Canon Barry Greaves pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court last Thursday to seven counts of indecent treatment of boys under 17 and two of indecent treatment of boys under 12.

I was sorry to read this. I know Barry a little, and had always liked and respected him. He seemed a straightforward, caring and intelligent person.

Barrister Mark Johnson said Greaves was deeply ashamed and sorry for what he had done to the boys. Mr Johnson said Greaves was also remorseful for the shame he brought upon himself, his family and the Anglican Church. ‘He deeply regrets what’s happened,” he said.

Any kind of sexual interaction with children is appallingly wrong. And in Barry’s case, a betrayal of the trust of the church, and of the boys and their families.

But in a way I cannot help feeling sorry for Barry and others whose sexual attraction is towards adolescents.

No one would choose to have those kind of feelings. I have visited protection prisons including Ararat in Victoria. Most of the convicted child sex offenders I spoke to there had struggled all their lives to overcome or redirect that attraction, and were deeply ashamed of the times they failed.

Most of them had naively hoped that the boys (it was usually boys) returned their affection, and enjoyed the attention. Often they did, but harm was still done.

Boys (and girls) in their early teens and younger cannot give meaningful consent to sex with an older person. Even if they seemed to consent at the time, even if they seemed eager at the time, they almost always ended up feeling used, sullied and hurt.

No matter how willing the young person seemed to be, harm was done. It was up to the adult to set the boundaries and keep to them. There is no excuse for not doing so.

Some of those who ignore those boundaries are monsters who knowingly and uncaringly hurt children and use them for their own pleasure. Such people deserve our anger and condemnation.

But not all are monsters.

Most people who are disorded in their affections, and whose only feelings of sexual attraction are towards young people, know all of the things I have written above. Many go their entire lives without any genital expression of their sexuality at all. This seems to me an almost heroic level of self-denial – one we would not expect of any other group.

It is easy to judge – and sometimes that judgement is right. But it is not so easy to know, if we were in their place, whether any of us would have the strength of will required to deny ourselves any form of physical expression of our sexuality for the whole of our lives.

I am not surprised that some fall, and while I condemn their behaviour, I cannot so easily condemn them.