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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - A leading expert and founding member of Pope Francis' council on clerical sex abuse of minors is rejecting claims linking the clerical sex abuse crisis with homosexual priests or mandatory celibacy.
Fr. Hans Zollner, dean of the Institute of Anthropology at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, insists that "sexual abuse arises above all from an abuse of power that someone takes advantage of."
Zollner categorizes four profiles of clerical sex abusers, which he describes as "the narcissistic abuser, the obsessive, the insecure and the true pedophile in the sense of the psychiatric definition."
"Celibacy is not a direct cause of abuse," argues Zollner, a psychologist and theologian, in an interview with InfoVaticana. "All scientific reports, including those commissioned by non-church institutions, conclude that celibacy in itself does not lead to abuse."
"Therefore, it is wrong to say that with the abolition of celibacy there would no longer be cases of abuse in the Catholic Church," says the specialist, who sparked a debate after he quit the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in March.
Zollner also denied links between homosexual priests and sex abuse, noting that "scientific studies indicate that it cannot be considered that there is a monocausal relationship that explains the relationship between homosexuality and abuse."
"Furthermore, many male child abusers do not identify exclusively as homosexual. The 2011 John Jay Report in the United States refers to them as 'occasional abusers,' that is, they abused those closest to them, who at that time were mostly boys," he explains.
"Figures from recent years show that since then there have been more abuse of girls, particularly of altar girls and of girls in coeducational schools," the psychotherapist adds.
Zollner admitted that the Catholic Church's "official doctrinal position that considers homosexuality to be against the natural order" might result in same-sex attracted males seeking refuge in the priesthood and later recognizing that this has not solved the issue.
"The Church must be willing to do what is necessary to ensure that perpetrators of abuse and their concealers are punished fairly and in a way that prevents further abuse in the future," the expert on clerical sex abuse stressed.
"Training during seminary is key," Zollner replied when asked if there was a solution to the crisis. "There are pontifical documents such as the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis that emphasize that human formation must be the basis of everything else."
Commentators and practitioners in the field of the clergy sex abuse crisis are disputing Zollner's conclusions.
"While Zollner identifies four abuser profiles, he never identifies the fact that most abusers were groomed and abused themselves (especially in minor and major seminaries)," Gene Thomas Gomulka, a former navy chaplain and seminary instructor, told Church Militant.
"Many bishops do not discipline predator priests because they preyed on these priests when they were seminarians and they were on the seminary faculty," noted Gomulka, who is a sexual victims' advocate and was ordained a priest for the Altoona-Johnstown diocese.
"By ignoring the large numbers of homosexuals in the episcopacy, priesthood and seminaries, is Zollner trying to mislead people to believe that most priests and bishops are heterosexuals who lead celibate lives?" Gomulka asked.
"The truth is that less than half of Catholic clergy practice celibacy at any given time, and the majority of clergy today are homosexuals and many, if not most of them, are very sexually active, perhaps not preying on minors, but often having sex with other priests or non-clergy," he lamented.
Gomulka, who was elevated to the status of a prelate of honor by Pope John Paul II, elaborated:
"Power" and "clericalism" play a part in sex abuse, but pale in significance to mandatory celibacy, which has resulted in the recruitment of large numbers of homosexuals over heterosexuals, owing to the tremendous difference in the level of sacrifice each makes: The heterosexual is asked to forgo having a wife and children which centers around the sacrament of marriage whereas a homosexual is asked to forgo gay sex, which the Church teaches is sinful.
The former Navy chaplain cites the case of Ukrainian Catholic clergy who were required to practice celibacy in the United States until 2014 and ended up, as in the Latin-rite church, attracting mainly homosexual candidates who had similar abuse rates involving mainly teenage boys.
On the other hand, Ukrainian Catholic clergy who were not forced to adopt celibacy in Canada and elsewhere where most of their clergy were married, did not have many abuse cases at all, Gomulka argues.
Responding to Zollner's citing the John Jay study, Gomulka points to the red herring of clerical pedophilia.
"The fact is that the Church does not have a pedophile problem involving the abuse of prepubescent children," Gomulka observes. "It does, however, have an ephebophile problem involving the abuse of teenage boys."
"There is a relationship between homosexuality and ephebophilia, which is the basis for NAMBLA — the North American Man-Boy Love Association," he adds. "While not all homosexuals are abusers, almost all of the abuse (over 80%) in the Catholic Church is perpetrated by priests who suffer from same-sex attraction."
According to Dr. Richard Sipe, a former priest and psychotherapist who died in 2018 and was considered one of the world's leading experts on clerical sex abuse, celibacy has played a major part over the centuries in sex abuse.
"Many lay Catholics echo their Church leaders, who insist that the abuse of minors by hundreds of priests across the land, and over the decades, had nothing to do with their vow to abstain from sex and marriage," Sipe wrote.
"They claim they don't see the connection. I do. In fact, my views on celibacy predate the seemingly endless cascade of nauseating revelations about sexual abuse and assault by Catholic clergy," remarked Sipe, coauthor of the book Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse.
"Zollner failed to say a word about how the pope has done little to discipline Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik," Gomulka laments. "It's evident that Zollner and the Vatican are not serious about cleaning house when it comes to those who abuse minors and vulnerable adults like seminarians and nuns."
Speaking to Church Militant, Vincent Doyle, founder of Coping International, said that Fr. Zollner's responses were directed at a very narrow definition of clerical sex abuse.
Coping International, an apostolate dedicated to children of priests and religious, receives thousands of inquiries from priests' children in 176 countries. This is a consequence of clerics flouting their promise or vow of celibacy, Doyle explained.
"Celibacy is certainly not to blame for the abuse crisis," agreed Doyle, the son of a priest. "But the reluctance to admit celibacy is impossible to absolutely achieve overlooks children of the ordained, coercive control of said children and their families, abortion of children of the ordained amid so many other types of abuse."
"Clerical incontinence, a foreseeable consequence of failure to be wholly chaste, is to blame, and the two are inextricable," Doyle explained. "A lack of formal recognition of children of priests is a willful participation ... in the civil crime of coercive control."
Doyle has published an open letter to the fathers of the forthcoming Synod on Synodality describing the "childhood emotional abuse" inflicted on children of priests who are "psychologically impacted by the secrecy they endure for their lifetime."
"So why won't the Church be more open about this issue? I believe, plainly and ultimately, because they cannot stop it," Doyle writes, pleading with the synod fathers to discuss the issue with a "fatherly heart."
"Men will always become fathers; you can pretend all day they don't, but the law of nature says that they do," he notes. "Not once in the Church's 2,000-year history has one pope spoken of the issue openly, not once."
Church Militant contacted Fr. Zollner to ask if "abuse" needed to be defined more broadly to include things like women trapped in clerical concubinage with a priest they cannot marry and the issue of children fathered by priests.
Zollner was also asked to explain this: If power is the primary factor in priestly predation, why is clerical sex abuse not widespread in Eastern-rite Catholic churches, which have a married priesthood?
The expert did not respond as of press time.