Copernicus expressed the view that the earth circled around the sun and not vice versa. The 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei agreed:
Galileo’s championing of Copernicanism was controversial within his lifetime, when a large majority of philosophers and astronomers still subscribed (at least outwardly) to the geocentric view that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. After 1610, when he began publicly supporting the heliocentric view, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615. Although he was cleared of any offence at that time, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as “false and contrary to Scripture” in February 1616, and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it—which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
When the Catholic Church of the twentieth century experienced a crisis of priest sexual predation, homosexuals were scapegoated. According to Thomas C Fox, editor of National Catholic Reporter:
It has been so unfair. Elements in our Catholic community have repeatedly placed the blame of the sex abuse scandal that has rocked our church at the feet of a gay clergy.
It has been a case of guilty until proven innocent.
But wait, a new scientific study commissioned by US Catholic Bishops and conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice researchers reports a contrary view:
The study, which is due to be completed next year, was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after the scandal overtook the U.S. church in 2002.
In a presentation to the bishops on Tuesday, Margaret Smith of John Jay said: “What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse. At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the gay Catholic group DignityUSA, called the report “very welcome news for gay people, gay priests, and our families and friends.”
She said the John Jay report confirms other studies in concluding that sexual orientation is not connected to pedophilia or other sex crimes. “We hope that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church will finally accept this finding, since it has been borne out through their own study,” Duddy-Burke said.
Surely, the bishops will accept this scientific finding. Surely, the church will promptly and expeditiously exonerate Galileo. Or not, as progressive Catholic blogger Terence Weldon suggests:
The fact that this report confirms what the rest of the world knows [i.e., that homosexuality is not a factor in the cases of abusive priests], is welcome, but not earth-shattering. Don’t hold your breath for the bishops to announce that they accept the report, or will act on this finding, or even for them to release the full report when it has been concluded.
The real causes of the problem lie within the church’s own structures, as numerous observers have noted: the appalling monopoly and abuse of power, compulsory clerical celibacy, and a deeply flawed, seminary based training system that is a hangover from the Middle Ages, leaving priests with minimal understanding of human sexuality, their own or anyone else’s.(Reports elsewhere state that this same interim John Jay report concludes that priests with the better training in human sexuality were the least likely to offend).
The naysayers within the hierarchy were quick to dismiss the scientific report, according to Beliefnet News:
“I wouldn’t put a lot of credence in it,” said Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
After the abuse crisis rocked the church in 2002, Nienstedt helped lead a Vatican investigation of U.S. seminaries aimed at rooting out homosexuality, and served on a committee that drew up new sex abuse prevention policies for U.S. dioceses. He has also written that homosexual orientation is the result of childhood trauma.
And blogger Mark Silk adds:
[Nienstedt promoted] the idea being that if you got rid of the gays, the abuse would stop. Not that Nienstedt doesn’t have a fall-back position; to wit: “a priest has to be accessible to all his people, and someone with a strong same-sex attraction would not be good to have in the pastoral care of people.” As opposed to a priest with a strong opposite-sex attraction?
The bishops’ problem with the John Jay study goes beyond Nienstedt’s species of homophobia, however. If, as the study suggests, sexual abuse by priests is the result of not homosexual orientation but the availability of certain types of people (i.e. altar boys), then someone might be led to the conclusion that clerical celibacy is a big part of the problem. The horror, the horror!