Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 - 30 April 2008
Issue No. 894
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Lubna Abdel-Aziz

Pedophilia purge

It was a gesture of humility, compassion and grandeur. With one simple sentence Pope Benedict XVI healed many wounds, erased many scars and calmed many fears. Sixty five million American Catholics have agonized over the misbehaviour of a few errant priests, whose despicable sexual abuse of children has stained the name of one of the world's greatest faiths. By openly addressing the crisis, not once but several times, Pope Benedict put the case to rest. He expressed his "deep shame" over the clergy's behaviour and has vowed to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood. His conciliatory message removed his toughest challenge in the US and judging from the warm reception he was given throughout his visit, the faithful have forgiven, if maybe not forgotten, and have embraced the new pontiff with warmth and joy.

Pope Benedict

The illegal and immoral sins of pedophilia however, are not going anywhere, in the clergy, in the US, or in the world. While it is hard to gauge the extent of such abuse, it is estimated that one fifth of the population have pedophilia fantasies. Victims are reluctant to speak out and many who do are often ignored, scorned, or silenced. What is certain is that sexual abuse of the young and helpless happens everywhere -- in schools, prisons, hospitals, doctor's clinics, etc. When the predator enjoys a position of authority he can prey with impunity.

Michael Jackson's child molestation trial has helped put the spotlight on s pedophilia and has put parents on alert. What is it? What causes it? What is the treatment? None of the questions have adequate answers because, strangely enough, the etiology of this paraphilia is unknown. Pedophiles come from all walks of life, and from all socio-economic classes. It is a misconception to consider them homosexuals; these are two distinct behaviours. Says psychologist James Hord: "pedophilia is not about gender, it is about age." A pedophile can be attracted to either a boy or girl, so long as they are pre-pubescent. "Insecurity is at the heart of pedohpilia," explains Hord. Most pedophiles have trouble relating to adults. They can only have power control relationships with children. Another misconception is that pedophiles have themselves been abused as children. Most of them have not, and have normal relations with adults of the opposite sex. Pedophiles start off as normal and are usually shocked to discover of their attraction to children. The transition from socially accepted sexuality to criminal pedophilia is still shrouded in mystery.

Tracing some of the traits that child predators have in common may help parents watch for the signs in order to better protect their children. Narcissistic and anti-social traits are common among pedophiles. They usually show no remorse and may often accuse the child of provocative behaviour. They are ready to blame others for their transgressions rather than admit their own failures and deficincies, and lack of communication skills. The pedophile exploits the vulnerabilities in the make-up of his victims such as an abusive home, low self-esteem or mental health problems. In extreme cases, the victim has masochistic tendencies.

The pedophile demands complete obedience and feels entitled to adulation. The child is rendered the joint guardian of a horrible secret. "The child finds himself in a twilight zone." Patronising and condescending, the pedophile exerts, controls and punishes severely. They regard sub-teen children as inferior because they are weak and helpless, but they believe that they love or are in love with the child. Pedophiles are lonely and erotomaniac creatures and are apt to react badly to rejection which can cause them to embark on a violent spree of destruction.

Views on homosexuality have altered with the times. Once listed asa "mental illness," it is now considered a "preferred sexual orientation." Pedophilia on the other hand is still defined as a "sexual deviation," an aberrant sexual fantasy or behaviour. Always abusive and exploiting the child, there are still those intellectual elites" like the North America Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), who justify it. Referring to a German study of 8,000 reported victims which concludes that "none of the boys experienced force or coercion" with no negative outcome. Indeed there is mounting evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, behaviour problems, sexualised behaviour and poor self-esteem. Robert L Johnson, MD, found that "70% of those who had been molested (by a male or female) felt devastated immediately after the incident had occurred.

According to the American Psychological Association, Pedophilia should never be considered normal behaviour -- it is a disease. Yet at one time in man's history "pederasty was considered a way to lead a boy into manhood." In Greco-Roman antiquity athletic culture included militarism, nudism, and competition, making it the chief trigger for the emergence of pederasty. The Hellenistic texts take for granted the erotic opportunities connected with athletics.

Having cost the Catholic Church over $2 billion in the US through the years, sexual abuse is by no means confined to the Catholic Church. Clergy of all denominations and in many countries are guilty of this form of abuse. A place of worship lends the perfect opportunity to target the vulnerable and exploit the faithful while hiding behind faith.

Stepping out of his predecessor's shadow, Pope Benedict is now coming into his own, and emerging as a sweet yet bold defender of human rights and traditional church teachings and embracing all faiths and all peoples.

By taking on the bull by the horns and not engaging in excuses or cover-ups. Pope Benedict has raised himself to the status of a world leader as well as a Holy Father. His fortitude, his intelligence, come through with clarity and sincerity. By choosing to meet the abused children and their families, in private, he has shown great compassion, and by admitting the "great suffering" caused by his Catholic priests, he has shown great moral courage, all in his unique, gentle, spiritual manner. The pontiff celebrated his 81st birthday amongst the people of this brave new world who captured the sweet magic of this new Pope and in return offered him their hearts. We too join in wishing Pope Benedict XVI continued health and prosperity and more success in combating all the sources of evil embraced by mankind.

To err is human, to forgive divine
-- Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

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