Nazir Afzal, the Chair of Catholic Safeguarding, sent this tweet a few days ago:

nazir afzal@nazirafzal·Feb 12Lesson

Technically a “Paedophile” is abusing pre-pubescent children

A “Hebophile” abuses those in early stages of puberty, 11-14

A ‘Ephebephile” abuses those in later stages, 15+

The reason why you don’t hear that

Because making that distinction makes you sound like a Paedophile

I asked him to explain it, because such definitions are commonly used by people to excuse and defend sexual abusers of older children. His tweet came out of the blue, without a previous or a follow up tweet. Why he would also introduce it as ‘Lesson’, I don’t know.

 I’ll ask him again here:


I would also note again that – only a few days earlier –  he had, for the second time, insisted to me personally in a Zoom meeting that he only tweeted his personal opinions. He never tweeted about matters that related to his work as Chair of  Catholic Safeguarding.

This tweet clearly has everything to do with Catholic Safeguarding.

And it’s not just a matter of semantics. Of ‘technical clinical distinctions’ (see the Guardian article below). As Chair, Nazir’s words carry great weight and his words are read by thousands of his followers.

So it’s serious.

As another survivor gave their view of Nazir’s tweet, ‘It’s very offensive’.

Here’s how Nazir’s distinctions have been used by others to defend Epstein:

‘Correcting Wootton calling him a paedophile, Lady C  (Lady Colin Campbell) said that it is a ‘medical term’ and that actually that Epstein was an ephebophile – an adult who is sexually attracted to adolescents, usually between the ages of 15 to 19’

And it’s also relevant to Virginia Giuffre. Daily Mail readers have largely condemned her because she was  abused at 17. Ignoring the fact that she was originally abused at 14 through to 17. So it was part of an ongoing continuum of abuse.  

I can understand how that works  because it was a similar continuum for me  up to the age of 16 when I finally escaped my middle class Catholic abusers by leaving home. 

Nazir’s definitions thus gloss over continuums of abuse and that’s one of the definitions’ purposes for defenders of abuse.

Nazir’s reply was

nazir afzal@nazirafzal·15hReplying to @jebrittan2 and @PatrickEMillsJoanna, Patrick

I don’t use any term other than “child sex abuser”

None of the other terms have any legal status

I’m merely noting that there are 3 terms used by professionals but they are all child sex abusers as far as the law is concerned

If you look at his first tweet above you’ll see that his second tweet doesn’t make complete sense and is an inadequate response.

He’s simply side-stepped the issue, as you might expect from a lawyer.

My tweet on this issue make it clear why it’s inadequate:

It’s wrong when the Chair of Catholic Safeguarding @nazirafzal tweets about unpronounceable, irrelevant,(and inaccurate)  academic terms that no one cares about. Except the Catholic Church which has used these terms to mitigate such crimes against older kids

Inaccurate because the Vatican itself extends the term of paedophilia for longer than Nazir’s definition. 

So where’s the proof that the Catholic Church itself  weaponizes these very same words to defend Catholic abusers?

Okay, here we go.

I’ll stick to examples of Bill Donahue head of the powerful American Catholic League. But don’t dismiss Bill as a unique, aggressive, middle-class Irish Catholic thug. (He once wanted to physically attack Christopher Hitchens. )He’s playing to his Catholic American audience and he knows exactly what he’s doing There are other examples I can find if I dig deep enough. I remember reading them five years ago and being incensed.  Currently, there’s Philip Jenkins, for example, who’s a prominent writer on an authoritative Catholic website, except he chooses his words rather more carefully than Bill. But his sub-text has much in common..

And what Bill says is what the Catholic Church really says and thinks behind closed doors.

I know this with absolute certainty, because, when I was 15, middle class Catholics back then – lawyers, teachers and other professionals – talked to me in similar terms. Which is why I have to write this post. Because the 15 year old inside me is furious with Nazir for providing such characters with fuel. 

I also recall my Catholic mother commenting on a notoriously violent St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, Catholic lay teacher.  This man later ran off with an eleven or twelve year old boy to Europe. IIRC, it took a year for them to be found. It’s on my site. The teacher had promised that the boy would become head of a children’s order of Catholic Knights like the Knights of St Columba. My mother smiled as she read the newspaper account: ‘What a silly man to be taken in by that boy.’ It was the Lolita-like boy’s fault for seducing a foolish and weak man.  My mother’s attitude was – and is – commonplace amongst Catholics. I’ve personally heard other Catholics similarly condemn ‘wicked children’. The Magdalene Laundries were filled with these ‘harpies’ who led poor, weak Catholic men on. They deserved their punishment at the hands of the good nuns.

So this technical jargon of Nazir’s is a godsend to Catholics. It’s ammunition.

 Nazir, by using the same terms, and as Chair of Catholic Safeguarding, is aligning himself  beside these apologists for the most vile of crimes.

Here’s the Washington Examiner (my emphasis)

But Donohue says unto you: “This is an obscene lie. Most of the alleged victims were not raped: they were groped or otherwise abused, but not penetrated, which is what the word ‘rape’ means.”

You have heard that it was said, “The abusive priests were pedophiles.”

But Donohue says unto you: “This is the greatest lie of them all.” Earlier studies of priestly sex abuse have shown that, church-wide, “81 percent of the victims were male, 78 percent of whom were postpubescent.”


So it’s okay? Right. Bill?

Here’s the Guardian (my emphasis)

“Roberts” here is former CNN anchor Thomas Roberts, a former Catholic abuse victim himselfThe transcript:

Roberts: Bill is good but you cannot link homosexuality to a paedophilia crisis in the Catholic church.
Bill Donohue: It’s not a paedophilia … most of the victims were post-pubescent …
Roberts: You know …
Donohue: You’ve got to get your facts straight. I’m sorry. If I’m the only one that’s going to deal with facts tonight so be it. The vast majority of the victims are post-pubescent. That’s not paedophilia, buddy. That’s homosexuality.

In a technical and clinical sense, a case can be made for the way Donohue defines paedophilia, which (technically and clinically) is meant to refer to abuse of pre-pubescent boys. Historically, “paederasty” is more associated with teenage boys. Whatever. The important thing is that when it comes to the law, both are illegal, as Donohue surely knows.

But it’s when he says “that’s homosexuality” that he begins his stroll into the quicksand. It seems obvious that “consensual” is his implied adjective there. He seems clearly to be saying that once a young male attains puberty, he is making a choice.

O’Connor: Sorry Larry, at what age does somebody become, you know, post-pubescent in America as a matter of ages?
King: What is the age?
Thomas: Ah… I don’t know. Let’s ask Bill. He seems to be the authority on post-pubescency.
Donohue: 12, 13 years of age.

But it’s that “12, 13” that I hope made you gasp. Again, the man is so out of it that it’s hard to pin down exactly what he meant. He might have meant that by that age, some boys become volitionally gay, and so having sex with priests is something they choose to do (“that’s not paedophilia, buddy. That’s homosexuality”).

He might have meant that gay priests can’t help but be enticed by post-pubescent boys, because that’s just how homosexuals are. Whatever he meant, what came out was that he was leaning on a technical clinical distinction about the definition of paedophilia and asserting that the abuse of boys once they’ve grown pubic hair is in some sense not a problem.


And here’s Queerty. Bill had run a full page ad in the New York Times which Queerty quotes (my emphasis). As a 100% heterosexual survivor of Catholic abusers myself, I can confirm that Queerty are absolutely right in repudiating Bill’s nonsense and I sympathise with their anger.


This is from Bill’s ad:

The refrain that child rape is a reality in the Church is twice wrong: let’s get it straight—they weren’t children and they weren’t raped. We know from the John Jay study that most of the victims have been adolescents, and that the most common abuse has been inappropriate touching (inexcusable though this is, it is not rape). The Boston Globe correctly said of the John Jay report that “more than three-quarters of the victims were post pubescent, meaning the abuse did not meet the clinical definition of pedophilia.” In other words, the issue is homosexuality, not pedophilia.

Queerty comments (with commendable restraint): I can think of few people doing more damage to innocent children than the child molesting clergy victimizing them. But Bill Donohue is a close second.


The English  Catholic Church has distanced themselves from Donahue’s view. But this only adds to the mixed messages and smoke and mirrors for which the Catholic Church is infamous.

So why on Earth is Nazir tweeting  such dangerous and toxic definitions now? I don’t believe it just happened. I want to know why.

Look at people like Donahue, Lady Colin Campbell and Daily Mail readers who also make these very same ‘technical clinical’ distinctions. They all have one thing in common:

They are defending and making excuses for sexual predators of older children.

Yet Nazir’s organisation is meant to protect kids from sexual predators of older children.

Nazir makes the worrying conclusion.

‘Because making that distinction makes you sound like a Paedophile’

He is clearly suggesting that distinction is an unfair over-reaction and is unjust.

For the Chair of the CSSA to reach that conclusion is inappropriate. To put it mildly.

Nazir has come off the fence and shown who he really is and what he really stands for. He is shoulder to shoulder with the Catholic Church as it tries to minimise its crimes.

He is not on the side of survivors.

Perhaps he doesn’t really understand the complexities and vileness of abusive Catholic culture. When I’ve tried explaining Catholics to outsiders they look at me in absolute horror and disbelief, so it’s a concern. How much homework do you need to do? I’ve spent a lifetime and I’m still coming to grips with its evil and criminal nature.

And should any apologist dismiss this as a silly debate about semantics, I’d refer you to Catholic Canon Law which has provably subverted and defied the Law of the Land by provably advocating leniency towards priest abusers. See my earlier post on Canon Law. The definitions in Nazir’s tweet are an integral component in such leniency.

If there is no real explanation forthcoming for Nazir’s tweet and it was just a thoughtless message, he needs to withdraw it, now, without qualification.

As a survivor of all three of the  categories Nazir is highlighting for our ‘lesson’,  I’m offended by the message that he’s sending out.

So whom do I complain to?

To the CSSA? But Nazir is the Chair.

Or his boss maybe? Cardinal Nichols, who has resisted endless calls on him to resign for his failure to handle clerical sex abuse.

So I will find other ways.   

It’s important because – to quote another survivor – people may wrongly assume that, after decades of appalling responses, Catholic Safeguarding is now doing a good job under new management.  And therefore Catholic children are safe and all is well.

Not so.

See my previous post.

We survivors will be there to challenge Nazir’s inevitable window-dressing PR and damage limitation exercise when it finally comes.

The CSSA needs disbanding and replaced by a genuinely independent body with executive power to cut down the whole orchard of rotten apples.


Don’t expect a standing ovation from survivors, Nazir.

Only from your paymasters, the Bishops.


  1. Hi Pat, just to mention that I have seen this argument of supposed subcategories of molestation used to defend other abusers and the abuse of older children and teens in a non-church context- the words & actions of Allan Ginsberg and Burroughs, for instance; Foucault and many French academics/intellectuals (the infamous letter on age of consent); a moderately famous Irish language poet who targeted youths in Nepal, etc.
    This certainly does not mitigate the actions of church abusers and their excusers. Guilt-in-common does not become diluted in that way.

    Thanks for your writing, and best wishes,

  2. They abused 10/11/12 year old boys the most because that was the age most altarboys were, if most of the altarboys would have been 8 that would have been the average age.

    As for all the other stupid stuff these people say:

    There is this Irish swimming coach that was a rapist and all the *philes ( i hate that phile means love) , there is a good podcast called “where is George Gibney”
    about this piece of garbage, he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, (there might be a connection there with your case and the pedo ring thing) he was in their meetings in America even after he was named as a pedophile in Ireland, he also went to missions in 3rd world countries to “help”, he is super Catholic, and he was mysteriously cleared of his horrible crimes (The following two coaches for the Irish Olympic swimming team were also pedophiles so another pedo ring there, one of them killed his wife and baby, they died burned alive because he was trying to cover up for his crimes).

    The person most affected by Gibney’s abuse was a 17 year old girl, one of his students, who he tied to her bed, raped and impregnated, she has spent most of her life in a mental hospital since then, but because she was 17 it wasn’t that bad according go to the church.

    I also remember a blog a survivor had about his time at seminary where a priest that was one of the administrators went around raping seminarians, but raping and molesting 18 to 21 year old college students isn’t that bad according to the CC (After a victim came forward they gave the rapist a comfortable job in the YMCA but they didn’t barred him form the seminary, he continued to visit and take drunk freshmen to his apartment. They did kick out the victim from the seminary thought)

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Vicky. I didn’t know about Gibney, so I looked him up and it is absolutely awful the case against him. I couldn’t find anything about the CC supporting him, although it would implicit in Ireland. Chances are he was in the Irish Knights of St Columbanus before going to the States and joining the American Knights of Columbus . The crimes of the American Knights are well documented, but the British Knights (Columba) are so much better at covering their tracks. Thus far.

      • Gibney went to the UK (Edinburgh) before going to the USA. He got a glowing recommendation from the owner of a swimming club in Ireland that knew of the allegations against him. After a news article in Ireland about him, the parents pressured the club in Scotland to fire him (the club didn’t want to do it, even though they had know about the allegations against him and didnt tell the parents). He was in fact in the process of grooming two girls in that club, because of the preferential treatment he was giving to these girls, the parents or the other children complained, they later found out about the allegations agaisnt him.

        Gibney had a working visa to America by that time, thanks to another coach and he went there in order to escape. He probably didn’t need the Catholic Church, his connections in swimming were enough, they seemed to be just as bad at dealing with sex offenders. Gibney told someone in America that he had connections in the I.R.A but i don’t know if this is true or not, sex offenders aren’t very honest… He was also friends with a pedo priest, but I think this “man” was into little boys and Gibney preferred little girls.

  3. “that the most common abuse has been inappropriate touching (inexcusable though this is, it is not rape)”

    So, given that this “common” abuse that is supposedly not rape is “inexcusable “, exactly what punishment has the church meted out to reinforce that point? Apart from moving a priest to another parish , that is.

    • They all piss in the same pot it’s disgusting what he says looks like we’re on our own again you’re right who do we complain to now there will be no change while he’s in charge of the cssa window dressings Nickols and Nazir shouldn’t be in there present post I can’t believe they are getting away with it I feel that Nazir should resign none of us have any trust and confidence in him he’s just upsetting survivors and for Nickols what can I say about him he’s still there after resigning over a year ago I feel pat that we are losing our fight now we have to step up a gear hit the national tabloids name them and shame them

      • I agree. They are both a waste of energy. My current feeling is that they have to further ‘wrong foot’ themselves to attract media attention. I’m sure that won’t be long in coming because the Catholic Church is such a fake organisation with so many crimes yet to be exposed.

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