Defining away pedophilia would be uncharitable.

A recent conference in Baltimore sponsored by a pedophilia advocacy group called B4U ACT discussed the removal of pedophilia from the American Psychological Association’s official list of mental disorders, known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM.

(This is the conference I mentioned before at which a former consultant to a bunch of U.S. bishops delivered a keynote address.)

The attitudes of the attendees can roughly be broken down into three groups:

1) There were those who do not actively seek removing the various attractions to minors (pedophilia, ephebophilia, hebephilia, etc.) from the DSM, but who desire to work to lessen the stigma attached to being a “minor-attracted individual” (MAI).

2) There were those who believe that as a step in removing the stigma from the various minor attractions, they should be removed from the DSM, but having sex with minors ought to remain criminal offenses.

3) Then there were those who believed that the various minor attractions ought to be removed from the DSM, and there ought not be any laws against pursuing and having sex with minors.

10-year old Thylane Loubry, French model, childhood robbed.

Before we move forward let’s draw a glaring but frequently ignored distinction between the inclinations a person has and the things one does. One can have disordered appetites but choose not to act on them. The person who refrains from acting on disordered appetites has not committed any offense against God and man.

Take the case of a man with same-sex attraction who recognizes the disorder of his appetite and does not act upon it. This man may see male bodies in the locker room that are attractive to him. But he is as responsible to retain custody of the eyes and refrain from fantasizing as a man with rightly ordered appetites who vacations at a tropical beach resort. If both men retain custody of the eyes and do not lust after the bodies they see, they have committed no offense. The same goes for a man who is sexually attracted to minors. The deviancies may differ, and the heterosexual attraction is, of course, the only one that is not deviant at its root, but at the point of lusting after the object of one’s desire, all are called to refrain.

In fact, all persons are called to be chaste according to their state in life—married people with responsibility to their spouse, and single people living celibate until they are married.

So I can find common ground with the people in the first category listed above: those who simply seek to reduce the stigma of having a minor attraction without removing the clinical recognition of the disorder. Our motives for seeking to reduce the stigma may differ—I doubt their motivation is a Christian conception of charity and morality—but the goal appears to be compatible.

Charity demands that we do what we can to help people who honestly and forthrightly struggle with their crosses to struggle well. Part of that is affirming that their appetites are, in fact, disordered; that this does not mean that they themselves are intrinsically evil; that God loves them and will help them carry their cross if they allow him to; and it is in their best interest to refrain from acting upon these deviant tendencies.

Dr. Keith Ablow offers:

Some of the goals of B4U-Act are worthwhile. Encouraging pedophiles to seek psychiatric treatment to resist their pathological urges is a good thing, not a bad thing. I wish every pedophile would get help before ever hurting a child. And the group is absolutely right in asserting that some pedophiles—perhaps the vast majority of pedophiles—never actually do commit a crime. They live with their erotic desires for children without ever acting on them.

I’ve told more than one of my patients that his real diagnosis, given his behavior in embracing drugs, instead of his family or employment, shouldn’t be alcohol dependence or heroin dependence, but “scumbag.” And I then have quickly added that they can do better than that—that they must choose to do better than that, because, deep inside, they are good and decent and lovable. I tell them they can find the courage to do the right thing, instead of the wrong thing. Yes, I sometimes use the word “wrong.” I judge them. It helps.

Exactly.

An important thing to keep in mind is that a person who has a disordered appetite *has* the disordered appetite, and not the other way around. The *person* is the subject whom we love unconditionally because God loves him unconditionally, and thus the *person* is the subject of our compassion and assistance.

The people in the third category above hold a reprehensible position in the grand scheme of things, but at least they are intellectually consistent. They do not believe there is anything wrong with adults pursuing, grooming, and having sex with minors, and thus follow their belief through to its conclusions: official acceptance by the psychological and psychiatric establishment and no criminal sanction against their sexual activities with minors.

The people in the second category, however, straddle the fence, poorly. They either retain some intellectual gymnastics to split the difference (how can we criminalize that which is not officially considered wrong?), or they really fall into that third category but are lying about their intentions. They seek the incremental approach to the normalization of pedophiliac actions by initially “merely” removing the disorders from the DSM, while expecting that such a removal will lead to the decriminalization of the attendant actions. They believe that they have precedent: they cite this exact sequence of events vis-a-vis homosexuality.

The major difference between homosexual actions and the various minor-directed sexual actions, of course, is the ability of the parties to truly consent: homosexual acts include consenting adults (or at least individuals of roughly the same maturity) while the various minor-attraction deviancies, by definition, involve an adult seeking out, playing on the target’s vulnerabilities, grooming, and then taking advantage of, someone significantly younger and less mature. It is predatory in nature. And psychologically devastating to the minor.

This month we had the story from Corey Feldman who says he became a household name before he knew how to spell his own name. In an interview he says that pedophilia “was and is and always will be” the “number 1 problem in Hollywood.” He says that he was abused, and sexual abuse by an unnamed Hollywood mogul contributed to the death of his best friend, Corey Haim. He is emphatic that he had no opportunity to choose whether or not to be famous, had no chance of having a normal childhood, because of the choices of adults around him—parents, managers, executives, etc.

But in every case, be it same-sex attraction, minor attraction, or even an unhealthy heterosexual appetite, the goal of those who wish truly to help people with sexual deviancies is to help them live a holy life. Helping them live a holy life includes recognizing that the *person* requires and deserves a certain attention and care, and that the *person* can feel comfortable to confide in anyone whom they think can help them without the threat of shunning or condemnation. To that end, I can agree that an effort to reduce the stigma attached to having a minor attraction would be a good thing. But, again, that does not mean we cease to view minor attraction (or same-sex attraction, for that matter) as disordered appetites, that we don’t tell people with these conditions that they have a problem, or that we let our guard down in protecting children. It would be imprudent to let children spend the night at a slumber party hosted by a person known to have minor attraction issues. Charity toward the individual also includes not putting them into a near occasion of sin.

Charity also dictates that we continue to refer to disorders as disorders, for the sake of the person afflicted. Defining away a disorder does not stop the disorder, it just reduces society’s, and the individual’s, ability to address the disorder. If we took laws against murder off the books, the murder rate would drop to zero, while homicide would continue and probably increase. If the psychological professionals who have responsibility for defining what is a mental disorder and what is not seek to help persons with mental disorders, then the professionals have effectively told the persons afflicted, “You have no disorders, all of your mental faculties and sexual desires are perfectly normal.” And when the professional community ceases to regard something as a disorder, why should the great unwashed masses continue to hold onto an outdated “phobia.” Those who do can be safely ignored as backward hateful religious morons. But then, when faced with a sociopath who does not recognize his minor attraction to be a disorder, society has lost its ability to tell the person what he has done is wrong. Laws on the books may still criminalize pedophiliac actions, but why? Lack of consent? As John C. Wright ponders, how long before consent is tossed aside and we stand before the awful reality of absolute, unquestionable sexual license for all?

So then where are we in responding to the B4U ACT crowd? Decriminalization is a non-starter for anyone with any sense, or at least concern for the well-being of minors. Removal from the DSM would not accomplish the goal of helping treat the disorder since it would remove an important tool from the professionals’ toolbox.

In the end, charity and prudence are needed on the part of all persons—oddly enough. Charity to rebuke with firmness but compassion. Prudence to protect the vulnerable and set straight those astray. And in all cases, much prayer.

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32 thoughts on “Defining away pedophilia would be uncharitable.

  1. Brad Birzer says:

    Tom, this is a very heated topic, and you handled it all well. Take solace, my friend.

    1. Tom Crowe says:

      Thanks, Brad. I’m actually surprised there wasn’t more anger from the other side on this one.

  2. Brad Birzer says:

    Apologies for the typo–I meant “there” not “their.”

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