January 8, 2006 - The
structure of the clerical culture IS. It maintains a stability and
influence far beyond its recognition. That enduring dominance over
the lives of men within it, and in turn, those whom they serve (or
control) has been a force, both personal and societal, for positive
and negative accomplishments. For good and evil, if you will.
consider the bad that the Catholic Church has done and the negative
consequences of the clerical culture does not vitiate the tremendous
good that the institution and its clergy have done and are doing. As
I struggle to understand the question so frequently posed to me: How
can men of the cloth do such horrible things to kids? I do not loose
sight of fine, honest, hard-working, self-sacrificing clerics I know
analogy with an emergency-room physician helps me keep a balance -
acknowledging good clerics and yet not loosing focus on the painful
seriousness and urgency of dealing with clerical sexual abuse. Under
the pressure of saving a life one cannot waste time commenting on
the patient’s good eyesight, acute mental function or healthy skin
and muscles - all important, positive features - when the whole
organism is endangered and under threat.
subject at hand - repeated abuse of minors by clergy - certainly is
dire and vitally important to save the life of the church. The
repeated sexual abuse of minors, by men who have been trained,
supported by, and participate in clerical culture has the power to
destroy lives and the life of the church as well. Understanding the
causes and combating this deadly threat poses daunting challenges.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice Study of the crisis is a
commendable start to determine the scope of the problem of
minor-abuse by Catholic clergy. The American Bishops initiated it
and to a degree held the reins on it. The result is not wholly
study is a self-report and each bishop (all except 3 dioceses)
determined what from his files should be included in “credible
accusations.” Next the bishops loaded the denominator by including
deacons and religious priests with the diocesan populations.
These two factors alone seriously skewed the dimension of the actual
number of abusing clerics. A more real range of abusing priests and
bishops runs closer to 8 to 10 percent lifetime incidence. (Even the
J-J Report reflected 10 percent abusers in the 1970s and 8 percent
in the 1980s.)
Many priests and bishops who abuse minors do not persist in sexual
activity with minors for an extended period of years, but indulge in
adolescent-like experimentation—truly transitional pedophilia. Yet
the average number of victims of clergy abuse does in fact, exceed
two—the number of reported victims from diocesan files. Victims per
priest unfortunately average closer to twenty.
Because a significant proportion of superiors and bishops have had
this transitional behavior in their own past they minimized the harm
done to victims and maximized their optimism for the reform of other
priests after one or two episodes of sex with a minor.
other factors contribute to the leniency of superiors in dealing
with repeated sexual involvement of clergy with minors and others:
the first is their experience of hearing the confessions of other
clerics and a multitude of the laity. Confessors know how common
sexual activity is. They are privy to the wide array of sexual
activity in broad segments of the Catholic population. The other
factor inducing blindness to repeated offences is that they are
called upon to forgive the same transgression many times over.
Even Pope Leo X resisted St. Peter Damian’s entreaty to deal
forcefully with abusing priests (c. 1050 C.E.) only to be told that
action could be taken only if the behavior persisted. That, of
course, often meant even beyond the second or third offence.
facts are that some bishops and priests sexually abuse minors, and
some abuse minors repeatedly. A central question remains: what, if
any, causal relationship exists between clerical culture and clerics
who abuse minors?
Next: A look at factors in the clerical culture.