Let there be no question about my position on pedophilia. In July 1986, I began to write about pedophilia in the priesthood and to predict the present gotterdamerung. Unless the Church treated victims and their families with more respect and unless it ceased to reassign abusive priests, I argued, it would face a catastrophic crisis. I cite this effort because I now propose to defend priests, not pedophile priests, but the vast majority of priests who are not pedophiles.

According to research done by University of Chicago scholars Edward O. Lauman and Robert T. Michael, seventeen percent of Americans (equally men and women) were sexually abused before puberty--approximately forty million people. Half the men report that they were abused by women (a politically incorrect finding if there ever were one). Sexual abuse of children is an enormous problem and probably has plagued us through the whole history of the species. Pedophiles are both gay and straight, both married and unmarried. Anyone who knows anything about the subject understands that celibacy doesn't make a pedophile and marriage doesn't cure one.

What then is one to make of the two ubiquitous former priest psychologists who now are leading the denunciation of celibacy? One begins perhaps by wondering if it is not just a little self-serving for men who have repudiated their promise of celibacy to attack those who still try to keep it.

One of them is the Gaylord Ravenal of former priests trained in psychology. He plays with numbers like a Mississippi riverboat gambler plays with cards.

Recently he announced that three hundred bishops around the world are gay. No one seems to ask how he knows. He will cite precise figures about the proportion of priests who engage in various kinds of aberrations. He will tell you his numbers come from a twenty-five year study. He will not tell you (unless you look at his fine print) that the study is based on a sample of clinical interviews, on people he's heard about, and on people he's encountered at meetings. Such data lack social science validity and can fairly be described as garbage. Yet the media quote him as though he knows everything there is to know.

Another former priest has no need of data. Writing in lofty prose appropriate to someone speaking from Olympus, he offers sweeping generalizations about priests, dismissing them as immature and underdeveloped children. Priests, he says, are little boys. Ah. But you were yourself a priest. Were you yourself a little boy then? Did marriage and sex turn you into a mature adult? Will priests grow up if only they marry? Does marriage automatically produce maturity? Millions of wives around the country might not agree.

His methodology, insofar as he has one, is to compare priests with the model of a fully mature male (himself?). It's a game no group of men could possibly win because all of us live and love and hope and die in varying states of imperfection.

The pertinent question, from the point of view of a social scientist interested in evidence and data, is how priests compare with married men of similar educational attainment. Perhaps surprisingly, there is a substantial body of data based on national sample surveys (and not on people you encounter at meetings) which provides an interesting answer to that question. Moreover, the findings of that research have been consistent over three decades.

In a study done in 1994 by the Los Angeles Times, fifty-four percent of priests say that the priesthood is better than they had expected it would be, and 36% says it is pretty much what they expected. Seventy percent say they would certainly enter the priesthood again and 20% more that they probably would. Only fourteen percent say that celibacy is an overwhelming problem for them. In his doctoral work, Fr. Thomas Nestor showed that priests on the average scored higher on most measures of work and life satisfactions than did married laymen of similar education. These findings are consistent with earlier studies which showed priests as high or higher than comparable groups on measures of self-actualization, personal maturity, and capacity for intimacy. All these data are on the record.

Priests are not perfect. If God wanted perfect beings to be priests, he would have chosen seraphs, not humans.

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