My mate Simeon recently forwarded me a thought provoking Psychology Today article on Six important points you don’t hear about regarding clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, those important points being:
- Catholic clergy aren’t more likely to abuse children than other clergy or men in general.
- Clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church can’t be blamed on celibacy. Not having sex doesn’t make children the object of one’s desire.
- Clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church can’t be blamed on homosexuality.
- Clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church can’t be blamed on an all male clergy.
- Almost all of clergy sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church that we hear about in the news are from decades ago (usually the 1960’s and 70’s).
- Most clergy sex offenders aren’t pedophiles.
So, what do you think? The first one just floored me. Read the full article and judge for yourself, but I totally agree with the summation:
Perhaps the real issue here is that many are outraged with Church leaders (especially bishops) whom they believe have been defensive and arrogant. People demand responsibility and accountability and they don’t see it happening. Clearly, some Church leaders treated victims and their families very poorly. For many rank-and-file Catholics who often put priests on a pedestal, it is shocking to hear that some of these men have sexually violated anyone, let alone children. The Church’s unpopular positions on sexual ethics (e.g., masturbation, contraception, homosexuality, divorce) make sex crimes committed by priests even more scandalous. The secrecy and otherworldliness of the Catholic Church also make the story of child sexual abuse committed by priests of great interest to the media and to the general population.
Now of course many of you will say, “Derr, that’s stating the obvious” to this summation, but it carries a hidden barb: if true, we should be very wary of conflating the anti-celebacy and pro-accountability debates, despite this being the status quo.
13 thoughts on “Six important points you don’t hear about regarding clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church”
None of these points surprise me and I’m inclined to agree with all of them, though I do wonder about point five. I hope it’s true. But to be honest, the general attitude that many leader in the RCC seemed to be taking when confronted about the past cover-ups does make me wonder how transparent they’d be about incidents of abuse these days.
I’ll also admit that point one has always been a bit of a concern to me, too. I worry that we are so focused on the scandals within the RCC that we might ignore similar problems in other denominations and religions. I’ll admit that this is particularly a concern for me as a Pagan. I think far too many Pagans can sometimes be naive and think that we could never see similar problems in our own communities.
Point five was no surprise for me, at least for my country. Churches are a lot more strict on child protection proceedures these days, and not just in the RCC. For instance, even in our own church we’ve voluntarily cut back on kids programs during periods when we’ve had insufficient leaders to meet full child care guidelines, to the point some parents suggest we’ve been over cautious. Indeed, churches were accused of being too intollerant over the Roman Pollanski scandal last year, so it would seem things have come full circle. Now we’re copping it for being ‘unliberated’. Such is life. But I gather there are plenty of scandles bubbing to the surface in non-English speaking churches. We’ve done our dirty laundry but others haven’t. And as you say, what of religions that have been subject to lesser media scrutiny, and who may not have instituted child protection procedures yet? Should they wait till a scandal breaks before they guard against predators?
I think the real heart of the problem is this:
“Perhaps the real issue here is that many are outraged with Church leaders (especially bishops) whom they believe have been defensive and arrogant. People demand responsibility and accountability and they don’t see it happening.”
I think that it is highly likely that there is still abuse going on. Whether or not it has sexual overtones will take years to unfold … but the problem is not sex. The problem (at it’s ugly root) is power. In the same way that rape is not about sex, but about power and abuse. The men who did this boys (primarily) had issues (I would guess) with intimacy and with expressing themselves, so in the highly restrictive atmosphere of the RCC they acted out. Now the Church instead of laying down it’s life for the sheep, is acting in a very belligerent and not shepherd-like fashion. Well, that’s true no matter what denomination you are in. Leaders do not like to have their abusive faults pointed out. They prefer to be thought of as anointed and perfect – God’s pretty boys. Happens all the time. And it’s not just sex … it’s all kinds of abuse. Until we stop thinking of Christian leaders as God’s mouthpieces, this will continue. More rules about child care, or people care can’t turn the tide. It’s a heart issue, not a rule issue.
I agree Matt about point 5. This has often been a pet peeve of mine on both a physical & spiritual level. I believe more churches are protecting in certain areas such as background checks ect. in America due to awareness. However, due to lack of accountablity even when we are aware boundries are not enforced. I’ve seen and experienced far to much of it and the saddest part is everyone gets hurt including the perpetrator. Studies are being done that look at what is called the innocent bystanders…people who do nothing…they are just beginning to reveal findings of how devasting this is. The annoying part is that forgiveness of sins is used as a smoke screen for being complacent. In my experience the way that the church has dealt w/these issues is no different than how society in general has. As a newer believer I thought things would be different…sadly I was wrong.
Actually, I should say I know of one pastor who gave me hope. He loved everyone including the brother involved…the way he chose to deal with it was compassionate & truthful. I shouldn’t let that moment slide because it was the day I was talking to him about my baptism. The reporters kept calling and interupting us…he shared the truth..pointed me to Jesus….2 days later I received Jesus as Lord. He wasn’t concerned about my membership, scandal, or losing a very enthusiastic student…he depended on the Holy Spirit…
AMEN, Sonja, AMEN!
Sonya, you said “Now the Church instead of laying down it’s life for the sheep, is acting in a very belligerent and not shepherd-like fashion. Well, that’s true no matter what denomination you are in.” But I’m gonna have to disagree with you on some of this. I think it’s quite misleading to refer to “the Church” in so monolithic a fashion.
Firstly, what’s precipitated this latest scandal is the cover up actions of “a church”, the Roman Catholic Church, acting in isolation from other churches. Furthermore, it’s a church which is considerably more hierachial than congregationally governed churches like my own church, and their accountability structures are vastly different. We baptists, for instance, can lay down the professional life of unprofessional leaders whether they like it or not. Not so elsewhere. Fourthly, it varies from country to country.
So, it may be your experience that all churches are like this but its not mine. In fact, I’ve observed vast differences in power dynamics between different churches. Power is the root of many evils but pastoral power is far from flat across the world Christian movement.
So, I would say, yes abuse no doubt still goes on in churches, as society continues to produce abusers in all walks of life. But many churches have acted on the transparency and accountability issues, instituting zero tollerance policies which stand in stark contrast to the move-on, hush hush past. That work still needs to be done, I agree. But we should also give credit where it is due.
Well, the official report for the US states:
US clerics (priests, deacons, bishops, etc.) accused of abuse from 1950-2002: 4,392.
About 4% of the 109,694 serving during those 52 years.
Individuals making accusations: 10,667.
Victims’ ages: 5.8% under 7; 16% ages 8-10; 50.9% ages 11-14; 27.3% ages 15-17.
Victims’ gender: 81% male, 19% female
Duration of abuse: Among victims, 38.4% said all incidents occurred within one year; 21.8% said one to two years; 28%, two to four years; 11.8% longer.
Victims per priest: 55.7% with one alleged victim; 26.9% with two or three; 13.9% with four to nine; 3.5% with 10 or more (these 149 priests caused 27% of allegations).
Abuse locations: 40.9% at priest’s residence; 16.3% in church; 42.8% elsewhere.
Known cost to dioceses and religious orders: $572,507,094 (does not include the $85 million Boston settlement and other expenses after research was concluded).
By the way, the reason most of the cases are old is of course that it takes time for the victim to grow up to tell the story…
That’s true. I did some research on this myself a few years ago and it’s clear that most don’t disclose till adulthood, which has multiple ramifications for how we help people.
But again, I think we need to differentiate between two different injustices here. One is the injustice of personal abuse, the other is the injustice of institutional coverup. What I hear the author saying is, it’s the latter that’s the more damaging for the moral authority of the church. Because then it goes from being a few bad eggs to being a putrid system.
Whenever leaders abuse, well that’s very, very devestating, but it’s still on the level of personal sin, personal failing. And on the plus side, the article indicates the rate of incidence is actually LOWER amongst clergy than other men. Who would have thought? Cover up though, that takes it to a whole new level, of institutionalised corruption, and at that point the sins of the church are not just as bad as the sins of the world, they’re actually worse. And that’s what really gets people riled, understandably.
So how do we move forward, constructively? Well again I think we need to deal with this at two levels. On one level we need to institute PROTECTION measures against rock spiders in sheeps clothing. On another level we need to institute DISCIPLINARY measures that are transparent and publically accountable. But here I think credit needs to be given for churches who have risen to the occasion and done just that. Because it shows that change is possible, that it is happening. Where change is being resisted, yes, let’s prophetically challenge that in no uncertain terms, but we need to be targeted and beware of collateral damage.
So, in calling the Pope to account, let’s be clear of the issues. This is not about personal abuse committed by himself, this is not about his stance on clerical celebacy, this is not about his stance on homosexuality, this is not about his stance on women. This is about disciplinary transparency, leadership accountability and protection of the vulnerable. If we choose to challenge him on those other issues, fine, but we need to challenge them as other issues, not as proxy issues. Conflating the issues will only maximize resistance. We need to divide the issues to conquor the issues.
A few years ago a young Catholic seminarian from Zimbabwe contacted me and said he wanted to join the Orthodox Church. The main reason he gave for this was that the Orthodox Church had married clergy. He said that the supposedly celibate Catholic clergy were anything but, and often fell into sexual sin.
I took him to see an Orthodox priest, and we both told him that just because the Orthodox Church has married clergy, it does not mean that the clergy are not tempted into sexual sin; they are, and sometimes they fall. The fact that someone has taked vows of celibacy does make their sexual lapses more shocking, because it is a double sin. But whether or not one has taken a vow makes no difference to whether or not one is tempted. And when the married fall into sexual sin they too are breaking a vow.
So when I read about the sins of others, I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s words:
“A Christian may consistently say, “I respect that
man’s rank, although he takes bribes.” But a Christian cannot say, as all modern men are saying at lunch and breakfast, “a man of that rank would not take bribes.” For it is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may take bribes. It is a part of Christian dogma; it also happens by a curious coincidence that it is a part of obvious human history. When people say that a man “in that position”
would be incorruptible, there is no need to bring Christianity into the discussion. Was Lord Bacon a bootblack? Was the Duke of Marlborough a crossing sweeper? In the best Utopia, I must be prepared for the moral fall of any man in any position at any moment; especially for my fall from my position at this moment.”
Exactly. We should not be surprised when leaders fall, nor when systems fail. Jesus prophecied it after all. Moreover, once we’ve begun to expect perfection from leaders and systems that’s precisely when we should be asking: have we turned them into an idol?
There’s a further issue here. My impression (anecdotal, from biographies) has been that we’re living in only the second or third generation in which child molestation hasn’t been simply traditional in many parts of society.
If you read, say, C.S. Lewis’ biography, it seems simply commonplace at English private boys schools in the early 1900s that senior students molested junior students; this was about power and tradition as much as sex itself. He wouldn’t speak poorly of those senior students, simply saying “Ypres and the Somme ate up most of them”, but the common. And that’s quite apart from any of the teaching staff.
Probably then, we’re getting to the end of the generations who experienced this but were not then permitted to propagate it; I think as a result there is reason to hope that the component of systemic evil may have largely been eradicated now.
Sadly, my recent comments about the vulnerability of Pagan groups to sexual abuse by leaders have proven somewhat prophetic: