November 13, 2008
Preliminary considerations for the understanding of the genealogy of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy…
The long history of the Catholic Church records popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests who were saints and heroes. Their lives are powerful forces to inspire others to live like Christ. Likewise, the historical record tallies some from each group who were sexually active. They, too, can do good works. Although clergy who had concubines were troublesome or a distraction to the clerical system, for the most part they were tolerable—and still are. Thirty percent of German priests are reported to have women companions. The number in the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland is arguably fifty percent. Estimates for the African and South American clergy run much higher.
Records exist from the first centuries of the Church that refer to sex between clerics. This group of clergy who is sexually active with each other are more problematic to the clerical system. Those who abuse minors—girls and particularly boys—is intolerable within the clerical system.
In 1049 a saint wrote the core Church document that outlines and analyzes this clerical behavior and its effects.
The dynamics of priests having sex with each other or with seminarians is particularly relevant today to the Church in the United States.
First: Which clerics abuse? Second: Why do even good clergy who know about sexual abuse by other priests and bishops still refuse to speak up about it? The questions are vital for the protection of children. They are also provocative given the record of at least five American cardinals. (Cf. See SNAP Fact Sheet Below)
The Roman Catholic Clerical System produces and protects a certain number of sexually active clergy some of whom who abuse minors.
1. Catholic clergy submit to the rule of celibacy that is required for ordination to the priesthood. Most — from my experience I repeat most — Roman Catholic clergy do not want to be celibate (sexually abstinent). They wish to be priests; many genuinely wish to serve others; but many are bound by the status, advantages, and security that ministry provides.
2. Celibacy (sexual abstinence) is not a common or persistent practice among Roman Catholic clergy. Many bishops and priests have had or are having some kind of sexual contact, experience, or relationship, at least from time to time.
3. Sexually active clergy, and those with a sexual history, run the risk of exposing their own activity if they bring a fellow cleric's activity to public attention. A great deal of information about priests' sexual lives, however, is circulated within clerical circles and some can be found in church records. Sacramental confession is a reservoir of sexual knowledge.
4. In addition, sexual experiences with fellow seminarians or priest faculty are common in houses of training. [Estimates of twenty (20) percent sexual contact during formation are frequent among informed conservative sources.] Church authorities are aware of the situation. (Cf. the recent Vatican evaluation of U.S. Catholic seminaries, 2006 and the Vatican guidelines for the psychological screening of priesthood candidates, October 30, 2008).
5. Homosexual contact and slips are so common among the RC clergy that the Vatican has invented a new pseudo-scientific category of behavior — transitional homosexuality — especially designed to cover activity in seminaries and religious orders. This rationalization allows authorities to permit candidates who have been sexually active, even with minors, to admit them to ordination if they have been abstinent for three years.
6. Even temporary involvement of a priest in a sexual relationship or experimentation with another priest puts him in a fearful state and a bind of "systemic blackmail." He cannot expose the other priest without exposing himself and endangering not only his reputation, but also even his career.
7. At times priests or seminary faculty are involved in sex-play or relationships with seminarians or young priests. Later the faculty member is promoted to the office of major superior or bishop. Even the good numbers of clergy who have been sexually involved and subsequently strive to establish celibate practice are caught in the circle of secrecy that covers even sexual abuse of minors. [There is no effective viable recourses to report misbehavior of a bishop.]
8. There is a scarlet bond of secrecy that is inculcated within the clerical system (reinforced via Confession), supported from the top-down (Vatican), and preserved by bishops and superiors for fear of systemic or personal exposure. Candidates are taught this dynamic of secrecy about sexual activity and abuse from their first days in training.
9. Wherever one finds a coterie of sexual abusing clergy one can locate a sexually active superior or one who tolerates sexual activity and abuse. The superior's sexual activity most likely is not minor abuse; activity with consenting adult females or males suffices to seal the bond. All RC clergy are caught in this system that demands cover up at any cost to save themselves (the Church) from scandal.
10. Truth, honesty, transparency, accountability, and lay people find no place within the Scarlet Bond. Denial is the most commonly psychic defense used to seal the bond from within. Rationalization and Mental Reservation are employed freely and frequently even under civil oath not to lie.
11. We have to depend on victims to help us break the Scarlet Bond and decipher not only who abuses, but—even if they do not want to be celibate—how do they come to violate minors? Are there systemic elements that produce and facilitate their behavior?
It must be remembered that sexually active priests, bishops, and cardinals can do, and have done, a great deal of genuine good. At times their sexual activity can be regarded as 'normal' from a purely secular and psychological viewpoint — that is it is with an appropriate adult consenting partner. Because of the requirement and profession of celibacy sexual activity by any cleric is never a neutral act systemically — even if secret, it always has some influence on the culture, usually negative. From experience and reliable accounts I could list multiple cases of clerical generational sexual activity — that is priests who have been sexually active with another priest who in turn sexually abuses a minor; this behavior demonstrates the pattern that permits and transmits activity leading to or perpetuating abuse of minors. I will record only four here.
* Religious Orders are legendary in this regard; and it is estimated that ten percent (10) of religious order priests and brothers violate minors. John Eidenschink did not abuse minors. was Abbot of St. John's Abbey Collegeville, Minnesota, a world-renowned center of Catholic liturgy. In his long career he did a great deal of good as a monastic official, seminary rector, canon lawyer, teacher, and confessor. He was one of the most popular confessors for the community and had the reputation of a wise counselor. It was in the confession and counseling relationship that he would select certain young monks for sexual exchanges under the guise of helping them. Some of the men who experienced this particular kind of spiritual direction left the monastery and could speak of it—one or the other under hospital care. An unrecorded number of men who experienced this kind of relationship remained in the monastery. Seniors in the monastic community knew that John's novice master, Fr. Basil, used to take him on his lap even in his earliest days in the community. An open secret, remarkable, but less suspicious in 1930 than it would be today. Twenty member of the community have been alleged abusers in one way or another.
* Thomas Lyons, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. was Born 1923 / Ordained Priest 1948 / Ordained Bishop 1974 / Died 1988. His life was intimately and perpetually bound with at least one boy through sexual abuse. A man who was on probation for sexually abusing his young children and facing allegations from adult relatives, who claimed that he also sexually abused them when they were pre-pubescent, was asked why he behaved this way. His answer was: "I thought it was natural. Father Lyons told me a priest did this with him when he was growing up." This man had a sexual friendship with Thomas Lyons from the time he was 7 to 17. Other DC clergy are reported to have had some knowledge about Lyons's predilections.
* The story of three men—Fr. Jeff Toohey, minor boys Gold & Roberts—has been aired on national TV and documented in the press. The untold story has to do with St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore and the process of forming men who eventually abuse minors. A talented and attractive seminarian consulted his spiritual advisor about a faculty member who was becoming "friendly." The spiritual advisor encouraged the student to be open to a friendship that became sexual for two years in the seminary and a year after ordination. The priest repeated the same pattern with two adolescents when he was in ministry. This pattern is very common in the history of priests who abuse.
* Theodore E. McCarrick, cardinal and former bishop of Metuchen, archbishop of Newark, NJ & Washington, D.C. was secretary and auxiliary to Francis Spellman of NY. Documents record the first-hand experience and observation of the sexual activity of McCarrick with other young priests. (Cf. Eye on Newark) The pattern of sleeping with seminarians and young priests is legendary in clerical circles. One of McCarrick's victims subsequently violated friendships with two 17 year-old boys.
* After masturbation, sexual activity with an older minor or adult is the most common sexual experience of a male or female growing up in the US. It is so common and varied in the general population that Kinsey could not quantify it.
* Victims of sexual abuse by RC clergy are serving society well by alerting everyone about the process of their victimization; explaining the elements of seduction and grooming imposed on them. They have warned the public about what to look for to protect young people and help them protect themselves.
* We can learn more about the problem and prevention of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy by paying attention to the history of who abuses. How does he come to abuse? What factors impel him to victimize minors?
* It is a long-established fact that sexual deprivation can be a factor in the sexual abuse of a minor. In that regard, the requirement of perfect and perpetual celibacy for Catholic clerics can be, and often is, one factor influencing abuse by clergy and its perpetuation within the entire clerical system. In the US approximately nine (9 +) percent of US priests have some sexual contact with minors. Pepe Rodriguez published an investigative report about priests in Spain (1995). He claims the seven (7+) percent of Spanish priests "have committed grave sexual abuses with minors". A more refined inquiry of 354 sexually active priests in Spain, aiming at greater precision, claimed that twenty-six (26) percent were involved sexually with minors.
* Seminarians in the US do not receive adequate training about sex and celibacy in seminaries that could prepare them for ministry. Confession is a main source of teaching clergy about sex — and starting a sexual relationship. This experience is one of the main factors in preserving the pattern of young priests getting sexually involved with young people and others when they are first ordained. They receive tacit permission to get involved. Check the long list of Church documents that record the problem of solicitation in confession.* The clerical system counts on many of them turning to celibate practice later in their careers. Many times it does not happen.
* Understanding the systemic factors that produce and protect sexual abusers will help in the prevention and cure of this travesty. One analysis proposes: "that the (sexual) transgressions of the celibate contribute much to reinforce submission to the hierarchy. They provoke a bad conscience and guilt…authority knows this fact very well. It prefers to show a clean hand and to feign innocence." [trans. from Spanish]
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