Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The extremely broad brush of Philippa Martyr

I think Philippa Martyr is an interesting character: conservative in her Catholicism, but with an interest in spiritualism and mental illness; a fan of Evelyn Waugh; prone to exaggeration and likely more fragile underneath than her cheery on line persona indicates.  (She is, or was, a smoker:  I've often noticed over the years that this is a sign of underlying nervousness.) 

She's turned up again in Quadrant, that hoary, next to unreadable, magazine with her take on the findings of the Royal Commission into institutional child abuse (with respect to the Catholic Church), and her piece seems to show some genuine shock and regret at the extent of the abuse revealed.  (She also seems to be particularly down on the bureaucracy within the Church at the moment, given her own knowledge - as a witness - of a recent investigation into a priest having an affair with an adult woman.)

But, being who she is, she does go on to try to pin as much of it as she can on there being too many homosexuals in the priesthood.   And in doing so, she makes some pretty broad, dubious, statements.  The prime example:
The first uncomfortable fact is that since ancient Greece, countless texts demonstrate that the culture of male homosexual activity in the West largely revolves around adult men sexually enjoying boys and adolescent males. There are novels, non-fiction, poetry, plays, memoirs, histories, documentaries, interviews, and other texts in abundance, the most recent example being that which caused Milo Yiannopolous’s very public downfall.[22] They all provide a very similar picture: close-knit communities with their own rules of sexual engagement which are often at odds with those of the dominant culture; initiation, secrecy, substance abuse and violence. Male youth has always been the most powerful and desirable currency in this sexual world, and the younger, the better.[23]
Well,  that seems to me to be convenient exaggeration:  that last line "the younger, the better" in particular.

I'm no expert, but my impression is that in all of the cultures where homosexual interactions between adults and youth have been more or less accepted, none extended to viewing prepubescent boys as being an appropriate target for adults.*   In fact, Philippa earlier in the article says she is concentrating mainly on the 30 to 40% of victims who were teenagers, not boys, as being ones targeted by homosexual priests.   Why then, in that sloppy paragraph quoted above, talk as if gay men have always aimed at the very youngest possible targets, which is (obviously) boys?

If her point is simply that post pubescent teenagers have always been a target of homosexual attention, well, there is an element of truth in that, but it's a case of a generalisation too far.  True, she can cite the Greek pederasty/mentoring system (also seen in cultures such as Japan), the history of sex tourism of older white men to Europe in past centuries (or South East Asia more recently) for youthful males, even the "rent boy" reputation of The Wall in Sydney, and so on.    There's no doubt that those activities show the attraction of some gay men to youth.    

But on the other hand, what proportion of total sexual encounters in history between men have been with partners of roughly equal age, or at least, with both clearly adults?  Really, who would know?  And anyway, let's face it - heterosexual sex tourism, and use of prostitutes and pornography has a strong bias towards youth, too.  

Certainly, Philippa cites a surprisingly useless study to support her case - one in which a mere 192 adults had to rank the sexual attractiveness of 15 facial photos of various ages.  Big deal.  (She does encourage the reader to look at a particular table in the paper, which apparently "speaks volumes".  What it shows is a mystery, as there appears to be no version on line.)

In any event, I would take a guess that, if anything, the social normalisation of homosexuality in the West has led to significantly less targeting of youth by older men than previously.   There are so many more outlets for sexual gratification now that there is little need to exploit a youth to satisfy it.   And surely it's clear that the pro-pederasty organisations that, a few decades back, used to seek sympathy and understanding via media appearances have pretty much given up on that undertaking now.  Acceptance of homosexuality between adults has not translated into any slippery slope acceptance of relationships between men and young teenagers.

Philippa, after claiming that homosexual men are invariably attracted to youth,  notes that some seminaries in Australia in the late 60's to the 80's did become known for an unusually high proportion of gay seminarians and staff.  I don't actually dispute that this was true - we even have Tony Abbott's experience in a seminary seems to back that up!  So, the argument goes, get rid of the homosexual priest and you get rid of (some) child abuse.

While there is a sense in which that is obvious (a priesthood of pure, 100% heterosexuals - if there was any way of objectively assessing them as such - may presumably result in a lesser proportion of sexual abuse of teenage guys), it still smacks of scapegoating for a few reasons:

a.   I would bet that the age of many of the abuser priests of the 70's and 80's was such that they went through seminaries prior in the 50's and early 60's, before the apparent increase in gay seminarians post Vatican 2;

b.  it ignores what might have attracted a man with same sex attraction to the seminary in the first place, and that the then conservative views against homosexuality may have contributed to it.  For example, young men who were fearful of their same sex  attraction , and thought institutional celibacy would keep it under control;  or those resigned to their sexual feelings but seeing that the priesthood was one way in which they could attain a certain social status despite of it.  A third possibility (and one I think quite likely):  young men who had not resolved their sexual feelings via much experience at all at the time they entered the seminary, and only later identified they were indeed attracted to men.   (Perhaps because of opportunistic encounters, which they then went on to repeat.)

c.  Philippa explicitly says that homosexual men are not suited to the priesthood; no ifs, no buts.  (Of course, she is supported by Pope Benedict's policy introduced in 2005.)   Her statement:
As to same-sex attraction, I wish I could say that men in this situation would make fine priests, but I can’t. The psychological strain placed upon a priest makes him vulnerable, and he cannot afford to have to struggle with a deep-seated sexual attraction to other men in addition to everything else. I think many people personally know priests who are in this situation, and their priesthood is rarely a happy one. The Church’s ruling on ineligibility for ordination is a sound and compassionate one, not just for the men themselves, but for those who may be at risk of being exploited by them covertly in the future when they can’t cope.
Way to tell homosexuals that they just aren't capable of keeping it in their pants, so to speak, the way all righteous heterosexual priests can.  Isn't this line a bit odd coming from a woman who just went through an investigation of a straight priest breaking his vow of celibacy?

The thing is, if it isn't already abundantly clear - conservative Catholics have an investment in defending the matter of clerical celibacy, despite it being not a doctrinal matter at all.  Why?  Because "conservative".   It's reminiscent of the numbskullery of a crusty surgeon who complain that he (it's usually a he) went through hellish, ridiculous and objectively unsafe work hours and personal abuse when he went through training 40 years ago - and so trainees today should just toughen up and face the same.  Evidence that it just doesn't make sense anymore (such a high suicide rate) is, as far as possible, ignored, in favour of blaming someone else for just not being tough enough. 

In any event, one suspects that the overall loss of credibility of the Catholic Church on all matters pertaining to sex likely means that there are now few same sex attracted young men who would even consider becoming a priest, whether or not Benedict had made his rule.    They likely no longer feel any guilt about it, can have a good career in virtually any field while being openly gay, and so the motivations they formerly might have had to consider an all male career path have gone.   

Philippa, and other conservative Catholics who blame gay priests for child abuse are ignoring the bigger picture re the whole issue of celibacy its harmful effects on disencouraging good people from considering the priesthood, not to mention the widespread rejection of the entire way the Church thinks about sexuality.

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