Archbishop Buechlein on the Sex Abuse Report
It Is Painful but Necessary to Acknowledge This Sin Among Us
March 3, 2004
Though saddened and troubled by the National Review Board's report on clergy sex abuse, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein hopes the Church will learn from its mistakes and make positive changes.
"It should also motivate us all the more to continue to do all we can to secure the protection of our children and young people and to offer compassionate care to all victim-survivors," the archbishop of Indianapolis said.
He shared with ZENIT his thoughts on the importance of continuing the Church's "learning curve" on the issue and the factors that may have contributed to the crisis.
Q: What is your overall impression of the phenomenon of sexual abuse?
Archbishop Buechlein: "Holy souls sometimes undergo great inward trial and they know darkness. But if we want others to become aware of the presence of Jesus, we must be the first ones convinced of it."
These words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta were included in a Christmas card from her Missionaries of Charity who serve the poor in Indianapolis. The message struck a chord as I first read it.
Her words are timely in view of the pain and anguish caused by the abuse of children and youth by some of the priests and laity who served in the name of the Church during the last 52 years.
It is painful but necessary to acknowledge this sin among us. Children and young people are God's gift to our families and to our Church. Mother Teresa once remarked that it must be a great poverty indeed for a mother to choose to abort her child for any reason.
To paraphrase her thought, it must be a great poverty and sickness indeed for someone to sexually molest a child or young person.
Q: How does the newest data released by the John Jay College Study and the so-called Bennett Report affect your view of the situation?
Archbishop Buechlein: The larger and more dramatic numbers released by the study makes the tragedy of abuse among the clergy all the more vivid, and, of course, saddens and embarrasses all of us.
It should also motivate us all the more to continue to do all we can to secure the protection of our children and young people and to offer compassionate care to all victim-survivors.
Though I do not believe I am naive, never in my worst worries would I have thought the problem of pedophilia and the abuse of adolescents was as common as it is. As a bishop since 1987, I have experienced a steep learning curve in the complex reality of sexual abuse as it existed not only within the ranks of those who serve our Church, but also in society at large.
Q: Is this primarily a phenomenon of pedophilia?
Archbishop Buechlein: The incidence of pedophilia is sadly significant, no matter the reported numbers. To molest a child is not only morally reprehensible, it is criminal. It is a violent betrayal of trust that a child expects of adults, especially of clergy who are rightly held to a higher standard.
It is no less horrible that 80% of the cases of abuse reported in the study involved boys ages 11 to 19. This, of course, raises the question of homosexual activity among the clergy charged with the abuse of adolescent boys.
Q: Has the Church in the United States adequately faced the root causes of the sexual-abuse problem? Many critics say the real problem is homosexuality, which is a politically incorrect thing to question in our culture.
Archbishop Buechlein: While I would prefer to have more time to study the data of the John Jay Study and that of the Bennett Report, it is my impression that there is not a simple answer to your question.
Clearly, homosexual activity by priests, or anyone, is disastrous, immoral and unacceptable. I think a number of factors need to be examined in trying to understand why homosexual behavior by 2,805 priests -- that's more than 60% of the abusive priests -- has occurred during the last 52 years.
It is significant that a high percentage of cases involving priests in homosexual activity occurred among those ordained in the 1950s, '60s and early '70s.
During that period neither dioceses nor seminaries had in place admissions procedures that appropriately would have indicated problems of dysfunctional persons. Nor did seminaries have sophisticated programs of psychosocial formation, or, for that matter, frequent opportunities for individual spiritual direction.
I believe the situation was further aggravated both in and beyond seminaries when, in the late 1960s and the 1970s, some theologians proposed a "revisionist" approach to moral theology in the climate surrounding "Humanae Vitae."
This latter phenomenon provided an unfortunate pseudo-rationalization for some troubled clergy seeking opportunities to cross moral behavioral boundaries, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
At the same time, the gay subculture in the United States began to become a formidable political force that more and more began to win secular acceptability, especially in the entertainment sector.
I believe all these factors conspired to set the stage for the abuse tragedy relative to adolescent boys.
Q: How much must seminaries change?
Archbishop Buechlein: Priestly formation programs have been undergoing significant change relative to human and spiritual formation programs at least since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Just as for bishops and psychological professionals, there has been a learning curve for seminaries with regard to psychosexual development, especially in the preparation of candidates for celibate chastity as a way of life.
I believe the impending papal visitation of seminaries is timely. I also believe that the results will suggest that, with few exceptions, the problems some critics point out were corrected 10 or more years ago.
Q: So what have we learned?
Archbishop Buechlein: In a media interview, Bob Bennett was asked if homosexuality is the problem. He said that the National Review Board study would indicate that it is part of the problem, but that there are some priests of a homosexual orientation who are serving the Church well.
He also was asked if celibacy was the problem. He responded that the study does not demonstrate that it is, but of course, psychosexual behavior of dysfunctional celibate clergy is problematic. The same is true of dysfunctional married people.
Sadly, as we have learned more recently, the psychological condition of one who is inclined to molest innocent children and youth is extremely difficult to cure in therapy.
Too late, we have come to understand that recidivism can be expected, even presumed. It has been a painful lesson and regrettably one learned far too late for too many victims. The delay of the learning curve has become part of the societal problem.
While we realize ordained ministers are human persons with the ordinary limitations of humanity, we would never have thought the problem of sexual abuse among clergy would be as significant as we have learned in the last few years.
A single case of abuse would be unacceptable and scandalous. Clearly, clergy and other pastoral leaders of the Church should be held to a higher standard -- and we are.
The learning curve must continue. We need to continue to seek effective ways to help victim-survivors find healing and peace.
We will continue to explore what characteristics of human personality might be early indicators of a pedophile or one who preys on teens, especially as we continue to evaluate candidates for the priesthood and other ministries in the Church.
Clearly -- for all people of society -- we already know that a fundamental preventative of personality dysfunction is love. Love begins at home.
Blessed Mother Teresa said, "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into what we do." She also said: "The world today is hungry not only for bread but hungry for love; hungry to be wanted, to be loved."
It begins at home. Family love, not family wealth, is the great need of our society. And it is where every individual can make a difference.
As I think about all these things, another thought of Mother Teresa comes to mind: "Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart. ... The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace."
She speaks of peace for us individuals, peace in our homes, in our Church and in our world.
Sex abuse of children and young people is heartbreaking. It also speaks of a spiritual and moral failure in our society.
One of the grave disillusionments during this entire ordeal has been the spiritual and moral failure of too many of our clergy. I pray fervently that fewer reported cases of clergy sex abuse happening in the last decade signals a spiritual purification and renewal.
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