Screening for pedophiles is nearly impossible because they often appear to be psychologically healthy people, experts say. As a result, they've cropped up not only in the Diocese of Phoenix, but in churches of all denominations, Indian reservation schools, Scouting groups and any other organization where there are children.
And once pedophiles are discovered, some experts say, they can't be cured. In some cases, however, the disorder can be controlled.
The illness of an adult craving sex with children "crosses all socioeconomic lines, all intellect, all different styles of personality," says Dr. Fred Berlin, director of the sexual disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. "It's difficult to look at a person's public persona to know whether privately he's attracted to children.
"These people may in every other aspect of their lives be fundamentally responsible and decent people. The fact that they are privately aware that they are attracted to children . . . is not always easily recognizable."
Berlin says it's difficult to gauge what percentage of pedophiles undergo successful therapy, but he questions the high success rate reported by the Foundation House, a center in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, that treats priests with sexual disorders. Since 1985, the Diocese of Phoenix has sent three pedophile priests to the center, which is staffed by a male Catholic order called the Servants of the Paraclete.
Jay Feierman, a psychiatrist and consultant for the Foundation House, claims that "priests who have gone through the program at Jemez Springs have a recidivism rate of less than 1 percent."
Berlin is skeptical. "The national statistics wouldn't be nearly that good," he says. "As a scientist I'd like to take a good look at their data."
The Servants of the Paraclete have refused to comment on their treatment program to New Times.
Some experts say the Catholic Church should be on the lookout for common-sense signs that a priest might be a pedophile. Robert Emerick, a sex therapist in Phoenix who specializes in treating people with sexual disorders, says, "The best thing agencies like the Catholic Church can do is acknowledge the fact that they are at special risk and not blind themselves to reality when signs appear.
"If someone is middle-aged, has never been married and wants to work with youth groups, watch out," says Emerick. "I'm not advocating paranoia or witchburning, but people don't want to believe that pedophilia is so pervasive."
Boy Scout officials in Chicago try to screen, but they say the best way to weed out pedophiles who sneak into their system is to train kids about the different ways they might be seduced by molesters. The organization shows videos to youngsters and adults that specifically deal with "how these situations might occur," says Ken Walters, an official with the Scouts in Chicago.
"We also teach kids to `yell and tell,'" says Walters. "We teach them that if these things do happen, they shouldn't feel guilty. These things weren't their fault. In the past, people never prosecuted. Before, no one ever told their parents about it. They were too embarrassed."
Such videos are not shown in parochial schools run by Catholic officials in Phoenix. Several local diocesan officials--including Chancellor Tim Davern--say they were not aware the videos existed. Father Charles Kieffer, the diocese's vocational director, says he would be interested in seeing them.