Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis
in the Catholic Church
By Barry M Coldrey
15: MEMBERSHIP AND RELIGIOUS CONGREGATIONS
Living and learning is filling me more and
more with admiration for the actual wording of the Rule and with the conviction
that we must insist, really insist, on a high standard of observance,
or see to it that the corruptors are cut off from the body...Briefly,
he is guilty of adultery with a married Catholic woman on several occasions.
She was a member of the Ladies Committee. We have a few in the Province
who are not making any serious effort, seemingly, to fulfil the obligations
that they freely took upon themselves, and they are a source of scandal
to those who are fundamentally good. I would like to see these disturbers
given canonical warnings, and if they set their minds on continuing with
their evil ways, we should dismiss them.
- Assistant to Superior-General to Rome,
24 August 1952.
Times have changed.
Since Vatican II many Religious have left
their Congregations and around 100,000 priests have been laicised around
Yet few Brothers, if any, have been forced
to leave the Congregation no matter what their offences - and some of
the offences have been very serious. It is rare even to encourage such
a Brother to leave.
The reasons for this unusual state of affairs
have been examined already. Some of the results of this odd situation
are like time bombs waiting to explode.
Consider the following strategies:
Brother molests boy(s) - but he is fortunate.
There is no arrest, no trial, no conviction, no publicity. Despite the
fact that he offended at a Boarding school in one country and is moved
to another country to serve in a residential school.
If ever this arrangement were found out
(i) the media will have another field day; (ii) if the Brother reoffends
at the residential school (or is even accused of molestation), and there
is a resulting civil claim for negligence, "we" (the Religious
Order) have little defence.
Brother offends, is convicted, is imprisoned
- in one country - and after release from jail changes his name and is
moved, with a Brother to work with young people in another country.
The results of these arrangements if and
when they are discovered would be as in (a) above.
Brother molests boy(s) but is fortunate
in that no charges are laid and there is no publicity. Brother is moved
from school work and 'work with boys'. He is made Vocation Director, and
in fact, depending as to how he views his role, he could be spending most
of his time with underage teenage lads.
If (and when) this arrangement becomes known
publicly the Congregation faces - yet again - acute embarrassment and
the placement is not easily forgotten.
Brother molests boys over the years and for
most of that time he is not denounced. However, a number of executives
in the Province of the Religious Congregation know of the abuse. However,
a sympathetic Province Leader appoints him Superior of a community and
to a leadership role in the neighbouring school.
When Brother is finally arrested, the
whole of the above makes the Congregation look complicit, naive and feeling
However, suppose the victims do not make
complaint; Brother is not brought into the criminal justice system. His
new roles may work provided he has reformed or can reform, but his new
positions provide the authority and resources to continue to abuse more
effectively if that is his choice or he is out-of-control.
(e) Brother(s) have had sexual relations
with a lady or a series of affairs. He/they are appointed in charge of
school and/or religious community to encourage sense of responsibility;
and/or he is moved from the scene of the last affair.
(f) Brother was working in a country far
from home, but after some years came back after allegations of sexual
molestation. (No investigation, court case or conviction). He was not
very qualified and so placement in a residential care institution in an
out-of-the-way place was his next mission. In order to make doubly-certain
that he could not be traced (easily) Brother was placed in the orphanage
under an assumed surname.
In this case, the ruse has worked (until
the time of writing) but what if it is ever revealed; what if Brother
has or does molest a boy or boys, and all comes out in the investigation.
Imagine the field day which the media would have - and the revelations
might all be true.
'Brother Evans came to notice with allegations
of sexual misbehaviour at St Patrick's College, Strathfield in the 1970s.
(In spite of this) he was appointed principal of Edmund Rice College,
Wollongong, where he continued to offend.' (Brown, M. 'Vows to change
recommended', Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August
1997, p. 5)
The results of this may, and one writes with
a smile, be obvious. The embarrassment when all is revealed; and these
'affairs' tend to become public over time. In the present, Brother's move...and
appointment to a responsible position, may end the current liaison; but
then it might not, and now 'Brother' has more resources available to pursue
the 'affair' if he wishes or transfer his affections to another lady...to
conceal his arrangements for the time being...but accumulate complications
for the future.
(g) An allegation is made (going back many
years) that Brother A molested a young man, trainee for a Religious Congregation,
while the trainee was showering. Brother is already (many years later)
working with just this age group (and religious trainees) in a Third World
country. The matter drifts...relevant questions: was the allegation, in
fact, true ? ; if so, was it a unique case or were there other similar
offences ? In the third world training college, have there been any similar
(h) Brother is working in a third world country
and is appointed to a leadership role despite giving (over many years)
a general impression that he is not very interested in the basics of Religious
life. Within a year or so, he has a non-criminal setback, he has an affair
(maybe plural) with a, or some local young ladies who are close to the
church. On their discovery he is sent hurriedly back to his home province
to assess his situation, and is found a ministry among just the age group
and circumstances in which he had difficulties with his vow in the third
In their strategies for dealings with
priests or Brothers who have displayed public problems with their second
vow, bishops and religious executives have acted as if the offending priest
or Brother was the only person to be considered. His needs, feelings and
fears were the only matters on the table for discussion.
of Priest/Brother Molesters as Denial
· The system promotion of some priest
violators insures secrecy within the system. Fr William Hughes, a known
child abuser (Archdiocese of Dallas, Texas, USA) was appointed to the
priest personnel board in 1989;
· In 1981, Fr Robert Peebles, involved
sexually with adolescents, was appointed as Director of Scouting. This
conforms to the pattern of systemic cover up. The public image is fostered
that he can't be a child abuser because we would never have appointed
him as Diocesan Director of Scouting.
· The regular appointment of known
child molesters to secretarial or archivists roles at episcopal or provincial
headquarters provides such men with positions to further the interests
of a sexual underworld if one exists. The secretary deals with public
on sensitive issues and the archivist comes to possess a great deal
of private information (blackmail capacity) about current and former
members of the diocese or Province.
The Levels of Denial
Denial of fact: 'Nothing happened'
Denial of responsibility: 'Something happened
but it wasn't my idea'
Denial of sexual intent: 'Something happened
and it was my idea but it wasn't sexual'
Denial of wrongfulness: 'Something happened
and it was my idea and it was sexual but it wasn't wrong'
Denial of self-determination: 'Something
happened it was my idea it was sexual and it was wrong, but there were
Crowley, M and Kohl, T. 'Not the Way of Christ':
The Report of the Independent Pastoral Inquiry into Sexual Misconduct
by Clergy or Officers of the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania with particular
reference to Paedophilia', March 1998, p. 15
This is inadequate. As priests or Brothers...men
of the consecrated life...we do not exist merely for ourselves; we represent
Christ and his Church in the world and to the world. If we sin publicly,
the church's position is diminished; the work of salvation is impeded.
At this point - to a more or less degree
'we' give scandal - in its Biblical sense. In the fall-out after a scandal,
the offending priest's wishes are not the only consideration, though they
are part of the picture.
There are a number of relevant levels:
(a) The feelings of the Brothers, viewed
(first) as separate individuals who have to live in the same community
with the offender. In this regard, executives have tended to face down
any critical community by saying, inter alia, 'Be more charitable, there
but for the grace of God...' It can be early days. Will these sentiments
last ? What if he offends again which is statistically quite a possibility
(b) Then there is the reputation of
the Congregation or the priesthood as a whole. This reputation does
affect matters of vital concern to our ministry: our morale, our ability
to recruit new members; our capacity to hold 'good men'.
In Australia, each Province executive could
cite examples of Brothers wanting dispensations because they cannot stand
any more of the endless public fallout over the abuse crisis; the savage,
corrosive publicity, the questions and jibes from family and friends;
the stares in the streets; the 'priest jokes' and 'Christian Brother jokes'.
At this point the Bishop or Province Leader
might say: any organisation must have problems: 'My priests/Brothers are
not wey-faced Christopher Robins; they are AO, testosterone-charged, adrenalin-driven,
hairy-chested, big-balled, stag religious studs.' However, the question
becomes: 'How many problems can we accommodate and survive intact ?'
'It is tempting to apply the speech-communications
concept of "group-think", the collective process by which decision-makers
filter out pressures or information that might deter them from risky strategies.
As formulated originally, the theory proposes a number of characteristics
in the group in question. These characteristics include: an illusion of
invulnerability, a belief in the inherent morality of the group, collective
rationalisation, negative stereotyping of outsiders , the illusion of
unanimity and social pressures on participants to conform to group attitudes.'
- Jenkins, P. Pedophiles and Priests:
Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, OUP, New York, 1996,
'In the church there is a pervasive attitude
that paedophiles should be forgiven and that with their celibate commitment,
it is understandable that temptations will occur; and (regrettably) occasionally
falls will happen...the Church is not really committed to solving the
problem of paedophilia in its ranks.' Forster, D. 'Battle for justice
continues', The Needle, Spring 1998, p. 7.
The problems of sexual abuse in seminaries
and training colleges will be discussed at a further stage in this exploration
of the molestation issue in the church, together with mention of molestation
of young candidates by Vocation Directors, and of young clergy by much
older, randy Parish priests and Monsignori. The latter two categories
are, fortunately rare.