So what happened to turn yesterday’s “intergenerational sex” into today’s bipartisan demands to hang Roman Polanski and related offenders high? Mainly, it appears, what happened was something unexpected and momentous: the Catholic priest scandals of the early years of this decade, which for two reasons have profoundly changed the ground rules of what can—and can’t—be said in public about the seduction and rape of the young.
It's grimly humorous to imagine certain social butterflies dropping their broadmindedness about boy-love like a hot potato once it came to light that, so to speak, "even the Catholics are into it!" Nothing makes something uncool faster than making something Catholic. In a totally different context, as just one example, look at how lectio divina has become popular among evangelical Christians once its was denuded of its "Catholic" character and commodified as a "classical" Christian practice. Latinism is very hip these days, in certain Christian circles, but Romanism is as scandalous as ever. Likewise, people instinctively realize that priestly pedophilia--as limited and as 'homogenic' as it in fact is--deeply violates the Catholic mission to care for the least of these and never to lead little ones into sin. Outside of Catholic pedophilia, however, as Eberstadt notes, pedophilia, marketed as a "minority," but not therefore "deviant," custom, is less easily seen for what it is, namely, a grievous sin.
If "consent" is all that divides sexual "perversion" from sexual "development," how can we really say a 13- or 14-year-old teenager is not a freely consenting sexual partner, especially if he or she has been coached for some time among his or her worldly betters to be "open" to his or her own internal "natural drives"? Today, in the more materially advanced countries, East and West, the average teenager has his own cellphone, own room, own email address, own blog, and, according to the conventional wisdom, his own "sexual orientation." If adolescence is precisely the time in which civilized societies should allow youth to "explore" their sexuality, how can such societies at the same time proscribe some "explorations" but not others? There are sophisticated ethical replies, I'm sure; but again, as Eberstadt writes, historically speaking, the reasoning behind such replies is often disturbingly fickle. Sexuality has gone from a sacred responsibility (or vocation), to a secular privilege (or play thing), to a radically individualistic right (and therefore, paradoxically, a kind of mundane religion). Perhaps we would see less of the damage wrought by the latter conception of sex if we brought ourselves back, or at least closer, to the former conception.