Religious Life Without Integrity

The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

By Barry M Coldrey

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The core of this compilation concerns the five issues of clerical shortcomings, hypocrisy, scandal, sexual networks and sexual underworlds.

A sexual network is a small group or circle of priests, Brothers or lay workers who are living at variance with their vows on sexual matters - two's and three's who support one another by supportive silence and covering for each other. A sexual underworld is a larger, more amorphous state-within-a-state inside a diocese of Religious Congregation, where there is a substantial people who are not living their vows (or have not for periods in the past) and who co-operate to hide one another's extracurricular activities.

How do these priests or Brothers come together ? In one way it flows from that most basic principle of human behaviour: 'Birds of a feather flock together.'


Bad apples attract more bad apples. 'I have secrets about you; you have secrets about me. I won't fink on you; you won't fink on me.' Blackmail and extortion are the ways things are kept quiet in the church. They were one way to build trust. It's 'I know this about you and you know this about me, so I'll take you along with me.' People go through stages in their lives. They may no longer be active sexually, but they have a sexual history and have to deal with people from their past. (Plante, T. 'Bless me Father for I have sinned' Perspectives on Sexual Abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests' cited in Lattin, D. 'Sex scandals bare Church's sordid secrets', San Francisco Chronicle, 14 August 1999, p. 3)


However, there are also rumours investigated...chance meetings in embarrassing situations; e.g. 'Brother James', the ardent, restless young priest meets a friend emerging from the brothel as 'James' is striding towards the door. Unfazed, he remarks: 'Don't you tell on me and I won't tell on you !'

Of course, this sounds extreme case...could it really occur ? Well, in my experience these chance revelations can happen. The following is a good example. Some years ago in one community there were rumours that Brother Y had a problem with alcohol. It was only a rumour. However, early one morning, arriving home after a very late night, I noticed Brother shovelling empty bottles into a park rubbish bin. This did tend to confirm the rumours. However, this is not the punch-line. Brother Y was incredibly unlucky to be "caught" by myself at such an ungodly hour. I am out that late so rarely, being the 'early to bed, early to rise' sort of person.

It is an axiom of this essay, that if one is sick or doing the wrong thing in the clerical or religious life, the news tends to circulate over time.


Benedictine Abbey, Ampleforth, North Yorkshire - Monk's suicide.

A monk of Ampleforth committed suicide last month while being investigated by a newspaper as an alleged paedophile, an inquest in Malton, North Yorkshire, heard on Monday.

The body of Dom Benjamin O'Sullivan, 34, was found in the abbey grounds on 2 March 1996. There was a plastic bag over his head and a note in his habit in which he had written: 'I never did anything wrong as they accused me. May God forgive them and have mercy on my soul.' The message was written early the previous evening, soon after Father O'Sullivan had been confronted by a News of the World reporter over the claims of a twenty-two-year-old man referred to at the meeting as 'Ashley'.

The inquest heard that Father O'Sullivan and 'Ashley' met earlier this year and had sex at a flat in London and the priest admitted to paedophile tendencies. When the two met again, 'Ashley' taped their conversation using a machine supplied by the newspaper. Recording a verdict of suicide, the coroner, Michael Oakley, described the News of the World's behaviour as 'underhand and despicable'.

- The Tablet ( London), 27 April 1996

A reflection from Mao Tse Tung & classic rural revolutionary theory

In the days of the 'Long March' and his bid for power in China after the 1920s, Chinese Communist Party chairman, Mao Tse Tung, planned a rural based revolution. His cadres, drawn in the main from the peasantry, would dress like the peasants, work alongside the peasants and blend into the rural masses with the same ease as the fish swim in the sea.

There is an ironic parallel here with the sexual underworld in some dioceses of provinces of Religious Congregations. Priests/Brothers/church workers who abuse minors and commit criminal offences have been (are ?), able to hide within a sympathetic underworld of other clergy and church workers who are merely breaking their vows by having heterosexual or gay sex with consenting adults. All are doing the wrong thing and have a similar incentive to provide mutual support. They share an unstated capacity for mutual blackmail. Each has friends.

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