Attacking the Questions

April 4, 2002

By Howie Mansfield
In a recent interview with The Catholic Sun, Father Neal Quartier, ACSW-R., Ph.D., offered insights into the current allegations of sex abuse of minors by priests. Father Quartier is the director of the Personal Resource Center, a psychotherapy center for priests and religious of the Syracuse Diocese. He is also director of Seminarian Formation which involves the acceptance and follow-through of our seminarians to ordination. Father Quartier also serves as administrator of St. John the Evangelist Parish on the northside of Syracuse.

Could you explain the difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia? Very good question. There is much information out there that is wildly misleading. A “fixated pedophile” is a person attracted soley to prepubescent children — children with no sexual characteristics. The media continues to call the crisis a “pedophile crisis” when the truth is that priests accused of being fixated pedophiles are rare. John Geoghan of Boston, who is also probably a sociopath, is a rare case. Out of those priests who sexually abuse minors the majority are considered “regressed ephebophiles.” The fixated pedophile has a primary sexual orientation towards children and rarely, if ever, engages in sex with age-appropriate adults. The regressed ephebophile has a primary sexual orientation toward age-appropriate adults of the opposite sex, but under conditions of extreme stress may psychologically regress and episodically engage in sex with minors.

The stresses in a priest’s life may lead to regressive sexual acting out with a teenager or child due to their availability and vulnerability. When you hear that Boston has released the names of 80 priests who have been involved in sexual abuse, what you are hearing is not that 80 priests are pedophiles. You are hearing that 80 priests have acted out sexually, in some cases only once, with a teenager. This is obviously very wrong and totally inappropriate but must be contrasted with the sadism and aggression that is often connected to pedophilia. It is because of this distinction that treatment centers have told bishops that some priests can return to ministry. There are models of treatment that deal with regressed sexuality. After long-term treatment wherein the stressors that caused the sexual regression are understood and healed and combined with correct supervision, priests have been allowed back into ministry. Unfortunately, the dreadful errors of the Boston Archdiocese have compromised any good work that treatment centers have been doing. The Chicago Archdiocese in the early 1990s conducted a bold study of its priests over a 40 year time span. Of 2,200 priests, 40 were accused of sexual misconduct — which is 1.8 percent. Of those 40 accused — no evidence in 98 percent of their priests — only one of those 40 priests was found to be a pedophile.

According to Father Canice Connors, OFM Conv., who is the former director of St. Luke’s Institute in Silver Springs, Md., — of 100 priests accused, three would qualify as predators, 6 as fixated pedophiles and 91 would more accurately be diagnosed as ephebophiles. Dr. Leslie Lothstein, Director of Psychology at Hartford Hospital wrote, “From a clinical standpoint, ephebophiles have a good prognosis for treatment and many, if not most, can be returned to active ministry.” This is the statement that most bishops worked with in allowing a priest to return to ministry. Obviously, this does not and never would apply to a fixated pedophile.

Clinically speaking, what is the profile of a typical sex abuser? The average child abuser is young, well educated, middle class, ethnically diverse, employed in a stable job at a good salary and Caucasian (61 percent). The person is commonly respectable and law abiding. This is why so many escape detection.

Please explain the evolution of the definition and treatment of pedophilia from the 1960s and 70s to today. As we look at this issue we must be aware of the radical change in attitudes toward sexual abuse that occurred during the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, in his book, Pedophiles and Priests — Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis wrote: “Contemporary theories about the nature and prevalence of sexual exploitation have been established only since the late 1970s and they marked a dramatic reversal of the notions prevailing between about 1955 and 1975. In turn, these views were very different from the ideas of the previous quarter century. The history of public attitudes toward sex offenses can with some oversimplification be summarized as shifting from near-panic in the 1930s to complacency in the 1960s, and back to panic in the 1980s. Many of the clergy abuse incidents occurred in the age of complacency, but the resulting scandals occurred in the later era.” Between 1950 and 1977, mainstream professional opinion did not regard child sexual molestation as a serious danger or indeed as a significant social problem. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that modern concepts of child abuse gained recognition and began to be disseminated in the mass media. It was at this time that there was increased funding for research and prevention. It wasn’t until 1974 that Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

The response of the Catholic Church prior to the mid-1980s was one of “pray and it will go away.” In this day and age this sounds terribly naive yet one must put this into the context of the prevailing attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s when psychology was less sophisticated and when child abuse was seen simply as a moral failing for which one should be repentant rather than a psychological addiction for which treatment was mandatory. Little scholarship was available and religious leaders acted on the assumption that adult sexual activity with children was quite a rare phenomenon. When it did occur it was dealt with as a sin needing penance. Philip Jenkins wrote: “Before the 1980s church people usually viewed sexual offenses against minors as isolated moral lapses calling for prayer, a motivational talk, and great will power.” The Diagnostic Statistical Manual used by therapists did not recognize sexual disorders as a separate classification until after 1980. Before that time they were seen as part of an overall personality disturbance. This lack of clarity regarding diagnosis was confusing for the courts and the lawyers. Professionals debated whether children were truly traumatized. Many molesters were untreated and unpunished. The adult was always believed and a priest had his hands slapped and was moved to another parish. In the 1980s Patrick Carnes wrote his book on sexual addiction and opened the field to research. Treatment models were constructed. The church would send priests to one of many treatment centers around the country. Treatment centers made diagnoses and helped bishops understand which priests could be successfully treated and returned to ministry. It was no longer pray and it will go away. It now became — let us understand what the real issues are — let us see if the priest can be successfully treated — let us make sure that whatever ministry he is placed back into he is not a threat to children. Obviously some grave errors happened on the part of some dioceses in this regard. Unfortunately, what people perceive is that those 80 names that the Boston cardinal gave to the press were 80 pedophiles. They were 80 names of men who had some kind of sexual problem. A good majority of them were probably treated successfully and function very well. Unfortunately because of the dreadful errors made regarding the minority of pedophiles, all of the good work of treatment centers suffers. It is because of the failure to deal with a minority of sensational cases who are pedophiles that the public now looks upon all sexual abuse cases as the worst kind of pedophile.

Many of the cases of sexual misconduct coming out now, occurred before the 1990s. What is the significance? Is it related to society’s changing view of the priesthood? Before the 1980s, according to Jenkins, “police and prosecutors were usually reluctant to offend so powerful a constituent as the local Catholic church … the media found itself in the same situation.” The Gauthe case in Louisiana (1984) changed all of this and the Catholic Church no longer had the traditional protections. There was a snowball effect. The sensational pedophile cases — Gauthe, Porter and Geoghan — caught national attention. It was because of the national outrage of these cases that others who had been sexually abused felt free to go public. They did not feel alone. Many cases that were 10 to sometimes even 50 years old came to public light. Many false accusations also came forth at this time. The majority of those which were credible were not the same sadistic molestation of the sensational cases.

All sexual abuse is wrong. It is important to make distinctions. The numbers sound fantastic but one must put them into perspective. We are still talking about one to three percent of priests have been found guilty of sexual misconduct. Unfortunately, many mistakes have been made with this small group and must not be made again.

Could part of the decline of numbers of seminarians be related to the newer screening process over the last decade? Certainly in the Syracuse Diocese we have a rigid screening process and all candidates who apply are not accepted. Some are outright rejected, while others are asked to finish college and/or seek psychotherapy before reapplying. Some dioceses no longer accept men before they finish college, believing that a normal co-educational college experience is healthy for a young man. I believe that newer screening processes play a small role in the decline of seminarians, but not a major one.

Explain the screening process for seminarians in the Syracuse Diocese. We require a lengthy autobiography of at least 20 pages. The autobiography must deal with family background, religious and spiritual background, academic background, drug and alcohol use, and questions are asked about their psycho-sexual development. They undergo a process of psychological testing with myself and with two other therapists, another psychologist and a psychiatrist who are not priests. The psychiatrist is not Catholic. We send out reference letters to their pastors, teachers, employers, etc. We do a criminal background test. They have two interviews by members of the Seminary Review Committee. If they are accepted by the diocese they then have to be accepted by the the seminary. There have been occasions when the seminary has not accepted men that we have. They sometimes see things that we might miss. After two years of theology we bring the seminarian home for one full pastoral year in a parish. The seminarian completes a 10-week Clinical Pastoral Education unit in a hospital setting someplace usually on the East Coast. In the spring of his pastoral year he is then given a new set of psychological testing to see what his growth has been and also his strengths and weaknesses. During the seminary many of our men are in psychotherapy and this often continues during the pastoral year. I visit each seminary twice a year and meet with the students’ mentor for discussions on their growth. I also meet with the rector of each seminary twice a year.

Why are the majority of sexual abuse cases against teenage boys? What does this say about homosexuality? This is an interesting and important question. Dr. Leslie Lothstein from the Institute of Living helps us put some perspective on this issue. In his work with priests he writes that we cannot treat same-sex pedophilia and ephebophilia as equivalent to homosexuality. His research concludes that adult males who target boys as sex objects are not necessarily homosexual in orientation. “These men appear to be qualitatively different in their sexual orientation than adult males who identify as homosexuals and have sex with age-appropriate males. One can almost speak of a fourth kind of sexual orientation (in addition to heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual) which is related to the age of the sexual object chosen.” Lothstein points out that homosexuality is only indirectly related to pedophilia or ephebophilia. He talks of a “specific kind of age-related sexual orientation qualitatively distinct from either homosexuality or heterosexuality.” In working with priests, the majority of whom are not pedophiles, he has discovered that much of their acting out can properly be labeled as “regressive sexuality.” Their primary sexual orientation is towards age appropriate adults of the opposite sex but when they find themselves under extreme stress they may regress and episodically engage in sex with teenagers. The reason for this is that teenagers are available and vulnerable. Lothstein also writes of the impact of seminary training 20 or 30 years ago. The messages given were that women were dangerous and a threat to celibacy. Thus, priests were warned early in their training to avoid intimate relationships especially with women. This fear of becoming heterosexually involved with a woman at times led a priest to involvement with a teenage boy to protect his celibacy. The priest would rationalize this behavior and tell himself that celibacy is only broken with a woman or that sex with boys was not really sex and not sinful or evil. Obviously other issues come forth from this perspective — a priest’s training, his psycho-sexual integration and the stresses in lifestyle that threaten his ability to be celibate.

How do you think our diocesan screening process rates with other dioceses in New York State? I believe it is one of the toughest and I have been criticized for being so tough and demanding a second round of screening after the pastoral year. Yet, my work at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., gave me the impetus to put together a very tough process. I have seen too many people suffer because the screening was so very lax many years ago.

Is the current diocesan screening process adequate in keeping pedophiles out of parishes? There is no test that is able to tell us beyond a doubt that a person is a pedophile. We constantly look for signs of mature psycho-sexual development. We look to see how these men relate to adults and to women. We depend on lay involvement during their pastoral year to help us make decisions about the readiness of our candidates.

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