Dialogue 03
How Priests Justify Having Sex

When considering the sexual abuse of minors by priests, or even the activity of men who hold themselves out as “celibate,” I have been asked innumerable times “How can they do that?” It is a good question and one that the Church has not faced squarely. The self-justifications sexually active priests make for their activities are more than mystifying and amazing; they remain rationalizations no matter how they slice it that is: a defense mechanism whereby people attempt to hide their true motivations and emotions by providing reasonable or self-justifying explanations for irrational or unacceptable behavior. They are astounding, unbelievable and difficult to listen to. Here are a few:

bullet A priest consoling a victim after sex said, “Priests are only human.”
bullet A priest after anally raping a 13 year-old boy said, “It’s OK. We are only men. We all have our needs and desires.”
bullet Another priest told a young man he invited to his bed, “There’s nothing wrong with men showing affection to each other physically.”
bullet One priest who attempted to explain to his victim why the anal sex he had with him was all right said, “It was not a sin, because there was no chance of procreation—no chance of pregnancy so our acts were not sinful.”
bullet Yet another priest invited a young boy with this line, “Priests need hugs; we are lonely and have needs.” That was the beginning of a long relationship marked by anal and oral sex.
bullet There are multiple examples of priests telling their sexual partner—and themselves—that the behavior is all about love. “This is an example of how much God loves you.”
bullet A priest told a young girl (teen) he was having intercourse with, “This will show you how much Jesus loves you, because I am a priest.”
bullet One priest was trying to demonstrate the same point to a young girl he was abusing when he touched her genitals with what he said was a consecrated host.
bullet Another priest with a twisted interest in enemas—giving and getting them—told his victims that he was using Holy Water and it was an “internal blessing.”

Spiritual direction and Confession are not neutral or safe areas of interaction for a person with a priest. A priest can serve a great number of people responsibly only to have a few he violates. But violation in that setting and under the guise of spirituality is singularly destructive. The priest using the vulnerability of a penitent is particularly culpable. But priests justify their betrayal by saying, “They (the victims) wanted it.” “They were experienced.” “I only gave them what they wanted.” The latter is the recorded statement of a priest who admitted he had 300 minor victims.

“Friendship” is the excuse for many abuses. The context of seminary training is the occasion of a great deal of sexual activity that is not identified as abuse because the priest and the seminary student are friends. Friendship and common spiritual language justify the behavior. This same dynamic shows itself between the priest and women—single or married.

bullet “I was only trying to give them good sex education,” one priest said. Another took the same tack, “I wanted to show him that sex was good and holy.”
bullet Secrecy also serves as an excuse for priests’ sexual activity. “It’s all right for us as long as no one else knows.”  “Nobody gets hurt.” 
bullet One priest had an elaborate rationalization. He called his intercourse with a minor girl a “reserved embrace.” He explained that although he ejaculated he did not give his emotions to the girl and thus his action did not violate his celibacy.

Even some theologians reduce the sexual violation of a priest to a mere “sin against chastity” (just like every other Catholic) and not a violation of celibacy. This interpretation is directly contrary to canon 277 and defies the common sense of normal people. The average well informed Catholic does not consider a priest who is having intercourse with a woman or man, let alone a child, as being celibate. Yet a priest on the Canon Law faculty of Catholic University (2006) proposed this exact rationalization.

There is a very sophisticated theological rationalization that a priest reported; the famous Jesuit Bernard Lonergan gave a lecture on the “Single Celibate” in Rome. He made the distinction between good, bad and indifferent acts differentiating between actus humanus, (a human act: that is an act of decision, whose source is in rational knowledge and free will.) and actus hominum (an act of a human being that involuntarily occurs without responsibility; as a natural function). This is the kind of philosophical distinction that underpins a great deal of duplicity for clergy.

bullet One priest had the habit each year of singling out 6th grade girls to help him in the parish. Laying with one or the other on the coach and holding them close to him he would have an ejaculation. When asked about his responsibility he said, “It just happened.” He further justified himself by saying, “We had our clothes on.” He insisted it was all right even after girls said they were bothered because they could feel his erection.
bullet Many priests when confronted with their actions plead, “He (she) must have misunderstood.” This was the excuse Rep. Mark Foley’s priest-abuser conjured when confronted about his association with Foley when he was 11 or 12 years old. The priest, like many other abusing priests, insists that there is “nothing wrong” with “skinning dipping or sleeping nude” together. Most parents would insist, “Not with my son you don’t. Not with my daughter!”

Posted: 2006-12-11

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