Sexual Assaults Raise Troubling Questions

By Dave Moller
Downloaded March 7, 2003

Many questions surround the problem of Catholic priests who have sex with children and teens.

Does a priest sworn to celibacy easily turn to children for sexual gratification?

Are sex abusers of children and teens drawn to the priesthood?

Those questions are addressed in an interview widely published by the Catholic Church with Dr. Frederick S. Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital's Sexual Disorders Clinic and director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma.

Sister Maryanne Walsh from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops interviewed Berlin in 1997. Here are some of the points that come from that interview.

Berlin said there is no sound evidence that sex abusers are attracted to the priesthood.

However, "There's been speculation that perhaps some people who are having a difficult time in dealing with sexual feelings deceive themselves into thinking that it will become a non-issue if they take vows of celibacy and become priests. I suppose that's possible.

"On the other hand, I don't know of any evidence that shows it to be the case that there's a higher prevalence of conditions such as pedophilia within the priesthood than outside of it."

Asked if celibacy creates sexual frustrations that lead to sex abuse of minors, Berlin said, "If Catholicism embraces celibacy as something important, that has to be respected. It may, however, require assisting people. It may be more complicated than 'just say no.'

"We may need to counsel and assist people in achieving what is indeed for many a very difficult state to maintain. Pedophilia isn't caused by celibacy, but celibacy can lead to sexual frustration and tension. Some celibates may need help in learning how to deal with this in a healthy, constructive, positive fashion."

Berlin said there are no common features or ages among sex abusers but "Most priests that I've seen have begun to act on these attractions by the time they're in their early 20s or certainly their mid-20s."

Asked what "red flags" Catholics should watch for, Berlin said if a member of the clergy "shows an extra interest in a youth, wants the youngster to stay over at any time under unchaperoned circumstances, wants to separate this young person from the family rather than being part of the family structure - any of these should be red flags."

Parents and parishioners shouldn't allow unchaperoned situations in general and should "let your children know that they ought to talk with you if somebody approaches them in a sexual way," no matter who they are.

There is no cure for pedophilia, but there is effective treatment, Berlin said. Those afflicted have to deal with it like alcoholics deal with liquor, stay away from places where it exists and situations that present it.

Toward those ends, Berlin said, the church must see to it that priests who have molested children should never be placed in any situations with them again.


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