Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic
By Barry M Coldrey
By now bishops and Province Leaders are
stomping on the floor and pawing the ground desperate for answers.
However, some two or three years have passed
since the first version of this exploration was prepared and sent to a few
interested parties. Within the Australian church and some of its Religious
Congregations further priests and Brothers have been convicted; more old wounds
have leaked into the present; more layers of toxic silence have been peeled
back; more seething resentments of (some) former students in Catholic schools
have leaked into the media.
This situation has forced leaders to seek answers, without reading such
material as this !!!
There have been responses from the church, some
bishops, some Province Leaders; and on some matters reforms are in place. Hence
the suggestions below may be realized and look rather worn - as suggestions.
However, there is still denial among many
'ordinary' priests and male Religious as to the extent of the abuse problem
which had festered, largely unchallenged, until the mid-1980s - and many of
those in positions of responsibility, and 'in the know', remain silent on
occasion to protect the atmosphere of denial. Worse, the latter often lied to
protect the illusion that so much of what has occurred was no more than a media
(or other) conspiracy.
In screening candidates we need to explore - as
we said we did - the family, school and parish backgrounds of any aspirants. We
are modern; we add psychological testing and professional interviews.
'Cradle snatching' with teenage candidates in
junior seminaries or in 'Juveniles' of Religious Congregations is a thing of the
past throughout the Western world. Seminarians commence their studies in their
twenties with their teenage upheavals well in the past.
However, the screening process may now need to
address matters which did not seem relevant in the past:
(a) Within the psychological testing and
interviews, it maybe relevant to explore the candidate's sexual experience to
date since it is usually harder to abandon firm habits than to give up what
one has never experienced.
When candidates were teenagers, often young
teenagers, it was presumed perhaps incorrectly that they had no sexual contact
with others, merely the grotty fumbling of adolescent masturbation. There were
many warnings about this, often couched in opaque language.
This might be so especially with gay sexual
experience which has become more socially acceptable in recent years, especially
in more educated circles - the young university crowd - from which likely
aspirants to religious communities might come. When last in the UK I remember
reading a newspaper article which claimed that gay sex had achieved fad status
on the (British) university scene. How true ?
(b) Within the psychological testing, it is
relevant to explore whether
the candidate has been abused sexually as a
whether the candidate has been abused
sexually as a child by a priest, Brother or church worker.
whether the candidate is HIV positive or has
Anyone likely to read this will have heard of
'the cycle of abuse', i.e. that those who are abused as children go on to molest
other youngsters as adults.
The aspirant to the consecrated life who has
been abused sexually as a child is (statistically) more likely to molest as an
adult. He may require professional therapy to dissolve the hurt of his abuse, if
otherwise suitable. This is more important if the original abuser was a priest,
Brother or church worker.
It does matter whether the abuser was a priest,
Brother or church worker - rather than the classic 'dirty old man in a
'I think I would have coped better in my life if
a dirty old man had jumped out from behind a bush and done these things to me.
But the fact he was a priest - a man of God - who was so important to my family
has been totally devastating.' (Riggert, E. 'Former priest jailed for child sex
Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 11 December 1998, p.5.)
During my research two young men crossed my path
who were in case (1) already well along the way in seminary training; and (2)
considering a priestly vocation after emerging from a winning battle against
youthful alcoholism. Both claimed to have been sexually abused or propositioned
- they were vague as to details - as young men by a priest or Brother. Both were
outraged when they recalled the experience.
Case 1. The young seminarian appeared to have
many of the qualities ideal for his calling and, as the years have passed, he
may be nearing ordination. However, he had been abused/propositioned as a young
man either in his Teacher's College or senior high school and he was angry and
vengeful when he remembered the incident's). There was never a sense that
anybody at the seminary had picked up the pain during the selection process or
during the seminary process or would have responded professionally if the matter
had been drawn to their attention. I had and have the sense quite improvable that this unresolved pain will cause this man trouble during his priestly
ministry or he will cause trouble to someone else because of the painful
Case 2. The second young man - let us call him
'Bert' - had experienced a difficult childhood and stormy adolescence and had
ended up on the street with a severe alcohol problem. He had come into contact
with Mother Teresa's Sisters (and had met the lady herself) and over time he had
been rescued and dried out by them, and by assistance from Alcoholics Anonymous.
'Bert' had some vague Catholic background, but under the influence of the
Sisters of Charity he had returned to Catholic practice. Gradually he developed
an idea that he wished to try for the priesthood and had done the preliminary
interviews. The Vocation Director had wisely suggested that 'Bert' update his
education for three or four years, keep in touch, pray and God's calling might
well become clearer.
So far so (very) good. However, while sharing the
same hostel two additional facts became clear. 'Bert' was gay and engaged in an
active sexual life elsewhere and discreetly and had not reconciled this with the
Church's teaching, and more disturbingly that he had been
assaulted/propositioned by a priest after he had returned to the church and was
hostile when he recalled the experience. 'They're all at it' he remarked angrily
one evening, his outburst the more interesting since overall 'Bert' came across
as the classic great guy who made friends very easily.
When in this mood he gave the impression that he
was attempting to enter the priesthood out of revenge; or to get someone or
even, (once) that his gay association was attempting to plant him in the
priesthood....However, to end what might become too long a story...Time passed;
the Catholic hostel life showed many priests and Religious who were obviously
not 'all at it'
(Fr. Sean Fortune, Wexford, Eire) 'In his
suicide note... The dynamics that went to making him a man that people describe
as evil are not known. Tragically, his mother committed suicide when he was a
teenager, and his father apparently died an alcoholic. It is believed Fr Fortune
may have been abused by clerics when he was a vulnerable teenager with a troubled
background.' (O'Connor, A. 'Many lived in fear of priest who caused pain'
The Irish Times, 20 March 1999, p.3) However relevant questions
· What was the mentality of the Vocation
Director who let a young man from such a troubled background enter the
seminary ? - without specialized treatment ?
· This does appear to be a case where a
disturbed young man entered the seminary with a diffuse desire to get his own
back in the next generation from his own trauma and abuse during his
(Interview, ABC TV 'Compass', Geraldine Doogue
talks to author, Morris West, a former Christian Brother, 1930 - 1941) 'He was a
Christian Brother for twelve years after being placed in one of the Order's
seminaries at the age of thirteen. Doogue asked adroitly: his family had sent
him to the seminary ? West replies: His mother had no option. Her marriage to
West's father was in ruins. She was responsible for five other children. West is
bitter. 'I was robbed of my childhood'. (Devine, F. 'A best-selling fisher of
tales', Australian, 29 April 1999, p. 26)
One might think that no young man would hurry to
join a congregation if he has been abused by one of its members. However, it has
happened; and it appears to have happened reasonably often. Only recently, yet
again, and 'out of the blue' a confrere remarked to me that he had been abused
by "P.S." in the 1940s as a schoolboy, and unbeknown to this confrere
"P.S." was high on the list of known (habitual) sexual abusers in this
If this factor is revealed during interview or
psychological testing it is even more important that the young candidate have
assistance because his desire to enter the seminary or consecrated life may hide
a diffuse element of revenge; he will repeat the abuse and try to injure someone
in the next generation.
(c) An aspirant to the priesthood or consecrated
life should sign a document that he has done nothing for which he is at risk of
prosecution (e.g. sexually abused anyone), when he was a youth leader, a
teacher, a camps supervisor or prominent in local parish affairs. If the aspirant lies at this stage,
the document should provide some protection for the diocese or Congregation
against a civil claim for negligence should this young man be accused of a
sexual crime, and especially if convicted.
(d) The aspirant should be asked to state and
sign a document to say whether he has been abused sexually by a priest, Brother
or committed church worker ? Such abuse need not disqualify a candidate from
proceeding, but one who was so abused may require therapy to dissolve the hurt,
so that he does not seek revenge in the next generation. If the aspirant lies at
this stage, and the worse comes to the worst later on, the document would be a
useful precaution in any future civil proceedings.
In fact, much effort has gone into reorganizing the recruitment phase of entry into the priestly or consecrated life. It is not
The Past - Recruitment
There was little wrong with the recruitment
process IN THEORY before
the age of specialist psychological testing and careful professional
interviews: the previous process emphasized the solid family background; the
testimony of parish and school leaders, the medical examination.
In the case of the Religious Congregation with
which the writer is most familiar, a lot of problems would have been avoided, if
the simple recruitment policy had been followed closely, but often it was not.
There was the pressure for men - combined with
the Vocation Director's desire to show results, and results were the numbers of
young men he placed in the training house's) each new year.
In August 1998, in Brisbane, Australia, Dr
T.A.Simpson, a former Christian Brother was convicted of molesting two students
at a Brisbane college in 1962. His conviction came despite Herculaneum efforts
by his counsel, Dr. K. Tronc who described the young teenager who in the late
1950s had gone from 'a wretched and desperate family life with a violent,
alcoholic father' to the 'evil grip of the Christian Brothers'.
If we leave aside counsel's nonsense about 'the
evil grip of the Christian Brothers', it is just possible that his comments
about Simpson's home life might have some grains of truth in which case someone
was less than cautious when he accepted Simpson for training as a young teenager
from that sort of dysfunctional family.
The second example is from personal experience,
and the Vocation Director is dead. However, it illustrates the problem well -
the pressure for numbers; the drive for success. The Vocation Director was, in
all obvious ways, a very sincere and spiritual man.
While the recruiter was at the College, young
sixteen-year-old 'John X' presented himself as interested in joining the
Congregation, and the Vocation Director asked around the staff for their
comments. Everyone thought 'John X' unsuitable, especially at this stage since
he was immature, no apparent interest in studies, and so on. However, the lad
was accepted for admission to training. So, I asked the Vocation Director why he
took 'John' against the informed opinion of apparently all his teachers. His
reply: 'The kid wanted to try...it's up to the novitiate people to sort them
out.' I remarked that he was a very immature, scatty teenager and the reply was:
'It's a pretty odd family he comes from.' Indeed. Well, to cut the story short:
'John X' did enter and stayed some three years, and then left of his own accord.
A few months later, a mutual acquaintance, asked what had happened to John,
laughed: 'He's shacked up with 'Suzie' and works as a clown in a circus.' So
things had a happy ending !!! But the Vocation Director had ignored the
contemporary guidelines on admission of candidates on two basic counts; there
were only three - and he was a spiritual man. It gave food for thought.
In the case above, there were no (apparent)
unfortunate results for the Congregation. However, consider the devastating
results of the following stupidities when Rudolph Kos was admitted to the
seminary in the Archdiocese of Dallas, USA - and in more recent years.
'It appeared Rudy Kos had friends in high places,
who bent the rules, broke their own policies, helped him get an annulment of his
marriage, rushed him into the seminary, and then when all of the abuse started
to happen, the same people turned their backs on the complaints...a reasonable
investigation by church officials at the very beginning would have revealed that
the seminary applicant was unfit for the priesthood. Kos had spent a year in a
juvenile detention centre for molesting a young neighbor. His brothers claimed
that the had molested them both and would have told diocesan officials that he
was unfit for the priesthood had they been asked...his former wife told diocesan
officials that Kos was gay and attracted to boys...in the seminary Kos was
reported for having made a pass at another seminarian just prior to ordination.'
- Nelson, J. 'Showdown
in Dallas', 25 August 1998.
However, in the wake of disasters such as the
above, there have been a number of attempts to address recruitment for
seminaries and the consecrated life, such as the Conference, 14 August 1998 in
Melbourne organized by the Encompass organization: 'Integrity and Responsibility in Formation: Human
development and sexuality as it relates to selection, training and formation'.
In the wake of their own disasters at St.
Anthony's (Junior) Seminary, Santa Barbara, California, the Friars Minor
(Franciscans) tried to put in place some sophisticated procedures to deal with
the selection of candidates for their seminary:
'In the past five years we've made more changes,
so that there is a fairly thorough review of psychosexual history and what we
call the background
of socialization. There's a whole battery of psychological examinations and
interview techniques that are used. There's an independent review process of the
candidates, i.e. the vocations office, which deals directly with the candidates,
is separate from the admissions process, which reviews the conclusions
of the vocations people. We view the candidates both in the personal context of
interviews and also in a group context as we gather them and see how they
interact. We take all the information and make a decision as to admission of
candidates...there's a further review at the end of the first year, before a
candidate even goes on to become a Franciscan novice. Chinnici, J.P. 'One
Pastoral Response to Abuse', America, Vol. 170. No. 2., January 15
1994, pgs. 5-6.
If all this is done as comprehensively as stated,
all reasonable care would have been taken with the admission of candidates for
the Franciscan seminary.
It does have to be remembered that it is not
unknown for Vocation Directors to molest those they are trying to interest in
the priesthood or consecrated life.
(Vocation Director, Fr Gus Griffin, Holy Ghost
Fathers, 7 years, sexual offences) 'One victim was abused in Kimmage Manor,
Dublin, after the boy expressed an interest in joining. Griffin had invited him
to see what life in the Order might be like. The buggery offence happened when
Griffin invited the victim to his home in Limerick and got into bed with him.
The victim recalled being sore afterwards and feeling he wanted to die.'
('Priest gets 7 years for abuse of two boys', Irish Times, 16 July
1998, p. 1).