The Catholic Thing
Mapping Our Disordered Desires Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Saturday, 25 August 2012

I got the kind of lesson one hates to get the other day. But I suppose it’s important to go through life with one’s eyes open to reality.

I had heard for some time that, even with all the reports that have come in, the percentage of priests who were pedophiles was still no higher than the percentage one finds in the general population. The way the New York Times and the Boston Globe report things, you sometimes get the impression that all the pedophiles were priests, and that every other priest is a potential pedophile.

Are the ranks of the Catholic clergy an especially dreadful refuge of registered sex offenders?  Not so, as it turns out. And this is where my sad lesson came in.

I was discussing these matters with a friend when he said, out-of-the-blue: “Where’s your computer?  Look up a web site called”  “Why?” I asked, not being the kind of person who looks up unknown web sites for fun. “Just trust me,” he said, which was not altogether convincing.

But he’s a friend, so I decided to humor him. In retrospect, I kind of wish I hadn’t. But there are times when one simply must face reality.

So I punch in the web address – – and up comes a map of my little city with dozens and dozens and dozens of little triangles all over it: “Those must be all the crime reports for the year. Do you click on each one to find out what the crime was?”  “No,” replied my friend. “Those aren’t all the crime reports. Those are just the registered sex offenders who live in your neighborhood.”

“Each one of those little triangles,” he  explained – and there were over a hundred within a two-mile radius of my house – “is another convicted sex offender registered with the state. Look, you can roll your mouse over the little triangle, and a picture will come up.” 

Sure enough, pictures of guy after guy came up as I rolled the mouse around the screen. I didn’t spend much time doing this, I’ll have to admit, because as T. S. Eliot suggests in The Four Quartets: “mankind can’t stand very much reality.” 

During the time I spent, I didn’t see a picture of even one woman. I’m not saying there weren’t any; I just didn’t see any. What was shocking, and instructive, was the stupefying number of those little triangles spread all over the screen: hundreds of them. And not only in the “bad” neighborhoods.

     A stupefying number of those little triangles

I showed this web site to another friend who lives in a lovely big upper-middle class house in a well-groomed, upper-middle class neighborhood, where the children can go to the best public high school in the area. He wasn’t as surprised as I was. But he was more than a little disappointed to find one of those little triangles two blocks in one direction from his house, and another one about three blocks in the other direction.

He quickly moused over each of the triangles and was relieved that there was no one he knew personally. But I’m pretty sure he memorized the faces for future reference.

Try it. Punch “” into your web browser and see whether you’re not utterly astonished at the number of registered sex offenders who live in your town within a short distance of your house.

And unless you live in a monastery or a housing development made up entirely of priests, you’re going to have to face the fact that: (A) there are lot of registered sex offenders out there, and (B) not all of them are priests.

Now please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not interested in getting priests guilty of pedophilia or the church officials who protected them off the hook.  Priests who committed sins of this sort certainly caused the angels to weep. (“It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”)

But it doesn’t hurt to put things into perspective a little. This isn’t just a small, localized problem. And once you see the numbers and the widespread nature of the disease, it will almost certainly give the lie to any claim that the pedophile priest problem had to do with the Church’s rules about a celibate priesthood.

You look around at some of the faces under those triangles, and you’ll say to yourself: “I don’t think celibacy is that guy’s problem. He has a problem, that’s for sure, but that’s not it.”  Celibacy doesn’t seem to have played a very big role in those lives.

Not by a long shot.

What does seem to be common to them, however, is living day-in and day-out in a toxic sexualized culture in which people are left to brood by themselves in their lonely set-apart worlds of individualized autonomy. We’re reaping the fruits of what we have sown culturally, and it’s not pretty. Punch in that web address, and you’ll see the crops sprouting up everywhere like weeds.

A wiser culture might have decided to dial back a bit on the constant barrage of sexualized images. A wiser culture might have tried to teach young men about limits and proper boundaries, about lines that just shouldn’t be crossed, instead of constantly pumping them up with sexual images intended to sell them everything from beer to button-down shirts and from automobiles to exercise equipment. But clearly we don’t live in a wiser culture.

Just check the map.

Randall Smith is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, Houston.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (9)Add Comment
written by WSquared, August 25, 2012
"But clearly we don’t live in a wiser culture."

No, we do not. It's always a gas whenever that culture seizes on priestly celibacy and then presumes to lecture the Church on sex and love when it is a culture that has failed spectacularly at both of these things.

It's a culture where so many marriages fail, and where far too many people don't even know what sex is for despite it being everywhere (though they do nonetheless pay it a backhanded compliment through hogwash such as "unprotected sex makes babies" as well as abortion and contraception).
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 25, 2012
Bear in mind that the register only records cases that have been prosecuted to conviction.

Many cases go unreported and, given the need for corroboration, implicating the accused, it is usually impossible to prosecute, unless there are two complainants, who then become mutually corroborative.

There is no more painful task for a prosecutor than to have to mark a file containing a credible complaint, “no proceedings,” knowing full well that the file will arrive back on his desk a few months later, with a second victim.
written by Jacob R, August 25, 2012
Things aren't always as simple as they appear.

Unless things have changed, a great portion of those triangles are 19 year olds who had sex with their 16 year old girlfriends mixed in with true sex offenders.
The cops don't care because, actually, the pension money is more likely to flow from the mostly innocent than the completely guilty.

You'll not find someone who agrees with your larger point more, I'm just making note that there are more evils than just sexual dysfunction at work here.

The whole society is diseased, and a great portion of it is hoping to find someone else to lynch (Catholics work best) so they can forget about their own diseases.
written by Grump, August 25, 2012
Do we really need a map to know where most of the violent crime is committed in America? Let's see: 13% of population commits 55% of "reported" crimes? Draw your own conclusions.
written by Mack, August 25, 2012
If all the allegations -- and perhaps even convictions -- of paedophilia by priests were true, then priests have been working double shifts at being predators, with no time for anything else.

Even one creep is about a hundred too many, though, and we must all do penance for the children because given our popular culture there might not be anyone else willing to do penance.
written by T.D., August 25, 2012
Actually, I'm a little shocked at my results. I live in a rather dense, older, not-so-glamorous closer-in suburb of DC, in an area with a lot of high-rises, and yet there's only one offender within a half-mile of me, and only two within one mile. The concentration of offenders is much higher in the "nicer", less-dense areas. I would've expected at least one in my building of 900+ condos, but in a grouping of about 8 buildings of similar size, there's only one. Good news indeed, but definitely not what I expected..
written by ib, August 25, 2012
It's all about the money. You can only rarely sue school districts for teacher pedophiles. Organized religion is like shooting fish in a barrel for SNAP-like groups.ISKCON, for example, was nearly bankrupted.

Point is that although the problem is endemic to many societies, because of the legal structures in the U.S., only organized religion bears the vengeance and the concomitant financial punishment. However, the Roman Catholic Church has endured worse and will survive this as well.
written by ib, August 25, 2012
As for grump, he's just a troll. Ignore him he'll go away. Soros-funded groups have hired trolls like grump to harass serious Roman Catholic websites. Since they are paid to do this, they simply spew nonsense and venom in the comments. Best to ignore these type of trolls, as wise Dr Smith does.
written by Louise, August 27, 2012
ib, Soros is actually paying for stuff like that? Wow, he is one determined person.
As to Grump, i would be very surprised if he were one of those. I think he is exactly what he has told us about himself--someone who lost his faith a long time ago. I can only assume that he is seeking and that is why he keeps reading and commentating.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters