There will be no whitewash at the Vatican

I’m something of a collector of unpleasant euphemisms, the kind of thing that the late, great, George Carlin called ‘soft language’:

I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protest themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

Later in the same routine, which comes from his classic ‘Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics’ show, Carlin nails down the reason for the proliferation of soft language:

Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It’s as simple as that. The CIA doesn’t kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people…or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they? Never mention that part of it.

There’s one particular bunch of smug, greedy, well-fed [mostly] white Americans running around at the moment, trying desperately to conceal their sins with soft language, who deserve a bit of attention from the Ministry – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who’ve recently published a supposedly independent report in to the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States between 1950 and 2010 (pdf).

Calling the report independent is as ripe a piece of Humpty Dumpty language as I’ve seen in a very long time:

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – – that’s all.’

The report may have been produced by researchers from John Jay University’s Department of Criminology, but the estimated $1.8 million cost of the research was met almost entirely by the USCCB and a clutch of other Roman Catholic organisations and the USCCB has the final say on whether or not to authorise the publication of the report.

If you closely enough, there’s plenty of soft language to the found in the report, but perhaps the most egregious examples can be found in a table on page 55 of the report (p63 in the pdf) which gives a breakdown of the offending patterns of priests with 2 or more victims of abuse on their conscience:

Category of Priest-Offender     Count     Percent    
“Specialist” Offenders
Pedophiles—only victims 10 and younger (male and female) 96 3.8
Ephebophiles—only male victims between the ages of 13 and 17 474 18.9
Priests with female victims between the ages of 13 and 17 127 5.0
“Generalist” offenders
Priests with at least one victim 12 or younger and at least one victim 15 or older 761 30.2
All other “generalists” with victims of various ages and genders 1064 42.1
Total 2512 100

Well whaddya know… by narrowly defining paedophila in terms of priests who only abused children aged 10 years or under the church can claim that only 3.8% of abusive priest were actually ‘specialist’ paedophiles, completely writing off the 72.3% of priests who were rather more *cough* catholic in their sexual predelictions as mere ‘generalists’.

This is, of course, a bunch of self-serving bullshit.

We need to put a definition or two on the table to demonstate just how disingenuous the use of ‘generalists’ is here. The current working definition for paedophilia is given by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, and current (fourth) edition is called DSM-IV, which was published in 1994 and updated in 2000, becoming DSM-IV-TR. DSM-IV-TR will be replaced in the not too distant future by DSM-V, which is currently in draft and up for consultation, debate and review.

DSM-IV-TR gives the diagnostic criteria for paedophilia as follows:

A. Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).

B. The person has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.

C. The person is at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion A.

Note: Do not include an individual in late adolescence involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a 12- or 13-year-old.

Under currrent diagnostic criteria, the cut off point for paedophilia is around 13 years of age but, when dealing with an actual offender, age is somewhat less important than whether the objects of their sexual urges are actually pre-pubsescent or not. One cannot, therefore, apply a straightforward cut-off of 10 years of age to the question of whether a particular offender is a paedophile or not. If the victim has not entered puberty at the time they were abused then the abuser is a paedophile even if the victim is 11, 12 or 13 years of age when the abuse occurred.

There is a little more to the DSM-IV-TR definition of paedophila that merits consideration, as this come in the form of instructions to the diagnostician to specify a number additional features when making a diagnosis:

Specify if:

Sexually Attracted to Males

Sexually Attracted to Females

Sexually Attracted to Both

Specify if:

Limited to Incest

Specify type:

Exclusive Type (attracted only to children)

Nonexclusive Type

You’ll notice, from the last couple of options, that paedophiles come in two varieties under DSM-IV-TR, exclusive (which the USCCB report calles ‘pedophiles’) and non-exclusive paedophiles, a category that covers many, if not most, of what the report refers to [dishonestly] as mere ‘generalists’.

There is, in all this, something of a grey area in DSM-IV when it comes to adolescence. Some sex offenders target children in the early stages of adolescence, at a time when they’ve entered puberty but not yet developed their full adult sexual characteristics, and some target tenagers in mid to late adolescence, when they may be physically mature but still developing emotionally and intellectually and are, therefore, deemed in law to be vulnerable to sexual exploitation by adults.

Some psychologists, lead by Ray Blanchard, have sought to define specific paraphilias for offenders to target adolescents; hebephila for those who fixated on adolescents in early-to-mid adolescence – roughly 11-14 years – and ephebophila for a fixation on teenagers in mid-late adolescence – 14 years upwards to whatever the legal age of consent is in a particular jurisdiction. DSM is overseen and published by the American Psychological Association and, therefore, reflects the fact that many US states have a higher legal age of consent than the UK and, often, different consent laws for heterosexual and homosexual behaviours.

Blanchard’s proposed paraphilias are by no means universally accepted by psychologists and are the subject of considerable debate and some controversy. Nevertheless, hebephilia has found its way into the draft of DSM-V, in which paedophilia has been replaced by a new ‘pedohebephillic disorder‘, which has the following (proposed) diagnostic criteria:

A. Over a period of at least six months, one or both of the following, as manifested by fantasies, urges, or behaviors:

(1) recurrent and intense sexual arousal from prepubescent or pubescent children [5]

(2) equal or greater arousal from such children than from physically mature individuals [6]

B. One or more of the following signs or symptoms:

(1) the person has clinically significant distress or impairment in important areas of functioning from sexual attraction to children

(2) the person has sought sexual stimulation, on separate occasions, from either of the following:

(a) two or more different children, if both are prepubescent

(b) three or more different children, if one or more are pubescent [7]

(3) repeated use of , and greater arousal from, pornography depicting prepubescent or pubescent children than from pornography depicting physically mature persons, for a period of six months or longer [8]

C. The person is at least age 18 years and at least five years older than the children in Criterion A or Criterion B.

Specify type:

Pedophilic Type—Sexually Attracted to Prepubescent Children (Generally Younger than 11)

Hebephilic Type—Sexually Attracted to Pubescent Children (Generally Age 11 through 14)

Pedohebephilic Type—Sexually Attracted to Both

Ephebophilia remains outside the scope of DSM although its worth noting, as another example of Catholic prejudice and hypocrisy, that its only priests who sexually abused 13-17 year old males who are given this clinical designation in the report’s scoping table, despite the fact that the term is not considered to be gender-specific by those psychologists it over more perjorative ‘traditional tems such as ‘pervert’ and ‘dirty old man’. Shagging a 15 year old girl may be illegal, a sin and a gross abuse of trust and authority but at least its not abnormal, according to the Catholic Church.

With these definitions in place, let’s rewrite the report’s table to reflect the new diagnostic critera from DSM-V and get a real picture of what the Catholic Priest-abusers were getting up to:

Category of Priest-Offender     Count     Percent    
Exclusive Paedophiles 96 3.8
Ephebophiles (victims aged 13-17) 601 23.9
Non-exclusive Paedophiles, Paedohebephiles and Hebephiles 1815 72.3
Total 2512 100

Ah yes – that’s much better and not a bit of that soft language ‘generalist’ crap in sight.

8 thoughts on “There will be no whitewash at the Vatican

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  7. If you are getting rid of soft words, how about losing “paedophile”, a word that sounds far too soft for the act it represents. Then you could sum up the report in one line:

    Child Rapists: 2512

    Which is 2512 too many, in my opinion.

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