Q. There’s been a lot in the news again lately about sex scandals involving priests. Can you explain the background of it?
A. Scandals concerning sexual abuse have been noted in the Church’s history, but much of the current crisis goes back to the 1920’s. It was an era of promiscuity in the midst of economic prosperity, which helped set the stage for the first real sexual revolution in human history. In this social climate, proponents of abortion, contraception, and eugenics became prevalent, along with the promise of a worry-free world of sexual liberty. Yet for many Catholic men with homosexual tendencies, the environment was still uncertain. Feeling trapped and not yet ready to come out, most felt that their options were either to pursue marriage and thus be accepted into society, or to enter the priesthood in an effort to repress their sexuality and try to blend in.
Abuse was not widespread in this time period, but things began to unravel post WWII. The trauma of the war led many Catholic men to the seminary to escape the demons of the past and the horrible things they had done. Within the confines of the structured, almost militant lifestyle of the seminary, the potential dangers of such men were not really seen. Once involved in ministry, some did act out sexually to release the woundedness of their souls, but it was still a rare occurrence.