Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis
in the Catholic Church
By Barry M Coldrey
'Sex has taken many priests and Brothers
by the short hairs and sifted them like chaff. In some dioceses and some
Provinces of Religious Orders the impression is that not a virgin is left
standing.' Journalist hyperbole, you say and rather trite too. Nevertheless,
the revelations of the last few years around the whole of the English-speaking
church, suggest that a large minority of the 'celibate' priesthood have
treated their vows and responsibilities lightly in this area; among some,
celibacy has been honoured in the breach, treated as the optional extra.
Moreover, priests were often shielded by a culture of sexual secrecy from
the consequences of their actions, permitted to play at life with a sort
of diplomatic immunity.
Sexual underworlds developed in some dioceses
and in some Religious Congregations. The 7%-10% of priests and Brothers
who have sexually molested minors has been merely the tip of an iceberg
of infidelity. In the United States, as a result of exhaustive
researches over 35 years, Richard Sipe found that four times as many priests
were (at some points in their lives) engaged in heterosexual sex as molested
children, and some 12% - 15% had gay sexual experience. With the evidence
of other in-house investigators and commentators, this study accepts that
Richard Sipe's analysis and conclusions are broadly relevant to the Australian
clerical scene, for which no long-term professional study exists.
It is an assumption in this exploration that
the sexual abuse crisis has been the elephant issue in the English-speaking
church over the last ten years; the vital issue in the sense that while
'everyone' understands sexual and money matters, only a relative handful
of people care about the other contentious questions facing the church,
for example, the ordination of women as priests. The Catholic Church has
stressed that its priesthood is celibate; that its ministers pose no sexual
threat to anyone. Celibacy is the distinctive feature of the Catholic
priesthood to the ordinary man and woman in the street. Over the last
10 - 15 years many people have become progressively aware of widespread
(though minority) infidelity to this vow by many priests.
This infidelity have become a major
obstacle to preaching the gospel in the English-speaking world. Priestly
'zippergate' has become to the church what 'Watergate' was to U.S. President,
Richard Nixon. As Bishop Geoffrey Robinson told the recent (December 1998)
Synod of the Bishops of Oceania in Rome:
Victims of abuse and the whole community
demand that the Church do everything possible to ensure that no one else
will be abused in the future. They demand that all aspects of the life
of the priest and the religious be studied and that all attitudes to power
and authority be carefully reviewed. (Wedesweiler, D. 'Synod: bishops
urge change', The Catholic Weekly, 4 December 1998, p. 1)
This is a developing study and when the next
phase of Chapters in the Congregation arrives, it will be available for
delegates. Meanwhile there is the frustration of the dedicated Catholic
laity faced with increasing evidence of the infidelity of many of their
priests to the most public of their vows. It is the laity who have to
face the ribald humour and coarse innuendo of their non-Catholic friends
and acquaintances at each new revelation of priestly infidelity, child
molestation or personal shortcomings...the more so since Catholic priests
have rarely been slow to lay down the law on what the community
ought or ought not to be doing.
This exploration accepts that during the
1990s, the English-speaking church was on a phenomenal learning curve
in these matters, and the problems of the celibate priesthood and the
Religious Congregations are being addressed, at times, ever so slowly.
Statements, principles and procedures have appeared after many years in
gestation to provide an intellectually-satisfying framework through
which decision-makers can deal with the problems of sexually troubled
men. However for some, it is all too little too late: the church is
not contrite enough, not sincere enough, not revealing enough, not thorough
enough, and its performance, not good enough !
It is easy to condemn the church's past failings,
the inability to address the sexual abuse issue, the lying, the duplicity,
the victim-blaming, the squalid ethics all directed to the avoidance
of scandal at any cost. Many Churchmen had little awareness, and certainly
no clear understanding of sexual offences against children and teenage
minors, their criminal nature and the permanent psychological scar such
offences could leave with the victims.
In a sense the sexual abuse of minors and
general clerical infidelity to celibacy vows has been the dark underside
of the old Irish-Australian working class church, covered over many
years by class and tribal loyalties, and now revealed in all its naked
horror by Catholics who no longer feel the old working class Irish-Australian
tribal ethos. Bourgeois and empowered, they expect something better of
Times have changed. By the year 2000, in
Australia some seventy Brothers and priests have been convicted of sexual
offences against children and more cases are pending. There have been
the highly-publicised suicides of some offenders. Sexual infidelity has
been revealed. Vast sums have been paid in legal fees, 'hush money' and
mediated compensation payments; some priests have been laicised for their
offences; others confronted and disciplined in more determined ways than
was once done. The proverbial chickens finally came home to roost with
a vengeance. Some reforms have commenced.
Our reputation has declined seriously, and
and it may sink further before things improve. Catholics ache with
a sense of innocence lost or destroyed, of the dangerous allure of evil:
criminal behaviour, vows ignored, the squalid efforts to cover-up.
It is instinctive in any institution to protect
itself from outside criticism and scrutiny, but it is equally true that
periodically institutions are forced by circumstance to explain themselves
to an outside world that does not necessarily take certain things for
granted, nor share the same basic loyalty.The sexual abuse allegations
have destroyed permanently the complacent notion that a religious order
is somehow beyond good and evil.There is conflict between the public
expectations of the life we lead and the human reality of feelings often
agonising, chaotic and apparently humiliating the messiness of the human
struggle. Priest and religious have been found out as human beings. However,
some reforms have been initiated.
However, there is still a downside, a shadow
side which includes widespread denial among ordinary Brothers
and priests of the extent and dimensions of the problem; an empathy with
the perpetrators which confronts the victims with at best, sympathy-fatigue,
and a defensive attitude to discussing the situation with any degree of
frankness or detail. There are attempts to silence in-house
critics. There is evidence, also, that some Religious Superiors, their
lay advisors and solicitors have skirted the edge of illegality by paying
hush money to complainants to withdraw their allegations after
criminal proceedings have started against priests or Brothers. However,
the French have a crude saying that unless the puss comes out, the wound
Rhetoric remained pious, generalised, evasive;
some meetings to discuss the issue were stage-managed, sterilised and
carefully orchestrated to avoid confronting sexual problems too directly.
Individuals who work, or have worked to bring the abuse issue to the attention
of authorities can find themselves marginalised, subject to continuing
lying and character assassination, a sort of low-level verbal terrorism,
while offenders are readily excused and integrated, and either are, or
give the appearance of being protected. There is the toxic mixture
of brotherhood and betrayal, high belief and low cunning. Sin is congenial;
jail a novelty; 'Promotion' is based on sexual experience.
All this suggests that the willingness of
the church authorities to confront the abuse issue and the casual attitude
to vowed celibacy among a large minority of priests and Religious depends,
not so much on deep-seated commitment to the right, but more on the relentless
pressure of the media, the oxygen of destructive publicity; - and
the justice systems, both civil and criminal. There was, and still is,
a perceived desire by those in authority to sweep the whole matter under
the carpet, when and where this is still possible. Sexual molestation
is the 'tip of the iceberg' of clerical infidelity to celibacy; the whole
issue must be addressed otherwise the abuse issue is only partly confronted.
Hence, the need to explore the issue further
as part of the on-going process to make the scandals of the last fifteen
years as far as possible things of the past. Once, over many years, the
guys in white hats lost while evil reigned; now the good guys are
winning more, but evil reigns too often, despite some improvements in
the church's response to child molestation.
There are some original thoughts in this
book; not many. In the main it is a compilation from a wide range of secondary
material informed by my own experience over eight years of investigation
to focus decision-makers on further reform measures the church in Australia
must make to deal with the ramifications of the sexual abuse crisis.
Barry M Coldrey
7/67 Collins Street
Thornbury Vic 3071Australia
[BA.org note: Coldrey's currently
listed email address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
25 April 2000
Four "White Fathers" commenced
Catholic evangelisation in 1879, nearly two years after the arrival of
Anglican missionaries. The zeal of the early converts helped to spread
Catholicity rapidly. The persecution of 1885 - 1887 produced the 22 Uganda
martyrs canonised in 1964, and a similar number of Anglicans martyred
for their faith.
The 22 African youths were put to death by
the Kabaka (king) of Buganda, Mwanga, a vicious and perverse young man
after his Christian courtiers refused to submit to his demands for sex.
Joseph Mukasa, the majordomo of the Royal Household, died first, beheaded,
15 November 1885 for encouraging the courtiers to remain chaste and protesting
the murder of the Anglican bishop, James Hannington. Joseph Mukasa is
the first martyr of Black Africa.
On 25 May 1886, Mwanga ordered the execution
of the courtier, Denis Ssebuggwawo for instructing his favourite boy in
the Christian faith. Over the next few days a number were put to death,
and on 3 June 1886, at Namugongo, thirteen were burned at the stake, including
Charles Lwanga who had charge of the courtiers. Most of the courtiers
were young men in their teens; the last execution, 27 January 1887 was
of Jean Marie Muzeyi, a former young courtier, who was beheaded.
The Uganda martyrs were beatified by Pope
Benedict XV in 1920 and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1964.