Pedophilia's Roots and the Catholic Church

Interview With Author Lorenzo Bertocchi

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By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, MAY 23, 2010 ( If pedophilia is so widespread in society, what has caused its growth? And how did it infiltrate the Church?

These and other questions have been tackled in a book by Francesco Agnoli, Massimo Introvigne, Giuliano Guzzo, Luca Volonté and Lorenzo Bertocchi. The Italian-language work, titled «Indagine sulla pedofilia nella Chiesa» (Investigation on Pedophilia in the Church), considers the roots of the phenomenon of pedophilia.

ZENIT spoke with one of the authors, Lorenzo Bertocchi, about their conclusions and what wavering Catholics can do to restore faith in the Church.

ZENIT: How many cases of pedophilia are there in the Church?

Bertocchi: Even if there was only one case, obviously it would already be too many. In this regard, within the Church the one who has shown himself to have very clear ideas is precisely Benedict XVI. 

Having said that, I think it is useful to understand the dimensions of the phenomenon and, in the first part of the book, Massimo Introvigne helps us to frame the problem. In the United States, for example, according to authoritative academic research, from 1950 to 2002, there were 958 priests accused of actual pedophilia out of more than 109,000 priests, but the convictions are drastically less — a figure just under 100.

In a statement last March 10, Father [Federico] Lombardi [the Vatican spokesman] mentioned the case of Austria where, in the same time span, verified accusations attributed to the Church totaled 17, whereas in other environments they rose to 510. 

These numbers can say much or nothing; nevertheless they undoubtedly show a tendency that enables one to deflate the hypothesis in regard to the Church that would like to make «a bundle of the grass» [an Italian expression that means to generalize].

The subject of false accusations would merit a separate discourse, as for example the cases of Father Giorgio Covoni, of two women religious of Bergamo, of Father Kinsella and Sister Nora Wall in Ireland, each accused of abuses and then acquitted. These facts are important because they give credit to the not-always-clear dynamics in which the accusations take shape.

ZENIT: And in society?

Bertocchi: Reading the data it seems that the plague of pedophilia is really extensive and impressive. A World Health Organization report –«Global Estimates of Health Consequences Due to Violence Against Children» (Geneva, 2006) — indicates, for example, that in 2002, it can be estimated that close to 150 million girls and 73 million boys worldwide were subjected to different forms of sexual abuse.

A U.N. report, presented to the General Assembly on July 21, 2009, focused attention instead on the situation of the Web: On a worldwide scale, the number of on-line sites of a pedo-pornographic nature has increased at a dizzying rate; for example, if in 2001 there were 261,653, in 2004 they numbered 480,000, a tendency that is also confirmed by consulting annual reports from Father Di Noto’s Meter Association.

This fact about the Internet seems to me paradigmatic, given the role already assumed by the Web in our social life. Thus it gives weight to the idea that there is a good dose of prejudice in the type of media campaign carried out to make the Church seem as the place par excellence of pedophilia.

ZENIT: What kind of culture promotes pedophilia?

Bertocchi: At the heart of the problem is the «sex culture» that, especially since ’68, promoted a real revolution geared to «abolish the taboos.» The spread of pornography — which in some way represents the flag of this revolution — can be seen by everyone. The dominant mentality today is one that justifies sexual unions of every sort, and is a fruit of the thought rooted in De Sade, Freud, Fromm, Reich, Marcuse, etc. — those whom we could describe as prophets of the exaltation of the orgasm.

In our book, Francesco Agnoli gives examples of how this culture is still alive today. Representative is the case of the Dutch Pro-Pedophiles political party, recently dissolved for lack of signatures, but not because of a legal prohibition. At its root, the sexual revolution of those years had the objective of attacking all types of authority, beginning with God’s, and this, sadly, has left its mark also within the Church.

ZENIT: How, when and why did the culture that fosters pedophilia penetrate seminaries and the Church?

Bertocchi: We find an indication in the letter Benedict XVI wrote to Catholics of Ireland, in which, in addition to addressing the problem of the cases of pedophilia in the Irish clergy, the Holy Father also looks for the roots of the phenomenon. In his argumentation, he makes reference to the fact that the «program of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted.» Undoubtedly this is an allusion to that period of the 60s and 70s of the last century in which the so-called opening to the world led the Church to a weakening of the faith and to progressive secularization.

The social attack on the principle of authority, the famous slogan «it is prohibited to prohibit,» insinuated itself in the Church, and thus in the seminaries a certain interpretation ended up confusing discipline with dialogue. The result was a wider approach in the selection of candidates to the priesthood.

In this connection, Cardinal [Carlo] Caffarra specified that the fact that «the Church gives itself criteria to discern whom to admit and whom not to admit to the priesthood is a right that no one can reasonably deny it» (La Verita chiede di essere rivelata — Rizzoli 2009). 

Today more than ever this right must be exercised. Whoever thinks that the problem is priests’ celibacy should at least explain why in the Protestant clergy, where marriage is allowed, there are cases of abuses not inferior to those of the Catholic clergy.

ZENIT: Why does organized pedophilia practiced with sexual tourism not cause a stir, and why can it not be stopped?

Bertocchi: Research by ECPAT [End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes] reveals that in the world, close to 80 million tourists each year travel in search of a sex offer. According to Intervita — an Italian organization — there are 10 million minors involved in this global market, with a revenue estimated at U.S. $12 billion.

The research of the University of Parma carried out by ECPAT establishes the robot portrait of the «tourist type,» who is certainly not a monster: In 90% of the cases, he is between 20 and 40 years old, of mid- to higher-level education, a good income level, often married. On the other hand, the victims are between the ages of 11 and 15, in the case of girls, and between 13 and 18 for boys.

This type of «tourism» is regarded as a crime in many countries, but despite this it is a flourishing industry and precisely because it is «an industry» it is difficult to stop. But there is also a more radical motive to investigate within the «sex culture» of which I spoke earlier; there are political expressions that are the banners of ideas born from that «culture,» and that mobilize as a real lobby.

ZENIT: What is the boundary between reality and false moralism?

Bertocchi: A great part of our post-modern societies already accepts or justifies the destruction of embryos inasmuch as it does not consider them human beings, trades in ovules and spermatozoids as if they were crackers, theorizes on masculinity and femininity as simple cultural labels, spreads pornography as a form of amusement and would like to make assisted suicide a noble choice.

By a kind of perversion of truth, today we are faced with an ethical confusion of such proportions that reality is lost in subjectivism. Thus we see that condemnation of the immoral behavior of the religious comes from the same cultural environment that is willing to accept all
the arbitrariness of the individual. The reasons are of an ideological type, but also of an economic type, as demonstrated by those U.S. lawyers’ practices that have earned billions of dollars, thanks to the free and easy use of pedophilia accusations.

ZENIT: How should one evaluate the line of zero tolerance adopted by Benedict XVI?

Bertocchi: The Holy Father’s determination in wanting to bring this to light seems exemplary to me; he points out a path of transparency that is not only valid for the Church, but should be valid for all sectors of society that have had or have to do with this sad phenomenon.

In the 2005 meditations of the Via Crucis, the then Cardinal Ratzinger showed clearly the need to clean up within the Church, a desire that is not avenging, but rather for a real justice to make the Bride of Christ shine even more as «one, holy, catholic and apostolic.»

This «style» can be seen in all Benedict XVI’s teaching, his recipe of purification goes in all directions: the hermeneutics of continuity, the extension of rationality, the example of the Curé d’Ars for the Year for Priests, the attention to the liturgy, zero tolerance against the scandal of pedophilia, etc. The problem might be to read his teachings by taking only what falls closest to one’s own ideas, and not considering them in their totality.

ZENIT: How can the Catholic Church overcome the consternation and mistrust so widespread among the people?

Bertocchi: All of us Catholics are called to return to the foundations of the faith to be authentic witnesses of the Risen Lord or, as Luca Volonte says, «the awareness of the company of Christ must be clear,» he who accompanies us daily. In his recent apostolic trip to Fatima, the Holy Father said that the Church suffers because of «internal» causes.

He certainly was referring to the wounds caused by the cases of sexual abuse but I also believe in the need of an essential doctrinal clarity for a return to the foundations. Today, sadly, this clarity cannot be taken for granted and this also confuses people.

Hence, I am in agreement with the conclusions pointed out by Agnoli in the essay: prayer, recovery of the sense of the supernatural, effective service from the governance of the Church and, I add, a profound recovery of the sense of sin. «The real enemy to fear and to combat is sin, the spiritual evil that, at times, sadly also infects the members of the Church,» said Benedict XVI after the Regina Caeli on May 16.

Unfortunately, in many catecheses, the subject «sin» is increasingly out of fashion, displaced by much psychology and much sociology. However, to acknowledge ourselves as sinners is the way to receive God’s mercy. Charity in truth — there is no other way to give hope to the men of our time.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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