Ideological bias cannot taint our approach to sexual abuse
Since last summer I have taken part in about a dozen panels and programs across this country that were organized to discuss the causes and consequences of the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy. I have visited several cities and met people from every walk of life—victims, survivors, bishops, priests and religious, lay leaders, moms and dads, young and old. It has been humbling, enlightening and inspiring to take part in these important conversations—the most important conversation we could ever have.
As you might imagine, there are recurring insights and themes. And not a few people have named what they believe to be the principal cause or causes of this catastrophic phenomenon. Even Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, recently weighed in, arguing in an open letter that the cultural and sexual revolution of the 1960s created the conditions in which evils like sexual abuse could flourish. After 1968, he wrote, “there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good any more than anything fundamentally evil; there could be only relative value judgments.” The danger of relativism is not a new theme for Benedict. And I have expressed similar concerns about the loss of absolutes, often citing his insights about this phenomenon in this column.
If the cause of every major ecclesial scandal just happens to be that thing that you hate and have railed against for years, then you should ask yourself whether your view may be biased.
But it is precisely this familiarity that troubles me. The cause of the greatest crisis facing the contemporary church just happens to be the very same thing about which Benedict has been concerned for his entire career? That seems suspicious, almost as if he might have had his answer before he had his question, the kind of inverted reasoning one usually finds in ideological and similarly circular forms of thought. Of course, even if such thinking is at work, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Benedict’s conclusion is wrong. But it does give me pause, all the more because I have discerned a similar pattern in the observations, commentaries and conclusions of many people in the U.S. church, some of whom are sympathetic to Benedict’s worldview and some of whom are not.
I have heard, for example, from a number of people who have been concerned for many years about homosexuality per se, or the presence of a large number of homosexuals among the Catholic clergy, that what caused the sexual abuse crisis in the church was homosexuality per se or the large number of homosexuals among the Catholic clergy. Similarly, I have heard from a number of people who have been concerned for many years about the lack of female ecclesiastical leaders that what caused the sexual abuse crisis in the church was the lack of female ecclesiastical leaders. I have also heard from people who have expressed deep concern over the years about the culture of clericalism in the church that what caused the sexual abuse crisis was the culture of clericalism in the church.
Ideological bias structures much of the public discourse. But we cannot allow it to structure our ecclesial conversation.
You see my point. There appears to be a kind of circular reasoning at work. Again, it does not follow that these conclusions are necessarily wrong. But if the cause of every major ecclesial scandal just happens to be that thing that you hate and have railed against for years, then you should ask yourself whether your view may be biased.
Ideological bias structures much of the public discourse. That is a long-term menace, but on most days, it is mainly a nuisance. But we cannot allow it to structure our ecclesial conversation and we certainly cannot permit it to shape our thinking about a topic as fundamentally important as the causes and consequences of sexual abuse. Undoubtedly, the sexual abuse crisis in the church has causes and consequences that are specifically ecclesial and specifically Catholic. But prudence dictates that we avoid jumping to the conclusion that those causes and consequences are obvious or that they necessarily involve our usual suspects, whoever or whatever they might be.
It is also certain, however, that the sexual abuse crisis in the church has causes and consequences that are not specifically ecclesial or Catholic, and we should allow for the possibility that those factors might be even more decisive. If this were not true, the list of institutions facing sexual abuse crises—the federal government, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Boy Scouts, the Chicago public school system, the New England private school system—would not be growing daily.
Our search for the causes and consequences of these atrocious crimes must be fearless, exhaustive and without bias. Since we are dealing with sin, however, we must also bear in mind that the ultimate cause and consequence is beyond reason. For while some may say the cause is the sexual revolution and others might say the cause is clericalism, the third chapter of the Book of Genesis tells us that it is somehow neither and somehow both.
What is the bias? Isn't it possible to explore all the potential causes? Certainly clericalism is not new. Or the male only clergy is not new. There have always been homosexuals amongst the clergy and religious so that is not new. But what is new is the attitude towards sex. So maybe Benedict is on to something. See comment by Oz Jewel below.
Also Benedict says a lot more about things other than sex abuse in his essay. Things that may be more important.
I went to a private Catholic HS whose students came from various parts of a large metropolitan area and we were discussing this topic at a yearly get together recently. None of us were ever approached nor did any of us know of anyone that was. It obviously happened but how wide and what time frame is a question to be answered. The coverage makes it sound like it was ubiquitous but is that true? And is it now essentially over and the focus is on those who knew and did little to prevent it.
Just because it didn't supposedly happen at your HS doesn't mean it didn't happen. Also, Benedict blames the sexual revolution of the 1960s. How do you explain the volume of alleged abuse cases that happened in the '30s and '40s? The sexual revolution is no more the cause than homosexuality is.
Two things. First, the people were from a wide range of geographical areas and had numerous friends in these areas but had never heard of the issue or instances while growing up. It is one city but a large sample from this city. For example, most of my childhood and high school friends were not from this high school. Second, just how many of the instances went back as far as you indicate or were most from a later time. I am sure there were instances in any era but the question is how many and when?
In the 1960s I was a religious brother. Never in my 9 years in the Order did I see or fear any sexual abuse. As young adults we thought deeply about sexuality in connection with our vow of chastity, far more than the average young American male. Sadly and shockingly within the past few months the news that our novice master, a priest of the Order, was a sexual predator! I fully understand how many within the Church find it extremely difficult to deal with similar revelations. Our novice master was a man faith and the love of Christ. But he was a man, a sinner. AT the time (60s) the thought was that offenders could be rehabilitated and that scandal had to be avoided and that the victims wouldn't want scrutiny. I shudder to think of the agony his victims have endured. Our novice master died in the early 70s.
A friend from the minor seminary at our college told me of being approached for sex at his residential high school by one of the Friars. He came back at him with a kitchen knife. It had more of an impact on the Friar than my friend, shattering his stunted psyche. My friend was untouched by the incidents and still pursued his vocation. Sometimes the sword is mightier than the pen.
He is correct, but not in the way you hope.
Anyone who believes that the clergy sex abuse is new or only of this last 100 years is in LaLa Land. Our church has most likely been abusing children this way for centuries.
The sexual revolution made it ok to talk about abuse which is why these creeps are getting charged in this day and age.
What this priest fails to own up to is that most of the other entities he noted also having been caught abusing, are outright patriarchies still or organizations that are still heavily led more by men than women.
The truth, if anyone is interested in that? Is that there is no proof that mandated celibacy or homosexuality lead to child sexual abuse - none - zero- zip. There is evidence that married men abuse children sexually more than those not married to women. So "NO" the answer we conclude to the problem based on the evidence that exists is that optional celibacy will not cure anything and it may even increase its occurrence. Married men are much more likely to increase our abuse problem if we remain a patriarchy and refuse to ORDAIN WOMEN EQUALLY TO MEN, AS THEY ARE EQUALLY CALLED BY GOD TO BE PRIESTS, BISHOPS, CARDINALS AND POPES! I capitalized that last portion because clearly this writer is being obedient to the hate mandate made to all priests, by Pope Francis, requiring they never speak or print the words ordained women priests for any reason. Hence, the cutesy careful writing in the article. Fr. - Maybe go out and buy a backbone - please!!!!
Married men desperately seeking to gain prestige of the celibate men, already in power, are far more likely to avoid making waves, especially, if they come from the sexist and conservative group of deacons we currently have in our church. These men practically worship our bishops already.
Clericalism is a main cause of child sexual abuse in our church but only because it is three quarters fueled by the misogynistic exclusion of women. Clericalism needs a group of people to be higher than, in order to stand in place and in power. Our church uses women as its lesser human group, by keeping them from both the most sacred works of our church, and from all real positions of authority and governmental oversight by refusing to ordain women equally to men, and for no reason Jesus would ever have supported, according to any Gospels.
So this leaves us with the truth that Sexism is the main cause of child abuse in our church. A Truth that can exhibit real evidence to support its being true, unlike the other choices Fr. gives to us in this article. Just because you want homosexuality or optional celibacy to fit the problem does not make it the right answer to solve the problem. Popular Wants do not equate to Evidence. Optional celibacy certainly is not a just answer either if we are not first ordaining women as a matter of human justice.
Feel free to see below for some of the ways misogyny and sexism have led to the abuse of our children, teens and nuns: ( I can come up with research from reputable sources to back each of them, and they are only some of the ways subtle misogyny causes extreme destruction to our church.)
1. Because women abuse children not even near half the rate men do (6-10% compared to men), including married men (who have a slightly higher rate than unmarried men), simply having a hierarchy consisting of half females would have lowered our rate dramatically and automatically since less pedophiles leads to less victims.
2. Women, because they are often victims of sexual abuse, are more likely, statistically, to point out and report abusive behavior against children, teens, and women than men. This reporting is far more frequent when the women are at the same authority level, or higher level, than the abusing males.
3. Male priest abusers tend to use their state of high prestige due to clerical exclusivity, respect, and admiration from women to "groom" them, in order to gain access to attack their children. This was often the case in our church crisis, as many predatory priests narrowed in on and sought to become more intimate friends with recently divorced and widowed women or single women with mental disabilities who had children still living with them. Having no concern for the women, they used their priestly aura and believed spiritual potency to enchant these vulnerable and often lonely women, gaining them greater and more intimate access to their vulnerable children. Why is this sexism? - these priests intentionally did not go after the kid, in the family, whose father was present and an ex-marine.
4. If we had priests who were male and female, (and if this pool were still not sufficient, then perhaps even married priests, as well, along with celibate priests,) we would have no vocation crisis. Protestant churches with gender integrated hierarchies do not have any vocation crisis. This would give us ample candidates for priesthood and therefore we would be able to deny more of the questionable priestly candidates applying. When there are few choices to pick from, desperation has led our church into choosing candidates it knew had problems even before ordination. When I worked in a rectory during the late 1980s - early 1990s (for seven years), our pastor was a psychologist (rare at that time) so they sent him a couple of new priests that had issues, in the hopes he could somehow make them into capable priests. One of them was let go later on because he spread rumors from what some people had told him, only in the confessional, to other parishioners he had culled into his personal click. The other one, later on, was found to be a pedophile priest with multiple counts against him. We are still likely doing this, even now, that is picking candidates from desperation, because our candidates are still very few given our needs.
5. Already, through a rather low on the totem pole ministry, altar serving, we have taken a big hit at abuse access by allowing this ministry to become gender integrated. In the 1990s this change had still not spread into many of the parishes. By 2005 many parishes had well gender integrated alter server pools. Before this ministry was gender integrated, most parents of adolescent boys would allow a trip to the pastor's or associate pastor's family retreat at the beach or cabin in the woods, etc. because they trusted their priest and it was all boys so what is the worry? However, this type of access or these trips led to many male altar servers being victimized and often in multiple amounts. Having female altar servers in the mix makes this kind of trip offer uncomfortable for the priest to make. How does a priest offer a trip only to the boys without upsetting the girls? Most parents are not going to allow young girls on a trip with young boys with only a priest as a chaperone. Gender exclusivity allows greater access to male children and teens within patriarchy and has them treated less as children and teens by priests.
The above are only a portion of how sexism in our church causes evil and violence in our church. This does not even touch on the other horrors our religious sexism causes in our world. Our witness as Christians is soiled as we promote the view that women are not as sacred as men, or capable of representing Christ equally to men, ignoring what Christ has taught, that the flesh is nothing and the Spirit in a person is everything. People watch what we do more than what we say. As our witness of 'Sexism is ok with Jesus' takes place on our altars, and within our laws and teachings, we promote sexism in the workforce, governments, and family life outside our churches, on a global scale. What evils have already been proven to be promoted by religious sexism (including Catholicism's), in our world, include the following: war, terrorism, poverty, child abuse (sexual and otherwise), sex trafficking, disease, forced illiteracy, forced polygamy, rape, murder, female genital mutilation, and the list goes on.
Unlike other flesh biases, religion is perhaps the largest sponsor of sexism in the modern world. We must act within our religions to put an end to it, or there is little point fighting sexism in society, as it will only return, again and again, continually being re-energized by religion.
I continue to be amazed that those who want to lay the cause of homosexual clerical abuse at the feet of "clericalism" to the exclusion of all other root causes are the ones demanding others shed their supposed ideological blinders.
You are so correct it is not just clericalism.
But it is an ancient problem in the Church. Jesus mentioned it.
Oh I am not denying it just stressing it is not a major cause. We are to esteem our clergy. They are called by God to be our leaders, teachers, and sanctifiers in the Christian life, and we owe them respect for that. But we cannot fall into an unhealthy approach to clericalism that can be fostered by the clergy themselves or from lay people. I hope the day of Father knows best, or that priestly virtue exhausts Christian virtue are over and not fostered.
Any social phenomenon has multiple causes. Some are inescapable. There is abuse by priests because there are priests. There is abuse of minors because there are minors in the Church. The question is, which causes could be eliminated or reduced?
There are two problems in the Church: 1. Sexual abuse of minors and adults by clerics 2. The coverup of this abuse by bishops and superiors.
True pedophilia, the sexual abuse of pre-pubertal children, was a small and declining number of reported cases after 1950.
Reported cases of sexual abuse of other minors, 80% male, form a bell curve. Does this represent a real increase in abuse or only an increase in reported cases? Probably both.
What led and enabled priests to abuse? Misdirected sexual desire is certainly one, and much of that desire was directed to males and is a form of homosexuality. Abuse of power is another, and such abuse is a form of sadism. An infantilized laity who refused to use adult judgment in dealing with priests is yet another. And there may be deeper theological misunderstandings of priesthood and of morality. Why did priests have so little sense of the harm they were causing? Why did almost none of them repent and turn themselves in to bishops and police?
Why did bishops and popes refuse to take abuse seriously? How could they tolerate unspeakably vile and sacrilegious abuse? John Paul’s failures are egregious and well-documented. Benedict made some attempts at reform, but he did not act decisively in key cases such as that of McCarrick. Francis’s response has been erratic at best.
The causes of the abuse and the toleration of abuse are multiple and entangled, and I see little attempt to identity and deal with the ones that can be changed. It is too painful and demands too much self-reflection and repentance. Francis would rather deal with fashionable causes such as climate change over which he has almost no influence, rather than with sexual abuse by clerics, over which he could exert considerable influence, but which would cause him endless headaches.
When I ignore and delete your last sentence, which I consider an unnecessary potshot at Francis not relevant to your central points, I think your perspective and viewpoints were persuasive and on target. I cannot believe that the issues are new and previously nonexistent. We are dealing with the behaviors of human beings, people no different today than they were a thousand years ago!
But the first sentence IS relevant as Francis is the CEO of the church. Francis has shown a marked tendency to ignore the cries of the laity unless he sees public relations value. Only when there is great public outcry, recall the infamous "calumny" statement and the Chilean outrage, does he respond. I acknowledge the inflated views of the man which many appear to hold but, sorry, he doesn't get a pass. Good gracious, people are leaving the Church in great numbers and yet the greatest concern appears to be in maintenance of the clericalism of Francis!
The problem is that ideological bias has prevented accountability of the guilty priests, bishops, —and the Popes. This ought not to be.
/geo ex machina
Mumbai jumbo arguments skirting the obvious: undereducated, homosexual predators with unchecked powers and zero accountability. Incredibly shallow talent pool allowed the worst to be admitted. The abuse is hundreds of years old. Dare we actual admit or consider allowing our priest to marry or perhaps be admit females? What throwback to, let me think....Christ’s time
The problem is not gays but asexuals who consider their abnormality a virtue. Most Asexuals are not abusers and in the modern Church may even bless gay marriages and would ordain married lesbians. The ones who abuse are stunted, probably by being victims of either abuse or harsh sexual moralism. They could not handle adult sexual relations with either sex. They likely have trouble with other Aces.
Fearing masturbation is not normal sexuality. They are mot even sexually healthy with themselves.
"Since we are dealing with sin....." No Mr Malone, we are not dealing with sin we are dealing with CRIME! You are showing your own ideological bias by picking the one un-usable theological concept (sin) for helping us understand the causes and effects of pedophilia and abuse. The causes and consequences of criminal acts by the powerful over the weak are not beyond reason, and we have a whole civil judicial system that is built upon a whole edifice of rationality in its approach to evaluation, judgement and punishment of criminal activity in society. Sadly your Church has never been a willing participant in this judicial system, preferring to bewilder and mislead the faithful with its other wordly ideology of sin, contrition and forgiveness which has contributed so much to the mishandling of clerical abuse by your alleged leaders. These bishops and cardinals and popes seem to have been totally incapable of recognising the enormity of their errors in handling or covering up for their abusive peers simply because they were looking at the problem through the wrong lens. To turn your headline back at you, your ideological bias taints your understanding of both the causes and remedies for abuse of children by your fellow clerics. I am surprised that a savvy guy like you just doesn't get it. Again, sadly, you have lots of company in RCC.
I know these priests have no problem calling women criminals for having an abortion but soften the crime of pedophilia to just the word sin.
So this Jesuit has been going to meetings all over country, and has been “ humbled”, yet all he can do is attack biases that people might have without offering ANY of his own insights.
I don’t have a bias. I just look at data and see that 85% of all this sexual abuse involves homosexual sin. So I’m wrong to say the Church has a big problem with homosexual clerics? It appears to me that 95% of Jesuits have avoided any discussion of the problem of homosexual clerics. They are desperate to blame the issue on some goofy reason like “clericalism”, whatever that means.
If “clericalism “ is the answer, why did the sexual abuse start in the 60s and not 1800 years before that because cardinals, bishops and priests have been around for that long.
It is clear to sensible people that Jesuits are desperate to avoid looking st the adverse effects of homosexual sin because our society is celebrating homosexual sin and anyone wanting, like Jesuits, to be lauded by leftists know, you have to go along with the crowd and so celebrate homosexual sin. The Jesuits very clearly are just part of the crowd.
Sexual abuse did not start in the 60s. There are confirmed cases of clerical sexual abuse from centuries before - yet of course, due to their scarce numbers, statistically irrelevant. Which, of course, doesn't mean 'clericalism' is necesserily the answer, but prevents us from simply crossing it out.
Besides, there is much more that can be read from the data and in different ways. Homosexuality is not really about liking to rape minors, for instance; some rapist-priests were also as much into boys as girls, only had way more boys surrounding them. Homosexuality of a large part of the clergy might be the answer (or part of it), but doesn't have to be. It REALLY is more complex than '85% involves homosexual acts, so the problem is homosexuality'.
Benedict should be given the boot from the Vatican. Then face charges for complicity in the crimes of the century.
This crisis is the canary in the coal mine in larger struggles that go back to the debates over circumcision and the screed by John of Patmos about the Hellenistic transformations of the Church after the destruction of Jerusalem. Indeed, when Jesus was said to speak about leading children astray, it was more likely about pederasty as doctrine (since children were not baptized in the ancient Church).
Hellenism glorified asexuality as virtue rather than an abnormality (in the statistical sense), which led to beliefs that original din came through women, that Sacred Continence was required to say Mass, that women could not perform the blessing of bread and wine as they could if they were the head of household at Shabbat, and that marital sex should not be orgasmic.
Before Hellenism, overseers were more like Pastors than Bishops and were elected. Martyrs died resisting Hellenism from Jesus Maccabee to Jesus Christ to Jerusalem and after.
These are old debates and they are even more current now because an educated laity has found its voice and it's champions in the Church. Change is both inevitable and immediate. The prayers of the martyrs are about to be realized.
I was a religious Brother in the 1960 and early 1970. In the first few years we ( my class ( heard rumors of homosexuality within the community. We never paid much attention to that. It was later on when I witnesses two brothers involved in an intimate moment as I passed one of there rooms on the way to chapel. I was a little shocked. I told my classmates but we reminded each other that we too were under religious vows and were going to be faithful to them. A few years later I went on to major seminary and was surprised at the openness of homosexual expression in the diocesan seminary. Place is closed down now but some of the priests who were seminarians then were on the bishops accountability website with credible charges involving pedophilia. I know of one priest now in my dioceses who is under investigation again and I do know that in the past he too was involved in homosexual activity. The Pope needs to allow marriage. Allow for homosexuals in the priesthood. The fact that they use young men may just not be pedophilia but a form of expression of homosexual release that they cannot find or have with a mature adult. Who knows I just offer a reflection.
Fr. Malone, the sexual abuse crisis has two evil components - the crime and the cover-up. The core causes of the crime are no doubt complex, but how can one possibly explain the root cause of the cover-up in any way other than a culture of opaqueness, secrecy, elitist, above reproach or review - clericalism?
I think you are so right, Jim. The vulnerable have always and everywhere been fair game for exploitation, abuse, oppression by the powerful of evil intent. Where the evil intent comes from I couldn't say. But clearly they act on their evil designs mostly because they can; they can do their evil and get away with it.
Superb column, Father, especially the observation that "it does not follow that these conclusions are necessarily wrong. " That applies to both Benedict and Francis, and I think they're both right.
The discussion in this editorial would be a little more understandable, in my opinion, if some clarifying emphasis were expended on making rational distinctions. One that comes to mind is the distinction between abusive and non-abusive acts, however objectionable or abhorrent the acts may be. Consider the remark in the article that reads:
“I have also heard from people who have expressed deep concern over the years about the culture of clericalism in the church that what caused the sexual abuse crisis was the culture of clericalism in the church.”
The author here is clearly talking about abusive acts, not non-abusive acts, but it is easy to miss this, judging by the number of comments that pertain to non-abusive or consensual acts.
In the recorded history of abusive acts, as well as in preserved literature that mentions them, one condition seems ever-present, namely, a significant power differential between the abuser and the abused. Some seem skeptical that, in the Church, this should be counted as causal. Some see it merely as a necessary condition or simply a highly correlated condition for the commission of the abuse. Some also seem skeptical that this condition is accurately termed clericalism when applied to commissions by clerics. In any case, it seems clear that diminishment of the power differential could hold some potential for reducing the occurrence of the abuse.
Homosexuality is not the problem. Do you really believe that all the men in prison who engage in sex with other men are homosexuals? Of course not. They just want and need sex. And take it where they can find it...!!! Just like priests have been doing for centuries!
Okay article...and people from but "camps" in the Church have their blinders on re their pet perspectives. It's all "celricalism" or its all "homosexuality" . My sense is that "all of the above" usual suspects had A part of this complicated and very dysfunction mess. Being blinkered about any of it just guarantees that it won't get remedied.
The title of this article pretty much says it all:
Memo to Benedict XVI:
Halt die Klappe!
bete für Francis!
First and foremost, Benedict XVI has RETIRED from the papacy, to an alleged life of seclusion and prayer. He has no theo-canonical status as a "Pope Emeritus." He is now a retired Bishop of Rome, and as others more learned than I have pointed out, his canonical obligations are exactly the same as a retired diocesan bishop is to his local ordinary.
BUT, I think It's no coincidence that he's issuing this public statement at the same time that neo-traddie (anti-Francis) forces are purchasing real estate a stone's throw from the Vatican, and planning to open a training center in an abandoned monastery in the Roman suburbs.