IPT Book Reviews

Title: Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis 
Author: Phillip Jenkins
Publisher: Oxford University Press, ©1996

Oxford University Press
198 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 726-6000

This 214-page book consists of 10 chapters and a useful index.  The book is neither an exposť nor an apology and its dispassionate tone is a refreshing departure from the hand-wringing tone often found in the literature on this topic.  The large number of footnotes indicate that the author, a professor of history and religion at Penn State University, has done scholarly research.

The main theme of this book is that the current issue of priests as pedophiles is a socially constructed problem based on a moral crisis and which closely follows the work of Jeff Victor and Joel Best.  The author points out the differences between the terms "child molestation" (a legal crime) and "pedophilia" (a mental health term).  The book is divided into three large sections: (1) generation of the problem and the media's acceptance of one type of panic, (2) identification of interest groups (referred to as claims makers) including therapists and feminist groups, and, (3) the significance of what is known about cultural relationships in North America.  Jenkins maintains that causal agents are the feminist movement, the medicalization of child abuse, a strong anti-Catholic revolution, and an anti-male stance.

This book takes a broad social-panic approach and compares what is happening with the issue of priests as pedophiles to the moral panic against sex offenders in the 1930s and 1940s and to the false memory movement of today.  Readers will note that there are few preventive steps that a democratic society can take to prevent future moral panics.  To further complicate the issue, Jenkins observes that "Panics are important because they reflect deep underlying social tensions over matters as diverse as ethnicity, social change, and a crisis in values and social attitudes" (p.170).

This book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by LeRoy G. Schultz, Professor Emeritus, West Virginia University.


Victor, J. S. (1993). Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend (Hardcover)(Paperback). Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishers.

Best, J. (1991). Endangered children in antisatanist rhetoric. In J. T. Richardson, J. Best, & D. G. Bromley (Eds.), The Satanism Scare (Hardcover)(Paperback) (pp. 95-106). New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Order this book: Hardcover

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