Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis
in the Catholic Church
By Barry M Coldrey
12: SEXUAL UNDERWORLD
The Invitation to the Underworld
'A weeping young American priest struggled
to absorb an experience that threatened his idealism and tells his story:
"I had completed graduate schools and was flattered when my bishop
asked me to accompany him to a high-level meeting attended by a large
number of the hierarchy. During my time there, I was approached and asked
for sex by a bishop from another diocese. I declined, and the bishop remarked:
'You know, Father, if you want to progress in this organisation, you are
going to need friends.' The young priest was to find out later that some
men on the bishop's staff were themselves connected sexually to the gay
network...he witnessed priests who won promotions based on sexual involvement,
was offered pornography and endured sexual advances from a number of highly-placed
fellow clergy.' (Sipe, A.W.R. Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of
a Crisis, Brunner/Mazel Publishers, New York, 1995, p. 173.)
There are four key features of a sexual
underworld in a religious organisation:
- a shared guilty secret
- based on illegal or immoral sexual activity
in breach of either criminal law or a priest's vows of celibacy.
- mutual support in seeking positions
of responsibility; in good-mouthing one another; bad-mouthing perceived
critics and supportive friendships
- permitting a toxic cone of silence
over mutual shortcomings, more profound than the mafia code of omerta
Church leaders have an extraordinary inability
to connect with the sexual abuse allegations. What made it more difficult
to confront was the church's usual moral righteousness. It had been caught
out. The document does not confront the basic problems associated with
priestly loneliness, jealousy, dissatisfaction, incompetence, conceit
and diminishing social status. - Murray, J. 'A Strange Document Indeed',
Australian, 14 January 1998, p. 10.
It is easy for priests to view themselves
as select. Men in Holy Orders (and professed in Religious Congregations)
can accept and tolerate behaviour which is condemned and found intolerable
in the general population. A review of the history of the celibate/sexual
system and an examination of how it functions reveal clearly that people
pledged to a power system enjoy a latitude of understanding, forgiveness
and tolerance of behaviour - from masturbation to abortion - which is
condemned vigorously in the general population.
It was believed widely that priests or vowed
Religious who has serious problems with their vows, especially the second,
left their calling, normally to marry. This has always been true for many;
not however, for all. Priests or Brothers with public problems can wish
to stay with no special intention to address their problems. Scandal does
just not matter.
The Grim hard truth is that faith has
diminished among the clergy...But they are not going to quit their
jobs because what are they going to do ? Moreover, why should they quit
membership of a gilt-edged club which assures them dignity, stature, privileged,
money and lifestyle. (Joughin, M. 'The Church Response to Clerical Corruption',
In Fidelity, No. 10, March 1996, p. 1.)
Bad Day at Black Rock:
The Guilty Secrets
The following could be the sequence of growth
of a sexual underworld in a province of a Religious Order or diocese.
(a) Occasionally, a rogue staff member
of a training college, juvenate or seminary (or a Vocation Director)
has used his position to molest student(s), as occurred on a wide scale
in the now-suppressed 'Brothers of St. Gerard Majella'.
'In...during my second year of training
(aged 17), at the...near Melbourne, I was molested by one of the Brothers
at this college. While I was drying myself in the shower block, alone
at the time, Brother X came up behind me and without saying anything,
startled to fondle my genitalia.'
(b) More often...and sometimes quite
often...some seminarians get involved in peer sexual activity. These
activities are not criminal but are extremely embarrassing when viewed
from the vantage point of later life.
'"I" finally succumbed to
a consenting sexual relationship with another Brother of my own age
over a period of six months. I felt guilty about this but was driven
by sexual desire and experimentation. I was sorry about it afterwards.'
(c) Occasionally (some) seminarians show
one another porno-movies, visit brothels or gay bars...maybe seek an
affair or a 'one-night-stand'. The stated motive is along the lines
of 'seeing what it's like before signing on the dotted line.'
'"I" confiscated a 'Playboy'
magazine from a child and kept this magazine under my mattress. I
would often read it and masturbate.
(d) In due course, Brother is professed
and seminarian ordained. However, the heterosexual attraction proves
stronger than anticipated in the freer atmosphere away from the college.
There a loneliness...a certain bitterness as the priest or Brother observes
family life. He drifts into an affair one of the ladies committee, the
housekeeper or a woman who comes for counselling.
(e) There can be a parallel development
in the case of a gay relationship. The young man may have had some
doubts as to his sexual orientation but not pursued the matter.
'(Brother) in the training college,
Brother X would talk about the beauty of the male bodies he would
see in the showers and remark that a naked female body did nothing
to arouse him.'
'Father' may have been ordained still unsure
of his sexuality and not giving the matter much thought. However, in the
freer atmosphere of the ordinary ministry the truth dawns clearly. Now
a variety of emotions might follow: either anger, frustration or a certain
acceptance. He (say) realises his gay orientation but decides to remain
and lives his vows - and with grace succeeds. After all, the majority
of priests and Brothers with heterosexual orientation still have the same
vows to live.
This is the happy outcome, the result for
some, regrettably not for all. Another priest or Brother confronted with
the same realisation feels the need to explore his sexuality...visits
gay bars...forms relationships, moves through serial live-in relationships,
but for another set of reasons cannot or will not retire from the active
(f) Then there is, for a small minority,
behaviour with sexual connotations: obscene 'phone calls, kerb-crawling,
hanging around in the Red Light area for the vicarious thrill of the
(g) Finally there are the 5% to 7% who
have really molested minors, i.e. committed serious sexual offences
according to the criminal law.
Many priests or male religious who have molested
children were themselves molested or propositioned at some stage of their
development, occasionally by priests or Brothers.
(a) Between 1964 and 1987, dozens of teenage
boys were molested by Franciscan friars at St. Anthony's (Junior) Seminary
in Santa Barbara, California.
(b) Between 1968 and 1992, many former
students at the Wisconsin (Junior) Seminary of the Capuchins (Franciscan)
were molested by six of the friars. (Jenkins, P. Pedophiles and
Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, Oxford University
Press, 1996, p. 44)
'A Brother of Charity who sexually abused
a thirteen-year-old boy he befriended at a prayer group was jailed
for two years yesterday. Denis Qurike was sentenced at Waterford Circuit
Court after pleading guilty to seven specimen counts of sexual abuse
over three years...the defendant was novice master at Belmont
when he came into contact with the boy through a prayer group.' ('Brother
jailed for two years for boy's sex abuse', The Irish
Times, 14 July 1999, p. 3)
'At Mount St Bernard's (Cistercian) monastery,
the St. Mary's Agricultural Colony opened as a reformatory in 1856...staffed
by Brothers of a 'Third Order'. In 1858, three of the Brothers
were found guilty of sexual misconduct with some of the youngsters.
Staffing posed difficulties. (Lennon, D. 'Bishop Turner, the Salford
Diocese and Reformatory Provision, 1854 - 1872', Recusant
History, Vol. 23. No. 3. May 1997, p. 396.
Problem: The Active Gay Priest
The widespread lack of celibate practice
is relevant to the central issue of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic
clergy because a community that proclaims publicly the sexual safety of
its members at the same time that it tolerates sexual activity restricts
the ability of bishops, vicars, pastors and priests to properly supervise,
discipline and explore the criminal activities of priests who abuse children.
Exposure of one part of the system abusive priests threatens to expose
a whole system which supports a lack of celibate conformity within the
priesthood. The large number of SEXUALLY ACTIVE GAY PRIESTS further
complicates the issue because of the potential for public controversy
and disapproval of this behaviour, especially since the Church condemns
homosexual relations between consenting adults. (Sipe, A W R, 'Preliminary
expert report', p. 14)
Complicated Clerical Affairs
'When "I" was in my teens, a priest
whom I admired and in whom I had confided my adolescent struggles with
sexuality, took me away on a holiday and sexually abused me throughout
our ten days together. Although it was not my first sexual encounter,
it was my first with an adult, and what he asked me to do was new to me.
It became obvious that I was not his only sexual partner when I contracted
a venereal disease from him. My priest was not an evil man. He was, and
is, an outstanding and beloved pastor. He has told me that I was by far
the youngest person with whom he ever had sex and I believe him. But the
doublethink in his life at the time he abused me was extraordinary. As
we travelled, he would by day discourse on theological and ecclesiastical
matters, share clerical gossip, celebrate Mass for the two of us in mountain
meadows. He was, and remains, a fierce defender of the traditional model
of priesthood with all its burdens and its privileges. He venerated the
Roman Catholic church and its hierarchical structures, but by night he
expected me to service his sexual needs. When I told him, after our holiday,
that I was considering the priesthood he warned me that because I was
attractive I had to be careful of people who might prey upon me sexually.
Now I too, am a priest....'
Another priest (one of my patients), when he
was a fifteen-year-old (junior) seminarian, once experienced anal intercourse
with a twenty-five-year-old priest. He, along with other seminarians, was
on a summer pilgrimage to a religious shrine. The sleeping arrangements
were haphazard and he was assigned to a bed with the older man. Years later
he recalled with both excitement and regret his one and only sexual contact
with another person.
- Sipe, A.W.R. A Secret World:
Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, Brunner Mazel,
New York, 1990, p. 126.
'There are consistent reports that 20%
of seminarians experience homosexual contact during the years of their
training...a vast number of sexual contacts can be shielded under
the cover of systemic secrecy.' (Sipe, op. cit., p. 132)
(Fr. Eric Taylor, Warwick Crown Court, 16 victims,
7 years jail) 'A Catholic priest told a court yesterday how he was sexually
abused as a boy by the priest in charge of his orphanage...Fr. Eric Taylor
when he was in charge at Father Hudson's orphanage, Coleshill, Warwickshire,
1957 - 1965.' 'Priest tells of abuse at home' The Independent,
London, 17 April 1998, p. 5)
There is one thing that needs to be stressed:
no matter how the document reads to this point, there is no suggestion
that all of, or most of, a presbyterium or brotherhood, are part of a
On the other hand, a sexual underworld can
be supported by:
(a) friends of offenders who won't, or
can't bear to hear a word against "my little mate" no matter
what the evidence;
(b) religious executives who feel guilty
that they did not act appropriately at some former time;
(c) training college personnel who feel
guilty that they did not act appropriately at some former time;
(d) working class loyalties and priestly/fraternal
caste loyalties. 'He's a sick/evil bastard, but he's our sick/evil bastard'.
Illegal behaviour is shielded in a sexual
underworld but the key feature of a sexual underworld is not illegal behaviour.
'Say it ain't so'
'Say it ain't so' was the anguished cry from
a once hero-worshipping lad when he read of a hero baseball player accused
of throwing the 1919 World Series. He wanted to believe his trust was
It was because of a mix of this sort of thinking
that the Church and kindred bodies were slow to acknowledge the clergy
sexual abuse problem. They adopted responses which were quick to minimise
its extent or seriousness, and to offer assurances of good intentions
and of a decisive change with the past. These reasons included:
ignorance in matters of sexuality, and
the lack of any ability, particularly by older members of the clergy
to understand or accept the fact of sexual misbehaviour by their brethren;
ignorance of the fact that paedophile
activity is strongly compulsive and recidivist in nature; and therefore
it is impossible to dismiss an apparent indiscretion as a one-off event;
confusion over loyalty to the Church and
its own community support base;
confusion between forgiveness and trust
towards offenders, and the duties which the church owes to the wider
community. There was a tendency to place exaggerated reliance on counselling.
Counselling can go only so far.
concern to avoid or limit legal liability
for the actions of priests and ministers;
confusion in relation to the limits
of confidentiality concerning matters disclosed or learned outside the
uncertainty as to the appropriate response
where the complainant does not wish the matter to proceed to police
The above explains the waves of conflicting
emotions which seem to flood over church personnel when abuse is revealed.
In the revelations of the 1990s, there were common features in most abuse
repeated rumours of molestation;
increasingly troubled parents;
church authorities who ignored warning
offenders shuffled from parish (or school)