US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The problem with "normal" when it comes to sex abuse in Germany

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

News that psychological profiles of German priests who abused young people are by and large "psychologically normal" is raising eyebrows overseas. While 12 percent of abusive priests could be classified as pedophiles (compulsively sexually attracted to prepubescent children) and 5 percent as ephebophiles (attracted to teenagers), more than 80 percent showed no signs of a psychological disorder. (If you are wondering, 54 percent identified as heterosexual, 37 as homosexual, and 9 as bisexual.) Victims advocate Norbert Denef of Netzwerk B blamed the results on the fact that the German bishops provided the statistics. "You wouldn't ask the mafia to investigate its own crimes," he said, according to Reuters.

The German church will doubtless have failed in many ways when the truth is fully revealed, but a piece of me isn't surprised that most of the priests turned out to be "normal"--normal, that is, because the sexual abuse of young people is still fairly commonplace, and perpetrators are not likely to all be suffering some diagnosable psychological disorder. The problem with "normal" is that some adults, many of them men, think it is "normal" to have sex with someone underage when given the right place and time. In fact, it is so "normal" that as many as 1 in 4 woman and 1 in 7 or 8 men in the U.S. experience some form of inappropriate sexual contact before they are 18.

That's why, in the final analysis, it's best to think of child sexual abuse as a crime of opportunity. Good psychological screening will keep some perpetrators out of the seminary system, but that's no substitute for good policies that promote the safety and well-being of children everywhere, including at church. The best way to prevent child sexual abuse is to reduce the opportunity for it--which is why, incidentally, we should come down with both feet on church officials who continue to skirt good policy when it suits them. (All eyes should now turn toward the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri.)