Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the
By Barry M Coldrey
7: THE RECENT CRISIS
In view of the sketchy evidence above, the church
has been 'mourning over her virgins' for a long time, to paraphrase St.
Cyprian of Carthage. In this light, the 'abuse crisis' of the last fifteen
years might not be as stark as first thought; it is easy to exaggerate;
easy to ignore the 'big picture'. Apocalyptic language is not much use.
However, the sober figures, even when interpreted in the light of the
overall religious scene, do give pause for concern.
With the perspective of the 1980s, Jason Berry,
who wrote one of the main books on the issue of clerical child abuse around
the story of the notorious Louisiana priest, Fr William Gauthe, 'uncovered
an incredible mass of corruption': (Berry, J. Lead us not into
Temptation, Doubleday, New York, 1992.
(1) Over 400 Catholic priests in North America
were prosecuted for child molestation between 1984 and 1992;
(2) The typical molester can reach scores (even
hundreds) of children;
(3) The Church attempted to cover up the abuse.
As with most sexual crime, the majority of cases
go unreported. On the other hand, there are around 300 Catholic bishops
and 50,000 Catholic priests in America at any one time, so we do need
to keep some capacity to look at the big picture.
With the perspective of the late 1990s, the situation
has worsened. By this stage 800 US priests have been through the court
process; not all convicted - and some 1300 priests have been treated for
psychosexual disorders over the period of the crisis. Moreover, these
figures concern only those whose activities have come to light. (Sipe,
A.W.R. Celibacy: a way of loving, living and serving,
E.J.Dwyer, Australia, 1996, p. 140.)
In Ireland, since 1991, there have been 35 convictions
of priests, Brothers and ex-clergy in Ireland, according to figures compiled
by the church. Some 27 of those were in the Republic and eight in Northern
Ireland. Criminal cases for child sexual abuse are pending against 12
members of the clergy, one priest and eleven Christian Brothers (or ex-Christian
Brothers). The Irish Times, 22 March 1999, p.1.
Recent developments in various dioceses show
that abuse has been widespread, often more than the classic 5&SHY;7%
of priests molesting minors. Chicago, 2.7%; Belleville, Il; Albuquerque,
NM, 10%, Lafayette, Il, 7%.
The cold figures have been illumined with
some spectacular cases which drew concentrated media attention:
Bishop Eamon Casey, Galway, exposed as the
absent father of a 17 year old boy by an American divorcee.
Bishop Roderick Wright, Argyll & the Isles,
quit the Scottish diocese to marry his divorced friend, and subsequently
was revealed to have a teenage son by another woman, who presumed that
at some stage he would 'do the right thing' and marry her. Three other
women of varying credibility also surfaced to claim that they had had
sexual relations with his Lordship at one time of another.
A popular TV priest-personality Fr Michael
Cleary died, and his partner and her two children revealed the truth
of his long relationship with them.
During a critical month in Ireland, October-November
1994, all hell appeared to break loose for the church:
A fifty-two-year-old monsignor former president
of a college sexually abused an eighteen-year-old hitchhiker;
A half-dozen other priests were either accused
or convicted of child molestation;
A fifty-eight-year-old priest died around 2
a.m. on the floor of a gay bathhouse in Dublin, stepped over and around
until 4 a.m. when he was discovered by another priest patron;
At this stage the extradition crisis over Fr
Brendan Smyth triggered a political crisis in Dublin and the resignation
of the government.
Similarly to the situation in Eire, the worldwide
headlines make for sad and sober reflection:
In Italy a cardinal died of a heart attack
in a brothel;
In Austria, Cardinal Groer of Vienna was forced
to resign after an enquiry described itself 'morally certain' that he
had sexually abused young seminarians on trips and in shower rooms some
twenty years previously;
A young US bishop resigned his office at the
same time that he revealed that a woman friend was pregnant with his
child; and another bishop resigned when he was accused of living an
actively gay lifestyle.
and in Rome a police sweep of the red-light
district netted several priest patrons. It was plain that the sexual
behavior of some priests is sleazy, opportunistic and cheap, rather
like that of President Clinton with Monica Lewinsky.
At least five US bishops and archbishops have
resigned amid sexual scandals during the 1990s two involving affairs
with women, two involving allegations of past child molestations, and
now Bishop Patrick Ziemann's affair with Father Jorge Salas, a priest
in his Santa Rosa (California) diocese. (Lattin, D. 'Sex scandals bare
Church's sordid secrets', San Francisco Chronicle, 14 August
In the USA, the Roman Catholic church has paid
out (around) $1 billion in sexual abuse lawsuits and settlements, legal
fees and counseling. Tom Economus, President of Link Up, said the figure
is based on a review of 1400 court cases and information from insurance
companies and abuse victims. (Lattin, D. 'Sex scandals bare Church's
sordid secrets', San Francisco Chronicle,14 August 1999,
(Archbishop George Pell, Melbourne, Australia):
'Since October 1996, some 80 offers of compensation have been made to
complainants in respect of 21 priests; 70 offers have been accepted.
The remaining ten are currently under consideration. To date, none have
been rejected ... It is considered that around $A2 million has been
paid to victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Melbourne)
... victims advocates say that this Archdiocese usually pays victims
between $20,000 and $35,000 each.' (Daly, M. 'Sex abuse cases cost the
church $2 million', The Sunday Age, 21 November 1999, pp.
1 & 4).
It does have to be stressed that this evidence
is impressionistic; and much of the sexual activity outlined was not illegal;
though some was. Overall, however, the modern church appears to have an
exceptional problem with celibacy, and the (large) 'tip of the iceberg'
of the celibacy difficulty is sexual abuse of minors. The best American
research confirms that 5% - 7% of priests have molested children; scattered
evidence from the English-speaking world generally suggests a similar
figure; and my own research in one (large) religious congregation would
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