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There’s hardly a more disquieting and grotesque topic than pedophilia, but, as Mary Eberstadt reveals in her essay on “ pedophilia chic ,” it has not always been given the condemnation it deserves, even—as it were—in America.

Present unanimous disapproval comes from the political right and left—so much so that in the thick of the Polanski scandal, “The New York Times and the Washington Post . . . untrue to form, found themselves editorializing about the case in phrases that the Washington Times or the Catholic League could have reprinted verbatim.” Interestingly, both conservatives and liberals arrive at their condemnation of pedophilia through moral reasoning—though liberals, on nearly every other matter of sexual morality, allow only pragmatic considerations in public discussion.

But as late as the 1990s, this unanimity could hardly have been predicted, as a sizable cadre of “enlightened folk” were still wondering whether “intergenerational sex . . . might be worth a cheer or two.” Perhaps current disgust for this attitude is motivated by guilt, as the “enlightened” view of child abuse was entertained by more than a few opinion-machines of the likes of The Nation , New Republic , Vanity Fair , and the American Psychological Association.

Interestingly, Eberstadt identifies this decade’s abuse scandal among priests—or, perhaps, the coverage of it—as a watershed moment for our attitude towards the vice. Not only did the scandals do away with all vestiges of benignity pedophilia retained, but they made the public acutely aware of the lasting harm sexual abuse causes. And while the scandals gave professed enemies of the Church a motive for claiming a moral high ground, “the Church’s harshest critics are, generally speaking, the same sort of enlightened folks from whom pedophilia chic had floated up.” So the libertine view of “pedophilia chic” and hating on the Church were no longer compatible.

While the problem of pedophilia has not gone away, we can take consolation in Eberstadt’s assurance that this grave wrong “remains a marker of right and wrong in a world where other markers have been erased.”

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