Psychological Observations on the Pedophilia Problem

Hans Zollner SJ

 Hans Zollner SJ
 Giovanni Cucci, SJ / Church Thought / Published Date:23 January 2019/Last Updated Date:6 March 2020

Recently, newspapers have given wide coverage to cases of sexual abuse perpetrated on minors by members of the clergy of the Catholic Church, especially in Ireland and Germany. Following these events, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland.[1] On several occasions, our magazine has already dealt with this age-old problem.[2] However, due to the gravity of the matter and its recent dreadful reappearance, this time we wish to develop our approach especially from psychological and social points of view.

Psychological characteristics of pedophilia

The study of pedophilia has identified several elements that align it with what psychologists have called “perversions,” “deviancies” and “paraphilias.” These terms indicate a disturbance in the process of sexual arousal, which only takes place in very specific conditions, such as looking at objects and garments (fetishism), wearing clothes of the opposite sex (transvestitism), watching sexual intercourse engaged in by others (voyeurism), exposing oneself (exhibitionism), inflicting humiliation and violence, even leading to the death of the partner (sadism, rape), or finally harassing, inflicting violence, or having sexual relations with children or adolescents (pedophilia, ephebophilia).

The fourth revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), published in the year 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), following the previous editions of 1994 and 1987 (DSM-IV, DSM-III-R), omits the terms “perversion” and “deviation,” because these terms are considered to be judgmental and moralistic, and therefore “non-scientific.” It only retains the term “paraphilia.” The same evaluation standards underpin the 10th edition of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10), published in Geneva in 1992.

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