It is one thing to consider child sexual abuse from the perspective of the criminal offender. Sexual abuse almost certainly qualifies as an anti-social behavior that is transmitted from generation to generation. Although this issue was not discussed in any of the articles, there is simply far too much evidence that child sexual abusers are very likely to have, themselves, been abused as children to ignore the idea that this behavior is transmitted from generation to generation, abuser to victim. In fact, child sexual offenders seem to have a modified version of the subculture of violence, but the subculture is actually one of sexual violence towards children. In this isolated culture, the sexual victimization of children is normalized. That explains the prevalence of child pornography and groups like NAMBLA. In fact, the offender may minimize the damage that he experienced at the hands of his own abuser and will often engage in rationalizations of that behavior by choosing like-minded acquaintances, viewing child pornography, choosing partners who "consent" though unable to do so because of their ages, and other ways of transforming a sexual assault to a consensual sexual activity in their minds. Moreover, for many child sexual abusers, there is an underlying mental disorder, pedophilia, which makes children their primary sexual targets. The sexual arousal they experience around children is something that is not conscious and is resistant to treatment, which was not understood at the beginning of the church sex scandals. However, there is a gap between impulse and action, and the child sexual abusers described in these articles took steps to ensure that they would be in positions to act on those impulses without facing punishment. Regardless of whether there was an underlying mental disorder, these clergyman offenders chose to engage in behavior that they knew to be illegal and immoral.
Even more interesting than the clergymen who engaged in the sexual abuse of the minors, it is interesting to explore the people in power who helped hide these clergymen's actions, without taking any steps to protect future child victims from them. On the one hand, one can understand the attorney mentioned in Stanton and Mooney's article counseling a priest not to reveal information to him that must be reported; however, it is much more difficult to understand why the church would retain an attorney who would be more concerned about protecting the church, rather than protecting parishioners, because protecting parishioners should be in the church's best interests. In the case discussed in that article, the attorney was not hired to protect that priest's interests, but to protect the church. That he gave the priest advice that seems calculated to limit the information he has available to help his client and to protect a criminal certainly suggests a desire to hide from responsibility for the crimes committed by the clergy.
Furthermore, now that so much more information is known about the child sexual abuse scandals, one can see why a church would want to try to evade financial responsibility for the child sexual abuse scandals; financial liability for those crimes has literally led some diocese into bankruptcy. However, at the time these crimes were initially reported to their diocese, it becomes very difficult to understand why they would not report these clergymen to the police since reporting the clergyman may have caused a temporary problem and some financial expense, but would have prevented the repeated instances of abuse. Even for a single victim, the recovery is likely to have been substantially less if the clergyman was a first-offender, rather than if the clergyman had sexually assaulted 85 boys.
Conflict theory may be the best way to explain the church sexual abuse scandals. Conflict theory generally examines the criminal law and looks at the haves and the have-nots, and demonstrates that the criminal law is a way of keeping the have-nots from taking things from the haves. While conflict theory is generally used to describe conflict between social classes, it has also been used to describe the prevalence of violence towards women and the minimization of crimes with female victims. When examining the church from a conflict theory perspective, it is important to keep in mind that there are three different sets of laws operating in sexual abuse cases: the criminal law, the civil law, and church laws (canonical law for the Catholic Church). Looking at how all three of these laws have used to help protect priests who have abused children helps demonstrate how the church's attitude towards children mirrors the attitude of society at large: children are treated as less than people; in fact, under many laws, children are more akin to property than they are to individuals. Power has traditionally rested in adult males, with women and children being treated like property belonging to a male. Traditionally, Catholic and protestant churches have perpetuated these ideals, limiting women's roles in the church, and indoctrinating children when they are young and not exposing them to opposing viewpoints. This control over the younger generation is critical for religions, who cannot continue to thrive without getting new members with each generation. Therefore, churches have worked hard to perpetuate the reputation that they are safe havens for those people most at risk in society: women and children, while, at least historically, doing very little to actually be that type of safe haven.
One can certainly see evidence of conflict theory in the Vatican's documents about child sexual abuse. First, the Vatican failed to make child sexual abuse a one-strike offense that would lead to a clergyman being dismissed. Even more troubling is the fact that, in that same document, the Vatican approached the idea of anyone attempting to ordain a woman as a priest. That was actually treated as something more offensive than child sexual abuse, because a single incident of a priest attempting to ordain a woman was sufficient to end a priest's career. Moreover, when a Vatican official was questioned about the two offenses being included in the same document, he considered the ordination of a woman to be an offense against the church, but did not classify child sexual abuse in the same manner. That revealed ideals that placed both women and children underneath men in importance.
In fact, that the church kept transferring sexual offenders to positions where they would have continued contact with children demonstrates more than a concern about civil liability; it seems to reveal a desire that these children be sexually abused. One of the church officials mentioned that they believed that child molesters could be cured with treatment, but the church documents that they have had to provide in civil lawsuits demonstrates that they were fully aware that some of these clergymen were not in any way being rehabilitated. It goes beyond reckless to intentional abuse of the children. For example, Carr stated in his letter to Price that Rose was no longer working with children when he was working in a prison facility for boys aged 10 to 21. It is not only the Catholic Church that treats the crimes as minimal; an Episcopal priest who molested a boy had a glowing obituary when he died, that actually mentioned him having to take leave because of a "relationship" with a teenage boy. To characterize child sexual abuse as a relationship reinforces the notion that the child's needs are subservient to a man's. Furthermore, parents are often impotent to protect their children. One priest who had 66 accusations of molestation against him, admitted to many of them, but was never criminally prosecuted was able to move into a neighborhood with children, even live across from a school, and the parents were unable to do anything about him living there.