Clerical Sex Abuse

Some of us are aware that there has been a Special Commission of Enquiry in Australia to investigate the dark secrets of Roman Catholic bishops who should have gone to the police or criminal authorities to report perverted priests abusing children and other vulnerable persons. The Church has come under such close investigation because its own moral standards are strict – no sexual relations between human beings unless they are a married couple and the act is at least open to procreation. It is all the more shocking when priests express this expectation of their faithful whilst they are buggering choirboys in the presbytery or behind the sacristy! Hypocrisy probably does the most harm to the credibility of anything.

Many have concluded that it is a systematic and institutional problem, and that the rot goes to the top. If so, it would suffice to put the entire Church under secular state control and dismantle the structure by crippling it financially. Good riddance, so the atheists and radical socialists would say. The big problem is that the problem would resurface elsewhere. It is a problem of humanity. At the level of nature, the truth is not flattering: we humans are no different from any species of animals. Our societies are dominated by the alpha males who have the choice of those they will have sex with. The more dominant the alpha male, the more the sexual act will have the character of rape and imposed humiliation both of submissive males and females.

For the purpose of comparison, seeing a documentary about American prisons for the hard-core of gang criminals is illuminating.

We see the extreme of the dominant male to whom everything is owed from sex to organised crime, prostitution to racketing and drug trafficking. They are truly very unpleasant people. The problem is that they are not all in prison. Many are clever enough to seize the reigns of power, domination and money for themselves. A parallel type of personality is also found in the Church because men can establish their base of power and domination, even if their religious vocation might have seemed genuine at one time.

The other dimension of this problem is described by the word ponerology, the study of evil. Human society rightly rejects the tyranny of people like Hitler or Ivan the Terrible, and redefines the balance after an event like the liberation in Europe in 1944-45. History comes and goes, between reactions against institutionalised evil and the period in which we live when we tend to forget this possibility. As I see it, we could go under a totalitarian regime much worse than Nazism or Stalinism in a heartbeat. The “soft” hostilities continue between the USA and Russia over Ukraine. Both Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four were written shortly after World War II and the onset of the Cold War. Our consumer-capitalist culture can lead in the same direction as any kind of “national” or “international” socialism. Evil men always find the right horse to ride.

Sex as a way of conquering and dominating people is but one aspect of this structure of unchecked human nature. Thus, I would not see it as a result of a “permissive” or non-conservative society. In the days of Victorian morality, it was probably that much more secret and furtive. The Church, celibacy and the façade of strict sexual morality were the perfect cover for the alpha male. Was there anything like a real organisation of paedophile priests? I have no way of knowing outside of the sayings of those who have a stick to beat the Church with.

What we are seeing is a kind of Perestroika and Glasnost and the crumbling of an empire that many believed to be invincible and “indefectible”. The “reforming” is being done by those who feel that the mask needs to be pulled away and the rot exposed to the examination of the rational mind. No amount of apologetics will defend the indefensible. It is not even a question of faith and atheism, but blow-back by decent ordinary folk against the dark shadow of evil. Many will never go to church again, and have to redefine their spiritual world-view as they find that life is worth more than money and material goods.

Can the notion of priesthood be “saved”? The Catholic priesthood is drying up and bishops have to try to find new ways of keeping parish life together – or give up. Priests are spread out thinly, and that is even more of a strain on the emotional and spiritual resources of a man in such a situation. Unless something radical is done in a country like France, it’s all over. The churches will be abandoned or turned over to secular use or demolished. Is that a “true church”? When the reality is seen, we hear in our minds the Lamentation of Maundy Thursday: All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty? I have said it often enough, that priesthood needs to be distinguished from clericalism, and that ambitious and power-seeking men need to be kept out. The problem is that, all too often, the bishops who make those decisions were themselves ambitious men riding piggy-back for power and domination. Who can we trust?

Another fascinating revelation was a documentary I watched yesterday evening on TV about the story of Bernard Tapie and Nicolas Sarkozy in the cesspit of French politics and financial intrigue. Those men are not sex offenders, but they used politics of all colours from Mitterand and the Socialists to Le Pen’s nationalism to line their own pockets. That situation is just as harrowing as paedophilia in the Church, and just as revolting to the taxpayer and ordinary citizen living in a country and suffering such abuse by the powerful.

Each phenomenon is not enough to indicate the rise of an evil power like that of Stalin or Hitler or the worst of church clericalism, but we have to be vigilant that we should both be lucid about the possibilities that can happen – and reasoned in our judgement to avoid becoming irrationally paranoid. We also need to avoid losing our faith in human nature completely, the very instinct that can lead us to believe in “sovereign election”, predestination and the damnation of most humans who ever lived. Most humans are fundamentally good and altruistic. Just a small percentage are those who would reduce us to slavery and servitude to their whims and insatiable lust.

I always seek to see things in a wider and more universal context, and the way everything is connected. It is a mistake to isolate any one thing, whether it’s a question of sexually perverted priests or rotten politicians in it to get rich quick.

Useful links:

The subject can be further researched by typing “sexual addiction and compulsivity” into Google.

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20 Responses to Clerical Sex Abuse

  1. raitchi2 says:

    As an emergency department worker, I can tell you there are evil people in this world and there is nothing we can do to change them, but the majority of people are either neutral or good. The situation is the same amongst the RCC clergy. So the question is why didn’t good men speak out? Why didn’t they go to the police? Why didn’t the good men do something about the problem?

    I think the answer to these questions is in the isolating structure of the seminary system and RCC clerical life. The structure makes them financially, socially and emotionally dependent upon the institutional Church. In the USA at least, seminary can be up to 6 years long. This time frame is far too long for most men to be out of the job market, especially in the current economy. This rules out many professional workers (lawyers, doctors, etc.) from attempting priesting since if they leave their fields for that long they will face immense hurdles to reenter if while in seminary they decide to leave.

    Additionally once a man becomes a priest he is isolated. In the RCC priests are not allowed to marry thereby depriving them of what many people say is one of the most important emotional and supportive relationships of their lives. Often priests make their close friends and confidants amongst the RCC clergy which places their emotional support in the hands of others who also make their livelihood off of the Church’s success.

    The pay structure and living arrangements also make priests financially dependent on the Church. In addition to the low pay RCC priests receive, many parishes are co-located with a rectory where the priest will reside while on assignment. So in addition to your income and your close friends now your housing depends on you staying in the good graces of the clerics at the diocesan administration office.

    These above actions ultimately tend to an isolated emotionally and financially dependent group of people. Think for a moment what your life would be if you had no significant other, no children, you lived in housing provided by your job, your pay was kept low, your ‘professional degree’ is in something as marketable as basket weaving, and many of your close friends and confidants were also in a similar situation. Would you be willing to circumvent the seemingly ineffectual reporting system? Would you go to the police or the media if you felt no changes were being made? Would you risk your what is essentially your world? In my case the answer is no. I don’t think I would be strong enough to risk everything on going outside the chain of command if necessary.

    Is there a solution? I think so. I think we need to change the structure of the Church such that it creates a less isolated community:
    First seminary would need to be reduced. Six or more years and many times that is for men who already have a college degree! In that time they could become physicians. 2-3 years should be sufficient for the training like any other masters degree.

    Second, we need to admit married men to the priesthood. This will provide many of them islands of non-institutional church where they know they have a safe haven.

    Third and what I think is most important, we need to move to a mostly volunteer priesthood. The idea already exists among the permanent deacons. These married men can minister, volunteer, act liturgical, preach, spiritually direct the faithful and be financially independent from the Church. Why couldn’t the same be done with priests? What if we were just to ordain all these permanent deacons to being priests–would they suddenly need financial support? The same could be done with multiple volunteer priests at a parish. Perhaps there would need to be one full time administrator, but this job certainly doesn’t require holy orders to exercise. They volunteer priests would then be able to fulfill sacramental requirements, minister to the homebound etc.

    These three changes would create an influx of men who are not financially, socially or emotionally dependent upon the institution of the Church and would then be more likely to speak out when evil actions are noticed.

    • Dale says:

      I had, many years ago, a very good Roman Catholic clerical friend, who was a seminary professor who protested to his bishop the numbers of pedophiles who were being accepted into the seminary; he was fired and refused a parish assignment…this was in California, USA. So, often when good men did stand up and protest they had their lives ruined by the power structure that sometimes exists simply in self-protection and a continued secrecy of an old boy’s club.

      Recently, on another blog, a member protested the rather lavish lifestyle of the Russian Patriarch, a priest wrote that no one has the power to ever question the leadership of the Church. Unfortunately, this mentality is not at all dead or even near to dying out and it is NOT limited to Roman Catholicism.

    • Jacob Flournoy says:

      Anglicans, despite all their other problems, had the right idea concerning a married priesthood. Most of the problems concerning Orthodox clergy are found amongst the episcopate, which are required to be celibate. Celibacy should be a personal choice not a requirement. The influence of monastics has had detrimental effects in both the RC and EO churches.

    • Excellent comment. Very few churches allow originality and independent thinking in the clergy. Loose cannons (I mean cannons and not canons!) are dreaded more than the plague.

      Indeed 6 years of seminary training is excessive. The ideal would be for each candidate to come already armed with a theology degree from a university and then training for the priesthood need not take more than two years.

      Marriage is not the panacea for all. A man can be worse off badly married than not married!

      In the end, it seems that the RC Church has permanent fatal errors on its hard disk, and all that can be done is for the data to be backed up and the whole thing re-formatted and reinstalled!

  2. I would like to add my own thoughts on this.I agree with what others have written here about compulsory celibacy.I believe this state of life can only be for those priests who have a specific calling to it. I read statements in RCC writings about celibacy ‘Being highly prized in the West’ But why is it? I do wonder whether at the heart of this is some idea that sex between men and women within the sacrament of marriage is somehow an unclean or unspiritual act .

    I cannot agree that a physical relationship within marriage is in any sense inferior to the state of celibacy.
    Traditional Old Catholics do not require priests to be celibate which is one reason among others when I left the Church of England it was possible for me to join without compromise of conscience.There was no compulsory celibacy in the early church from what I understand.

    I am authorised to attend RCC Mass under the provisions of Dominus Ieusus and have spoken to RC Christians about this whole question of clerical abuse.The effects of these crimes and the extent of them has been devastating for priests and laity alike.I welcome the recent comment from Pope Francis correctly describing them in their satanic context.I understand the feelings of RCC laity and particularly of the honest hard working priests I know here in the UK West Country and in Iceland.

    Of course these crimes similarly occur outside of the RCC and other Christian churches.Thankfully there is now an increasing awareness of this and much greater efforts are taking place to effect prevention and detection. Coning back to the RCC I do have concerns that some people in higher authority who were involved in covering up these crimes yet remain in position. I won’t name names but I can think of examples I could readily include here.

    I’ll finish on a positive note. It is very clear that extensive safeguards are now in place in the RCC to tackle this whole area of serious crime.One more quote from Pope Francis ‘The Church will show zero tolerance to paedophile priests.’ I respect the Bishop of Rome and pray for his ministry.

    • raitchi2 says:

      I hope Pope Francis is going to make serious changes in the Church’s culture. However, already in the States we’ve seen Church officials circumvent the new mandatory reporting of pedophiles after the changes had gone into effect (see Bishop Finn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Finn_(bishop)#Criminal_conviction_for_failure_to_report_suspected_child_abuse or the Archdiocese of Philadelphia). It’s so bad that in each of those two examples the secular courts appointed investigators. It’s appalling that a secular society that worships money, enshrines systemic inequality, and murders its children needed to step in as the moral superior for these two dioceses.

    • These questions have been debated for so long that none of us seems any clearer. The best psychiatrists can’t get to the bottom of paraphilias and distorted sexuality. To me, it seems that it is less a question of being married or celibate, but of being a balanced individual without “addictions”.

      What makes me sad if that churches will institute security / safety precautions against the possibility of letting in men with deviant sexual addictions. Many of them will be unsuccessful because screening generally seeks corporate conformist men rather than those who are the most integrated and themselves.

  3. Dale says:

    There are indeed other problems as well within Rome. In the rural area in which I live, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the newspaper recently reported that in Ireland a mass grave containing over 795 children who died at a Catholic run convent orphanage were found buried in a cesspool. I do believe that what Fr Anthony has stated, “In the end, it seems that the RC Church has permanent fatal errors on its hard disk, and all that can be done is for the data to be backed up and the whole thing re-formatted and reinstalled!” is indeed true. Having never been a Roman Catholic and never having had any inclination to become one, I can only view most of this from the outside, but many of the problems, at least with pedophilia can be found within both Roman Catholicism as well as Byzantium.

    And as Neil stated the original movement towards clerical celibacy, if one actually reads the early canons and not buy into the popular myth that celibacy was introduced to keep the property of the church from being willed to the children of priests, was because the sexual act even in marriage was considered impure. The earliest canons mention that even a sacramentally married priest who has carnal relations with his wife commits fornication. The issue of enforced celibacy is indeed perhaps even heretical in that it rejects the Sacrament of marriage. But it is so ingrained in Rome, and its controlling Old Boy’s Club that I do not see it changing anytime soon. I have been told that even today in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church there is a strong move to only accept celibates into the seminaries. And in the two eastern rite Catholic dioceses of Hungary the old tradition of Latin rite boys changing to the eastern rite to become married clergy has been stopped; and Latin rite young men may go eastern rite, but if they do become priests, they must be celibates. I think what Rome will do is simply expand the numbers of mostly female Eucharistic ministers, who now also serve as school, college and hospital chaplains, but celibacy will be untouchable for a very long time. Even in Byzantine and Oriental Orthodoxy celibacy is still considered, within monasticism, as the higher calling to that of marriage within the clerical state.

    • raitchi2 says:

      What bothers me most is the RCC theology of vocation and celibacy. The current party line is that “we only accept men to the priesthood who ALSO have a calling to celibacy.” We’re not boot strapping the charism of celibacy to the vocational calling priesting; we’re only accepting men who have both. Doesn’t that mean there are men who have vocational callings to the priesthood without the charism of celibacy? It seems to imply that the RCC is setting up artificial barriers to men fulfilling their vocation–something that everyone must do under penalty of sin.

      • raitchi2 says:

        (Addendum) What would it mean if Pope Frank were to suddenly remove the requirment of celibacy for Latin priests? Does that mean that God suddenly created a vocational calling for all the married men who would apply?

      • No problem. Bishop as the only priest in the diocese and “pastoral assistants” in the parishes. Then there’s no need for priests. That’s often the way in France or at least the way it’s going. It was one priest to 30 parishes in many dioceses – 20 years ago.

        I probably sound very cynical. Seriously, most Christians need to learn the value of traditions and the local community like in the Petite Eglise or the Amish. That, or move into the cities.

      • I think I can unmask this one simply. Think of the turtle which lays thousands of eggs in the sand on the beach. Most of them hatch, and then the baby turtles have to make it to the sea under attack by starved seagulls (they say that turtle meat is very tasty – I have never tried it). The small proportion that makes it to the sea has to deal with the harsh waves and currents, and then the peril of being eaten by fish. Most don’t survive their first days in the sea. Probably one in a thousand makes it to adult age.

        Similarly, men are warmly encouraged to apply for seminary, as they were telling us the water was warm with the Ordinariate. Then the majority is deliberately wasted having taken away their credentials in secular life. The institution doesn’t care, because it was the men themselves who committed errors of instability applying for seminary, ordination, etc.

        Their notion of vocation is claptrap. The criterion is whether the man in question is a company man and has the right “protection”. Most of those involved with “vocations” are cynics of the first order – knowing the value of nothing and the price of everything.

  4. Dale says:

    Sometimes, it just makes one happy to be an old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic!

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    William Tighe,

    I am not savvy enough to get to the book via that link, but find it in the Internet Archive, and Mr. Riley’s contribution does make interesting reading, He speaks of “an enforcement, at least by public opinion, of that gentle and moderate discipline” – as distinct from “compulsory clerical celibacy” (p. 181). (I take it when he speaks of “digamy”, there, he means remarriage as someone widowed after ordination.)

    Further to the general discussion,

    I have seen Orthodox called in – and, in whatever sense, by – parishes to the Diaconate and Priesthood, much as one reads of Fathers such as St. Ambrose or St. Nicholas being called. Is that only characteristic of, or even possible with, the Orthodox (and the Continuum?), today?

    • Dale says:

      Yes, let us not forget that Anglo-Catholicism very much embraced celibacy (non-compulsory), at one time its monastic orders were quite large, especially women religious. Also, Riley, is very much wrong on many fronts in the section posted by Dr Tighe; irregardless of married missionaries, the Anglican Church, especially in its Anglo-Catholic form, has been very successful in spreading Christianity in both Africa and Melanesia; but this work was done by combined married clergy as well as monastic foundations. One of its main differences, with Rome, was that it also developed a vibrant, married local priesthood.

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