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Apologetics

Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Christian Church

‘A Christian Apocalypse … ‘

Foreword Some ten years ago, the writer commenced work on a document which became the published work entitled, Religious Life without Integrity. It was not a conventional book. I used quotations culled from many sources — and arranged for dramatic effect — to explore various aspects of the sexual abuse crisis affecting the Christian church in the English-speaking world, especially the Catholic church in Australia. In 1999, I sent a copy to the Sacred Congregation for Religious Orders and Institutes of the Consecrated Life in Rome for their information. It was in the nature of a wake-up call. However, this intervention was not received warmly in the Vatican. The (then) Superior General of the Congregation, Brother Edmund Garvey, received an admonition from the Sacred Congregation to persuade me to withdraw the ‘unhelpful’ book from circulation. It was a difficult time. I had moved into dangerous waters, addressing issues and concerns which were painful to write and painful to read. Yet, they were issues and concerns absolutely necessary to be written about, and to be read by church leaders. However, to abbreviate a long story: in the wake of this intervention from the Vatican, a copy of the text was permitted to escape on to the Internet beyond the control of anyone in Australia, Rome or anywhere else. In addition, a friend in Western Australia, at his own expense, kindly developed a new version of Religious Life without Integrity into a better looking and more professionally produced book which was more likely to stand decently alongside similar works on the topic. All this is recent history. However, over those five to six short years there have been extraordinary developments. In the USA, the abuse crisis finally reached critical mass and on the 6 January 2002, in Boston, Mass, revelations of gross behaviour by many priests and pervasive cover-ups by church authorities in this American Catholic heartland, triggered a firestorm of controversy and precipitated a chain reaction of further revelations and the beginning of successful reform. Things will not be the same again. Why then is there any need for a further book, other than to catalogue the events which have occurred over the past few years ? There have been improvements in the church’s response to the child molestation crisis. These are only a few of the positive developments: * There is a greater knowledge and awareness of all aspects of sexual abuse of minors, especially of the serious criminal nature of sexual molestation in all Western countries; * There is widespread knowledge of the harm sexual abuse can do to the victims, especially when perpetrated by respected religious and community leaders; * In response to this knowledge, most dioceses and religious Congregations throughout the English-speaking world have policies in place to address the issues and respond to allegations (of abuse) and complaints of harassment; * These responses are (often) more sensitive to the victims than was the case previously; * Many dioceses and religious Congregations have faced staggering financial repercussions of past sexual abuses perpetrated by priests and members of religious Congregations. New insurance is difficult to obtain, and very expensive when available. Hence, most bishops and Province Leaders are per force, more sensitive to the issue; * Screening of candidates for entrance to seminaries and noviciates is more sophisticated and professional than it once was. In most Western countries there are fewer candidates to assess ! However, in spite of the obvious improvements in institutional church responses to child molestation allegations, there are pervasive problems and attitudes which require constant attention. Father Thomas Doyle, O P, the Dominican priest — famous throughout the English-speaking world for his early warnings against sexual abuse — has recently commented on his attitude to the church:1 What I have seen and heard these past nineteen years has made me profoundly ashamed to be associated with the institutional Catholic church and with the clerical world. Although there are thousands of authentic and compassionate priests, I also know that the clergy in general and the hierarchy in particular have either done nothing to relieve the agony of the Church (over the child molestation crisis) or worse, they have been part of its creation. Broadly Father Tom Doyle’s is the perspective of this new exploration of the problem. While sexual abuse issues have been, and are being addressed by church authorities, there are still glaring gaps and these are limiting effectiveness and closure. In addition, there are embarrassing realities still to be faced: for example, every movement on the part of the hierarchy to deal with the problem of sexual abuse of minors has been reactive. Mr Richard Sipe faced this painful reality in a major address to the National Convention of Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Priests, Denver, Colorado, 12 June 2004:2 Victims of abuse, lawyers, the press, civil and criminal justice, in addition to public outrage have been the forces that pushed — really shamed — the American bishops and the Vatican to reluctant action. The hierarchy of the United States has given no evidence that there is even one among them who will really stand and be counted for justice and ministry to all of those who are abused by clergy who violate their celibacy. We have no Bishop Romero ! Moreover, within many religious Congregations and among ordinary priests and Brothers, denial in its various shades and manifestations, is influential. Church leaders — sometimes well and thoroughly briefed — have to deal on a daily basis with priests and Brothers whose knowledge is less than their own. Within the institutional church, sympathy is focussed on the offender, and the victim often remains a nuisance. The institution leader sees the angry adult, not the terrified child; the ardent churchman sees $$$$$ signs, not the survivor requiring affirmation, redress and expensive therapy. Richard Sipe raised this issue also in his famous Denver address. He asked rhetorically: Why did the ninety+ per cent of clergy not involved sexually with minors neglect to object to the conduct of their fellow priests ? There were ample rumours, suspicions, complaints and reports begging to be investigated. Only a handful of priests have been public defenders and advocates for victims. Why have the ranks of priests joined their bishops in the cover up of abuse ? Why are they still satisfied to be silent co-conspirators ? The offender remains the focus; his concerns paramount. The survivor, the media, the whistle blower, the investigator — these are the problems. The offender is a fine priest/Brother/church worker who — in a magnificent life of sterling service — made a (teeny) mistake; the whistle blower, the investigator, the media and the survivors are the bastards who made things worse by their unforgiving attitudes. Moreover, while many dioceses and religious Orders are addressing child molestation issues, they are more tardy in facing the fairly widespread clerical infidelity to the celibacy vows among some Catholic priests and members of religious Congregations. They are not facing the corrosive influence of sexual underworlds in some church organisations. They should do so. There is the question of scandal, for one thing.3 The casual attitude of some priests to their celibacy vows is leading people from the church, and making a mockery of church teaching on sexual issues. The church teaches that every sexual thought, word, desire and action and action outside marriage is sinful, and seriously sinful if dwelled upon. This includes masturbation. The church condemns artificial contraception and the use of condoms … (Yet) On record is the testimony of Archbishop Sanchez that he ‘used protection’ when he had sex with several young women. The Church teaches that homosexuals are disordered, and that homosexual actions are always evil. However, gay sexual activity among some clergy flourishes. The Church is against abortion … and so it goes on. Teaching, preaching and practice have diverged all too often. In addition, among those doing the wrong thing there is safety in numbers and whether the infidelity is heterosexual, gay or criminal, priests or Brothers (and some nuns) in difficulty with their celibacy vows can provide a protective cone over their mutual shortcomings. The whole situation — on the one hand, an official celibacy for Catholic clergy; on the other, considerable shortcomings in practice — places a premium on secrecy, duplicity and lying. Since the recognition of the abuse crisis twenty years ago, a culture of mendacity, denial, minimisation and duplicity has gripped many church leaders, adding to the scandal when all is revealed by aggressive media probing. It happens too that not all bishops or Province Leaders are as witty as one for whom the writer worked about ten years ago. In 1992, I was preparing a Provincial for a TV appearance, firing questions at him similar to what he would be likely to receive from the interviewer. The word ‘truth’ came into the conversation and he remarked that ‘the truth is a luxury I can no longer afford’. A witty off-the-cuff comment, but it did seem to be influence his media appearances ! In the end, over the years, I have come to believe that everybody should PRESUME that church leaders on the media and their spokespersons are LYING on anything to do with abuse issues. S/he may not be lying, but the presumption has to be that way. ‘The Truth is a luxury we can no longer afford.’ This compounds the scandal of abuse. The tense atmosphere has discouraged serious, frank and independent research on all issues concerned with child molestation by clergy. There is abundant research on the topic, but not much from within the church. Those who seek a serious career in the institution shy well clear of the subject, or tailor their views to suit their bishop or other church leader, no matter what the truth is. The scene in the Catholic church on sexual molestation by clergy has not been unique. On 31 May 2004, the Anglican Archdiocese of Adelaide released a commissioned study on its handling of abuse allegations against its priests. The 94 page report said that the diocese had been more concerned with legal and insurance responsibilities than the care of the survivors of abuse.4 A cynic might say that there has been a strong ecumenical attitude within the Church to screw the victims. The report revealed many failings:5 The Anglican Church had an uncaring attitude towards victims of sexual abuse, and was more concerned with the effects of such allegations on itself, its image and its clergy … the victims were often viewed as mischievous, were threatened with defamation, and in many cases their complaints were simply dismissed. The Anglican Archbishop, Ian George, said that the Church was ashamed and apologised for its systemic failure to abuse victims. One might expect that the the media attention and the firestorm of criticism would provide the critical mass for the Anglican church in Adelaide to drastically improve its rules and performance where sexual abuse matters were concerned. New rules were drafted — to be debated by the synod. However, not all were satisfied. Professor Freda Briggs of the University of South Australia, the most prominent campaigner in South Australia for more stringent laws to protect children, criticised the draft severely on the following grounds:6 * The draft protocols did not place the abused children first; the church was still self-focused; * In the case of allegations, internal investigation remained the way, and internal investigation by definition, was not independent. * The draft blurred the distinction between child sexual abuse and sexual misconduct between adults; * Since the procedures were internal, abusers were warned of an impending investigation. Professor Briggs stressed that allegations should be reported to the police immediately; * Finally, the language of the draft protocols was not easily understood by ordinary people. It was earlier procedures such as these, which had — in one celebrated case — allowed St Peter’s College paedophile, John Mountford, to flee Australia for Thailand at the first whiff of trouble.7 In spite of all these factors, there has been progress, in the Anglican church, in the Catholic church. However, not enough. This book is intended to add to the reform process. Some have said that this genre magnifies the dark, shaded side of the institutional church and ignores the wonderfully positive work which most churchmen and women do. This is true; this is a book on the dark underside of the institutional church, whose reality vitiates so much good work by many church people. The extraordinary range of services which the church provides; the decent, productive, spiritual lives of many priests and the heroic witness of countless others is ignored here; those facts are recognised, but they are not the subject of this book. Hopefully, those achievements are recounted in many other works. Barry M Coldrey Melbourne, Australia 12 October 2004

(>> The book is $A 34.95; £34.95 UK; SUS 34.95 from Tamanaraik Press, P.O. Box 12792, a Beckett Street, Post Office, Melbourne Vic 8006, Australia. p&p included in the given price.) website: http://www.BarryColdrey.com

A Christian Apocalypse: The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Christian Church 1984–2004

ISBN: 1 875258 88 4

Table of Contents: Part 1

Foreword, Celibacy practice, third millennium; ‘High Noon in Boston’ The Crisis Time-Line; Catastrophe to Action; Sexual Network/Sexual Underworld; The Dynamo of Reform; The Celebrity Molester;Lay collusion in sexual abuse; Community and Zero Tolerance; Investigator, Whisteleblower, Busybody

Part Two

Sexual Abuse by clergy through the ages; Brotherhood of St Gerard Majella; The Sexual Revolution; The history of the modern abuse crisis (USA); The abuse crisis in Australia; ‘Men behaving badly’; The Gay Underworld; The Active Gay Priest; Theory and Practice; AIDS and the Priesthood; Bibliography

Creative Commons License
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.

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