If you’ve ever wondered what a lobotomy in print form looks like, search no further than this tedious, rambling piece in The American Spectator by Daniel Oliver. The author strokes his chin, at great length, over the question of why, in all The New York Times‘ recent reporting on sexual abuse by priests, “the word ‘homosexual’ does not appear a single time in all the articles the Times has run since the story first broke.” He likens the omission to Sherlock Holmes’ “curious incident” of the dog which conspicuously failed to bark at night. Oliver notes, by way of possible explanation, Bill Keller’s (correct) 2002 assertion that “there is no known connection between pedophilia and homosexuality,” but then makes painfully clear in the following paragraph that he has utterly missed the point:
The Times may believe that, but other experts –and probably most Americans — would disagree. Besides, that’s not exactly the issue. The issue is whether there’s a connection between the homosexuality of the priests and the molestation of the boys.
First, no, serious experts, unlike scientifically defrocked frauds like Paul Cameron, do not disagree. Second, Oliver has obviously—somehow—failed to grasp that the priests who molested boys were almost certainly not “homosexual” in any sense that’s relevant to the argument of the piece, because in general “the adult male who sexually molests young boys is not likely to be homosexual.” I’m not sure how he could have missed this with even trivial due diligence research, since it’s the overwhelming consensus among sexuality researchers, but let’s walk through it slowly, since some people seem to have enormous difficulty wrapping their heads around the point.
Suppose—just work with me for a second here—you are studying some men who compulsively have sex with goats. You might, out of scientific curiosity, want to discover whether there was any correlation between the sexual orientation of the men and their unusual predilection. The obviously wrong way to go about discovering this is to ask: “Well, were they mostly boy goats, or girl goats?” Because the whole goat thing is really best conceived as its own rather disturbed “orientation,” with no necessary connection to whatever preference one might have between humanoids.
So it is with pedophilia. If by “male homosexuality” we mean a general sexual attraction to other men, then pedophiles—including the abusive priests Oliver discusses—are not homosexual. Research shows that men who molest young boys overwhelmingly either have no sexual interest in adults, or are heterosexual in their adult orientation. So consistent is this finding that one group of researchers posited that “homosexuality and homosexual pedophilia may be mutually exclusive.” Evey now and again, a phony “study” purports to “discover” a link between homosexuality and pedophilia, and invariably these “studies” proceed by simply classifying male abusers of male children as “homosexual” without inquiring into any adult attraction. So when Oliver asks “Are most child molesters in the Catholic Church homosexuals?”—the correct answer, if you have the first notion what you’re talking about, is that probably few or none of them are.
Folks like Oliver, who do not have the first notion what they are talking about, invariably find this argument maddening: “Homosexual” means what they damn well say it means, and on that definition a man who molests a boy is “homosexual” as a matter of pure deductive logic, whatever those dumb old “scientists” say. One would be tempted to humor this sort of foot-stamping if it were a purely semantic question, but Oliver obviously thinks it has predictive value:
Isn’t this the key question: Are homosexual priests more likely to molest children than non-homosexual priests? If we don’t know, shouldn’t we find out? Because if they are, wouldn’t it make sense to pay special attention to the assignments given to homosexual priests.
But we do already know the answer to this question, and the answer is an unequivocal “no”—a point on which American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists and the American Psychological Association agree. If by “homosexual” we mean “people who are known to be attracted to adult men,” then we know that they are not more likely, and indeed, quite possibly less likely to molest children. If we expand the term to cover “men who are known to be attracted to young boys”—then, obviously, those people should not be allowed within a country mile of a child unsupervised. But at this point presumably even the Church has figured that much out. Oliver’s question only makes sense if he means “homosexual” in the first sense. And fortunately, we don’t need to ask the question or “find out,” because all the research shows there’s essentially no overlap between “homosexuals” in that sense and abusers of young boys. So again, in the only sense of the term that makes the core argument of the piece intelligible, the abusive priests Oliver is talking about are almost certainly not “homosexual.” That is, they probably lack any adult same-sex attraction by which they might have been identified before their obsessions with children were discovered. Even if you want to insist on the broader sense of “homosexual,” the argument would obviously collapse if Oliver had been constrained to specify, in each case, whether he meant “men known to be attracted to boys” or “men known to be attracted to adult men” or both.
This is not, to put it mildly, terribly obscure or secret information. It is the sort of thing a minimally competent high school student doing a research paper would have discovered via a Google search. Even if Oliver wants to claim the scientists have somehow got it all wrong, there is no intellectually honest way to make the argument he wants to make without at least facing up to this finding explicitly.
So there are two possibilities. The first is that Oliver is miraculously innocent of this point, because he did not do even this minimal sort of research, and nobody at the Spectator saw fit to exercise a scintilla of editorial oversight before running the piece. The second possibility is that Oliver is aware of this scientific consensus that same-sex pedophiles typically lack any adult same-sex attraction, but that he and the Spectator are sufficiently contemptuous of both their readers’ intelligence and basic journalistic standards that it seemed safe to simply refuse to mention this fact—let alone make any substantive attempt to address it—lest it get in the way of some gay-bashing, Times-bashing red meat. I leave it to the reader to decide which alternative is more embarrassing.
Addendum: At a second look, it’s even worse that I’m making it out to be. Oliver’s basis for concluding that one of the abusive priests in question “is homosexual” comes from a memo in which a superior suggests that he “could be allowed to teach religion ‘at a girls’ school.’” Here, the kind of confusion Oliver engages in could well have put more children in danger. Because while it’s possible that the pedophile priest in question was only interested in molesting boys, it is also possible that he had simply had greater access to boys at that point. In that case, failure to understand the distinction between a male abuser of (thus far) male children and “a homosexual” could well have put more children at risk. How blinkered and morally dead inside do you need to be to read this grotesque suggestion that a known child rapist be placed in a position of authority over more children and react with outrage… at The New York Times?
Addendum II: I should note that if we’re talking about cases where the victims of abuse were teenagers, then the abusers might not be “true” pedophiles in the clinical sense. It is, of course, rightly frowned upon for adults to be attracted to 16-year-olds of either gender, but it is not pathological. Since the victim of the priest in question here was 11 years old, however, that’s not relevant to this case.