Pedophilia: An Obscure Message of Hope

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 22, 2011

It may seem strange to comment on pedophilia in the period leading up to Christmas, when we would all prefer to focus on children, and indeed on the Child, without worrying about the dangers to which they are exposed. But this might actually be a good time to send out a message of hope to those who experience pedophilia, and to those who must confront the problem among their own friends, and in their own families.

First, it may be useful to note that the mainstream media still treats pedophilia as a disorder or a disease. For example, the feature story on this subject in The Week (December 2, 2011), entitled “Obsessed with children”, had as one of its bold subtitles the question: “Can pedophilia be cured?” This way of thinking about pedophilia—that it is an aberration, an affliction, a disorder or a disease—is extremely important and highly salutary. Compare this with homosexuality, which was thought of in the same terms until a generation ago.

Now, of course, it is considered a terrible affront to think about homosexuality in this way—almost a criminal offense in itself—and it is worth noting that a significant number of the same people who worked so hard to have homosexuality redefined as alternatively normal have also, in a somewhat more clandestine manner, labored to have child consent laws lowered or eliminated, to declare pedophilia normal and desirable, to insist that children are sexually motivated from birth (Kinsey, et al), and to advocate for the “right” of children to pursue their sexual desires with (ahem) consenting adults—which is a telling reversal indeed. See, as just one example, our recent news story, American intellectuals have mixed record on sexual exploitation of children, which represents just the tip of an iceberg.

The difference between viewing homosexuality as healthy and pedophilia as disordered is not a matter of science, as many would have us believe, but a matter of conditioning by an increasingly depraved culture, which is spiraling rather rapidly away from its former recognition of the natural law. So it is possible, as our culture continues to decline and degrade, that pedophilia will be declared normal, and the right to act on it upheld. But that this is not the case at present is nonetheless a matter for rejoicing, and an important ground of hope. Pedophilia is still considered something to be either cured or resisted. Without that conviction, the chances of personal reform are obviously much-reduced.

We must grant that, at least at present, there does not appear to be a “cure” for pedophilia, but Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic, says that with the right combination of drugs and therapy, pedophiles can learn to resist their urges: “We’re not going to be able to put out the fire, but we can do a nice job of containing” it. In this respect, pedophilia, like homosexuality, may be likened to alcoholism. It takes a lifelong commitment, often including assistance of various kinds, to stay clean.

But whenever we are speaking about commitment, we are speaking about self-mastery, and whenever we are speaking about self-mastery, we are or ought to be speaking about grace and spiritual growth. It would be foolish indeed for even the holiest of persons to concentrate exclusively on spiritual remedies when natural assistance of various kinds is available, but spiritual growth remains important and even pivotal. It is also true that God can cure us of anything through His grace. Most often He works by strengthening our wills, for that is the normal way to growth and union with Himself; but sometimes He will heal a disorder or a disease altogether, giving us a deeper appreciation of His mercy and power, and freeing us for other purposes—and perhaps other crosses.

I have too frequently heard it said, even by good Catholics, that pedophiles always repeat their offenses. But this is simply not true. We distinguish, of course (as we ought to do with homosexuality), between the disordered inclination (which is a temptation, not a sin) and acting upon the inclination (which is where the sin occurs). The compulsion to act on a permanently disordered inclination at the deep level of our affectivity is certainly very strong; it is not to be taken lightly under any circumstances. But available statistics suggest that not 100% but 50% of convicted pedophiles offend again. Even allowing for those who are not caught, we are right to hold that some pedophiles, once they realize the full extent of their weakness and seek help from both man and God, do not in fact offend again. It may not be, in every such case, that they offend only once. But at some point, they bring even this weakness under control.

There is, as I have indicated, hope in some natural remedies. But the real message of hope is the message of Christmas, the message of Christ. A good Christian may not exclude pedophiles from God’s mercy, whether in terms of forgiveness or of healing. This too is a temptation. To the contrary, all of us have every reason to hope and trust in God, and those afflicted with pedophilia are no exception. We may recoil in horror from those who commit this sin, but perhaps we can put even this reaction in perspective somewhat by reminding ourselves that we should also recoil in horror from many other serious sins that we have learned to accept without a murmur.

In any case, the greater our sense of horror, the greater should our reliance be on the mercy of God. There is no sin God’s love cannot forgive if we turn to Him, and no disorder His mercy cannot heal. Even if He does not eliminate the disordered inclination, He will surely say to us as He said to St. Paul, who complained bitterly about the thorn in his own flesh: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Do we think the Babe in the manger cannot heal this wound, or that He will not—He who suffered enormous abuse and died with a prayer of forgiveness on His lips? Even victims of child sexual abuse must learn to forgive their victimizers in order to heal and grow. And are we so shallow as to imagine that Our Lord does not see every one of us in some way as both victimizer and victim? If any of this is troubling, if we believe we have finally found the one hopeless disorder and the sole unforgiveable sin, then the way forward is clear: We must conform ourselves anew to Christ, and think again.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Dec. 26, 2011 2:33 PM ET USA

    Aggie's prediction: Once open homosexuality is tolerated, there will be a push for the "right" of all persons to participate in homosexual and other perverse practices before "choosing one's orientation."

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Dec. 24, 2011 2:14 PM ET USA

    So far as the record shows (so they say) "God" is acquitted in this case. It is not "He" who avoids us, but rather "we" who avoid Him, and that because of His holiness. God WANTS us to encounter Him. Far from avoiding "us" He presents Himself to us, and that in extraordinary ways. If there is a problem with mercy, it certainly is not God's, it is ours. We look at the victims and perpetrators of sins that we consider heinous, and forget that he has called us to be "like Himself."

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Dec. 23, 2011 10:50 AM ET USA

    Jeff your comments are spiritually correct and hit the mark. God can always intervene and instantaneously correct any and all problems, disorders, aberrations, and any sin. Of course, this takes away our freedom to committ ourselves to him. Pedophilia is a disorder that requires spiritual,psychological and/or psychiatric help. We have to use the tools that God has given us as we enter into His healing power to brinig such help to our brothers & sisters as we strive to become Alto Christus.