Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis
by Philip Jenkins
Oxford University Press
2001 Evans Road
Cary, NC 27513
About the Author:
Philip Jenkins is a Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. His books include Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Britain and Using Murder: The Social Construction of Serial Homicide.
If we can believe the six o'clock news, there has been an epidemic of sexual abuse among the clergy, and especially among the Roman Catholic clergy. We have certainly seen many well-publicized cases, with front-page photos of priests led off to jail, and television interviews of parents afraid to let their children associate with clergy. But did the news media get the story right? Is there really an epidemic of clergy sex abuse? And is there, as some charge, something about the institution of the priesthood itself that attracts or creates pedophiles?
Neither an expose nor an apology, Priests and Pedophiles takes a close, dispassionate look at the entire history of this mushrooming scandal, from the first rumblings to today's headlines. Philip Jenkins has written a fascinating, exhaustive, and above all even-handed account that not only puts this particular crisis in perspective, but offers an eye-opening look at the way in which an issue takes hold of the popular imagination.
Jenkins argues convincingly not only that clergy sex abuse is far less widespread than the headlines suggest, but that there is nothing at all particularly Roman Catholic about the problem. What then led to the media's portrayal of a church in crisis? Jenkins begins by noting a number of factors -- increased concern over the sexual abuse of children, changes in media attitudes towards the churches, the explosion in litigation in general -- which combined to generate more accusations involving ministers of every denomination, with more publicity and more serious repercussions than ever before. He goes on to explore why clergy abuse came to be seen as a peculiarly Roman Catholic problem, underscoring a number of contributory factors.
There is a longstanding anti-Catholic stereotype of priests as lascivious predators. The Catholic Church is a more attractive target for lawsuits than other denominations; one can sue not only the local congregation but also the archdiocese and even the national church. Perhaps most important, however, dissidents within the Roman Church itself -- those in favor of married clergy and women priests -- seized upon the issue as a rhetorical weapon, arguing loud and long that priestly celibacy led to homosexual behavior and disordered behavior such as pedophilia (a claim that flies in the face of current psychological thinking on sexual preference).
If Priests and Pedophiles reassures us about our local clergy, it also delivers a disturbing message about how vulnerable we are to the news media, and how easily the media can be manipulated by special interests. Meticulously documented and dispassionately argued, this volume marks a watershed in the discussion of an issue of enormous current interest, one that will not disappear from the headlines any time soon.