19Sep Shame over sexuality has blinded Church to sex abuse

 

‘The bishop [of Clonfert] apologised to victims and their families “for my own previous lack of understanding of the sinister and recidivist nature of the child abuser, and the lifelong damage that this destructive behaviour has on victims”.’

 

This is from the Irish Times account of the NBSCCC report on child protection practises in the diocese of Clonfert (6th Sep, 2012), and of Bishop John Kirby’s response.

 

Yet as early as 309 AD the Catholic Council of Elvira recorded the phenomenon of clergy abuse of minors.

 

So, for at least seventeen centuries our church was supposedly totally unaware of paedophile recidivism and of the fact that clergy sexual abuse of children causes the deepest psychological (and therefore also spiritual) injuries – including severe mental illness and suicide.

 

As far as I am aware, there has not even yet been any investigation sponsored by the Catholic magisterium of this monumental failure of Catholic care, understanding and wisdom. Why did we have to wait for Enlightenment secularisation of the study and care of psychological illness to reveal the full spiritual effects of clerical sexual abuse of children? That the magisterium will still not initiate any attempt to answer this question is another appalling scandal. On its own it prevents any thoughtful Catholic from having the slightest confidence in the present church leadership.

 

The most obvious likely reason for seventeen centuries of blindness on this issue is clergy-inspired shame over the phenomenon of sexuality, and in particular the clerical institution’s need to preserve the illusion of clerical asexuality ever since the adoption of the celibacy obligation.

 

Mandatory clerical celibacy is not in itself ‘the’ cause of clerical sexual abuse – but everything we have learnt so far points to toxic clerical shame over clerical sexuality as the decisive factor in the still dysfunctional response of Catholic leadership to that phenomenon.

 

And every day that goes by without a magisterial initiative to discover the roots of the greatest scandal in Catholic history makes that conclusion more inescapable.


12 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    As usual, Sean O Conaill has hit the nail on the head and confronts us all with some painful truths. It is appalling that no study has been done on why and how clerical sexual abuse of children was allowed to happen. For centuries! Didn’t + Noel Treanor call for an in-depth study a few years back? I can’t remember if there was any response from his fellow bishops to this.
    I’ll admit that I am as guilty as anyone of having a naive attitude to what Sean refers to as “the clerical institution’s need to preserve the illusion of clerical asexuality ever since the adoption of the celibacy obligation.” Putting men in an impossible position, expecting them to be beyond human perhaps is unfair and doing them a huge disservice. There is much hypocrisy in the area of clerical celibacy. Some ordained can justify it but it really is a topic that we should all face up to and we need to accept the fact that we are all fallible and that we all struggle. We need to be more honest and more open and accept our priests as human and not overly-sanitise the image. Sean’s comments hurt but isn’t that what truth is supposed to do?
    Mary V

  2. Gene Carr

    We know from the studies of Professor Carol Shakeshaft that sexual abuse of minors is rampant in the US public school system and that administrators have covered it up by tranferring teachers in a process known as ‘passing the trash’. As per Sean O’Connell’s diagnosis above can we assume that the causes of this abuse lie in the “toxic public school teacher shame over teacher sexuality” and the need to “preserve the illusion of teacher asexuality”.

  3. Joe O'Leary

    It is odd to call for an investigation when you already know the answers, and when anyone who doubts the answers is going to be discouraged from speaking up.

  4. Kevin

    Teacher sexuality and shame of same ?

    Since when did, do teachers, other than ordained clerics act ‘In Peronna Chrisi’ ? Sorry if I misunderstand you Gene. Not difficult on this thing. But a teacher acting as another Christ has very great power that the secular one does not have – ‘cept maybe her/his more liklihood to a more healthy, rounded mature sexuality.

    Again, sorry if I misunderstood. :-)

  5. Sean O'Conaill

    Mary Vallely is correct. In an interview with RTE’s ‘This Week’ programme on Sunday May 24th 2009 Bishop Noel Treanor was asked to comment on an earlier interview with Fr Tim Bartlett, who had called for an investigation into the horrific findings of the recent Ryan report. Tommie Gorman, the interviewer, asked Bishop Treanor to comment on the need to investigate: “How this occurred. How this structure that was, that is, the church allowed this to happen, then attempted to cover it up, and then let it continue to happen”.
    .
    Bishop Treanor responded:
    .
    “I believe simply that as a church within society we have to recognise honestly that these things have happened. We cannot in any way at any level within the church be indifferent. I don’t think anybody is. We can’t wash our hands of it. We can’t deny it. We simply have to see the evil and the crimes that were perpetrated straight in the face, and that means we have to examine why they happened. That will require if I may say so an inter disciplinary discussion with people who are members of the church involving victims, those who were abused and indeed going beyond the borders of our church, so that we have the best anthropological and scientific analysis available to try and understand why this happened.
    .
    “One can simplify. It can be said this is due to celibacy. Institutions which were not run by clergy nor celibates have had the same problem. Nonetheless it did happen within our church, which claims to be inspired by the values of Jesus Christ and to care for the most vulnerable in our society. Failures occurred on the part of some, besmirching all of us, undoing the good work of the many who gave their lives and energies totally to these people. This has to be examined. It calls out for examination and sanation.”
    (Transcribed from RTE Radio 1 ‘This Week’, May 24, 2009, available on the RTE website.)
    .
    The Ryan horrors still do cry out for an explanation, but this obviously necessary multi-disciplinary analysis never happened. That presents us with yet another mystery, and an absence of ‘sanation’ (healing).
    .
    Yes, Joe, I’m naive enough to believe that a magisterium that has disgraced itself can take the best advice offered by one of its own members and come really clean in the end. Doesn’t it have to happen sometime, and the sooner the better?

  6. Joe O'Leary

    “the Ryan horrors” were not primarily about “a magisterium” but about Irish society, so “come really clean” about them is by no means a simple prescription.

  7. Sean O'Conaill

    The Catholic magisterium was very much part of Irish society in the era of the Ryan institutions, so it would be misleading to set up a false dichotomy between the two.
    .
    For example, what explains the deference to clergy of Catholic civil servants in the Irish Department of Education, twice indicted in the Ryan report? Is it not very likely to have been related to the clerical authoritarianism and lay clericalism of that era – both fostered by the magisterium?
    .
    And why did basic principles of Catholic social teaching – e.g. the equal dignity of all – not animate all clergy who interfaced with the children in the Ryan institutions, in the wake of Vatican II? Why did those principles not influence ‘Irish society’ generally in that era? Did the Catholic magisterium not have an overarching responsibility for seeing that they did?
    .
    If the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference had thought the investigation called for by Bishop Treanor would indict Irish society and exonerate the magisterium, why has it not happened?

  8. Mary O Vallely

    Thank you, Sean O’C, for posting Bishop Treanor’s comments from 2009. He had some bad press recently but I have never doubted his sincere commitment to child protection in the church. I was also pleased to see that my own bishop, Seán Cardinal Brady, has reaffirmed his faith in Ian Elliot’s great work in the area of child protection.

  9. Raymond Hickey Bordine

    As a cradle Catholic and one who has worked with youth my entire professional life, I generally agree with the sentiments of Bishop Treanor. His published remarks stand out brilliantly in contrast to those I have seen by bishops in America who are in very deep denial.

    “Nonetheless it did happen within our church, which claims to be inspired by the values of Jesus Christ and to care for the most vulnerable in our society.” I think Bishop Treanor has clearly identified the focal point of the sexual abuse crisis and cover-up in the RCC. Without yielding to the temptation to obsess over one or another particular New Testament verse, and looking at the entire meaning of the New Testament verses ascribed to Jesus, it seems clear to me that Jesus was preaching a philosophy of community that was without any sense of clericalism or hierarchy. Love and Equality within the Jesus community [which some would call ‘church’] are the key characteristics of Jesus’ message.

    Almost immediately after the ‘death’ of Jesus, his followers [disciples] began to violate his meaning and began their long-held desire to grab power and control over his community which was meant to be without either. This was the beginning of the abandonment of ‘the values of Jesus Christ’ with the power-grab and the consequential abandonment of “caring for the most vulnerable in our society.” It is impossible to care for the most vulnerable when your mission is seeking power over others and fighting to hold onto it. Thus the anti-Christian actions of covering-up ” for the sake of the reputation of Holy Mother the Church” and abandoning “the little ones” to the predators. In a Christian church modeled after Jesus, “Holy Mother the Church” would have been on the phone calling the police!

    So, it seems to me, the real answer to this centuries-long cancer of clerical sexual abuse within the RCC on a global level is to restore “the values of Jesus Christ” and remove clericalism and any hierarchical structure from the RCC and try to re-establish the Jesus community along the philosophy of Jesus which was Love and Equality. Lacking that, we Catholics cannot claim to be operating under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit; the curse of clerical sexual abuse over the ages in the RCC bears that out.

  10. Joe O'Leary

    The mutual intrication of the “Catholic magisterium” and “Irish society” at that time is obviously so intimate and complex that it is no solution or clarification to talk of the magisterium “coming clean”. Better is the recommendation of multi-disciplinary analysis of failure of an entire society.

  11. Paddy Banville

    We do have the John Jay Report (as far as I know the only scientific study to date), “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950 – 2010”, by the John Jay College Research Team, part funded by the U.S. bishops and the U.S. government. I presume we’ve all read it? The conclusions of the study jar somewhat with the clerical sexuality / shame argument.

    Sent from my iPhone

  12. Sean O'Conaill

    To recap, the burr under my saddle is the failure of the magisterium to explain or investigate its own slow learning curve in relation to the compulsive nature of paedophilia, and the life-changing impact of paedophilia on child victims.
    .
    Why has the magisterium not sponsored a multi-disciplinary inquiry into why it took seventeen centuries, and then secular science, to reveal to it (a) that paedophiles tend to be incurable and (b) that child abuse does enormous harm to its victims?
    .
    A multi-disciplinary study of ‘Irish Society’ can’t answer that question, and the US John Jay study didn’t examine it either. The question bears on the degree of trust that can still be reposed in the magisterium’s capacity to lead and to edify the church.
    .
    To try to safeguard the trust it has with its passengers, Air France persuaded the French government to deploy submarines to scour the bed of the Atlantic for the flight recorders of a lost airliner. There have been many, many more casualties of the church’s centuries of failure to learn from observable phenomena relating to paedophilia. However, we have seen no equivalent effort on the part of the Catholic magisterium to restore the trust of its people in itself by studying those failures. Why is that?