Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the
By Barry M Coldrey
14: LEADERSHIP TOLERANCE
Some bishops and Religious Superiors are tolerant
or appear to be accepting of the extracurricular sexual activities of
their priests, Brothers and (occasionally) nuns. Moreover, a few bishops
and some higher Superiors have abused minors or broken their vows of celibacy.
Sexual activity by priests is relatively common.
Where this tolerance occurs, the reasons are
close to those argued already with a few variations. The subject is too
dangerous to touch, too explosive; nobody wants to know.
'So common now is the breaking of vows and so
brazen the double-dealing, that Helen Last, Pastoral Response Team,
Archdiocese of Melbourne, recently told Broken Rites that 'the expectations
of the laity with regard to celibacy are not the same as the expectations
of the hierarchy. The hypocrisy that we have encountered in clerical ranks
is profoundly disturbing...the continuing cover-up surrounding the sexual
proclivities of an ever-growing number of priests and religious is a constant
source of scandal for us.'
- Joughin, M. 'The Catholic Response to Clerical
Corruption', In Fidelity, No. 10. March 1996, p. 1.
'I am keenly aware of the ambivalent feelings
among priests when we hear of a colleague who stands accused of sexual
abuse. Priests are very defensive of one another; I have heard brother
priests say of an alleged abuser: 'We must forgive and forget.' They mean
'forgive the abuser; forget the abused'. The needs of the priest come
first and the suffering of the victims hardly counts.'
- Elder, D. 'Scars of sexual abuse', The
Tablet, 27 September 1997, p. 1225.
Here is an anecdote by way of a parallel illustration:
Once upon a time, some 20 years ago, I was talking
to a headmaster about the public shortcomings of some of the lay staff
at the Brothers school. They were obviously not living the church's teachings
and many of the senior boys were aware of this. There was scandal. Sexual
abuse of children, however, was not the issue.
The headmaster was unfazed. He remarked that
if he enquired too closely, or worried too much whom the staff were living
with, or what they were doing after hours, and did anything about it,
he would not be able to open the College on Monday mornings. Rumours abound,
but hard evidence is hard to acquire; proof is difficult; and the confronted
have friends. With action, there are too many minefields which yawn for
In a similar way, a bishop may reason likewise
when he worries if he will be able to open the churches for Sunday Mass.
Life looks different at the sharp end. The bishop does not want to readily
have doubts about his priests, many of whom are engaged in stressful work
with seriously deprived, difficult or disturbed people - 'suicides, drunks,
visionaries, dropouts, conmen, naggers and cranks' - life's victims all
of them. (Campion, E. Rockchoppers: Growing up Catholic in Australia,
Penguin, 1982, p. 189)
Moreover, some of these deprived, difficult
or disturbed people can lie, fabricate evidence and reconstruct from the
I am not unmindful of the failure (to reform)
of others when given a second chance. The whole business (child molestation)
seems almost an incurable disease and the possibility is that only a fraction
of the cases ever reaches us and then they are usually denied. On the
other hand, malicious accusations can be, and have been made. We must
do our best and try to be just to everyone.
- Province Leader (Religious Order, Australia)
to Superior-General, Rome, c. March 1950.
In the following recent case which has occurred
ten years after the sexual abuse crisis engulfed the English-speaking
church, there is a strong sense that the church authorities knew of Father
R.J. Deal's alcoholism and (seemingly active) homosexuality and did little
about the matter until the crisis. Moreover, he was not charged with molesting
a minor, but an older young man, over whom he had something of a power
relationship. (Pellegrini, S. 'Priest guilty of attack on man', Herald
Sun, 22 July 1999, p. 5)
'A Catholic archbishop's former private secretary
was yesterday convicted of indecently assaulting a young parishioner.
(Father) R.J. Deal, 51, of Thornbury, pleaded guilty in Broadmeadows Magistrates
Court... three counts of indecent assault against a man in his twenties.
The priest was sentenced to four months gaol, suspended for two years,
and placed on a bond...the attacks occurred between December 1998 and
March 1999... the victim had been working under Deal as part of court-ordered
community service... three separate incidents occurred at the presbytery...
Deal was clearly homosexual and an alcoholic. (Deal is suspended from
The reasons why there was a poor response to
sexual abuse failures in the past seem active in the present despite the
ten years of apocalyptic media revelations, the endless meeting within
the church to find solutions and the proud release of Integrity
in Ministry and never-again media statements by church leaders.
These reasons were (and apparently are)
· The inability to comprehend or accept that
a priest or religious could offend in this way and a consequent dismissing
of the complaint as untrue;
· A confused loyalty to the institutional church
and its ministers (as opposed to the people of God), so that they were
believed before others and their selfish interests were placed before
those of the faceless and nameless victims;
· Seeing a sexual offence solely as a moral
failure, to be treated by no more than repentance, forgiveness, perhaps
some counselling and then transfer to another position;
· Ignorance of the fact that sexual abuse
can quickly become compulsive - one cannot assume that it will never
· Failure to appreciate the powerful and lifelong
effects that sexual abuse has on the victims, and a consequent failure
to reach out to victims in justice and compassion;
· Concern for the good name of the church and
a consequent concern to avoid or limit legal liability for any harm
done to victims.
'I was the first of more than 1,400 male victims
to come forward in the early 1990s and disclose the physical and sexual
abuse we suffered at the hands of the Christian Brothers and lay staff
at St Joseph's and St John's Training Schools for Boys in Ontario...The
process of reconciliation and healing failed. The victims had to fight
every step of the way to receive counselling, educational benefits, financial
compensation and apologies. The process was so onerous that many committed
suicide as a result of their reabuse at the hands of the reconciliation
and implementation committee and their compensation designates. The Ontario
courts are being asked to review the reconciliation agreements and award
additional compensation for the failure of the parties to honour the agreements.
(Mc Cann, D. 'Residential school survivors still struggling to heal',
Vancouver Sun, 4 November 1998, p.A 16)
There has been considerably more sexual activity
contrary to their vows - and sometimes the law of the land - by priests
and male religious than the average, well-informed, practising Catholic
realises; than the average priest or male religious realises, not involved
himself. If and when the truth dawns, the latter are often quite bitter,
though they may wish, at first, 'to shoot the messenger'.
Major Superiors and bishops require some capacity
for discrete investigations of allegations and persistent rumours to find
the facts - and thereby have the truth either to confront a confrere who
has gone astray or to liberate themselves from suspicions
There is a somewhat different problem for some
of the pious laity. They fail to realise that a person is not made holy
by ordination or religious profession, nor given a sudden infusion of
maturity or integrity. Many Catholics thought this was the case (and perhaps
many still do !) People still hold on to the extraordinary idea that celibate
clergy and religious have somehow been made non-sexual by their professed
celibate commitment and that their sexual impulses no longer exist with
any force. Clergy and religious must take their celibate commitment seriously,
but Catholics must also take seriously the fact that celibacy is a most
demanding commitment for people who think and feel in exactly the same
way as they do. (Robinson, G. Crisis and Opportunity: the Scandal of Sexual
Abuse, Inform, N 57, February 1998, p. 3)
Dissipation of a Sexual Underworld
A sexual underworld in a diocese or province
of a religious order can be hindered or broken up by either (a) light
or (b) noise. An explanation may be required.
When I was on the staff of a Third World university
I was friendly with the Head of Security who was updating his qualifications
and doing two of my subjects. We sometimes talked security. He always
maintained that the key elements were noise and light.
When, for example, the intending burglar steps
on the front porch and a light switches on, he usually runs away; and
when the break-and-enter specialist pushes the window, an alarm rings.
He tears off.
Noise and light draw attention. Perhaps there
is a parallel situation in the case of sexual networking that can exist
in the diocese or the Province of a Religious Order.
If relevant authority makes it clear in various
way - hints, explanations to key people - with the idea that the word
will spread - then those involved may take the big hint that 'the game
is up' and s/he will either regularise his situation or leave the consecrated
'Sexual underworld' is a concept which needs
to be understood by those in positions of responsibility.
The type of leadership which is relevant in this
case was reported in The Tablet, 18 January 1997, p. 91.
Bishop C. Budd (of Plymouth) laid down the law as Chairman of the English
Bishops Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship:
Priests who father children should admit it,
leave the active ministry and get jobs to support their families...consenting
adults must be responsible for their actions. The priest's children
are as important as his ministry.
This type of forthright statement, followed by
appropriate action, will gradually contract any sexual underworld which
exists in a diocese. In accord with this attitude, the following will
make sense: 'Parishioners left in the dark as priest resigns over child',
The Tablet, 26 September 1998, p. 1265.
Father Patrick Morrissey of St Bede's in
South Shields left the parish on Monday, 7 September 1998, saying
that he was going on a holiday...he had resigned...statement from Bishop
A Griffiths of Hexham and Newcastle. The parishioners discovered from
local newspapers that he had left because of his affair with Christine
Fox who has three children from a previous marriage, and his responsibilities
to his son. He said:
I am very sorry when I think of my former parishioners.
I feel I have betrayed them, but I have a son and have to stand by him.
I just wish people knew how much anguish I have suffered. I have been
leading a double life. Now the pressure is off. I hope people can find
it in their hearts one day to forgive me. The way I see it now is that
St. Bede's will always have a priest, but my child has only one father
and I have to be there for him. People do not realise how lonely it
is to be a priest. I respected my commitment to celibacy when I was
ordained and I took the commitment honestly, but I have found it difficult
to live with and have struggled over a long period of time to be faithful.
Theory and Practice
'The expectations of the laity with regard
to celibacy are NOT the same as the expectations of the hierarchy.' Helen
Last, Pastoral Advocate, Archdiocese of Melbourne. - Joughin, M. 'The
Catholic Response to Clerical Corruption', In Fidelity, No.
10, March 1996, p. 1.
'It is clearly unethical for any professional
person to sexualise the relationship with someone is their care.' - 'Church
refuses to act on priest sex charge', In Fidelity, No. 10.
March 1996, p. 9.
'Towards Healing', a policy
document from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, 1996, is full
of tough-minded rhetoric such as the following:
'If church authorities are satisfied that an
accused is guilty of sexual abuse, they shall take such action as the
situation and the seriousness of the offence demand. In relation to serious
offences...in the case of a cleric or religious, it means that they will
never be given back the power they have abused; and it can include a request
that the person concerned apply to return to the lay state or even the
commencement of a canonical penal process in accordance with Canons 1717
'It is unfair to hold out to an offender any
hope of a return to ministry when it is clear that this will not be possible.'
- Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Towards
Healing: Principles and Procedures in Responding to Complaints of Sexual
Abuse against Personnel of the Catholic Church in Australia,
This is fine. However, such frank and determined
resolution has to run counter to long years of cover-up in some sections
of the church - 'the misguided, although fierce loyalty to the institution
whose image can never be tarnished.' This is from the Victorian Parliamentary
Committee Inquiry and refers to the Catholic Church.
'In addition to this, there are the often unwritten
rules of the church which may contradict the official policy...What does
concern the Committee, however, is the number of cases which come to the
attention of the clergy outside the confessional and which are never reported
to the relevant authorities. The Committee has received evidence from
victims and their families suggesting that there may be more offenders
which church leaders maybe aware of, but where little action has taken
'Many victims are told when making an official
complaint about sexual assault to church authorities that is an isolated
incident and that the priest was going through a rough time in his life
and should be forgiven even when the Church is aware of multiple allegations
against the same priest.'
Sometimes internal investigations have followed
with perhaps internal disciplinary action and perhaps a move for the alleged
offender. The victims become disillusioned resenting the feeling that
they have been ignored or silenced, while in some cases the offences were
allowed to continue while the offender was apparently protected by the
- Parliament of Victoria, Crime Prevention
Committee, Inquiry into Sexual Offences against Children and Adults,
First Report, May 1995, p. 308.
It is the weight of the past which has
to be over come if the church is to regain integrity in these matters.
'Father J. Mulvihill wrote to Bishop MacKiernan,
Kilmore, 1 November 1974. "Since 1964, I have known that a member of the
community is misbehaving...molesting children...bingo sessions...I have
brought the matter to the attention of the Abbot but to no avail.' Pollak,
A. 'Bishop informed of complaints', Irish Times, 20 October
1995, p. 5.
'When Brother R. Gordon confessed in 1971 to
the Provincial of the Marist Brothers that he had indecently assaulted
four boys...he was told to put it all behind him...none of his later school
appointments would have taken him if they had known...No one in the (Catholic)
education system was notified.' Cooke, J. 'Marist teachers sex assault
secret out', Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 1998, p.
'...we have dozens of (priest) informants who
were told by a bishop that if they had a problem with celibacy they should
take a woman as a housekeeper or a mistress. Any arrangement that was
private and did not give scandal was seen as preferable alternative to
resignation from the priesthood..' Sipe, A.R.W. (1990), p. 75.
'Many parents used the (teaching Brotherhoods)
to get a cheap education for their sons, pledging that they would enter
the order. Bordom and frustration followed. Celibacy , to such young
men, was like drip-feeding a caged tiger... Frustration was released
in anger against the boys...they acted like tormented, frustrated young
men...they had too much power...the rod was never spared...They often
acted as though they were untouchable as God's chosen men.' - Touher,
P. 'How the image of CBS was tarnished', Irish Times, 7 October
1996, p. 11.
'Bishop G. Robinson, Sr Angela Ryan and Father
John Usher said they were shocked by the extent of sexual abuse by the
clergy that they had uncovered...we have listened to experiences far beyond
anything we have ever expected...It took some time and adjustment to come
to accept the realities facing us.' Glascott, K. 'Church hid sexual abuse:
Catholic clergy', Australian, 15 April 1996, p. 5.
(Fr. V.G.Ryan, Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, jailed,30
May 1996, 4 years)'According to documents tendered in court, the archdiocesan
office learned in 1974 about Ryan abusing boys...despite the church's
knowledge of his paedophilia Ryan was promoted to the position of parish
priest in the mid-1980s' ('Church knew about priest's crimes', Broken
Rites Newsletter, No. 11. July 1996, p. 3.)
(Archdiocese of Brisbane, Father Rod McKiernan,
Deputy-Director of Catholic Education) 'The Archdiocese learned 30 years
ago that he was committing criminal offences against children. In 1974,
he was sent to the US for treatment at a centre for sexual offenders.
From 1975 - 1995, the church continued to give McKiernan access to young
people...he was part-time chaplain at St. Laurence's, CBC; he lived for
some years at the Christian Brothers Training Centre at Indooroopilly
and in the 1990s, at Xavier Hospital for crippled children, Coorparoo.
People who spoke to the diocesan authorities about Mc Kiernan were told
that the hierarchy would act only on written complaints. The complainants,
however, were reluctant to write for fear of retribution in their jobs.
This enabled the hierarchy to dismiss the allegations against Mc Kiernan
as 'unsubstantiated gossip'. Several times when people complained to church
authorities about Mc Kiernan in accordance with the church's complaints
procedure, the authorities tipped off Mc Kiernan about the complaint,
including the name of the complainant. This enabled Mc Kiernan to destroy
evidence and to threaten the complainants with defamation.' ('Church hid
a priest's crimes for thirty years', Broken Rites Newsletter,
Nos 15 & 16, Summer 1998-99, pp. 3-4.)
'Six young men have come forward and signed statutory
declarations detailing sordid behaviour of Br Michael Evans and Fr Peter
Commensoli. parish priest of Gwynneville...The distressing aspect of this
case is that the Catholic Church appears not to have taken any action
to investigate the allegations, even though the church authorities were
well aware of them.' ('Time for the church to act', Illawarra Mercury,
27 October 1993, p.4.)
Strong and insistent leadership from the Holy
See assists the process of reform. In a recent case, the Pope met 30 Irish
bishops during their ad limina visit to Rome and referred to 'priests
in Ireland suffering due to the pressures of the surrounding culture and
the terrible scandal given by some of their brother priests.' In response,
the bishops must offer them 'inspiration and encouragement' and 'a close
relationship with them'. Priests in Ireland were challenged 'to reaffirm
the sacredness and uniqueness of their calling'.
'I have been close to you in suffering and prayer,
commending to the God of all comfort those who have been victims of sexual
abuse on the part of clerics or religious', the Pope said. The bishops
must 'pray that those who have been guilty will recognise the evil of
their actions and seek forgiveness.'
These scandals and 'a sociological rather than
theological concept of the church' had sometimes led to calls for a change
in the discipline of celibacy, the Pope said. He rejected this call saying
'the difficulties involved in preserving chastity' were not sufficient
reason 'for overturning the law of celibacy'. 'Pope encourages Irish bishops
in face of scandal', The Tablet, 3 July 1999, p. 925