To the editors:

The English language, which served Jason Berry so well and which he used so brilliantly in his report on pedophile priests (24 May) does not seem to have a general term to characterize what he reported. “Horrible,” “awful,” “terrible,” “appalling,” etc are all very inadequate to the reality. (Having to work late at the office can be awful. A blind date may be terrible.)

A classical Greek word might fit here, linked as it is to the tragic dramas in which it often appears: arheton (“unspeakable”). That’s paradoxical, since it’s only through speech that the unspeakable is spoken and must be spoken. Yet, beyond even the copious persuasive detail something remains unspoken, because it is arheton. Perhaps these general thoughts have some value.

The only point in Mr. Berry’s excellent article that needs to be repeated–I would have liked to see it as a running head on every page of the article, a warning label–is that the homosexuality involved in these events has to be sharply distinguished from the behavior of millions of gays and lesbians who struggle daily to live decent lives, struggle and succeed without any help from American society at large; with, in fact, the opposite of help.

It would seem that people who discover in themselves sexual feelings for someone of their own gender, who accept those feelings and try to construct an open loving relationship with another adult are much less likely to harm anyone than are people (such as pedophile priests who act out) weighed down by guilt and concealment of their sexual feelings–one of the most powerful elements of one’s self.

What Mr. Berry does not say clearly enough, in my opinion, is that heterosexual priests can and do leave the Catholic priesthood and get married. But homosexual marriage is not legal in the U.S., not something for a gay priest to look forward to, in considering whether to leave the priesthood.

Stigmatization and suppression of homosexuality, even ideological opposition to it, accomplish nothing they intend. Instead, they ruin the lives of millions of people in large and small ways. Pedophilia is doubtless a complex phenomenon in the individual, but in the mass, its incidence and concealment appear to be increased by homophobia, rather than reduced.

On this issue as so many others, the positions of the Catholic church cause great pain and suffering, without apparently adding any good to the world (except that opposition to birth control in the Third World does bring this church more members).

True, all institutions corrupt themselves by excessive self-protection: they forget their purpose–they sag. But one wonders if this old and noble institution, which from time to time really has brought Christ’s gentleness and beauty into the world, has reached a point in its history where, like the Chicago River, it’s flowing backwards and actually doing the work of the devil.

James Bennett

N. Elaine Place