I'm torn between two reactions upon reading a report about a symposium held today in Baltimore. It was organized by a group called B4U-ACT, which describes itself as seeking to help those who are attracted to children and young people, both sexually and otherwise.
My initial reaction was anger and disgust, as I'd feel towards NAMBLA and similar organizations. The report about the symposium was couched in terms that appear designed to produce that reaction (its headline screamed "Academic conference seeks to normalize pedophilia"). I note that the report was circulated by an organization that describes itself as pro-life and pro-Christian.
However, on closer examination, B4U-ACT doesn't appear to support pedophilia in any way (at least, not according to their Web site). Instead, they claim to want to provide appropriate assistance and treatment to those voluntarily seeking help with their problem. You'll find their principles here if you're interested.
Today's symposium is described by B4U-ACT as follows:
This day-long symposium will facilitate the exchange of ideas among researchers, scholars, mental health practitioners, and minor-attracted persons who have an interest in critical issues surrounding the entry for pedophilia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. The symposium will address critical issues in the following areas:
- Scientific and philosophical issues related to the DSM entry on pedophilia and/or hebephilia
- Effects of the DSM entry on stigma, availability of mental health services, and research
- Ways in which minor-attracted persons can be involved in the DSM 5 revision process
There's more at the link.
My huge problem with the way B4U-ACT talks about this problem is that they appear to deliberately adopt a neutral, non-judgmental approach to those with pedophilic tendencies. For example, their second principle states:
2. INDIVIDUALITY. We realize that other than their sexual and emotional feelings toward minors, minor-attracted people do not have any particular characteristics in common. They vary as do all people, and it is inaccurate to claim that all or most minor-attracted people have certain beliefs or personalities, exhibit psychopathology or specific personality disorders, or engage in particular behaviors. We do not assume that they abuse children, that they are prone to deception or violence, or that their sexual feelings are more compulsive or uncontrollable than other people’s. We see clients as individuals, not as a category.
If someone has never committed an offense against children, that's not an inappropriate attitude. If such individuals can be helped to control their wrong attractions, that's a good and healthy thing for society. My problem is that I don't see B4U-ACT actually coming out and saying, bluntly, that such attractions are wrong. To my mind, this almost completely negates any good work they may do. If they're not prepared to state, categorically and absolutely, that pedophilia, pederasty, etc. - indeed, any sexual activity that exploits children - are always and everywhere evil and morally wrong, I don't believe they can ultimately help anybody. I don't see how one can possibly be neutral towards such practices. (This has nothing to do with being pro- or anti- either heterosexuality or homosexuality; it concerns the age of the participants.)
Of course, this presupposes the existence of objective moral truth - that an act can be classified as innately, inherently good or evil. I have no problem with this at all, but then, I come from a background of the Judeo-Christian faith, which preaches the existence of such objective moral truth. Today, there are many who deny the existence of any objective truth, regarding moral norms as 'relative' or 'situational'. I guess this is the perspective from which B4U-ACT is operating - at least, it appears that way to me.
I'm really torn by this dilemma. From my Judeo-Christian moral perspective, I find pedophilia absolutely evil, one of the worst possible sins. I find no redeeming features in it whatsoever, and can't possibly support any approach to it that doesn't condemn it as intrinsically morally wrong and abhorrent. On the other hand, I must accept that someone who has a propensity towards pedophilia, but who has never acted upon it and never harmed a child at all, does not deserve to be condemned, particularly if he or she is seeking treatment to ensure that they never will act upon it. They're in the same position as any other potential criminal. If they haven't committed the crime, they're not guilty of anything. The law judges actions, not thoughts.
I want those guilty of the crime, the act, of pedophilia, to be permanently removed from society, as I see no way in which they can be cured of their moral and mental sickness. On the other hand, those who may have such desires, but have never acted upon them, are not guilty of pedophilia and don't deserve such punishment. In theory, any organization seeking to help them, in order to ensure that they never offend in that way, should be encouraged. The fact that the organization may operate from a different moral perspective to my own would appear to be less important than whether or not it succeeds in preventing potential pedophiles from becoming actual pedophiles.
I suppose the real problem is that I'm hyper-cautious about the possibility of pedophiles using the 'cover' of a seemingly legitimate organization like B4U-ACT to disguise and conceal their crimes. Readers of my series of articles on the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church will understand my caution! However, is this predisposition unfair? Should I - should all of us - be more open to such organizations, and their efforts to help potential pedophiles before they become active as such? Should exercises like today's symposium in Baltimore be considered acceptable, as a genuine effort to address the problem, or are they to be rejected as an attempt to adopt a 'politically correct' approach towards what is intrinsically wrong?
I'd like to hear from readers in this regard. Please take a look at B4U-ACT's Web site, and read the (very negative) article that alerted me to today's symposium, then make up your own mind. Is this an organization that appears legitimate to you, or could it be a 'smoke and mirrors' deception? Should this and similar organizations be supported in their efforts? Try to look at it rationally, rather than with an emotional, knee-jerk reaction (the latter is all too easy, I admit!).
EDITED TO ADD: The Daily Caller has published an article on the symposium, and other blogs (particularly those with a strong faith orientation, such as these two) are picking up the story. Most of these sources are coming out flat-footed against any approach to pedophilia that doesn't reject it out of hand. Like I said, I'm torn between a similar (and very strong) visceral reaction, and acknowledging that such a reaction can't and won't help those fighting such problems. Still hoping for my readers to provide their insights . . .