A revised version of an address given on July 22, 2006
SNAP National Conference
Jersey City, New Jersey
Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C.
The Catholic bishops would have the general public believe that the clergy abuse phenomenon, which burst into public awareness in 1984 and appeared to reach critical mass with the scandalous Boston revelations in 2002, is now history, as was articulated by Archbishop Wilton Gregory when he was president of the USCCB in his remarks, February 24, 2004. When questioned, they often cite the Dallas Charter, claiming that it is “in place” and most dioceses have self-declared themselves to be in full compliance. The bishops have said the problem is now over because they have done all the right things, but most important, they have declared it to be over. Reality however, especially painful reality, is not subject to the determination of Catholic hierarchs.
Widespread clergy abuse has been a painful part of the institutional Church since its earliest years. The major difference in the present era is the widespread public awareness of it in spite of all hierarchical attempts to keep it buried in deep secrecy. With this awareness has come a fundamental shift: the clergy and hierarchy are not in control of the outcome of the abuse problem. The lay people, the survivors and victims and the secular society are in control.
Clergy sexual abuse has turned out to be a catalyst for the exposure of several factors contributing to the causes of its institutional, systemic enabling and coverup. The papacy and the bishops have resisted all efforts to discuss the relationship of mandatory celibacy and the Church’s traditional sexual philosophy to clergy sexual abuse. They have also resisted all efforts to examine the relationship of the way the Church is governed to the solidly proven cover-up. In short, the hierarchical structure will accept only those elements of causality that do not reflect negatively on them or on the hierarchical system.
The way the official Church has reacted to the overall phenomenon, to the victims, to the lay Catholics who have called for an explanation and reform, to the clergy who support victims, to the media who have supported victims and called for accountability, and to the civil officials who have called the Church to task, has revealed a dimension of the Church that stands in stark contrast to the image most Catholics grew up with and firmly believed in: an image of a Church that was always right and could always be trusted. Such an image is no more.
This paper began with an address to the 2006 SNAP convocation in Jersey City. My assignment was look at the past and estimate where we are today, concluding with my reflections on what the abuse issue is telling the Church and secular society. Contrary to the bishops’ collective fantasy, the problem is not solved, and the “crisis,” as some would erroneously name it, is not over. As long as the complex reasons “why” remain unexplored, and as long as the hierarchy treat victims as adversaries and see clergy abuse almost exclusively as a threat to their image and power, the very dark cloud will continue to overshadow the Church and impede it from being the Christian community intended by the Founder and hoped for by the faithful.
REFLECTIONS ON CLERGY ABUSE-WHERE WE ARE TODAY
It has been nearly 22 years since the sexual abuse of dozens, and probably hundreds, of Catholic children by Gilbert Gauthe in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, captured the attention of the United States' Catholic Church and nearly five years since the public revelation of the massive institutional cover-up of clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston on January 6, 2002. For many of us -- victims, survivors, supporters -- it is difficult to continue to be part of this complex social force and maintain an accurate perspective.
What appeared to have begun in the United States has spread throughout the world: the revelation that Catholic clergy, as well as members of religious orders of men and women, have sexually abused children, minors, and vulnerable adults in every religious and secular setting imaginable. Back in 1985, as we, Michael Peterson, Ray Mouton, Jason Berry, and I watched this dark hole in Catholicism gradually open up, we were even more dumbfounded by the reaction of the Bishops’ Conference and the non-reaction of Pope John Paul II and his Vatican bureaucracy.
I suspect the Vatican functionaries and most bishops might admit that it is difficult for them to stand back and dispassionately evaluate where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. I say “I suspect” because there are too many valid indications that the bishops as a group, and all too often individually, see the clergy-abuse phenomenon from the highly restricted and myopic view of their clerical enclave.
Our present era of clergy abuse revelation began in 1984. Since then, the institutional Church’s governmental system has yet to publicly call for a widespread pastoral response to the countless direct and collateral victims of clergy abuse. Very few of the authority figures have taken off their robes and symbols of power, dismounted their thrones, and gone out to the wounded as Christ would do. Yet there has been significant progress in the struggle for justice and pastoral compassion towards all those harmed by clergy sexual abuse. The progress has been in spite of the Vatican and the world’s bishops, and not because of them.
In spite of being intimately involved with the evolving socio-cultural movement that is focused on clergy abuse and hierarchical denial, I have also been able to place considerable distance between myself and the clerical sub-culture that runs the Catholic Church. I suspect I see the institution and the clerical world as most lay people, Catholic and not, see it.
Violations of mandatory clerical celibacy in the form of sexual abuse are as old as the institutional church itself. The Church’s own canonical history, captured in countless decrees issued by popes, bishops, and councils, demonstrates not only regular instances of such abuse but patterns of sexually abusive behavior. In some periods such patterns became so widespread and commonplace that they were presumed to be constitutional aspects of priesthood or religious life.
Historically, the Church authorities have responded through disciplinary measures against the offending clerics; yet such measures were limited to what has commonly been called the “lower clergy.” Deacons, priests, and religious brothers were punished, but no actual sanctions, other than an occasional forced resignation, have ever been imposed on sexually abusive bishops. In our own era the Vatican, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has mandated canonical penal processes against deacons and priests accused, but nothing has been done to or about bishops who have violated those placed in their trust. The U.S. bishops have said that they will treat such cases with “fraternal correction,” yet they have never defined, much less applied, this principle, leaving us with the realistic conclusion that it is meaningless.
The secret trials of accused priests and the laicizations issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are in complete accord with Canon Law and Church policy. The bishops’ claim that they are incapable of subjecting accused bishops to such measures is also in accord with Church law. Only the pope has the authority to bring charges against a bishop. Any canonical suit brought against a bishop must be heard by a Vatican tribunal appointed by, or approved by, the pope. The bishops were therefore correct when they said that the best they could legally do would be to apply the meaningless process of fraternal correction.
Has the Vatican ever moved against an accused bishop? The short answer is yes‚ and no. Some have been forced to resign, but no bishop has been subjected to a canonical trial. This, of course, points out the institutionalized injustice in the system. The U.S. bishops could have gone on record as requesting the Vatican to subject their peers accused of sexual abuse to the same degree of investigation and judicial process as the accused priests. They did not. The question is “why not?”
Putting the Present in the Context of the Ages
Clergy sexual abuse was not new in 2002 when the Boston Globe exposed the deeply entrenched and institutionalized cover-up in the Boston archdiocese. It was not new in 1984 when Jason Berry courageously exposed the history of cover-up in Lafayette, Louisiana. This unfortunate history goes back to the fourth century, at least, and quite possibly even before. The Church’s own canonical documents prove that violations of mandatory celibacy have been part of the fiber of Church life for centuries. At different periods of history the extent of such violations would provoke official attention. Some decrees would be passed and some disciplinary laws enforced. The interest would wane and life would go on.
There appear to have been four consistent aspects of all of this:
1. There have been constant violations of celibacy, and many of these have been illegal in one form or another, e.g., sex with minors, concubinage, and forced sex with age-appropriate persons.
2. The Church hierarchy has consistently tried to respond to celibacy violations through disciplinary actions against offending priests.
3. The Church has resisted all attempts to seriously study the relationship of mandatory celibacy to sexual abuse by the clergy.
4. The Church authorities have never shown serious concern for the emotional and spiritual welfare of the victims or their families. Nor have they shown any meaningful concern for the impact of sexual abuse on the lay faithful in general.
What has been true throughout Catholic history certainly appears to be true in the contemporary experience. The Vatican and the bishops were generally lifeless as far as clergy abuse is concerned, from the beginning of the present wave in 1984 until 2002. Then, when the massive backlash from the Boston Globe revelations began to sink in, the hierarchy went into action. It was almost exclusively defensive action. Since then all of the officially supported efforts: the National Review Board, Diocesan Review Boards, the Dallas Charter, the Offices for Child Protection, the widespread secret canonical trials, the “One Strike” policy, the public apologies, the liturgical penance services, and whatever else has happened on the official level, all have one glaring common denominator: none of it was proactive. Every aspect of the response was a defensive and embarrassed reaction to the widespread revelations in the secular media and to the pressure from the civil legal system.
When the official church’s public relations apparatus proudly claims it has done more to deal with child sexual abuse than any other organization in society, there are two valid responses. On what is this gratuitous assertion based? There are no hard data to back it up. Second and more important, the official church, from the Vatican to the national bishops’ conference to the individual dioceses, would have done nothing were they not forced to act. If there had been no public exposure beginning in 1984 and no lawsuits and no grand jury investigations, nothing would have changed. The bishops would have known about sexually marauding clerics and done precious little to stop them, much less extend compassionate care to the victims. There is no question that things have changed since 1984, but the changes have been forced on the Church by powers that the bishops have reluctantly realized are greater than they are.
What happened in 1984 and again in 2002 to make the difference? Sexual abuse of children has been taking place for ages. Why did this garner such national attention and shock? A careful study of the socio-cultural landscape appears to indicate that the convergence of a number of factors was instrumental. Children were considered as individual human beings and not as possessions of their parents. Sexual and physical abuse of a child was now regarded as a heinous crime.
The so-called sexual revolution of the sixties and the feminist movement had a profound effect on society’s discussions about sexual behavior. Some conservative Catholic forces identify these two sociological realities as the cause of new-found sexual freedom among clerics and victims alike, enabling them to shed restraints formerly imposed by the Church’s stringent moral code. Actually, anyone who really believes this is ignorant of the nature and causality of sexual dysfunction, but that’s another issue.
The sexual revolution freed people to look at and talk about sexual behavior. It was no longer hidden under a thick blanket of denial that forced society to act in public as if it didn’t exist. Sexual dysfunction was out in the open. It was not a question of immoral behavior that could be stopped by an act of the will or blind fidelity to religious rules. It was and is a sickness, harmful to victims and perpetrators alike. The feminist movement, too, forced us to look at human sexuality as it really is. Spousal abuse was exposed as an evil and not a right.
The sixties and seventies were a period of profound social and cultural change for all aspects of western society. Institutions previously held to be “sacred” were de-mythologized. The judiciary, the medical profession, the presidency, and finally the Churches were brought down to earth. Lay Catholics who read the documents of Vatican II started to claim their baptismal right and slowly began to mature. The widespread and deeply rooted clericalism that sustained the church as an unequal society was revealed to be a virus and not a benefit to the Church as People of God, and not Church as People of the Purple Kingdom.
The revelation of clergy sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults has had a chilling effect on the ecclesiastical system that knew about and silently condoned and enabled it. Finally, the abusers were being exposed and their hierarchical enablers were being called to task. The world had changed, and the ability to hide behind the velvet walls of clerical privilege was rapidly shrinking.
TOXIC SECRECY: KEEPING THE EVIL ALIVE AND THE BELIEVERS OFF BALANCE
Secrecy is now as much a “Mark of the Church” as the official four: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic! Sexual abuse by clerics and the official response to it have not always been enshrouded in deep, dark secrecy. For centuries the official concern and the penalties inflicted on offenders were widely known. In the late medieval period, accused clerics were subjected to canonical trials, laicized if convicted and then turned over to secular authorities for punishment, where the penalties inflicted were severe and included execution in some cases.
In the late 19th century, Pope Pius IX changed the approach by mandating absolute secrecy for all cases of sexual solicitation in the confessional. This culture of secrecy continued and was further enforced by official decrees in 1922 and again in 1962, when the Vatican issued special procedural rules for responding to reports of clergy sexual abuse and solicitation. The Vatican again issued revised procedural rules for dealing with clergy sexual offenses in 2001. Though the document itself has been made public, the secrecy surrounding the actual disposition of cases continues.
The secrecy that covers the canonical trials prevents both the victims and the general public from obtaining an accurate view of how the official church is handling abuse accusations. Neither the Vatican nor the bishops‚ conference will reveal any information on the number of investigations, the number of laicizations, the number of exonerated clerics or on the outcome of specific cases. Victims are regularly asked to provide witness testimony in the canonical trials of their abusers and then forced to wait for prolonged periods of time with no news of the outcome. The secrecy continues to spread a disturbing level of toxicity throughout a Church already seriously endangered by alarming levels of hierarchical narcissism, arrogance, and paranoia. The Church authorities, trapped in a terminally suspicious medieval mind-set, do not understand. They might just began to regain some of the lost trust and respect if they realized that the lay people are mature adults, quite capable of handling disgusting problems like clerical betrayal. One wonders what values are being protected by this obsession with the opaque.
THE NIGHTMARE UNFOLDS
Too many people associate the discovery of the clergy abuse phenomenon with the Boston Globe exposition of the Boston debacle in January, 2002. This was when it all reached critical mass, not when it started.
There had been a few scattered news stories of clergy sexual abuse prior to the series run by the Times of Acadiana in 1985. A priest was criminally convicted of raping a disabled woman in El Paso in 1978. The story received local coverage but did not capture national attention. As an aside, after serving over two years in prison, the priest was released and re-instated in ministry and went on to sexually abuse a number of young girls.
The news coverage of Gilbert Gauthe and the cover-up by the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, was nationwide and touched off a new approach to the press’ handling of Catholic Church problems. After the Louisiana debacle stopped making headline, things were relatively quiet for a short period before a series of serious abuse cases exploded onto the national scene. The James Porter cases captured national attention in 1992. Also, in 1992 and 1993 widespread sexual abuse by friars was exposed at two Franciscan seminaries: St, Anthony’s in Santa Barbara, CA, and St. Lawrence in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. In 1994 the Luddy civil trial took place in Altoona PA. In 1997 the famous Kos case was heard in Dallas, Texas, and in that same year the physical and sexual abuse of residents in a Catholic orphanage was exposed in Vermont. Cases of clergy abuse continued to pop up around the U.S. on a regular basis. With ever-increasing regularity victims, directly approached civil lawyers and by-passed the Church. Why? Because by the late nineties they knew that, with very few exceptions, the Church authorities would react with disbelief, lies, or attempts to cajole them into silence. The victims, as well as the general public, now knew that the official Church would remain in defensive denial.
Having known about the extent of clergy sexual abuse for at least eight years, Pope John Paul II finally made a public acknowledgment in June, 1993, when he wrote to the American bishops about the problem. His response was not only disappointing to victims but proof that at the highest levels, the men running the world’s oldest and largest organized religion did not have even a basic grasp of the nature and extent of this problem.
The papal letter set the tone for the rest of John Paul II’s public statements about clergy abuse. He first expressed sympathy and solidarity with his brother bishops because of the suffering caused them by this problem. He named sexual abuse as a sin, gave passing mention to praying for victims, and then shifted gears and focus to the secular media and its tendency to sensationalize sex abuse. So much for any hope that the pope would align himself with the victims and prescribe any effective measures on any level.
LinkUp (originally known as VOCAL) and SNAP were founded in 1988. Seeing that the official Church was hardly any help to the victims, they banded together to help themselves. VOCAL held the very first national gathering for victims of clergy abuse in a suburban Chicago hotel in October, 1992. Featured speakers included Dick Sipe, Jeff Anderson, Jason Berry, Tom Doyle and a one-time appearance at victim events by Andy Greeley, who gave an insightful address on the role of clericalism in the clergy abuse crisis. The gathering attracted hundreds, including media from as far away as the Netherlands. The late Cardinal Bernardin had agreed to appear but backed out at the last minute because of his fear that people might express anger towards him.
The 1992 gathering took place in the midst of the Fr. James Porter furor taking place in New England. Some might remember Cardinal Bernard Law calling down God’s wrath on the Boston Globe at a press conference called in response to the shocking Porter revelations. The wrath would come, but it would take a few years before it hit the surface and when it did, the target was the Cardinal, and the divine delivery system was the very newspaper the Cardinal had originally called in as a target. So much for God’s obedient response to a cardinalatial summons.
Then came January 6, 2002, and the unexpected tidal wave that hit the American and European scene following exposure of the systematic cover-up of crimes by Geoghan, Birmingham, Shanley, and eventually several other Boston priests. No one expected the chain reaction that was touched off that Sunday morning. Why then and not 1997, 1993 or 1984? Pundits from all sides have advanced their theories. My own is that for the first time the public actually saw physical proof of the bishops’ lies and cover-up. The Globe did not simply recount the Geoghan horror stories. They reprinted letters sent to the cardinal, pleading for help, as well as the self-serving and blatantly dishonest official responses given. Here was indisputable proof of the lies, manipulation, and cover-up. Most significant, here was proof of an uncaring attitude of disdain on the part of the institution.
What started in Boston quickly spread throughout the U.S. The major networks all featured documentaries about clergy abuse and hierarchical cover-up. The bishops were caught with their collective pants down and they knew it. The arrogant and lame public responses of Cardinal Law and bishop after bishop only fueled the flames of anger. The Boston Globe staff told the story with uncanny accuracy in their book Betrayal, published in 2003.
The Catholic Bishops had reacted to the papal letter of 1993 by setting up a clergy-abuse committee. The committee, chaired by Bishop John Kinney, issued a four-volume handbook. It contained some helpful information, but, in general, both the committee and the manual were ineffective. SNAP organized demonstrations at the annual bishops’ meetings in November of that year. Members of the committee had a few pro forma meetings with victims, but these were certainly not to gain insight into the harm or to begin a compassionate response. The purpose of these meetings was self-serving and led to absolutely no meaningful growth in the bishops’ insight into the complex and devastating world of clergy sexual abuse.
There were numerous lawsuits between 1985 and 2002, and some received significant media attention. But nothing seemed to cause a collective cultural wake-up, and, after each media micro-burst, things seemed to quiet down. In spite of consistently losing in the courts, bishops plodded along, ignoring victims for the most part, still shuffling accused priests around and making no effective moves to confront the huge rotting mess that was steaming in their front yard. In the courts, however, things were happening.
Few cases actually ended up in full-blown trials, and when they did it generally amounted to an embarrassing spectacle for the institutional Church. The bishops learned the hard way that they were losing their grip on some of the important areas of society. They especially learned that, in court, bishops and clerics in general are citizens like the rest of us. Some were shocked that they weren’t given the royal deference they had become so accustomed to. They also learned that their retained public relations firms had little effect on the devastating impact of the direct testimony of victims and their families.
Most of the cases filed between 1985 and the present, and there have been several thousand in the U.S. alone, have ended in negotiated settlements. In general, however, this is not before the dioceses have put up costly, often destructive battles during which victims and their witnesses have been routinely attacked by aggressive and insensitive lawyers. It is not without significant justification that Richard Sipe, who has served as a consultant and expert witness on behalf of many victims, has stated that the Church’s attorneys are, in his opinion, the most morally compromised group of people he had yet to meet. As one who has layers of scar tissue from wounds inflicted by these attorneys, I totally agree with Richard. Having worked with close to 300 attorneys in twenty-two years, my impressions of the plaintiffs’ bar are positive. Some handle one or two cases and then retreat, often avoiding any more church-related litigation. There is a significant group, however, who have continued to represent and fight for clergy-abuse victims. These are men and women for whom this challenge transitioned from representing clients...or doing a job...to fighting for justice and healing. Unlike the defense lawyers, the plaintiff‚s attorneys take great financial risks, since they work on a contingency basis. Many have lost sizeable amounts of money, often personal funds, in their quest to help their clients. A number of these attorneys have represented clients on a pro bono basis, something yet to be found among the defense bar in these types of cases.
There is another aspect to the role played by the attorneys and it is this: their clients are nearly always severely wounded and traumatized people who had been devout and unquestioning Catholics. When they sought compassionate help and understanding, their official church leaders generally were unable, unwilling, or both, to provide it. Over the years, I have seen the attorneys often be what the clergy should have been but were not: caring and compassionate supporters. They believed the victims. They showed understanding and sympathy. They were present to listen, support, and guide in ways that went far beyond the call of their legal duty to their clients.
Not too long ago Francis Maier, the chancellor of the Denver Archdiocese, wrote an article, more accurately a diatribe, in a magazine called Crisis. In it he accused the victims’ attorneys‚ of conducting a “rip off” of the institutional Church, based on his erroneous impression that the attorneys are behind the attempts to change the legislation in several States. I met Fran Maier years ago and I recall him as a decent enough fellow. However, in this case he is obviously totally misguided by his archbishop, Chaput of Denver. While he and the bishops criticize the victims’ attorneys, they fail to either understand or accept the fact that historically the lawyers have been what the bishops refused to be for the victims and their families. I won’t go into Maier’s article in detail but will say that if his conclusions represent the thinking of his boss, then neither he nor the archbishop have the slightest idea of the full scope of the clergy abuse problem. Worse still, they show absolutely no evidence of sensitivity to the profound damage done to people abused by clerics. Our experience should have taught us not to expect any such sensitivity from the hierarchy or their minions.
In 1978 and 1979, two priests were tried in criminal court for sexual abuse. One was in Texas and the other in Iowa. The local press published stories about each, but the coverage was limited in scope and superficial in its treatment. Neither story was picked up by the syndicated media. Contrast these cases with what we have seen since 1984, but especially since 2002. After the Boston revelations in 2002, the coverage was front-page and world-wide. It certainly seemed that any control the bishops had over the secular media had vanished in the hurricane-strength winds of the nationwide revelations of abuse and cover-up.
Some have debated whether the media coverage laid the groundwork for the response of the civil courts or vice-versa. I personally believe that the major breakthrough came from the secular media. Once they put the stories out to the public, the plaintiff attorneys found the courts less willing to give the Church deferential treatment. What was actually happening was more complex than simply providing the public with sordid and shocking information about the clergy that had heretofore remained well hidden. The media were directly responsible for the gradual erosion of the deep-seated denial that prevented the judicial establishment and the Catholic and non-Catholic public in general from both believing and comprehending the evidence of the massive betrayal of trust that was exploding before their very eyes. Thousands of cases have been filed in civil courts throughout the U.S. and in several other countries as well. Thousands more would no doubt have been filed were it not for restrictive statutes of limitations. The civil law process has been successful on several levels. A significant number of victims have received well-deserved monetary compensation for the harm done them from the corporate Church and its insurance carriers.
We all know that the money has not and will not heal the wounds, but it has served to get the bishops’ attention. They may have been able to manipulate and intimidate the victims and in so doing denied them not only justice but charity, but they have had far less success manipulating the civil law process. More important has been the fact that through the discovery aspect of the legal process, the official Church’s files have been revealed to the public. Here we have discovered the truth of what has actually happened in chanceries and episcopal mansions. These files have provided objective and incontrovertible evidence of cover-up by bishops, religious superiors, and even the Vatican. They have revealed an aspect even more disturbing than the cover-up: the almost total lack of pastoral or even human concern for the plight of the victims and their families. The files have revealed beyond question that the authority figures of the Catholic Church either would not or could not comprehend the unspeakable damage wreaked on bodies, emotions, and souls by the clergy who actually abused, and the bishops, who ignored, stonewalled, lied, and covered up the abuse.
The years since 1984 - in particular the turbulent five years since the Boston revelations - have uncovered more horror stories of thousands of instances of rape, sodomy, and abuse. he cases, the media investigations, and the grand jury reports have exposed the true colors of the corporate leadership of the Catholic Church. While it is true that several bishops and certainly scores of priests and religious have been equally horrified and sincerely motivated to do something to make it right, the soul-jarring fact is that the default response of the hierarchy has been decidedly unchristian but, in the estimation of critical observers, corporately correct.
DO THEY GET IT? MORE IMPORTANT, CAN THEY GET IT?
Could the ecclesiastical system and its keepers have reacted in any other way? Over the centuries the official Church has defended mandatory celibacy by means of a pseudo-spiritual smokescreen that has betrayed a seriously flawed understanding of human sexuality and human nature in general. The standard priestly formation program has always been constructed with various elements that gradually indoctrinated the young seminarians with the official Church’s philosophy of human sexuality. This philosophy has traditionally been grounded in the fundamental theory that the celibate, or sexless, life is attainable, but, more important, it is preferable and so much more in keeping with God’s plan. Those who choose and follow it are spiritually and emotionally superior to the masses who involve themselves to some degree in sexual activity. While scores of books have been written defending the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality and celibacy, many more have challenged it. For our purposes, it is important to recognize the historical evidence that has shown that, contrary to the justifications and claims of success constantly repeated by the official Church, mandatory celibacy has not been consistently successful. In its failure, it has left hundreds of thousands of bodies, emotions, psyches, and souls deeply wounded.
I categorically disagree with those who claim that mandatory celibacy itself causes men (or women) to turn to sexual abuse of minors, children, or vulnerable adults. I also disagree with those who claim that a healthy, happy, and spiritually creative celibate life is impossible. In my life in the institutional Church I have met, lived with, and worked with far too many celibate men and women whose dedication to the mission of Christ and whose healthy approach to life amazed and edified me. Yet we cannot deny that the imposition of mandatory celibacy on all clerics has taken a terrible toll.
I return to the question of whether or not the official church could have reacted any other way and would like to frame my response within the context of official celibacy. I don’t believe the hierarchical system or its keepers could have responded in any other way. I say this for three reasons:
The Vatican never issued any instructions or guidelines to bishops about how to extend true pastoral care to the victims and their families. In recent years the official church has put on workshops and seminars to instruct clergy on how to conduct canonical trials. The bishops have met numerous times, as have their attorneys, and the subject matter is always the same: how do we protect ourselves from civil suits and how do we prevent and escape liability. The official Church in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and continental Europe has never made any attempts, serious and substantial or even mediocre, at addressing the pastoral and spiritual needs of the victims and their families.
I am offering the strange clerical culture and the complex dynamics of mandatory celibacy as explanations and not excuses for what all agree has been an unspeakably scandalous response by the official church to the very people it has harmed.
THE SHRINKING OF THE INSTITUTION
The clergy abuse nightmare is a socio-cultural phenomenon with an impact that extends beyond the Catholic community. The institutional Church is an influential part of secular society. In addition to providing for the purely religious needs of Catholics through its sacraments and rituals, the Church also responds to a wide variety of social and cultural needs. It looms large on the social, cultural, political and economic landscape. Historically, the “Church” has all too often been equated, in the minds of many, with the hierarchy and clergy. In spite of the totally erroneous theology that the bishops and clergy are the church, one cannot dispute their power and influence. This historical identification of the Church with the clergy and hierarchy has enabled the clandestine and cryptic response to accusations of clergy abuse. As we stand back and look at the fallout over the past few years, we can say with some sense of relief that things are changing. The institutional Church and especially the clerical aristocracy are shrinking.....finally!
Lay Catholics and even some priests are maturing at a rate that is alarming to the bishops, but far too slow for Church as community. As the duplicity, dishonesty, and even cruelty of many hierarchs and clergy have been exposed, the foundations of their privileged positions have deteriorated, having been sabotaged by the bishops themselves. In numbers that are alarming and threatening to them, Catholic adults are not disengaging their brains and their maturity when they walk into Church or when they approach a cleric. This of course comes as a tremendous shock to the hierarchical system, which depends for its survival on the institutionalized conviction that the Church is an unequal society. Thus, the truly adult Catholic lay person has become the bishops’ worst nightmare. This all happened because of the exposure of widespread clergy sexual abuse and the equally widespread pathological response.
The size and influence of the institutional Church are shrinking because many adults are abandoning their childish, unrealistic beliefs. The civil courts are playing a powerful role in this process as well. Victims have sought relief from the civil courts almost exclusively, because the official Church either did not respond to them or responded in a harmful manner. The courts, prodded by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, have steadily chipped away at the toxic belief that Churches and professional Church people always do good. One need only give a superficial glance to many of the activities of church-related organizations and church authority figures over the past few years to see that organized religion is not only capable of great harm but, in fact, has inflicted and continues to inflict such harm on believers and non-believers alike. We should all read and even study Marci Hamilton’s recent book, God vs. The Gavel for a graphic wake-up call to the destructive aspects of organized religion.
The shrinking of the institution and the demand for constant accountability has been hampered by widespread apathy and denial among the general Catholic population. The failure of the laity as a group to rise up in outrage at the knowledge of clergy sexual abuse of the Church’s most vulnerable is a pathetic testament to the quality of Catholic moral teaching. The institutional Church has historically pointed accusing fingers at other denominations, secular groups, societies, and individuals when any had done something or thought something the Church didn’t agree with. It has not mattered that many of these accusations would have been ludicrous were they not so potentially harmful, such as Cardinal Lopez-Trujillo’s recent reckless statement that condoms are useless in preventing AIDS. Yet when it comes to serious internal problems or the spectrum of outrageous corruption such as we have seen, the institutional defenders react defensively and go to every possible length to deny responsibility and, failing that, to shift the blame.
The enraging aspect of this is that so many apparently mature and otherwise intelligent Catholic lay adults believe such nonsense. Far too many are still afraid to think outside of the stultifying ecclesiastical box. Too many more believe the erroneous propaganda dispensed by the institutional church simply because a bishop or archbishop said it. This is magical thinking at its most destructive level.
SOME THOUGHTS ON WHERE THINGS STAND NOW
Some have naively thought that once the Vatican became engaged the “problem” would be taken care of; but the reality is that the Vatican has known about the ravages of clergy sexual abuse for centuries. It has been well engaged in the contemporary era, but has only acted when forced to by the post-Boston tidal wave of negative publicity and endless lawsuits. Pope John Paul II responded to the massive bruta figura publica by calling the American Cardinals to Rome in what turned out to be nothing more than an ineffectual publicity event.
Although the late pope spoke of his love for children and his abhorrence of the sin and evil of sexual abuse, the true measure of his commitment was seen in his continued protection of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the notorious Legion of Christ, brilliant fund raiser, and accused sexual abuser. Rather than allow the course of canonical justice to proceed and possibly exonerate El Padre Nuestro, the pope caused the canonical process to be short-circuited. So much for justice!
John Paul II died in April of 2005 and was replaced by his former enforcer, Josef Ratzinger, who has surprised many by taking a significantly different approach. Not long after his accession to the papal office, the superiors general of two religious orders were removed because of accusations of sexual abuse. The revered Fr. Maciel was one of them. His Teflon coating had somehow worn thin. True, he was not “defrocked” nor were the findings of the official investigation made public, but the outcome leaves little doubt in the minds of those who know how the Vatican operates that the charges had plenty of substance. The man whom John Paul II had publicly held up as an inspiration for youth had now been removed as head of the Legion, forbidden to celebrate public liturgies, and “invited” to spend the rest of his days in prayer and penance. In spite of the careful language used in the official Vatican communiqué, the translation is fairly obvious. Maciel was found to have been guilty, removed from office, forbidden to do public liturgy, and relegated to clerical limbo for the rest of his days.
Yet even if Pope Benedict XVI is personally sympathetic to the plight of the abuse victims, outraged at the conduct of the errant clerics, and committed to at least trying to do the right thing, there remains the influence of the Vatican bureaucracy. It is probably true to say that although the pope is the absolute ruler of the universal Church, he remains unable to control that Byzantine and murky maze known as the Roman curia.
Public statements made by various officials, as well as private statements that have leaked out, confirm that the common curial attitude remains defensive and aloof. The Vatican office holders are even further removed from reality than the local hierarchies, so there is little reason to hope that there will be any revolution in awareness coming from any corner of the papal enclave.
The official Church response has been focused on the accused clerics. In 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an edict that contained revised procedural rules for dealing with selected serious canonical crimes, chief among them clerical sexual abuse. Under the guise of protecting children and the vulnerable from clerical sexual predators, the Vatican has aggressively sought to submit any accused cleric to a canonical trial. Laicizations have stepped up dramatically, and the ultimate penalty, once avoided at all costs, has now become somewhat of a norm. The present policy has not solved the problem, nor has it satisfied those who still demand that the official Church act like a Church and not a corporation. The canonical trials, both here and in the Vatican, remain shrouded in secrecy. The accused appear to be treated with the same hierarchical disdain as the victims. Dispatching every accused and guilty cleric will not come close to being the solution that will show that the hierarchs finally “get it.” Too many of us cynically and probably accurately interpret the “purge” as a frantic attempt by the official church to rid itself of its once “dearly beloved sons” who have now become a serious liability.
IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT THE BISHOPS
The most effective action the pope could take would be to receive the victims and personally engage them in an effort at healing. His predecessor, in spite of statements of concern for the victims, refused all requests not only for audiences but even simple recognition. A personal meeting would have to be followed by a concrete-action step, keeping in mind that the Vatican’s traditional way of doing things is long on words and short on action. A respectable action program would involve launching a worldwide, comprehensive effort to bring about true pastoral and spiritual healing for the victims and their families and the countless others scandalized and confused by the Church’s response to clergy abuse.
In suggesting a program, I am surely not referring to a program that would have as its goal restoring the damaged and devastated to active membership in the institutional Church. Such a thought is both unrealistic and insulting. I refer only to extending concrete efforts to help people heal and find self worth and happiness. Such a process was recommended by the group assembled at St. Louis in February 1993 for the so-called “think tank.” Their recommendations and conclusions were concrete, practical, and potentially effective. Yet once they made it to the Bishops’ Conference they were minimized and rendered meaningless precisely because they recommended a real shift of focus and attention from the bishops to the victims. The St. Louis recommendations and any subsequent suggestions for steps that would really make a difference will no doubt remain a wishful dream. If anything, the present crop of bishops will concentrate not on restoring the victims, but on restoring their own decimated power and rapidly eroding prestige.
Thanks to the efforts of the late pope, the U.S. hierarchy has become more clericalist, monarchical, and narcissistically self-absorbed than at any time in recent history. They are sustained by their commitment to a model of “church” that is archaic and grounded in a theology that has little if any resemblance to the scriptural notion of church as community or as, Vatican II named it, the “People of God.” Granted, there are exceptions, and a few men who stand out as reasons for hope, but by and large the ecclesial landscape is bleak. And, if one needs additional reason to be pessimistic, the current collection of young priests provides it. As one venerable old padre said to me, “they are so shallow and clerical that they’re scary.” So, from all of this, what can one expect, much less hope for?
First, it‚s quite clear that the public expressions of apology and promises of reform have been a public-relations effort and certainly not an expression of true compassion. The bishops promised action, and they gave it in the form of concerted efforts at removing as many accused priests as possible, but they still haven’t come close to doing what needs to be done. The overall response of the Bishops’ Conference and of many individual bishops has been bureaucratic, defensive, and insincere. Even if many wanted to break loose and take revolutionary pastoral action, the overall organization seemed to be bogged down in a pit of bureaucratic quicksand. They seemed to really believe their own public relations propaganda, epitomized in Wilton Gregory’s disastrous remarks in February, 2004, that the clergy abuse phenomenon “is history.”
The recent events in Chicago, Santa Rosa, Scranton, Los Angeles, Portland and Miami, to name but a few ecclesiastical jurisdictions, make it clear that the hierarchy’s commitment is not to reform but to its own survival. Bishops have refused to disclose the names of known abusers. They have continued to allow their attorneys to brutalize victims in court. They stubbornly persist in refusing to scrutinize their own role in the nightmare. The clearest expression of their true colors has been the organized, concentrated campaign to defeat all attempts at passage of State legislation that would favor victims of all sexual abuse, not just that perpetrated by Catholic clergy.
In what is obviously an organized national campaign, the bishops have used erroneous, misleading, and even slanderous information in an attempt to discredit the victims of clergy abuse, their attorneys, and their supporters. Their goal is to prevent the passage of any legislation that would extend or eliminate statutes of limitation. Their highly paid public relations firms, lawyers, and lobbyists have stopped at nothing to defeat proposed legislation that was supported in several states in the past year. Their tactics have been brutal and dishonest.
Among the areas of untruth, conjured up by the PR specialists and preached by the bishops and their minions, three are worth mentioning:
1. The Catholic Church has done more than any other organization to combat sexual abuse. The Church has only done what it has been forced to do and what it has done has been so co-mingled with PR hype that the truth is elusive. Were it not for the pressure of the secular press and the lawsuits, the official Catholic Church today would still be dealing with clergy sexual abuse the way it was forty years ago. There is absolutely nothing praiseworthy or virtuous about the administrative and bureaucratic steps taken in dioceses throughout the country or on the national level. It was all the result of tremendous pressure that the bishops could neither resist nor ignore.
2. The problem is much greater in the public schools. Archbishop Chaput of Denver has been the prominent mouthpiece for this particular myth. His assertions are based on highly subjective and clearly questionable data. In fact, the most credible research points to a conclusion that is quite different from Chaput’s (4.4 % of mental health professionals have abused and 88% were adult females [Pope, 1992]; 3.8 % of students report sexual contact with school pros [Shakeshaft]). Far more important, however, is the historical fact that when a teacher sexually abused a student, his or her career was ended. When a priest sexually abused a minor congregant, he was usually transferred with no major interruption of his career.
3. The legislative changes are only an attempt by victims’ lawyers to “rip off” the Catholic community. This one is really outrageous in light of the fact that the victims’ attorneys take cases on a contingency basis. The bishops are quick to accuse the victims’ lawyers of profiting from the lawsuits, but what they don’t tell the public is just how much their own attorneys are being paid. No diocesan attorney is working “pro bono” and all are “high dollar” counselors. The bishops of this country have spent tens of millions of the lay-faithful members’ donated dollars to pay their lawyers to stonewall all attempts at discovering the truth.
4. The proposed legislation discriminates against the Catholic Church. The suggestion that any State would pass legislation that singled the Catholic Church out for negative treatment is ludicrous. The proponents have all stated quite clearly that the hoped-for laws would apply to any public or private institution.
There is only one believable reason behind this aggressive campaign. It surely is not a commitment to promoting just legislation. Nor is it even a pragmatic effort to protect Church property and money. The real reason is to prevent any further disclosure of Church files. The files contain the truth, and the truth is that the institutional Church’s historical response to reports of clergy sexual abuse has been far more damaging than had heretofore been revealed. Furthermore, these hidden files will reveal not only a policy and practice of protecting abusers at the expense of victims, but a widespread culture of arrogance, secrecy, and even corruption.
WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
I believe that every effort must be made to delve into the complexity of clergy sexual abuse with a view to discovering concrete answers to the many questions that continue to surface. There surely is enough polemical, defensive, and accusatory rhetoric to last more than a lifetime. But does the rhetoric equal progress in the search for objective answers? The anger, frustration, and rage experienced by the victims and others, as well, have certainly been justified by the enormity of the sexual crimes and the institutional cover-up. Without this emotional and spiritual fuel the victims, their attorneys, and their supporters would no doubt have been overwhelmed and totally discouraged by the seemingly impossible task of overcoming the deep-seated toxic effects of clericalism.
Bishops and others constantly refer to the victims’ anger as if it were some sort of moral fault or worse, a symptom of emotional or mental illness. Anyone who is astounded or critical of the victims’ collective and individual anger has a massive moral blind spot. This anger is kept alive not so much by memories of the actual abuse but by the confusing, contradictory, and often re-victimizing response of the Catholic clerical authority structure.
The anger and rage won’t go away. It is a reflection of the reaction to the moral turpitude of an organization that not only allowed, but in countless cases enabled, the physical and emotional violation, the spiritual wounding, and even death of countless boys and girls, women, and men, who have been among the most faithful and vulnerable of the Church’s membership.
I make these remarks about anger to provide a context for the following expression of hope. The only way the Catholic Church and the secular society will ever began to understand the reasons why this clergy sexual abuse phenomenon has continued to be such a pathological part of the Catholic ecclesial culture is through serious academic research, study, and discussion.
This will not be provided by the institutional Church. The bishops are morbidly afraid of independent research into this deadly subject precisely because they won’t be able to control it. A few years ago some of the psychologists who had been treating clergy abusers suggested to the U.S. Bishops’ Conference that they sponsor a study based on the data that had been obtained at several of the therapeutic centers where the accused clerics had been evaluated and treated. The bishops refused.
In February, 1993, a “think tank” was held in St. Louis, approved by, though not funded by, the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Their conclusions were remarkably accurate and their recommendations realistic and concrete. This report was “revised” by the Bishops’ Conference and the final version, published in the bishops’ official newsletter, Origins, was eviscerated of any content that would have redounded unfavorably to them.
The Vatican sponsored a symposium in April, 2003, on sexual abuse. The event featured eight people whom the Vatican had decided are experts on the issue. Four were Germans, three Canadians, and a lone American named Dr. Martin Kafka. According to news reports the papers were published in a volume entitled “Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Scientific and Legal Perspectives,” was sent to all the bishops and to some reporters in February, 2004. A search of the Vatican, USCCB, and Canadian Bishops’ web sites, the libraries at Catholic University of America, and Georgetown University, as well as four book-search web sites revealed nothing. The Vatican web site doesn’t even mention the symposium, and there seems to be no evidence anywhere of the existence of the book. None of the participants, including the lone American, were familiar to those most closely involved with clergy abuse. The reports said little about the content of the talks, except that the connection between homosexuality and child abuse was discussed and that it was agreed that it is not the cause. The Vatican’s commitment to scholarship is seriously questionable, since nothing resembling even mediocre scholarship has emerged from the Holy See.
The real work is being done by scholars, academics, and researchers who are not connected, influenced, or controlled by the official Church. After the initial media exposure in 1984, thousands of newspaper and magazine articles have appeared. Since it takes longer to write and publish a book, at least a credible book, than it does to publish an article, the books were a bit slower in coming, but they did indeed appear on the scene. Marie Fortune published Is Nothing Sacred in 1989, and it remains a foundational resource. Stephen Rossetti wrote Slayer of the Soul in 1990 and followed it with several other scholarly books and articles.
Jason Berry’s Lead Us Not Into Temptation was the first to deal exclusively with the contemporary history of Catholic clergy abuse, and it remains the ultimate invaluable historical source. Jason has continued to write...mostly articles, but his last book on the subject, Vows of Silence probed even deeper into the ecclesial culture. Jason and Gerry Renner’s monumental work had its impact. I have no doubt that it was primarily due to their dedication to truth that the boom was finally lowered on Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado.
There have been scores of books published about clergy abuse. Some are based on the personal stories of victims while others have been the result of credible scholarship. I’d like to mention some of the invaluable works that have come forth in past years, as well as a few selected titles that are on the horizon. Some of my favorite historical accounts are of course Jason’s works, which stand apart from all others. I have found Gospel of Shame by Burkett and Bruni, Betrayal by the Boston Globe, and Our Fathers by David France to be accurate historical accounts.
Critical scholarship has extended beyond the historical accounts. Anson Shupe published his fascinating sociological study, In the Name of All That’s Holy in 1995. That same year, Richard Sipe published Sex, Priests, and Power. In my opinion these two works probed more deeply than any others into the causality of the present and past of clergy abuse. In 2001 Eugene Kennedy published The Unhealed Wound, which led the search for answers beyond the celibate clerical culture into the very foundations of the church’s sexual theology.
I had not intended to provide an annotated bibliography with this presentation, yet there are a few more books that are essential in creating a valid understanding of the complex reality of clergy abuse. I will list only a few of the ones I have found insightful and revelatory:
Candance Reed Benyei, Understanding Clergy Misconduct in Religious Systems.
Barry Coldrey, Religious Life Without Integrity.
Donald Cozzens, Sacred Silence: Denial and Crisis in the Church
Paul Dokecki, The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Community.
Louise Haggett. The Bingo Report: Mandatory Celibacy and Clergy Sexual Abuse.
Thomas Plante, Bless Me father For I Have Sinned.
Thomas Plante, Sin Against the Innocents.
Stephen Rossetti, A Tragic Grace.
Anson Shupe, Wolves within the Fold
Anson Shupe, Bad Pastors: Clergy Misconduct in Modern America.
Of unique and very special import is an outstanding work edited by three mental-health professionals entitled Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors. The editors, Charles Whitfield, Joyanna Silberg, and Paul Fink, have provided a very scholarly and heavily footnoted anthology of clinical articles that dismantle the purported credibility of the “False Memory Foundation.” In the same volume they provide credible information about recovered memories and the lasting impact of sexual abuse on victims. This book is particularly important as an antidote to the shallow assertions of many Church spokespersons that recovered memory is an unproven theory proposed mainly to enrich attorneys.
I would certainly add Richard Sipe’s other two revolutionary studies of clerical celibacy, A Secret World and Celibacy in Crisis: A Secret World Revisited. They will soon by joined by two other exceptional scholarly works: Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church by Mary Gail Frawley-O‚Dea and Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Roman Catholicism by Myra Hidalgo. Finally, Marci Hamilton has probed deeply into the civil law response to harm done by the Catholic and other church as well in God vs. The Gavel.
I have not included Philip Jenkins’s book Pedophiles and Priests (1996) as a credible resource, because his primary sources appear to have been newspaper accounts. This author did not appear to have any contact with abuse victims or the professionals who have worked with them. This book attempts to shift the blame onto the mythological anti-Catholic media. In short, his book is more of a distraction than a source of insight.
I’d like to conclude my very brief consideration of publications with a word about Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes. This project started off as a simple research paper, looking into the historical background of the canon law from the 1917 Code of Canon Law that named clergy sex with a minor as a canonical crime. As we worked our way back through canonical history, we discovered that the Church’s own official documentation revealed the sordid history of clerical violations of mandatory celibacy. We are following this book up with a companion volume that will accomplish two things...we hope: an enchiridion of the ecclesiastical documentation with a commentary, as well as a more detailed look at the recent history of the bishops’ response to clergy sexual abuse, beginning in the early part of the 20th century.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS IN ALL THE WRONG … AND RIGHT PLACES
Why has clergy sexual abuse occurred throughout history? Why haven’t the Church’s authority figures done anything to effectively stop it and help heal the victims? These are the essential questions. They have given rise to a number of other closely related questions that touch on a variety of aspects of Catholic Church life.
Those whose lives are inextricably intertwined with the institutional Catholic Church have naturally reacted in a defensive manner. This is certainly understandable. The initial reaction to the revelations followed a classic pattern: denial, minimization, blame shifting, and more denial. The overriding tendency was to look for causality outside of the ecclesiastical world. The secular culture and media, obsession with materialism, sexual revolution, rejection of the Church’s moral teaching, and lack of fidelity to vows and commandments were the commonly heard, hard-wired, opinions as to the why of it all. No one in the hierarchy wanted to look within, and certainly no one wanted outsiders looking at the inner workings of the Church’s governing system or its clerical culture. Yet that is where the answers are, and they are no longer that well hidden. There seems to be an obsession with preserving the hierarchy’s credibility and teaching authority by means of more secrecy, denial, and authoritarian tactics, when in fact total openness and honesty would much better serve the beleaguered institution.
The answers lie within. A massive amount of scholarship has resulted from the clergy-abuse phenomenon. While the authority structure and its incumbents have been buried in denial, the outside world and even significant numbers of still-faithful, devout, and loyal Catholics continue to reel from the seemingly never-ending effects of the “scandal.” The astonishment is directed not so much at the scores of sexually dysfunctional clerics, but at the power structure that allowed it to happen and still can’t seem to “get it right.”
The U.S. Catholic Bishops have announced that they will commission a study on the “causes and context” of the clergy-abuse phenomenon. This is what their web site says:
Will there be other studies commissioned by the National Review Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops?
Yes, the National Review Board will commission a larger study focusing on the “causes and context” of the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy in the United States.
When will this study be commissioned?
This study will be commissioned by the National Review Board in the Fall of 2004.
Will Requests for Proposals be issued for the “Causes and Context” Study?
Yes, RFP’s will be issued and published on this website.
When will the National Review Board announce the contract for the study?
The National Review Board hoped to announce the awarding of its contract for the Causes and Context study by the first of July. Unfortunately, the Board has not been able to meet that deadline due to changes in its membership, the complexity of the undertaking, and the high quality of the submitted proposals. The members have set a new deadline of August 15th for notification of their decision.
It is now late 2006 and there is still no contract for the study, much less a work-in-progress. The past studies, especially the John Jay report, are valuable, but their accuracy has been questioned, based on the fact that the bishops themselves were the primary source for the data upon which the research findings were based. The initial National Review Board Report made significant headway in naming some of the relevant causes, nearly all of which were either ignored or devalued by those who had most need of listening to them. Much additional research needs to be done, and it cannot be credibly accomplished by the ecclesiastical institution itself. In light of the results of independent scholarship that have already been published, and the negative reaction of the various official Church entities and individual bishops, one wonders if the promised project will ever see the light of day.
The more realistic question is not when this study will happen, but whether it should happen. While the bishops and the Vatican have been busy trying to put various levels of spin on the clergy abuse issue, others have steadily looked it and a consensus has emerged. The results of this consensus are certainly not favorable to the institutional Church with its present governing ideology. Yet they are real, and the Church may well mark the beginning of a new day by taking them seriously.
Frank Douglas, a perceptive and articulate layman from Tucson, is in the process of putting the final touches on a “white paper” that will serve as an essential resource into understanding the various aspects of clergy abuse. Frank recently offered some realistic and “on target” thoughts about the proposed study and why it should be scrapped. I’d like to move toward the conclusion of this long paper by quoting Frank, and in so doing, mentioning that I agree totally:
Do we need this $5 million study? I don‚t think so. The evidence is overwhelming what the causes and context are. Let those who have eyes and ears, look and listen. Here are the causes and context:
§ An institution with an oppressive, authoritarian structure and culture
§ An institution whose officials believe that its governance by an elite all-male, supposedly celibate, clergy is divinely ordained and can do no wrong
§ An institutional culture of secrecy, silence, and deceit that places more stock in public relations firms than the values of the gospel
§ An institutional culture of elitism that places a higher value on the reputation of the institution and its elite, priestly caste than on the safety of children
§ Passive bishops and religious superiors who followed orders rather than basic human instincts of right and wrong
§ A deferential, naive laity that believed/believes what the bishops tell them
No, we don‚t need a study. We need a good jolt of strong coffee to wake us up. Let‚s save the $5 million and put it toward a therapy fund for survivors of abuse
Bravo Frank! You have captured the thoughts of countless people across our country and in Europe as well. I might add my own summary of “causes and context” in amplification of those of Frank Douglas. He has hit on some of the more toxic elements of the institutional Catholic Church culture. I would add the following as necessary subject for research:
1. The traditional Catholic philosophy of human sexuality that has created a deeply rooted culture of systemic dysfunction. Sexual shame is at the root of the institutional distrust of the social sciences and of psychology as well. Clerics are formed in an atmosphere that nurtures immaturity, fear of intimacy, and even veiled disdain for women. Catholics, clergy and laity alike, are forced to live in fear and guilt for having sexual lives. (Thanks to Myra Hidalgo for these insights.)
2. The moral vacuum that is so obvious among the members of the clerical elite and among many lay believers as well. Something is wrong when an entire class, the leadership/authority class, cannot see the evil in sexual abuse and its cover-up.
3. The hierarchical governmental system that the official church claims is willed by God, but for which there is highly questionable scriptural roots. In any case, this system has become an end in itself to the obvious detriment of the members of the Church who are, as Vatican II so clearly said, the People of God. It seems that the fundamental structural question is this: is Christ the center of the Church or is the Vatican the center of the Church?
4. The clerical elite that have given rise to clericalism and anticlericalism for centuries, has kept the toxic arrogance, secrecy, and magical thinking alive throughout much of the Church’s history. Has it been so important and essential to the mission of Christ that the physical, emotional, and spiritual destruction of the most vulnerable among us is justified?
THE FUTURE SOME HOPES AND CAUTIONS
The most recent cover-ups, Chicago and Santa Rosa are examples, are not aberrations but symptomatic of an enduring attitude. This attitude must be understood and confronted. The lay people must not be influenced by the remnants of clericalism that do no more than enable the clearly toxic behavior of some of the official leadership.
We cannot be misled and distracted by rhetoric. The pronouncements of the Bishops’ Conference and of many individual bishops are carefully crafted by public-relations firms. Their purpose is not to reflect the reality of fundamental change, but to distract, while in fact the conference retrenches and retreats from the accountability it must be forced into accepting.
We cannot let our anger and frustration cause us to turn on ourselves. Anger is good, and it is not only necessary but justified, but we must remember that we must control the anger and not let the anger with our abusers control us. The more progress each one of us makes on our personal path to spiritual and emotional healing, the better equipped we are to look beyond our own emotional needs to the cause before us. All of us are, or were, firm believers in the Church and in Christ’s presence in this church. Whether we believe in the structures, customs, hierarchical dogmas, clerical protocols, or canonical regulations is not essential to our hope that this Church reflect not the outmoded and often toxic remnants of monarchical splendor, but the equality, charity, and compassion of Christ. These are the values that sustained the earliest followers, and they are the same values that hopefully will see all of us through this present era of darkness.
Challenges Facing Catholicism