Earlier this week, we selected as a Quote of the Day a controversial quip from a post by Judge Richard Posner on The Becker-Posner Blog. The quote read:

The problem of priests’ sexually molesting boys would be solved if priests were allowed to marry and if women could be priests, because then the priesthood would attract fewer homosexuals.

It was, like pretty much every Quote of the Day, removed from its context. To see that context, read Judge Posner’s complete post, entitled “Contraception and Catholicism.”

Judge Posner’s comment wasn’t well-received by some in the LGBT community, who viewed it as implying that homosexuals might be more prone to molest children than heterosexuals. Yesterday, University of Chicago OutLaw, an LGBT affinity group at Judge Posner’s longtime academic home, posted an open letter to Judge Posner on its website.

The letter criticized Judge Posner’s post for “suggesting a causal link between male homosexuality and sexual abuse of minors (or even conflating the two)” and for “promulgat[ing] inaccurate and harmful stereotypes regarding gay and lesbian individuals.” OutLaw asked Judge Posner to consider retracting his statement.

I reached out to Judge Posner to see if he had any response to Outlaw’s open letter. Indeed he did. What did he have to say?

Judge Posner sent the following to Outlaw, cc’ing me (and giving me permission to reprint, in a separate email). Here’s what he wrote:

Dear “Outlaw”:

David Lat referred your letter to me; I hadn’t seen it.

You misunderstand what I said and meant; maybe I didn’t express myself clearly enough. I said: “The problem of priests’ sexually molesting boys would be solved if priests were allowed to marry and if women could be priests, because then the priesthood would attract fewer homosexuals” (emphasis added). I didn’t say that homosexuals molest children more than heterosexuals do, a subject on which I’m uninformed. I said that the problem of priests molesting boys would be solved (more precisely, it would be alleviated, since there would still be homosexual priests and some of them would be child molesters–of boys if they’re homosexual) if priests could marry and women could be ordained. The priesthood attracts homosexuals, for obvious reasons, and homosexual child molesters are molesters of boys. Publicity concerning molestation of children by priests has focused on boys, which is why I suggested that an obvious response, though difficult for the Church because of its long-established doctrine, would be to allow priests to marry and women to be priests.

Women, by the way, are much less likely to molest children of either sex than men are. This means that if some (or many) priests were women, there would be less sexual molestation by priests of either boys or girls.

Very truly yours,

Richard A. Posner

This makes sense and is a useful clarification; it does seem that there was a misunderstanding here. Speaking for myself, I did read the language in the original post as possibly implying that homosexuals are more prone to molest children than heterosexuals (as did the members of the LGBT community who communicated to me that they were upset by the statement).

So it’s helpful to know that Judge Posner is agnostic on whether homosexuals molest children more than heterosexuals do. At this point, it seems that the “H” word — “homophobia” — can now be taken off the table (assuming it was ever on the table in the first place; as noted in the Outlaw open letter, Judge Posner’s past writings have shown “respect for the equal dignity of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals”). [FN1]

I reached out to OutLaw for their reaction to Judge Posner’s message. Nick Tarasen, Vice-President of OutLaw, provided this response:

I am pleased to see that Judge Posner has disclaimed any support for even a correlation between homosexuality and sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, as OutLaw wrote in its letter, conflating homosexuality and same-sex sexual abuse is no more accurate, and is just as likely to provide support for anti-gay sentiment (as Judge Posner’s original post certainly has), particularly given the ongoing scapegoating of gay men for the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic church.

(Nor, ultimately, does Judge Posner’s revised explanation adequately support any mention of homosexuality. At best, it suggests that reducing the number of homosexuals in the priesthood would simply eliminate the gender disparity among victims of sexual abuse, but that the total number of sexual abuse victims would stay the same. Even accepting this flawed premise as true, I see this as no alleviation of sexual abuse at all. Any substantial alleviation of sexual abuse would come from Posner’s assertion that, as the gender ratio of the priesthood approaches that of the background population, so too would the rate of sexual abuse — a fact which has little do to with homosexuality.)

Fair enough. Well, here’s another take on the situation — from an LGBT Chicago Law alum who learned of the whole kerfuffle:

I’m baffled. Shouldn’t Outlaw be a little more concerned that the CEO from Equality Illinois went on the local news the morning after a civil unions bill was passed and basically sold out marriage equality when asked a softball question (namely, whether his organization supports it)?

That’s a reasonable take (and it was how some observers viewed the recent boycott of Above the Law for alleged insensitivity to the LGBT community). It’s certainly the case that there are other fish for the LGBT community to fry.

The Chicago alum continues:

Honestly, don’t f**k with the Posner. He will steamroll you even before he’s had his morning coffee.

That’s probably the case 99 percent of the time — but is it the case here?

Judge Posner’s post has generated, in addition to some hurt feelings among gay people, some substantive responses that call into question the correctness of his facts and his analysis (on issues having nothing to do with gay priests and pedophilia). See, e.g., here and here, from Professor Stephen Bainbridge, and here, from Joseph Lawler of The American Spectator.

Our original Quote of the Day post generated lots of comments. With this additional grist for the mill, let’s continue the conversation.

Readers, what do you think? Are you satisfied with Judge Posner’s clarification, or do you feel it is inadequate? Should Judge Posner go further — or is OutLaw overreacting? We welcome your discussion, in the comments.

[FN1] Judge Posner certainly didn’t seem very afraid of me when we did an event together (podcast here) on the subject “Judges as Public Figures.”

Contraception and Catholicism—Posner [The Becker-Posner Blog]
An open letter from OutLaw to Judge Richard A. Posner [University of Chicago OutLaw]
Posner Criticized for Blog Comments on Condoms, Catholicism and Molesting Priests [ABA Journal]
Posner Instructs Catholics on Contraception [Professor Bainbridge]
More Posner Sloppiness re Catholicism [Professor Bainbridge]
Someone Give Richard Posner a Copy of the Catechism [The American Spectator]

Earlier: Quote of the Day: Judge Posner Upsets the Gays


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