'Abuse of minors' -- Rare chance to hear New York Times sing harmony with Vatican establishment

Over the past 30-plus years or so, I have heard some Catholic conservatives try to blame the church’s “pedophilia” crisis on gays in the priesthood.

But for every Catholic activist that I’ve heard veer in that direction, I have heard 100 or so stress that the “pedophilia” label is inaccurate and misleading.

Why? By definition, true pedophiles are driven to have sex with pre-pubescent children. While this ongoing Catholic scandal has involved cases of pedophilia, those crimes are relatively rare and it’s accurate to stress that true pedophiles act out against children of both genders. This fact frequently appears in news reports as evidence that homosexuality plays little or no role in this ongoing crisis.

Those who dig into the facts know that most Catholic sexual-abuse cases involve ephebophilia — intense sexual interest in post-pubescent teens. The overwhelming majority of Catholic clergy cases involve adult males stalking and abusing young males.

So what’s the big idea? To be blunt, men who want to have sex with teen-aged girls tend to have sex with teen-aged girls. Men who want to have sex with teen-aged boys tend to have sex with teen-aged boys. Men who want to have sex with women tend to abuse or have sex with women (including nuns). Men who want to have sex with men tend to abuse or have sex with men (including seminarians).

Right now, the Catholic establishment wants to talk about the sexual abuse of “children.” Conservative Catholics want to hear frank talk about the abuse of teen-agers and adults, including the sins and crimes of bishops, archbishops and cardinals.

With all of that in mind, let’s look at the New York Times coverage of a crucial press conference staged ahead of the Vatican’s much anticipated assembly, with this title, “The Protection of Minors in the Church.”

The original name for the gathering was “The Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults in the Church.” That’s a very, very important edit.

Here’s the headline on the Times story: “Vatican Hopes Meeting on Child Sex Abuse Will Be a Turning Point.” Spot the key word in that equation? Here’s the overture:

VATICAN CITY — In the decades since the crisis of clerical sexual abuse of children first exploded, the Roman Catholic church has struggled to resolve a scourge that has eroded its credibility, driven away the faithful and stained its priests, bishops, cardinals and popes.

On Monday, as the Vatican prepared for a meeting that will include Pope Francis and the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences, the church was still looking for a way forward.

“My hope is that people see this as a turning point,” Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, said at a Vatican news conference. He said he hoped the meeting, titled “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” would be a “rallying moment” to make sure all the bishops were on the same page.

So what issues are on the Vatican establishment’s “same page” and what issues have been pushed out of the spotlight?

As I have said several times here at GetReligion, the key word to look for is “seminarians.”

How do these various themes and questions show up in coverage by the Times, the world’s most powerful newspaper? That press-conference story contained some important language.

This is the rare case in which you get to see the Gray Lady’s leaders singing precisely the song the Catholic establishment wants them to sing. Starting with this:

Many conservatives in the church have blamed homosexuality for the clerical sex abuse of minors, a critique most notably aired by Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal ambassador to the United Nations, who last year accused the pope of covering up abuse.

It has been a difficult issue for Pope Francis, who has counseled tolerance of gays. He heads a priesthood with a high proportion of gay men who, whether or not they obey the command to be celibate, dare not speak openly about their orientation.

In response to a question, Cardinal Cupich acknowledged that the crisis primarily involves “male on male sex abuse,” but he added that studies had for years demonstrated “that homosexuality in itself is not a cause” of abuse, and that it was a matter of opportunity and poor training.

Once again, the word “minors” — like the word “children” — hides the key fault line in these debates. And what is the message woven into Cupich’s carefully chosen words?

A few lines later there is this:

The prelates said they were focusing solely on sex abuse of minors to avoid distraction by adding too many subjects.

By protecting minors, they said, they would be in a better position to safeguard vulnerable adults, including nuns who have been abused by priests.

Once again, what issues are on the “same page” and what issues are being avoided?

There was quite a bit of talk, in this presser, about fighting the shroud of “secrecy” that surrounds many of these issues. I would cheer for that, of course, since GetReligion readers know that I keep stressing that the No. 1 issue in this three-decade scandal can be stated this way:

I: The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders – left and right, gay and straight – have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.

However, secrecy is a tough nut to crack. Consider these words from another key voice in that press conference, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta — the Vatican’s top investigator on sexual-abuse crimes. The Times report states:

Asked at the news conference about the culture of secrecy that has allowed known molesters to remain in the church for decades without their parishioners’ knowledge, he said that “silence is a no-go,” whether that means “criminal or malicious complicity and a code of a silence or whether it’s denial.”

“Confronting the facts will make us free,” he said.

Then, only one paragraph later, there was this:

On Monday, a Vatican spokesman declined to answer when asked if Msgr. Joseph Punderson remained in his post at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, where he has worked since 1993. The diocese of New Jersey listed him this month among those “credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor” and removed him from ministry.

“We are not here, now, discussing a single case,” said the Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti.

In other words, individual cases are not on that “same page” that will define this event.

Stay tuned. I would also suggest that readers check out this National Catholic Register report about that press event, since it is written by Edward Pentin, who asked the most pointed questions about issues linked to clergy sexual abuse of teens and adults — seminarians to be specific.

Does anyone see any major differences between Pentin’s story and the one offered by the Gray Lady?

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