James Martin, S.J.July 21, 2010

News from the Telegraph:

Maria Jepsen, 65, came under fire for her handling of the case of a pastor accused of abusing young boys and girls in the 1970s and 1980s in her northern German diocese of Hamburg. She reportedly knew for several years about the case but failed to act."My credibility has been called into question," she said at a press conference. "Therefore, I am no longer in a position to continue the duty I promised to God and to my congregation when I was ordained and when I was elected as a bishop." According to German media reports, a 46-year-old woman said she had been the victim of repeated sexual abuse by the pastor between 1979 and 1984, abuse to which the pastor admitted when confronted by his superiors in the church.But the abuse victim said she had revealed the abuse to Jepson as far back as 1999.

The bishop has said she was only told about "unworthy behaviour" by the pastor and only learned about the precise nature of the abuse this year.Without reacting directly to the criticism directed against her, Jepsen on Friday called for the abuse cases, in Ahrensburg and elsewhere, to be cleared up as quickly as possible.In 1992, Jepsen became the first woman to be appointed as a Lutheran bishop and was subsequently elected to a second 10-year term in 2002.

A few observations: Many observers (including me) have suggested that the presence of women (and lay men, and married men and women, and parents in particular) in positions of authority in the Catholic church might have served as a bulwark against the mishandling of sexual abuse cases--specifically, the reassignment of abusive priests to new parishes.  The voices of married men and women, or simply lay men or lay women--in the Vatican, in chanceries and in parishes--might have been stronger in arguing for the swift removal of abusive priests.  A mother or father (or layman or laywoman) would have been, so the argument goes, more appalled by the crimes of abuse against children.  The case of Bishop Jepsen sheds some light on that, and suggests that while the inclusion of lay men and women in positions of authority is essential, it may not be a panacea for sexual abuse.  Also, Bishop Jepsen has resigned, which Catholic bishops in similar situations have, for the most part, not done.  Third, while the Catholic clerical culture that historically privileged the word of priests over the pleas of parents was one of the main causes of the abuse crisis, sexual abuse is, as this story demonstrates, not simply a "Catholic problem."

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James Lindsay
10 years 10 months ago
The difference is, she took responsibility.  Would that Bernard Law and others emulated her.
Peter Lakeonovich
10 years 10 months ago
It may not be a panacea. 

Who would've thunk it?

Although, it should make us aware that "A mother or father (or layman or laywoman) would have been, so the argument goes, more appalled by the crimes of abuse against children" is really just a bunch of sentimental nonsense, and not really an argument grounded in reason or experience.

Think about it.  Jesus wasn't a human father, and I'm sure none is more appalled than He.  Fr. Jim, I'm sure you're just as appalled.  Let's take this moment to scratch that erroneous way of thinking.
10 years 10 months ago
It is true that the inclusion of lay women and men, married or single, in positions of authority is not a panacea for sexual abuse.  The only panacea which I can think of is a person, single, married, celibate, lay or clerical who has a compassionate conscience unwilling to allow predator priests to freely abuse children. 

Bishop Jepsen and married bishops in other Christian churches are examples of those in authority who protected predator priests/ministers.   But we must remember that they are only examples and do not prove that lay women and men in positions of authority would have allowed the abuse to fester.  Married women and men brought the abuse of their children to celibate bishops who did nothing to protect those children.  What would have happened if a couple brought the abuse of their child to a married bishop, male or female?  I still believe that the majority of married leadership would have responded positively to the concern of parents for their children. 

Yes, we know that the sexual abuse crisis is not a “Catholic problem.”  Too many in leadership (and I am not saying this is what Fr. Martin is saying) have allowed that argument to justify their handling of the abuse issue in the church.  It is, however, the responsibility of the church to clean its own house.  Let other organizations clean up their own houses. 
Greg Bullough
10 years 10 months ago
Survivors of abuse by Catholic nuns know all-too-well that women leaders are as capable of all of the same "corporate" responses as Diocesean bishops. The LCWR continues to lock survivors out of their annual conferences.

The pronouncements of women diocesean officials (Chancellors and spokespersons) demonstrate a clear anti-survivor bias.

In my own experience, Holy Names sisters failed to act to stop the abuse of girls, their
students, by the pastor of our parish in the 1960's, 70's, and 80's.

Indeed, the behavior of women relgious towards survivors has caused survivors and
advocates to hesitate to support them in the Vatican's current 'Inquisition' into their

We just don't feel that (with a few notable exceptions) they are among the friends of
abuse survivors.

Clericalism is not gender-specific.
10 years 10 months ago
Thanks for the post, Fr. Martin.  I saw this news and thought the same thing; however, it can even be expanded - what of all the female administrators and teachers in the state school system are involved the transfer of abusive teachers from their district or are involved directly in the abuse of minors?

Male or female - we human and have human failings/evil to contend with.
ed gleason
10 years 10 months ago
Would a married clergy do better in confronting abuse.?? At least as a couple they would have each other as support,  instead of being out on the limb alone.

see Ecclesiastes 4:9 -12... 'two are better than one' etc..
 As a couple, when we sat down and confronted  A/B Levada about abuse it was empowering to have each other as backup.. Ecc 4;12 ' where a lone man may be overcome. two together can resist'.
[Please, no lectures about proof texting]
Adam Rasmussen
10 years 10 months ago
Is there any evidence that mothers and fathers are better at reporting child abuse to the police than single or celibate people?

Are there bishops here in the U.S. that should have resigned, but haven't? I know that we have a handful resign, most famously Cardinal Law. 
10 years 10 months ago
Both sexes, married or not, are human and have the ability to practice virtue or not.  To overcome these scandals takes courage.
10 years 10 months ago
Those saying married clergy would be the solution forget that the vast majority of abuse takes place within the family.

ed gleason
10 years 10 months ago
Brett, 'Those saying married clergy would be the solution forget that the vast majority of sex abuse takes place within the family.'
 yeah Brett but if sex abuse happened in a married clergy family even Cardinal Law and Sordano  would not have covered it up. Opps....sorry...  they did in Maciel case.

10 years 10 months ago
Good one, Ed!
Brendan McGrath
10 years 10 months ago
Gee, instead of resigning, why didn't she and the rest of the Lutherans just engage in prayer and penance?  After all, isn't that what's truly needed?  Isn't greater fidelity needed?  Lutherans must pray for their bishops and for their priests!

And I'm sure Roger Haight and other dissenting theologians will be restored to their positions, etc., where they can simply pray and do penance.  And all those who criticize liberal bishops will naturally cease their criticisms, and simply pray for Roger Mahony, and do penance for him, and hope that he does prayer and penance himself.  Upset about the Catholic funeral for Ted Kennedy?  Don't voice any criticisms - just pray and do penance, as the Holy Father has asked us to do!  If you're upset that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is associated with pro-abortion forces, don't withhold your donations, just do penance, and send them a little note asking them to do penance too!  Outraged over "the most pro-abortion president in history"?  Shhh!  Not so loud!  Just pray and do penance!  Don't worry about Obama; he just needs to pray and do penance too!  If he doesn't, you just need to do more penance for him!
Kate Smith
10 years 10 months ago
Jim, I want to remind you to be inclusive.   You said this, which I whole heartedly believe is an excellent point to raise:  ''Also, Bishop Jepsen has resigned, which Catholic bishops in similar situations have, for the most part, not done.''

Your forgot again about leaders of religious orders, such as Jesuits.   Jesuits as late as 2009 allowed an abusive Jesuit to return to ministry, and the Jesuit provincial who permitted this was recently made the president of a Jesuit high school for disadvantaged young people.   Jesuits have 100% failed to take responsibility - but Fr. Nicolas has not made any of them resign.   This is a very current situation, like the story in your blog.  Nicolas has done nothing to address it, nor has the current Jesuit provincial.

Religious orders are allowed to get away with this type of behavior because the media allows it to happen.  You surely know there are religious orders in the United States.  Their leadership needs to be held accountable too.

Jim McCrea
10 years 10 months ago
Well, it's good to see that women are human.  That's justification for keeping them out of the RCC priesthood - right?
Tom Maher
10 years 10 months ago
Great observations.  A women Luthern bishop has actually done rxactly what some Catholic bishops have done: failed to to take any action on the report of clergy sexual abuse.   Like the Catholic bishops her failure caught up with her and she resigned. 

This case shows the failure to report and act on clergy sexual abuse is part of the office of bishop not unique to men or to Catholic church.  Dealing with clergy sexual abuse is an unwelcomed challenge for any bishop.  Avoiding this scandal is prefered to dealing with the problem.  It is a scandal that reflects poorly on the bishop. 

Having a married Lutheran women bishop did not change the fundementals of dealing with clergy sexual abuse.  We need to look elsewhere for the root cause of not effectively dealing with clergy sexual abuse by bishops. 
Charle Reisz
10 years 10 months ago
If the Vicars, Bishops, Cardinals, Arch Bishops etc. that knew of the abuse and did nothing would resign then the heirarchy of the Catholic Church would begin to become believable.  Until then the Catholic Church is without credibility and cannot be spiritual leaders.  Yes the Pope must resign if he was in the know. 
John Stabeno
10 years 10 months ago
In the movie, "NUTS," Barbara Streisand plays the role of a prostitute on trial for the murder (in self defense) of one of her johns. During the trial, for which he mother and father (can't remember if he is her father or step-father, but I will refer to him as her father), are both present. The trial concerns her mental ability to stand trial during the hearing or if she has serious mental illness which prohibit her from doing so. During this hearing, it is revealed that she was a victim of sexual abuse by her father from a very young age. He would always slip money under the door of the bathroom before he would enter.

In an emotional scene where the defendant recounts these events, she becomes quite stirred as she confronts her mother on knowing about this and not doing anything. Her mother tearfully admits that she didn't want to know. It is also mentioned that she was afraid that to recognize it would mean that she would have to leave her husband and she was fearful about being alone.

I mention this to bring to everyone's attention that sexual abuse of children and its cover up is not, nor never was, a "Catholic" problem or a "priest" problem. It is a human problem on many levels. The denial of its existence and its cover up are all too common across all societal levels of class, race, and religion. If parents can both active abuse and simultaneously deny it against their own children, how can we expect others not to? It is not the degree of separation from the victim, it is the degrees of separation of ourselves from our own conscience.

I do not mention this to condone the actions of priests or bishops or anyone. I state this because I believe that what happened in the Catholic Church has finally unearthed and brought to the attention of the world the terrible crimes committed against children. God writes straight with crooked lines. Although the Catholic Church has gotten soiled with the reputation, the effect has consequently raised the potential for purifying it and raising awareness of sexual abuse, its prevalence and its subsequent cover up in the greater society. History will hopefully be written to reflect that.
ed gleason
10 years 9 months ago
John Stabeno; I hear and agree that sex abuse has been and is hidden in our society. However here is my experiece about how the  prevalence of abuse and cover-up in the Church is of a different magnitude than in the rest of society. I worked 30 years in the Bell System. I worked 10 years for an Archdiocese. During my tenure In the Bell System there were 10s of thousands of  men  who visited homes and offices on a daily basis and I never heard of a case of child abuse. {This was 10s of thousands more men than priests}.  Hitting on woman yes and if it was credible they were fired.. I never heard of a transfer of child abuse perps to other posts around the nation to avoid prosecution. The 'deep pockets' excuse is ludicroius too as the Bell System had pockets far deeper than the Church. When I worked for the Archdiocese for 10 years I worked with and knew 23 credibily accused priests. After I left I saw cover-ups and I saw payouts . In California the Church has paid over a billion dollars and new cases still arise. How am I to accept/reconcile.. the 'everybody does it' excuse???' To not recognize there is a huge  magnitude difference,  the problem is in itself the huge problem that is still haunting the Church and destroying the credibility. .
John Stabeno
10 years 9 months ago
Ed, I hear and agreee with you also. I believe sexual abuse of children by priests has its own dimensions of effects different in scope and magnititude than incestuous abuse, abuse by a stranger, or abuse from a known older perpretrator. It is also different because of the nature of the Church's hierarchy and organization.

I believe the destruction of one's faith and spirituality is far greater when the abuser is a priest. I believe incestuous abuse runs the risks of deeper psychological effects. Regardless, the effects of childhood sexual abuse are far reaching and deep.

Although I appreciate your comparison between Bell and the Church, I think it is like almost comparing apples and oranges. Their job (Bell) was to complete a one time task. A priest's job is to establish relationship. Further, I do support the deep pockets argument becuase I know of few other professions where the employer gets sued for the actions of the employee on such a level. Sometimes, I believe the big buck settlements do little for the victim. While justice truly needs to be mete out, I ponder why it is not done in criminal court as opposed to civil court? (Other than statute of limitations which I am in favor of lifting) Why aren't the perpetraters sent to jail? Why must the local Church (the people) pay for the crimes of priests and Bishops? If a child is sexually abused by a parent. relative, scoutmaster, sports coach, family friend, etc. do they wind up in civil litigation? I don't hear many cases of such. I wonder if the victim is not just being prostitited once again, this time by the lawyers who are supposed to defend them. While no one can put a price tag on the loss of innocence and the Church needs to make every effort at compensation and justice, I think over the top settlements are the result of an out of control American lawsuit culture. Money doesn't buy healing, (though I'm sure it helps), I think there are additional things that should be done.

As far as this article is concerned, I am impressed that the Bishop chose to resign so quickly and admiting her failures in carry out her ministry. I wonder how many Roman Catholic Bishops would do the same on their own initiative.
James Altman
10 years 9 months ago
I practiced Law for more than a decade before Ordination.  During that time, I worked on one case after another of horrific child sexual abuse.  The extent of it in our culture is beyond comprehension.  Above, Mr. Joyce provided an excellent site regarding this:  http://www.darkness2light.org/knowabout/statistics_2.asp

The estimates for living victims of child sexual abuse in the U.S. have ranged from a low of 39,000,000 to a high of 60,000,000.  93% is perpetrated by family and friends.  The U.S. government's own study indicated that 10% of public school kids are molested by teachers and staff by the time they graduate.  Do the math.  10% of 55,000,000 is 5,500,000, or over 400,000 per year.  Where is the accountability?  Where is the public outrage?  Where is the media coverage?  Compare 400,000+ per year in public schools alone with 2009's total of just 6 priests accused of perpetrating.  Pretend 400,000 is high if you must, and cut it by half.  Anyone who can add 2 + 2 can recognize the disproportion of 200,000 vs 6.  The Catholic Church has done more, and been more successful, than anybody to achieve perfection in an imperfect world.

If people actually cared about child sexual abuse, something would be done.  The media would be all over it.  Hollywood would be all over it (instead of defending Polanski).  Congress would be all over it.  Instead, all we get is relentless anti-Catholic bigotry shoved down our throats.
John Stabeno
10 years 9 months ago
Jim, I ask the same questions. I am a therapist by training as well as a priest. I did research back in 1986 on the sexual abuse of children, more specifically, on the sexual abuse of boys. The literature out there was thin. (Of course, it was research before the computer age which made it more difficult and time consuming). However, in the subsequent years, especially as the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church received more headlines, the topic became more popular and research more frequent and thorough.

As I too uncovered statistic similar to the ones you shared, I found myself feeling ambivalent about the entire situation. One the one hand, relieved that the issue was getting the press it needed and on the other hand, distressed about the emphasis on priests and the Catholic Church. Priests, as a group, have a statistically LOWER incidence of this occurring than the general population, yet I find the Church in a catch-22 about shouting this out from the rooftops. If we do, it may appear that we are minimalizing the impact and problem and trying to shift the focus away from the cleaning of our own house. If we do not vocalize this, our we not doing our job to help protect children by raising awareness in the general population that sending your children to public school puts them at greater risks for being sexually abused than if they were an altar server at their parish?

It strengthens and further justifies my point raised earlier that the civil litigation and cash settlements do not seem, in my opinion, to be a fair promotion of justice to the victims, their families, or to preventing sexual abuse of children outside the church. It appears disproportionate that victims at the hands of priests are entitled to large sums of money while victims of sexual abuse by teachers, parents, coaches, scout-masters, and family friends and relatives, do not seek financial settlements nor would they receive anywhere near the amounts that the church has settled these cases for. Is the US Department of Education being harassed like the Vatican is over sexual abuse of children?

Again, I do not condone the Church or the priests of these terrible crimes and realize the impact it has had on the victims. I am also proud somewhat that the Church has become an example, even though it took some time, on how to deal with both prevention and handling of these cases. If the sins of the Church helped to shine the light on one the gravest sins of humanity, than suffer the servants of Christ and rejoice that evil has been recognized and addressed.
Paul Leddy
10 years 9 months ago
Some 30 years ago, my daughter told me how the teacher’s aide’s boyfriend helps her after she goes potty. Her mother and I listened as she expanded on how he helped, making sure she had toilet paper and used it properly, and then help pull-up her underwear and pants.

Her mother told me to “do something,” with that unmistakable look she has when the rage is building inside her.
So, I called the daycare center and spoke with the aide, boasting that my daughter is wise beyond her years and a reflection of the good and tender care given by her loving parents and that my daughter didn’t require help in going potty. We chatted a bit, and I smiled and gave my wife the thumbs-up while she made that hand-signal that she wanted to say something, too.

She took that receiver and proceeded to eviscerate the woman on the other end… without raising her voice, but clearly communicating her red-hot anger.  Then she moved onto the owner of the daycare center and proceeded to pummel her into the dust. All this over the telephone. An amazing thing to observe and a little scary, too.

The fall-out was the dismissal of the aide, a police check of her boyfriend (had a police record), a county health department inspection, a training day for all the employees and a tightening-up of county regulations for childcare centers. The center closed down after about 6 months for lack of insurance.

We lived on a quiet cul-de-sac, a nice mixture of young families, singles and old folks, single and married. There were about 20 kids in that neighborhood, for the most part under the age of 8. My daughter is still very close with a couple of them. At the entrance of the cul-de-sac was a playground, adjacent to the home of one of the old, married folks. At the playground, in front of me, with all the kids playing, the old man molested one of the 3-year-old girls. Very sly, very cleverly, but I saw it. I pointed out my daughter and told him that if he ever touched her he'd be a stain on the pavement after I got through with him. 

My wife and I decided to discretely share the incident to two of our neighbors. The news spread, one mother started-up a petition to have the guy thrown in jail. The old couple came to me, frightened, and acknowledged that yes, he was a pedophile and had indeed served prison time. They raised their four boys in their home and had grandchildren and great-grandchildren; they said they were decent people and asked if I could stop the collection of signatures which I did. I did not know that classes of sex offenders existed.

A small group of the parents very informally met with the kids to broach the topic of being cautious around the old man. They all knew about him already. They said they took reasonable precautions, like running away, throwing sticks and making faces at him. They shrugged-off the risk, as did a couple of the parents.

Yes, married men and women in authority in the Vatican, etc may have served as a bulwark. I am not totally convinced that it would have been effective. More likely, they would have become part of the system. There is not unanimity of response in encounters with vice. And why place the burden of policing those in holy orders on the laity?

Maria Jepsen resigned because she is not stupid. Holding her up to me as an example for our bishops does not wash with me. I have reached the end of my tolerance for demands for apologies and resignations from those who will never be satisfied and have much to gain. Has the Church acknowledged its responsibility and made a reasonable effort to do what must be done so that we never experience this horror again? I think so, and even more so. Is a roman collar an absolute necessity in every Church office? No. We have not finished taking down the altar rail.

To use the mishandling of sex abuse cases by the hierarchy as an argument for increasing lay involvement in the Church seems to be a backhanded compliment. We have the right already.

There is a priest shortage and I do not want my good priests to burn out at an early age. But they are in a system that will not relent in its grip on their perceived prerogatives. It is this mismanagement of resources, out of pride of place, that will weaken the Church at its foundations. Who will be there to defend her next time?
Michael Barberi
10 years 9 months ago
The sexual abuse scandal is only one symtom of a much larger problem.  The larger problem is the inability of the Catholic Church to teach and live the full truth of its own doctrines and Gospel.  The Church Hierachy, especially for the past 50 years, have emphasized authority and power over truth and rightousness.  Anything that could undermine its authority is covered up or defended at all costs.  We have a dysfunctional Church with a significant level of dissent among the laity, theologians and clergy pitted against the Church Heirachy.  Each side remains steadfast in their own convictions.  Just think how many times you have heard the truth about sin and contraception from the Pulpit.  Humane Vitae was the flame that lit the barn fire of dissent.  The Church has allowed two different teachings on contraception to exist for 50 years: a priestly pastorial approach emphasing conscience over obedience and the Church's position that contraception is always intrinisically evil and a grave mortal sin.  The contradictory teachings manifests itself in silent Pulpits, in confidential confessionals and pastorial dialodges.  Bishops and priests know full well that most Catholic married couples that are sexually active practice contraception and receive Holy Communion each week.  They know it is a sacraledge according to the Church's teachings.  Yet, bishops do nothing to stop the contradictory teachings.  No one wants to accept the consequences of teaching the truth from the Pulpit!  The Church Heirarhy blames the dissenters, liberal theologians and society.  It does not want to accept the fact that the Church is undermining its own teaching authority by allowing contradictory teachings to exist!  The Churh Heirarchy does not want to accept and deal with the consequences of teaching the full truth from the Pulpit.  The laity clearly see the double standard.  The coverup of sexual abuse is another example of a breach of our fundamental beliefs and the Church's misson and responsibilities.  Sexual abuse and its coverup is a sin against God.  We have a Church that believes that safe-guarding its tradition and authority is more important than teaching and practicing morality and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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