Religious Life Without Integrity

The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

By Barry M Coldrey

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Seminary staff need to be aware that cases of abuse of seminarians (by rogue staff) have occurred, with devastating results all around when all is revealed as in the modern world it is likely to be.

'Over 100 priests (10% of the sample) reported incidents of sexual approaches while each was in the seminary. Betrayal of the generational barrier was severely traunmatic.' (Sipe, 1990, p. 112)

'A group of priests who gathered to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of their entrance into their Religious Order were sharing stories about their novitiate experience. One of the men confided that their novice master had a two-year relationship with him. The news came as a shock to most of his thirty classmates who considered the Novice Master the epitome of all the virtues for which the religious order stood.' (Sipe, op. cit., p. 138).


In his memoirs, Morris West described his own Novice Master. It is the world of the early 1930s. 'I still regard him as an ignorant and coarse man, psychologically maimed, anti-intellectual, spiritually blind, who did grave and sometimes irreparable damage to many of the youths in his charge. With males he was always in contestation; from females he always scuttled away.' (West, M. A View from the Ridge, Harper-Collins, Sydney, 1996, p. 6)

If Morris West's analysis is correct, one might wonder that such a person may have molested students. In fact, during my investigation, one allegation (only) came to light and that was pooh-poohed at the time since the accuser had such a low reputation for either sanctity or good sense. However, with the advantage of hindsight - which allows 20 - 20 vision - it is possible to suggest that the disturbed nature of the accuser may have been due to molestation when he was young, molestation from a high-prestige authority-figure.

'Cardinal Groer, now aged 79, is alleged to have sexually abused novice monks at Gottweig some 20 years ago...last week at 600-word declaration issued by four Austrian bishops, and made 'in agreement with other bishops' declared that they had reached 'moral certainty' that the accusations against Groer were 'in essence correct.' Groer had molested students on trips and in shower rooms. (The Tablet, 14 March 1998, p. 358.)

(Father P.H.Pritchard, four years jail, Brothers of St. Gerard Majella, eight teenagers abused). 'Each of the offences involves a serious breach of trust. The victims were young men who were striving to prove their suitability for religious life. They were vulnerable to his manipulation and were powerless when faced with the prisoner's sexual advances'. (Mitchell, A. 'The priests of prey', Sun-Herald (Sydney), 16 November 1997, pp. 56-57.)

'In 1969, during my second year of training (aged 17) at the Juvenate (Junior Seminary) at Edmund Rice College, Bundoora, I was molested by one of the Brothers at the college. Whilst I was drying myself in the shower block, alone at the time, Brother X came up behind me and without saying anything started to fondle my genitalia. I remember feeling violated, angry, degraded. Shortly after this incident in mid-1969, I decided to leave the Brothers.' - Victim impact statement.

'Another priest when he was a 15 year-old (junior) seminarian once experienced anal intercourse with a 25 year-old priest. He along with other young seminarians, were 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 regret and excitement his one and only sexual experience with another person.' (Sipe, A.W.R. A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, Brunner/Mazel, New York, 1990, p. 168)

Seminary and training college staff must be aware - with vivid examples, if necessary - that peer homosexual experiences have been quite common over the years in some groups; and staff may need to discuss how these undesirable practices may be prevented. Their memory can have serious repercussions down the years.


'(Sometimes) sexual friendships begin in the seminary and continue through periodic contact over the years.' (Sipe, 1990, p. 126)

(Michael Lannen, 49, 4 years jail, 1996, sex offences) 'In the 1980s, be became a trainee priest at Banyo...until he was found to be in a sexual relationship with a (younger) seminarian.'

'A Catholic priest yesterday pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting young boys from Melbourne parishes for nearly two decades. Father Wilfrid Baker, 62, faces charges dating back to 1960 when he was training to enter the priesthood.' (Mc Mahon, G. 'Priest admits boys' assault', Herald-Sun (Melbourne), 10 March 1999, p. 31)

'Sam (Penny, Manchester Archdiocese) blamed his family, saying that they wouldn't talk of sex. It was taboo in his house. He blamed his friend Seamus in the seminary who touched Sam when he was sixteen. The night, Sam claims, he went to Seamus. As an abuser or as a homosexual lover ? After that he couldn't stop himself, claiming the children loved it as they kept coming back for more.' (Flanaghan, E. Father and Me: A story of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, Harper Collins, Australia, 1995, p. 99).

When a homosexual ring was discovered in one novitiate many years ago, one of the staff snapped to me: 'What do you senior teachers actually say to these young people in your Religion classes ? He was suggesting that the novices, all from the Congregation's schools or institutions, seemed to lack any formed moral conscience in matters in which they should have been instructed. It was not merely a matter of human weakness; they seemed plain ignorant in areas in which it was presumed they knew; they were ten commandments ignorant.


The virtue of celibacy was passed on to young students by men who appeared to have little knowledge of human sexuality. (Campion, E. Rockchoppers: Growing up Catholic in Australia, Penguin, 1982, p. 68)


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