Bishop Accountability

Religious Life Without Integrity

The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

By Barry M Coldrey

< Previous + Table of Contents + Next >
+ HOME + 


Prevention or Perversion

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 the world.

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 very silly.

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 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 falls ?

(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 world country.

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.


Promotion 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 extenuating factors.

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 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, p. 38.


'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.


< Previous + Table of Contents + Next >
+ HOME + 


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.