Pedophilia and the Church

By Dr Gabe Lomas
The Catholica
September 9, 2013

Of late we've been confronted by a succession of horrendous tales about the perpetration and institutional mis-management of p?dophilia in the Catholic church. We've sat through the revealing Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by Religious and other non-governmental organisations, and the equally confronting New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into matters relating to the police investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. And we're at the beginning of a probing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Catholic institutions, along with other organisations, are certainly in the Public Eye.

An exposition of the horrifying experiences endured by victims of p?dophilia, and the monstrous damage those experiences have wrecked on them, have jolted us into seeing more clearly the consequences of this perverted activity. The p?dophile can injure the other person fatally, leaving nothing but bitterness and sourness where once there was innocence and trust, poisoning the other's mind and life forever. The worst consequences of the whole loathsome process are lasting effects that cloy the abused persons' existence, continually threatening to overwhelm them and sometimes succeeding in doing so.

It's doubtful if there can be an adequate recompense for such injuries, one that restores the balance and brings things back to where they were. This is the heinousness of p?dophilia: certain human beings do things that can destroy the lives of others for ever. It's at this point that our considerations should begin, long before any thought arises about the position of the p?dophile or of the institution that's involved. Only when we are earnestly and properly trying to remedy the effects on the abused can we turn to consider other factors.

How did this horrible state of affairs come about?

Virgin and Child

Image above of The Didache from the Early Christian Writings website which has a page with links to various translations and other scholarly resources on this doument:

How did this horrible state of affairs come about? Well, slowly. With stealth. P?dophilia got a grip on the church as it developed and evolved. It's been there from time out of mind, and crops up in some ancient prescriptions. Thus in about 10 CE one of our earliest documents, The Didcache,[2] tells Christians:

2.2 : you must not corrupt young boys

Greek text

And the Synod of Elvira[3] [c 300-309 CE] targeted p?dophilia when it compiled its eighty-one canons, saying that:

12. Parents and other Christians who give up their children to sexual abuse are selling others' bodies, and if they do so [ ] they shall not receive communion even at death.


Those who sexually abuse boys (stratoribus puerorum) may not commune even when death approaches.

In 1051 CE, Peter Damian warned Rome about the consequences to children of sexual abuse in his dour work, Book of Gomorrah.[4] Indeed, there is a long history of us Christians being aware of the need to control and properly order our animal instincts.

P?dophilia has infiltrated church structures in the same way that it has the social and cultural groups of humankind, and is a constituent of the way we humans behave in the exercise of dominance and control. We can use sex to assert ourselves and to put others down, to subjugate them and to display our power over them. And while that might be one of the things that animals regularly use sex for, we as human beings and as Christian human beings know that animal instincts need to be controlled according to norms that govern the way we behave towards one another. Using sex to dominate children is not one of them. Nor is using children for self-gratification, which is part of the perversion of p?dophilia.

You will notice that the church documents quoted above are mainly concerned with the behaviour of the perpetrators, not with the horrendous effects on those they abuse. This aspect of the church's response has not changed a great deal. The church remains more concerned with saving face than with saving the abused, whereas the Church has focussed on the latter.

Can we obviate p?dophilia in the future?

Well, we need to realise that we are caught up in the evolutionary process common to the whole cosmos, and are part of the plan for humanity that our Creator has in place. The humanisation of our species is happening only slowly, and needs to be worked on consciously by us. Each one of us must do her or his uttermost, since we are facing a huge and hugely urgent problem. Yet we need to be aware that:

It is not our part to muster all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to decide.[5]

What can we do, then? Probably realise that we can't simply expect the authorities to change and instigate effective new norms for us. We have to take matters into our own hands in a responsible and careful way, always bearing in mind that the last thing we ourselves want to do is to lessen the innocence and trust of our young ones.

We need to be more vigilant, as circumstances dictate:

avoid institutional buildings and organisations that are known to be p?dophile haunts;

recognise the warning signs of p?dophilia secretive behaviour between adults and children, silent activity when an adult is alone with youngsters, over-friendliness on the part of an adult, the complaints and comments of our own children, etc. and take strong and swift action;

confront those we think might be p?dophiles and report our fears simultaneously to both the police and to those higher up in the church, making a careful note of the dates on which we do this and the names of those who take our reports (following what has been revealed in Victoria and Newcastle, it's no good expecting one of those involved to inform the other on our behalf).

We should not risk sending our children to institutions and organisations that have sheltered or might shelter p?dophiles;

in all cases form or join anti-p?dophilia actions groups at institutes such as schools, clubs, play-groups, etc.;

be wary of underestimating the cunning of p?dophiles or how insidious and dangerous they can be;

draw up a list of questions to help get proper initial information from institutes and organisations regarding the way they handle the problem of p?dophiles within their structures.

We should talk frequently about p?dophilia with those in our care, and alert them to the dangers that lie in the groups and communities around them. We need to be open with them concerning suspicious adult behaviour, and warn them about being alone for any length of time with adults.

Harsh? Maybe. But it's better to be strict now than to be stricken down with remorse twenty years or so down the track when things unfold.

Remain optimistic...

Yet at the end of it all, none of us knows for certain how things will work out, although we do know that we shall be surprised and astonished at the changes and growth that can occur.[6] Sometimes the weather can be very favourable, and make all the difference: perhaps this present call for us to wake up to the issue of sexual abuse of the young is a sign that there are better times ahead.








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