Mythical 81%

On November 23, the Catholic League released the following to the press.

"According to news reports, the Vatican document says that while homosexuals must be respected, the Catholic Church 'cannot admit to seminaries and to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, who present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or who support the so-called gay culture.'"

"There is little doubt that most practicing Catholics will welcome this decision. The Vatican is prudent not to have an absolute ban on admission of homosexuals to the priesthood: there are too many good men with homosexual tendencies who have served the Church with distinction. But there is a monumental difference between someone who is incidentally homosexual and someone for whom the gay subculture is central to his identity. Only those blinded by sexual politics will fail to make this distinction."

With this much I am in agreement.

"As I have said many times before, most homosexual priests are not molesters, but most of the molesters are gay. The John Jay Report made this clear: 81 percent of the victims are male and almost as many are postpubescent. This is not called pedophilia – it is called homosexuality."

OK, I've seen this mythical 81% floating around the net for quite some time now and it's been bugging me. If I understand correctly – please inform me if I'm wrong – most of the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests were altar servers. If that's the case, then it only makes sense that most of the victims were male. Though female altar servers have been permitted for a few decades, there are still far fewer of them than male servers. The fact that most of the victims were post-pubescent might be more indicative of a demographic shift in altar servers rather than a preference among perverts.

If I am right about most of the victims being altar servers, then this is clearly a probaballistic fallacy. The probability of a server being male is very high. The probability of a victim being a server is very high. Therefore, the probability that the victim is male is also very high.

I am less sure that most servers these days are post-pubescent, but let's assume they are. By the same logic, the probability that a random victim would be a post-pubescent male would be quite high.

Throwing around this 81% figure is misleading. Remember, "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics".

"The Catholic laity are justifiably angry with molesting priests and their enabling bishops, few in number though they have been. What this document does is to send a signal – those who cannot seriously commit to a celibate lifestyle have no legitimate role to play in the priesthood. This stricture should apply equally to heterosexuals."

If Mr. Donahue is right about what the document says, I totally agree with him. Some folks don't agree with his reading, though.

Comments 13

  1. Sean wrote:

    The probabilistic fallacy you suggest is interesting.

    I see things a little differently. It starts with arrested development. Young gay men suppress their sexual / emotional desires, and see the priesthood as a lifeline to avoid marrying a women or possibly being outed as a homosexual. In short, many priests in the past joined for the wrong reason. Because they tried to shut off their emotions at a young age, they still are attracted to teenage boys, and when an opportunity comes up to act on their desires they cannot resist. They probably do not see the damage they are doing because when they were the age of their victims, they had homosexual desires and are projecting that on to their victims.

    I think the Vatican response fails to understand this, and therefore goes overboard. I think you could have someone with “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” who still would like to become a priest for the right reasons. The important thing is screening for the right reasons.

    Posted 25 Nov 2005 at 5:30 pm
  2. Jeff Miller wrote:

    Actually by the statistics even after the introduction of female altar servers that boys were still abused at a higher rate than girls. The majority of diocese probably have more altar girls than altar boys. It is much more then just access.

    Posted 25 Nov 2005 at 9:47 pm
  3. Funky Dung wrote:

    If the probability of being victimized given that one is male is greater than the probability of being victimized given one is female, then you’re right. I’d be very interested to see the statistical breakdown.

    Posted 25 Nov 2005 at 10:45 pm
  4. Tom Smith wrote:

    Two things:

    – I think the discussion’s being framed incorrectly — I don’t think the prohibition of homosexuals in the seminary is a result of the abuse scandal (although the breaking of the scandal may have been, perhaps, the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were). To think that is to overestimate the importance of the United States in the Catholic Church. The abuse scandals were largely involving American clergy and reported in US media. I tend to believe that the scandalous presence of the “lavender mafia” in seminaries has much more to do with the recent document.

    – I don’t think that the majority of abuse victims were altar boys. The media definitely played up the cases in which the victims were altar boys; “Priest Accused of Molesting Altar Boy” is a better headline than “Priest Accused of Molesting Man.” Also, I contest your supposition that most altar boys are, indeed, boys. Most parishes I’ve ever been to seem to have exclusively girls serving, though that is just anecdotal evidence. So I deny that there’s a fallacy in the 81% statistic.

    Posted 26 Nov 2005 at 3:49 am
  5. edey wrote:

    i’m with tom on the bit about most servers being girls these days. it’s the circles you run in that make you think that most servers are guys. at least 90% of your Masses attended are at the Oratory, a *conservative* Novus Ordo place. plus, look at the servers you know…not your “average Catholic” servers. as someone who has attended Mass in 20 some odd states (in parishes ranging from Latin Mass to WAY OUT THERE) in the past year, i’d say i have strong anecdotal evidence. the VAST majority (i’d guess around 85-90%) of parishes where i attended Mass had either mostly – if not exclusively – female altar boys.

    Posted 26 Nov 2005 at 4:07 am
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    “The abuse scandals were largely involving American clergy and reported in US media.”

    It’s a problem in Australia, too.

    “i’m with tom on the bit about most servers being girls these days.”

    The masses I’ve attended in Levittown and North East, neither known for good liturgical practice, were all majority male.

    Posted 26 Nov 2005 at 4:22 am
  7. edey wrote:

    there are good parishes in bad places just like bad parishes (where i was supposed to attend when i was in school in colorado) in GREAT dioceses. the point is your Catholic experience has been far from universal. you have attended a parish or two in north east and levittown. the places with all male servers were very much the EXCEPTION in the 20 some odd states where i attended Mass over the past year. part of why is once girls were introduced, boys-by and large-didn’t want to do it anymore.

    Posted 26 Nov 2005 at 4:32 am
  8. Jerry Nora wrote:

    We should not extrapolate from our experiences that altar girls are in the majority. Remember that most of these abuse cases occurred a few decades ago.

    Posted 26 Nov 2005 at 12:59 pm
  9. Elena wrote:

    Funky, here is the John Jay report that covers characteristics of the abused. Interestingly, altar service isn’t in the document at all, at least not when I searched for that term.

    Posted 26 Nov 2005 at 3:20 pm
  10. edey wrote:

    my point was that girl altar boys are the majority now, but you do have a good point that the cases were several years ago. i concede that it is anecdotal evidence, but i am pretty confident in my experience being representative of the us. i wonder, though, if there are statistics somewhere on that.

    Posted 26 Nov 2005 at 5:21 pm
  11. Tom Smith wrote:

    Since we don’t have any stats, there’s no way anyone can win the argument regarding altar boys. But the point still stands, because I am fairly sure that most of the abuse victims weren’t actually altar boys.

    Anyway, my main point was that it’s incorrect to look at the recent document barring practicing homosexuals from seminary education as a response to the abuse scandals, for a few reasons. First, the lavender mafia issue has been a bigger problem for considerably longer, and it is obvious that the document will have a greater effect on that problem than that of abuse; second, the abuse scandals were primarily not taking place in either the historical center of the Church (Europe) or the current centers of the Church (Africa, Latin America), and to think that it was caused by the media hoopla over the scandals here, Australian cases notwithstanding because the primary coverage of the non-American cases was still here in the US, is simply American egoism; and third, the scandals are only five years old. It took twenty-eight years for the Eternal City to get its rear in gear at the Reformation; why would it be any quicker now, with a far smaller problem?

    Posted 28 Nov 2005 at 9:10 am
  12. Funky Dung wrote:

    Communication and travel across large distances took a heck of a lot longer in the 16th century. Granted, 28 years is still slow, but I think speedier transmission of information would have shortened that time a bit.

    Posted 28 Nov 2005 at 2:28 pm
  13. Tom Smith wrote:

    I dunno. I tend to disagree that it would’ve been that much different. I think it has more to do with the fact that the Church thinks in centuries and moves at Italian speed than anything else.

    Posted 29 Nov 2005 at 12:45 am

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