Documentary on Priestly Abuse of Children Focuses on Wisconsin

Shepherd Express [Milwaukee WI]

March 10, 2023

By David Luhrssen

Documentary on Priestly Abuse of Children Focuses on Wisconsin

In her documentary, Manufacturing the Clerical Predator, director-activist Sarah Pearson puts the spotlight on Southeast Wisconsin, especially through the experience of Kevin Wester. Although he was molested repeatedly at age 12 by a Roman Catholic priest, he took the vows himself and served in the ministry for more than 10 years before being released from the priesthood in 2007. His account of the abuse he endured is harrowing, his fear of speaking up (it happened during the ‘70s in a small Catholic town) is revealing, and his eagerness to pursue the vocation a testimony to blinding power of faith.

Of course, the Catholic Church does things that are worth believing in, including feeding the hungry and maintaining hospitals and respected educational institutions. But the evidence of widespread clerical abuse points to a problem that has metastasized throughout the church’s system. Apparently, it’s not just a few rotten apples. Is the entire barrel wormy?

As mentioned by one of the film’s other talking heads, ex-priest Thomas Doyle, simply blaming the problem on celibacy isn’t the whole explanation. After all, as he says, the majority of pedophiles are married men. But the particular culture of celibacy within the Roman Catholic Church is taken to task for a doctrine promoted by John Paul II, the “ontological change” said to occur when the vow of celibacy is given, elevating the priest from man to superman and endowing him with unearned power.

The film’s speakers also point to a more mundane problem not unlike that of many police departments—a siege mentality and a fraternal code of silence supported by a top-down power structure. There is also resistance to outside influence. To the extent that the Catholic Church has addressed the issue of predatory priests, it has always been the result of pressure from without—from the media and, especially, victims’ groups that have broken the silence. As an organization dedicated to the Truth, the church has often been hard pressed to tell the truth about pedophiles in its ranks.

Manufacturing the Clerical Predator will be screened 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19 at the Oriental Theatre. A panel discussion will follow. For more information, visit Nate’s Mission at The Milwaukee theatrical premier is sponsored by Nate’s Mission, a victims’ survivor group, and Ending Clergy Abuse, a global justice project.