cardinal had no place commenting on psychological issues, which is surprisingly frank for a Vatican statement.

UK bishops were also quick to denounce the comments. Rev Fr Marcus Stock, the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said that there was no empirical data to conclude that paedophilia had anything to do with homosexuality. I’d point out that there’s no empirical data to conclude that their God exists either, but credit where it’s due.

And whilst we’re on the topic of credit where it’s due, the Vatican did put guidelines on its website making clear that all cases of paedophilia must be reported to the authorities in countries where it is illegal. Good move.

But now we get back to the justification for Cardinal Bertone’s comment. In the same breath as he said the Cardinal had no place commenting on psychological issues, Fr Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said his comments had been based on statistical data which said that 90% of the abuse victims had actually been post-pubescent. Two-thirds of those were boys. According to the Guardian, those data came from Monsignor Charles Scicluna in an interview with Avvenire. So I looked that up and found the article online. It’s in Italian but the translation that Google Chrome is giving me is pretty good. Anyway in that interview he says this:

Q: How many do you have dealt with so far?
A: Overall in the last nine years (2001-2010) we evaluated the allegations of about three thousand cases of diocesan priests and religious, which refer to crimes committed in the last fifty years.

Q: So three thousand cases of pedophile priests?
A: It would not be correct to say so. We can say that roughly 60% of these cases are more like acts of ephebofilia, that is the sexual attraction to adolescents of the same sex, another 30% heterosexual and 10% of acts of real pedophilia, that is determined by a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. The cases of priests accused of pedophilia are true then about three hundred in nine years. It is still too many cases – for charity! – But we must recognize that the phenomenon is not as extensive as you would like to believe.

So, unless he’s trying to say that they were absolutely no cases of priests sexually abusing adults, then again we are only dealing with the statistical data for under-18s. This is the same problem that the studies cited by Bill Donohue had, and it shows a really quite alarming tendency to misinterpret the data. They are caught in the awkward position of claiming that if the victim is post-pubescent, then it is due to a homosexual attraction, but then arbitrarily cutting off their dataset at 18 years old.

Now I’ve written about this at length before, but I will make 2 very brief points:

1) The victim being post-pubescent and the same sex does not necessarily make the abuser a homosexual.

2) In studies including adults and children in cases of clerical abuse (although not just by Catholic clerics), over 90% of the victims were actually adult females.

In which Bill Donohue goes onto the crotch-kicking list

April 4, 2010

Again I find myself having to apologise for an incredibly long post, but there’s a lot to get in. If you’re only interested in the Bill Donohue part I suggest you skip to just above where the video is, the rest of it is about the Vatican’s reaction to the media coverage.

It’s completely unsurprising to see the reaction of high-profile Catholics to the revelations about the abuse scandal and its subsequent cover-up. As early as Palm Sunday, just a few days after the revelations about the Pope’s involvement in the Wisconsin case, Ratzinger himself dismissed the reports as ‘petty gossip’, whereas L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, described the media’s coverage of the scandal as a “clear and ignoble intent of trying to strike Benedict and his closest collaborators.” In a shocking display of paranoia and lunacy, the Pope’s personal preacher likened the media coverage to “the collective violence suffered by the Jews.” That’s strange, I don’t remember hearing about any journalists rounding priests up onto trains at gunpoint and taking them off to be murdered. I don’t remember hearing about any violence at all, for that matter. Talk about shooting the messenger!

The Pope’s own words are particularly revealing, claiming that his faith gave him the “courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion”. How about the courage to step forward, admit that the Vatican (and he himself) has made serious mistakes, and take measures to try and get justice? Real measures that will make a difference, not just internal investigations that usually either go nowhere or just end up with someone being de-frocked, relying on divine judgement to provide actual punishment instead of jailtime. Measures like turning Cardinal Bernard Law over to secular justice instead of giving him a cushy job in the Vatican, safe from prosecution. Measures like calling for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady who was involved in a case where children were forced to sign oaths of silence. Why has the Pope not done these relatively simple things? Because it’s not absolutely necessary yet in order to save the reputation of the Church. I am increasingly starting to believe that the only reason they’ve even admitted these cases is because denying it would be an incredibly bad PR move. Look at the way they’re pretending like this is the only blemish on the Church’s otherwise spotless reputation, ignoring the Pope’s contribution to the HIV/AIDS death toll, the sexual abuse of women in the Church, and the Church’s role in the Rwandan Genocide, for example, neither of which have merited an apology from the Pope, because they’re apparently not serious enough to threaten the reputation of the church to such a degree.

National leaders of the Catholic Church were also quick to defend the Pope. Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said that Pope Benedict was not an idle observer and that his actions spoke as well as his words. I fail to see how he can claim that when child abuse suspects are sitting under the Pope’s protective wing. He also said that the Pope introduced measures to help stop the abuse, although the ones that he listed are, quite frankly, things that anyone in their right mind would have introduced and are hardly trailblazing stuff. Even if they had been, the Pope’s later actions do not justify what he did earlier in his career with his involvement in the Munich and Wisconsin cases. I also noticed here in the Portuguese press that Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the most senior member of the clergy in Portugal, said that there was a conspiracy against the Church and the Pope. He also claimed that keeping the abuse allegations secret was something ordinary to any kind of family and that dirty clothes shouldn’t be washed in public.

And so we come to Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, who opens his flabby jowls whenever anyone comments on anything remotely Catholic. The Catholic League took out an advert in the New York Times (the same publication that revealed the allegations about the Pope’s involvement in the Fr Murphy case), where he tried to defend the Vatican from what he perceives as attacks by the media, rather than revelations. He makes a lot of claims about the Fr Murphy case which I don’t really want to get too deep into, although I’ll point out that he says:

Cardinal Ratzinger, now the pope, was the head of the office that was contacted. There is no evidence that he knew of it. But even if he did, he would have had to allow for an investigation. While the inquiry was proceeding, Murphy died.

– to which I call BULLSHIT! The records revealed by the New York Times showed that Fr Murphy had already admitted that he’d abused around 200 deaf children. The bishop of his diocese had written to Ratzinger personally asking for action from his office. The bishop received no response, and the New York Times speculated that it was on the basis of a letter from Murphy himself to Ratzinger, saying that he wanted to die with dignity in the priesthood.

But that’s not the claim I want to focus on. I mentioned in my post analysing the Pope’s apology that in the past, abuse was blamed on homosexuals within the Church, but I foolishly believed those days were firmly in the past, particularly as the Church now needs to save some serious face. I was apparently wrong. Bill Donohue’s last claim in his ad reads:

The Times continues to editorialise about the “paedophilia crisis”, when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behaviour, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.

And here is a video where he defends his statement.

As evidence for his assertion, Donohue cites this study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004, which found that “81% of all the victims have been male… and that 75% are post-pubescent” to use his own words. Now I’m no psychologist but I’m not sure that just because the victim was male and post-pubescent, that makes the abuser a homosexual, or makes the problem a ‘homosexual problem’. I certainly don’t find 13 year old girls attractive even if they are post-pubescent, and I doubt that changes significantly among the homosexual portion of society. It appears to me to be a much more complicated situation than Donohue is making out, particularly when you take into account the fact that rape is rarely a case of someone being hopelessly attracted to their victims. It seems to me to be less a case of sexual attraction and more to do with opportunity to offend or some kind of psychological condition. I’d also say that he is confusing the act of sexual abuse with a sexual preference. But like I say, I’m no psychologist, so I don’t know. I just think it’s a rash judgement for Donohue to make based on the data he presents.

Next I went and looked for that study to see if his figures were right, but actually I didn’t even have to go past the first mandate for the study, which reads:

Examine the number and nature of allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18 by Catholic priests between 1950 and 2002.

Yes, to justify his claim that most victims of abuse are male and post-pubescent, he’s using a study which only investigated the allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18. So not only is he making a rash conclusion based on the data, but the data itself is skewed. Bill is caught in the awkward position of saying that it’s a homosexual attraction when the victim is post-pubescent, but then also arbitrarily cuts off his dataset at 18 years of age, ignoring a lot more abuse cases.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do agree with Donohue on one thing – it is overly simplistic to refer to the abuse scandal as a paedophilia crisis, for several reasons. Firstly, the term ‘paedophilia’ refers to a sexual preference, not the act of sexual abuse itself. It also only refers to the preference of pre-pubescent children, as opposed to hebephilia and ephebophilia. This is also why it is dangerous to brand anyone who has sex with a minor with such an emotionally charged word as ‘paedophile’ – it could well be a 19 year old having a relationship with a 15 year old, which isn’t particularly perverted or even all that unusual, although it is illegal. In any case, calling it a ‘paedophilia crisis’ also ignores the abuse of adults which is carried out by clergy.

But instead of responsibly exchanging that term for ‘abuse scandal’ or something similar, Bill decides to label it a “homosexual crisis”. So let’s see if we can take a look at the stats for over 18’s. They’re quite difficult to find because there haven’t been an awful lot of reports on it, but I do remember reading a piece recently posted by Tessera, regular contributor to, where she reported that up to 95% of abuse victims are actually adult females. Now I’ve been trying to track down where she got that figure from, but all I can find is this paper, citing a national study called Chaves and Garland (I presume the author means Chavez) on page 7, and I can’t find it. In any case it says women make up 96% of those abused. This website also seems to be happy to say that 95% of abuse victims are adult females, although the situation gets a bit more complicated because we’re not talking just about abuse in the Catholic Church. Here is some further reading if you’re interested.

So it seems here that Bill could be completely wrong. The majority of the abuse victims are adult females, and it is only when we look specifically at minors that most of the victims are male. As I’ve already commented, that seems to me to be a more abnormal phenomenon, and can’t be put down to homosexuality. Funny that a guy who, as he says himself in the video, has a doctorate in Sociology and claims to “not [be] unacquainted with how to read the social science data” seems to have failed to correctly read the social science data. But of course Bill doesn’t know when to shut his trap and he goes on to imply a link between celibacy and the number of homosexuals in the church, saying:

“They’re [Bill Mayer etc] saying that if you got rid of celibacy, the priesthood wouldn’t be so attractive to homosexuals, therefore you wouldn’t have the molestation problem. Actually I agree with that!”

Of course he’s completely twisting the words of Bill Mayer, but I have no idea how he thinks that celibacy makes the church attractive to homosexuals. None whatsoever. In any case, the idea that celibacy is the cause of molestation is plausible, but also seems to be a myth. Tessera cites a study showing that whilst 3.1% of regularly churchgoing women have been sexually abused, actually the majority (2.2% of the total) of those women were abused by married clergy. (Edit: I should point out that this alone doesn’t discount celibacy being a cause of molestation. What is more relevant is the proportion of abusers within celibate churches, not the proportion of women abused by celibate abusers. However I’m happy to take the word of people in the field that it’s not a major cause.)

So Bill’s on the crotch-kicking list. Maybe when it gets to about 5 people I’ll actually write it down and stick it on my wall.