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The Curious Incident at the American Spectator

April 13th, 2010 · 31 Comments

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.

Tags: Religion · Science · Sexual Politics



31 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Drew // Apr 13, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Oliver clearly meant the “shouldn’t we find out?” to be a rhetorical question. The answer to that question being “no, because I’ve already invested heavily in paying special attention to what I think of as homosexual priests… and it would be a real shame for all this work to go for nothing.”

    Old school, new school, I think the real digital divide these days is between people that actually even think to DO self-skeptical background research at all launching a rant, and those that don’t.

  • 2 Pedophilia and homosexuality are not the same thing - E.D. Kain - American Times - True/Slant // Apr 13, 2010 at 10:48 am

    […] Sanchez has a rousing rebuke to this nonsense at the American Spectator. Daniel Oliver resuscitates the tired old and much […]

  • 3 Barry // Apr 13, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Julian, I’m reminded of Daniel Davies’ remark (http://d-squareddigest.blogspot.com/2004_05_23_d-squareddigest_archive.html):

    “The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.”

    The American Spectator is basically a pack of liars, and should be treated as such. This doesn’t mean that they might occasionally say something truthful, just that anything they say should be assumed to be a lie until proven true beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • 4 Jake // Apr 13, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    It is, of course, rightly frowned upon for adults to be attracted to 16-year-olds of either gender…

    Can you say more about this? Should it be frowned upon for adults to be attracted to 18-year-olds? I ask because this assertion feels more like cultural conditioning than anything else, and 16-year-olds (like 18-year-olds, or 21-year-olds) seem to vary widely in their perceived or demonstrated maturity. It also doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with the topic at hand.

  • 5 Your Tuesday Random-Ass Roundup: Fire And Diesel « PostBourgie // Apr 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    […] claim about the causes of the Catholic priest pedophilia coverup.” And Julian Sanchez does the same to Daniel Oliver at The American Spectator. Out in the street, they call it murder. […]

  • 6 K. Chen // Apr 13, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    It is, of course, rightly frowned upon for adults to be attracted to 16-year-olds of either gender…

    Its perfectly natural for adults, starting 18 and moving onward to be attracted to attractive 16 year olds of their preference. The problem is them doing something about it. Pedophilia – the attraction to prepubescent children is a distinct pathology from an attraction to teenagers.

  • 7 Julian Sanchez // Apr 13, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    As with all “age of consent” issues, any society-wide bright line is going to have to (1) seem somewhat arbitrary—why not 18.3? why not 17.8?—and (2) end up including the least mature too soon while excluding the most mature for longer than is proper. Of course, how mature a 16 year old will itself be a partial function of “cultural conditioning.”

    That said, we know from neurological research that the brain really does change in the late teens and early 20s to better integrate emotion and reason in decisionmaking, and there are all sorts of reasons why someone of college/working age is unlikely to experience the kind of extreme power differential that, in our culture, would exist between a 15-y.o. and a 25-y.o. You certainly might imagine people given a specific fact pattern judging an attraction to a very mature 17-y.o. less harshly than to an immature 19-y.o. who’s an emotional mess. But insofar as we’re talking about general society-wide norms, I think the one we’ve got makes a fair amount of sense, especially given that it meshes with a whole bunch of other rules about when young adults take on a whole range of social rights and responsibilities.

  • 8 Julian Sanchez // Apr 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    K. Chen-
    Yes, that was precisely my point.

  • 9 ADF Alliance Alert » Andrew Sullivan “blames the gays” for Catholic sex scandal? // Apr 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    […] on the “relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia.” Today, Sullivan links to this post from blogger Julian Sanchez [Research Fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and contributing […]

  • 10 “Pedophilia,” “Homosexuality” and the Catholic Abuse Scandal « The NLGJA Blog // Apr 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    […] Julian Sanchez does a nice job of fisking a disjointed attack on the New York Times by the American Spectator’s Daniel Oliver where […]

  • 11 Vast Variety // Apr 13, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    The problem for people like Oliver is that they simply see Homosexuality as a mater of behavior and not as an element of a person’s identity.

  • 12 Candia // Apr 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    In answer to Jake (comment 4): I think a fact that has so far been to little mentioned is that it is not only an issue of pedophilia, but also of abuse of the position of authority the priest is in and has over these kids. In that case it doesn’t even matter how old the child/teen is. There also have been cases reported of priests molesting adult women in their capacity as priestly caretaker, which is another example of them abusing their position of autority.

  • 13 justme // Apr 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Check out the short video “Protect the Children (and mean it)”. More at http://wakingupnow.com.

  • 14 Chaney // Apr 13, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Wow, what a horribly muddled post. Some facts might help you.


  • 15 JFE // Apr 13, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Speaking of Sullivan, he has addressed much of these issues in many of his posts, including this one that I think is the best:


    One of Sullivan’s points grades closely to the fact that one cannot tell if these priests are heterosexual or homosexual, they simply have not had the ability to develop their sexuality into adult norms. We are all very familiar with our own adolescence, Sullivan asserts that these priests had none, making their sexual escapades with children seem more like a very, very bad thing that they did rather than a crime against those children.

    To the topic of homosexuality, it’s quite possible (and this is me talking) that some of those priests who abused young/teenaged boys are homosexual. However, in the context of the church, they are simply not allowed to develop sexually. As Sullivan points out, heterosexuality in the Church is ordered, homosexuality is disordered. As a heterosexual, you are supposed, and more important, you are encouraged, to be interested in girls your age, whether you’re 13 or 30. As a homosexual, when you become interested in the same sex at 13 or 15 or 17, this is seen as bad and against nature. As Sullivan asserts, if you’re not interested in marriage to the opposite sex, where else are you supposed to go except the priesthood?

    And so priests are stunted sexually. Bill Donohue can say, “These are homosexual priests because they had sex with post-pubsecent boys.” This is what K. Chen seems to be saying in post #6, when he says, “The problem is them doing something about it,” which I assume means the priests acting on their homosexual behavior. These priests were attracted to adolescent boys, they must be homosexual. Sanchez makes this point in Addendum II. And they might be right, but please agree with me that homosexual and heterosexuals are not allowed on the same playing field. Imagine, for a moment, as a teenage boy, if you:

    • First expressed a desire for a girl, you were met with shame, possibly beatings, by your mother and father
    • Could not publicly hold hands with a girl that you liked
    • Could not kiss that girl in front of others without being shamed
    • Told that if you have sex with any girl, you will burn in hell
    • Forbidden by your parents to marry any girl in the future

    This may not be what gay people today face, but it’s certainly what many of these priests we are talking about faced when they entered the priesthood thirty, forty, fifty, or a hundred years ago. Heterosexual attraction is enshrined in a sacrament; homosexual attraction, that is, attraction between two adult, or nearly adult, males, is intrinsically disordered. So while the adult male heterosexual may be attracted to the sixteen year old, he has had decades worth of trial and error, support from friends, not to mention a wife, to rightly dismiss this attraction. The male homosexual attracted to the sixteen year old has none of these.

    Sanchez is right; how can we possibly compare?

  • 16 Erros de pensamento « Notas ao café… // Apr 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    […] a pensar assim. Sobre o assunto e em resposta a Daniel Oliver no American Spectator, Julian Sanchez escreve algo que merece ser lido na […]

  • 17 4-13-2010 The Day in Review | F i a t Lux // Apr 13, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    […] Sanchez takes issue with this American Spectator piece about the New York Times and Catholic […]

  • 18 Anonymous for obvious reasons // Apr 14, 2010 at 5:26 am

    I’m a 40-year-old homosexual man who masturbates on weekend mornings to hot men who occasionally walk past my window.

    When the hot men are pushing a stroller, I still masturbate because I can’t see the baby in the stroller.

    But when they walk past with their young child, I stop all masturbating and turn away because it is a COMPLETE AND UTTER TURN OFF, the same way when a heterosexual couple are fucking and their child unexpectedly barges into the room and jumps on the bed.

    There. I hope that clears up the homosexuality / pedophilia connection once and for all.

  • 19 Grabski // Apr 14, 2010 at 8:34 am

    The John Jay report notes that 81% of abuse was same sex, and that 70% were over 11 years of age. But this author quotes research that claims heterosexuals prey on boys in the 9-11 age group.

    What to make of that data, then?

  • 20 Candia // Apr 14, 2010 at 11:18 am

    to Gabrski (comment 19): Part of the reasoning, as I understand it, is that young, pre-pubescent boys have more “feminine” characteristics which trigger different attractions than post-pubescent boys who more clearly resemble males and therefore trigger directly the “homosexual” issue. And also, priests, in general, have easier and oftener access to boys than girls.

  • 21 Regan DuCasse // Apr 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Any law enforcement or rape expert will tell you…sexual abuse is about POWER and CONTROL, not attraction to the object of abuse.

    Even if it’s between adults, the sexual orientation and gender DO NOT MATTER.

    Since children are vulnerable, weaker and have been entrusted to priests, the opportunity to abuse them is greater. That’s all.

    And, let me be VERY clear: men who have abused boys, perceived the BOY to be gay, certainly weak and the man usually has identified as heterosexual. A similar scenario to prison rape. Same sex rape in those instances, and in much of them regarding priests, again is about overpowering, humiliating and controlling the victim.

    In the larger sense, this is what goes on against gays and lesbians who are socio/politically weaker, and more vulnerable as young people.
    Gay children are isolated, bullied and are emotionally indoctrinated towards self loathing and insecurity and confusion.

    And, this is also about sexual immaturity and arrested emotional development when it comes to adults and teenagers. As in the case of females like school teachers who become sexually involved with their students. This is another level of disparity in power and social status, but the adult is still the adult and therefore the one to be held accountable.

    The issue of female ephebaphiles isn’t taken nearly as seriously as it should be. There is literally a wink and a smile, and men especially don’t consider it damaging to teen boys as they would if the teacher were a MALE.

    Homosexuals have been convenient scapegoats and regardless that hetero men and women can and do abuse children in their care (even their own children), they are not subject to the same standards and scrutiny that gay men (especially) are.

    I agree that accepting homosexuality as a DIFFERENCE, rather than something abnormal, threatening or evil is a place to start.

    Removing gender and sexual orientation bias when it comes to examining sex crimes against children and forming alliances between BOTH gay and straight adults in the protection of children would do more to solve the problem than continuing to ‘blame the gays’ for the failures of the majority straight world in realistically dealing with anything about sexuality.

  • 22 Julian Sanchez // Apr 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    The older the victims are—certainly as we start talking about 15 and 16 year olds—the more plausible it becomes that an abuser in that case might have been a predatory gay man, in the sense of someone who has same-sex attractions to adults. No doubt that description fits some of the abusers—you’d have to go case by case, I suppose. I’m not claiming that no abusive priests were gay, but rather that Oliver’s assumption that abusers of boys are ipso facto gay is ignorant and misleading—and under the circumstances, a rather outrageous attempt at scapegoating.

  • 23 Dara // Apr 14, 2010 at 11:40 pm


    Sorry I’m a bit late to this, but I was wondering if you firmly believe this:

    “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. ”

    Really? Does it make sense to draw that line based on the attraction itself, rather than acting on it?

  • 24 Grabski // Apr 15, 2010 at 7:39 am

    Julian The social science data are telling us heterosexual men are abusive of boys in the 9-11 age group.

    Is there social science research that makes the distinction that you do, that homosexuals only have “same-sex attractions to adults” It would seem that drawing a definitional line for homosexuality between adult and teen is arbitrary unless backed up by scientific research.

  • 25 Julian Sanchez // Apr 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Yeah, I think probably. Why would you put someone in the position of having to constantly resist that temptation? For that matter, why would someone who’s sexually attracted to children want to be in that position, unless they did intend to act on it?

  • 26 K. Chen // Apr 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Really? Does it make sense to draw that line based on the attraction itself, rather than acting on it?

    This is roughly the same question of “does it make sense to let people who have an urge to fly airplanes into the ground fly airplanes?”

    While you might waffle a bit on determining irresistible that urge is as the cut off point, its worth remembering that that urge is inherently destructive. When we’re talking about attraction to children, we’re talking about something inherently pathological.

  • 27 Dara // Apr 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    “why would someone who’s sexually attracted to children want to be in that position, unless they did intend to act on it?”

    There are all sorts of situations in which, without deliberately intending to position oneself near children, one could find oneself “within a country mile” of them. I know this seems like an uncharitable reading, but given that sex-offender laws really do regulate how close one can live to a school, forgive me for not intuitively understanding where you’d draw the line.

    I’m just extremely wary of the thoughtcrime aspect of this. As it stands today, someone who discovers himself to be sexually attracted to children but understands this to be a pathology has no incentive to seek treatment or other coping mechanisms, because it is so easy to be labeled a sex offender and the stigma associated with sex-offender status is overwhelming and legally enforced. That’s a problem, and it seems logical to me that it would make it _more_ likely that such people would find their impulses impossible to control.

    Do I think a church official or other employer should think twice before hiring someone with such an attraction to a position in which he or she will be supervising children? Probably. (Of course, plenty of professions–including the priesthood–include supervision of children as a secondary duty, and ideally there would be ways to tailor job duties to minimize unsupervised contact rather than locking them out of such professions entirely.)

  • 28 Kevin // Apr 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Aren’t you engaging in some semantics here? Suppose that a priest engaged in sexual conduct with a 17 year old boy on the eve of the boy’s 18th birthday. According to this piece, the priest is not a homosexual because the boy is 17 and hence not an adult. But then the priest engages in sexual conduct the next day, when the boy has turned 18; has this fact suddenly changed the priest into a homosexual?

    It seems to me that a distinction should be drawn between someone attracted to young children and someone attracted to older children (perhaps 14 and over) who are more like adults. I agree that the homo/hetero question for someone attracted to young children is irrelevant; but for someone attracted to older children, it does seem relevant.

  • 29 Introduction to American Spectator | American Spectator Guidelines & Toolbox // Jul 12, 2010 at 7:37 am

    […] The Curious Incident at the American Spectator der sense of 8220homosexual8221 the argument would obviously collapse if Oliver had been constrained to specify in each case whether he meant 8220men known to be attracted to boys8221 or 8220men known to be attracted to adult men8221 or both.This is not to put it mildly terribly obscure or secret information. It is the… […]

  • 30 Anonymous // Oct 12, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    […] of Logic. Some analysts like Justin Sanchez purport to have debunked this evidence. Sanchez claims research shows that men who molest young boys […]

  • 31 プロペシア通販 // Sep 24, 2011 at 12:35 am

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