Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis
in the Catholic Church
By Barry M Coldrey
6: 'BOYS NEVER FORGET'
In the Australian context, one (Irish) Christian
Brother executive wrote to another member of a Provincial Council, 6 May
You will find that this particular weakness
is difficult to root out. It is remarkable that it tends to break out
time after time...One of the greatest troubles with the weakness is the
harm that is done to the boys. Boys find it hard to forget anything of
this nature, especially on the part of one whose office is to deplore
such conduct, and there is the danger that the same weakness may manifest
itself in the boys when they are placed in somewhat the same circumstances.'
'Frequently the church mourns over her virgins'
- St. Cyprian of Carthage, c. 250 AD
'I have been shocked at the extent of
the abuse uncovered. I have studied experiences far beyond anything I
have ever expected. The church ignored sexual abuse due to a fear of the
consequences of just how much more abuse might be uncovered. In a number
of recent cases of abuse, I have to report an intensifying of efforts
in some churches to close ranks and protect priest offenders.' Sr Angela
Ryan, former Chair, Congregation Leaders of Religious Institutes.
- Glascott, K. 'Church hid sex abuse:
Catholic clergy' Australian, 15 April 1996, p. 5.
'There is ample evidence from a wide range
of religious denominations that clergymen can publicly and vehemently
denounce sin in others while quietly and repeatedly indulging in it themselves.
The sexual practice of clergy is part of the important teaching truth
of the Catholic church. Example is, as much or even more than the word,
a powerful and effective means of teaching. Celibacy in religious tradition
is meant to the a lived way of how to regulate the sexual drive in accord
with Christian principles.'
- Sipe, A.W.R. A Secret
World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, Brunner/Mazel,
New York, 1990, pp. 128 - 129.
Men Behaving Badly
Of recent years, the Catholic church in the
English-speaking world has been ravaged by scandal; its public reputation
in meltdown. Religious institutions have often seemed as sex havens for
paedophiles. It was in this situation that in early 1997, I visited my
home city, Melbourne Australia. Its Archdiocese was one of the most troubled
in the country; my own Religious Congregation featured regularly in the
media, and almost always for the wrong reasons. Soon after landing, I
visited a cousin and her family for the evening meal. I wasn't in the
door long, and had just got a coffee to hand, when she blurted out that
Father X, a priest ministering in an area of the city she knew well, had
a live-in boyfriend. Father was one of the growing phenomenon of sexually-active
gay priests of ribald stories and popular folklore. 'It's not good enough
!' she stormed angrily.
If that priest did really have a resident
boy friend, and allegations are not proven truth and rumour often equates
as lies; then his days of peace and security were over. Within a few days
every bishop in Victoria was apprised of the allegation, the precise parish
There is a moral to be drawn from this episode,
whether the priest to whom reference was made was indeed guilty of aberrant
behaviour or not. In an archdiocese with around a half-dozen priests and
sundry male religious convicted and/or in jail during the nineties for
sexual offences; where the Archbishop has admitted paying compensation
as a result of the sexual depredations of twenty-one of his priests and
with discussion of paedophile priests and philandering ministers in the
media ad nauseum, devoted church-going Catholics are rattled. At first
people didn't want to believe it. Religion is being linked with paedophilia,
buggery and gay saunas. Their response can border on the hysterical
at times as they wake up to the knowledge that horrifying sexual abuse
has taken place, and considerable non-compliance with vows of celibacy
by a large minority of priests.
Reed, C.L. 'Unfaithful', Mother Jones
(US), Vol. 22. No. 6, Nov/Dec. 1997, pp. 45-55.
More than 100,000 men worldwide have left
the priesthood since the 1960s. In America, the number of priests has
fallen to 48,097, a 17% decline since 1965, according to the Center for
Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Catholic Research Centre at Georgetown
University...and by the year 2000 according to estimates from Catholic
reform groups there will be more married former priests than active priests.
They believe they could never make it on
the outside ... with good reason (sometimes). Many have watched colleagues
leave in order to pursue a relationship only to wind up behind the counter
of a fast-food restaurant or on welfare. The anxiety becomes more acute
the longer a priest stays within the church ... most Catholic dioceses
refuse to offer any type of pension to a priest who resigns. Former priests
can find themselves penniless after years of service.
'In every instance where there is a pattern
of abuse, someone in authority has permitted the activity. This permission
can be given under the guise of forgiveness.'
- Sipe, A.W.R. 'Celibacy and power',
Tablet, 26 November 1994, p. 1504.
'Brothers usually do not know the sexual
or celibate adjustment of even their closest friends. A priest's sexual
life becomes visible primarily through a scandal in which an accusation,
a pregnancy, a lawsuit or an arrest, comes to public attention. A Brothers
sexual behaviour is usually kept secret from every other person.'
- Sipe, A.W.R. A Secret World:
Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, Brunner/Mazel, New
York, 1990, p. 5.
Hypocrisy and Dysfunctional Living
Jesus appears to have child molestation in
his sights when He is quoted in Matthew 18: 5 - 7 as saying: 'Anyone who
is an obstacle bringing down one of these little ones who have faith in
me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone
around his neck.' Certainly paedophilia was common in the Graeco-Roman
world...and the early church was against the practice. The Didache, the
oldest extant commentary on the gospels, early second century, commands:
'Thou shalt not seduce young boys'. The earliest church council for which
any records exist, that at Elvira in 309 A.D., proposes 'irrevocable exclusion'
- i.e. the offender should not receive communion even at the point of
death 'for those who sexually abuse boys.' (Canon 71)
Nevertheless, the problem has never gone
away, and can never be suppressed entirely. Even at the time of the critical
and decisive Third Session of the Council of Trent, 1552-3, Pope Julius
III entered a sexual liaison with a fifteen-year-old boy he had picked
up on the streets of Parma...and before he died Pope Julius created the
young man a cardinal.
Yet from the dawn of revelation, the 'People
of God' were urged to a more advanced morality than that common among
the neighbouring peoples.
I am Yahweh your God. You must not
behave as they do in Egypt where you once lived; you must not behave
as they do in Canaan where I am taking you. You must not follow their
laws. You must follow my customs and keep my laws; by them you must
lead your life...You must not lie with a man as with a woman. This
is a hateful thing. You must not lie with an animal...you would thereby
become unclean. Genesis