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Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church

One of the most disturbing modern manifestations of the practical consequences religious irrationalism is the current scandal of widespread sexual abuse [a] of children within the Roman Catholic Church.

  • A detailed look at some of the cases is enough for anyone to see the horrible and criminal nature of these acts.
  • The above examples represent only the tip of the iceberg. In fact the depth and breadth of the abuse cases in the US and elsewhere is almost beyond comprehension. The scale of the predation reveals the systemic nature of the problem.
  • The handling of this issue by the Roman Catholic Church is horrendous.
  • The victims carry the scars with them throughout their lives. Some were not able to live with it.
  • There are of course many causes for what is a complex problem. But the structure of the church and celibacy are two of the major causes of the genesis and continuation of the problem.
The case of sexual predation within the Catholic Church is just another in a series of historical examples of how much misery the church has visited on the humanity.

The Notorious Predators

The whole scandal broke into public consciousness in January 2002 when the Boston Globe published a series of reports detailing the exploits of Father John Geoghan. Geoghan was certainly one of the most despicable of the child molestors within the Catholic Church. To date his known victims number almost two hundred. [1]

Geoghan predation lasted throughout his whole career in the priesthood; from his first parish assignment at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Saugus, north of Boston, in 1962 until his last assignment in 1995. (He was not defrocked then, and remained a priest until 1998) At the Blessed Sacrament Church, Church records show that Geoghan was accused of, and admitted to, molesting four children. He would have the children sit on his lap while he fondle them through their clothes.[2]

Through his early experiences, Geoghan would develop his simple but effective modus operandi. He would hone in on children from poor families and broken homes. These children are normally more vulnerable emotionally. The single parent (usually the mother) would think it heaven sent to have a "man of god" around the house, providing a role model and company for the children. [3]

One such single parent is Joanne Mueller. When Geoghan was transferred to St. Paul's Church in Hingham, south of Boston, in 1967, she befriended him. As a devout Catholic, she gladly allowed Geoghan access to her home and her four boys. Geoghan would take the boys out for ice cream and had free access to the boys' bedroom. He even "helped" the boys getting in and out of the bathtub. The truth suddenly came out in 1973 when Joanne's third son, then around eight, told her he did not want the priest in their home. When she pressed him for the reason, the boy finally blurted out that Father Georghan was "touching my wee wee". She summoned her three other boys, only to be told the same story. The priest had abused them all, the youngest boy was only five. [4]

In 1974 Georghan was posted to St. Andrew's Church in the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain. Again he befriended a single mother with four children of her own; this time three boys and a girl. The woman, Maryetta Dussourd, was also taking care of four of her niece's boys. For two whole years, from 1978 to early 1980, he would visit the family home almost every night. He would take the boys out for ice cream and put them to bed at night. It was while he was in the bedroom with the boys that Geoghan would commit the abuse. He would perform oral sex on them, fondled their genitals or forced them to fondle his. Some times he would pray while committing these acts. When Maryetta finally found out about this (the children had told her sister), she complained to a pastor in a nearby parish. [5]

Geoghan would spend the next year on "sick leave". In early 1981 he was sent to St. Brendan's Church, another church in Boston. Here too, his predation continued unabated. In 1982, after hearing of complaints again, the Church shipped Geoghan to Rome on a scholarly renewal program; a much sought-after perk by priests. [6]

The trip to Rome did not help. In 1984, perhaps learning of Geoghan's penchant for befriending single parent blue collar families, the Church assigned him to St. Julia's Church in Weston, an affluent suburb. This unfortunately did not stop his predation. He preyed on the altar boys. However altar boys were not enough. To satisfy his appetite, he visited the blue collar neighborhoods closeby. One of his victims there was Patrick McSorley. Having learnt of Patrick's father's suicide, Geoghan went to the McSorley's home ostensibly to offer his condolences. He offered to take Patrick, who was twelve then, out for some ice cream. The boy accepted. In the ride home, the priest patted the boy's thigh and then started to slide his hand further up to his groin. The old priestly pervert than started the masturbate the boy. McSorley today (the incident happendd in 1986) remembered Geoghan then started to gratify himself and moaned like he had ejaculated. The little boy, holding an ice cream, simply froze up. [7]

In 1994 law enforcement officers were beginning to hone in on Georghan. The church then moved Geoghan into Regina Cleri, a clergy retirement home, as an associate director. Yet, even here, Geoghan was still able to hunt for victims. He was accused of molesing boys in nearby Waltham. Geoghan was finally removed from active duty in January 1996. In 1996 the first civil lawsuit against Geoghan was filed. To date the Church have settled a dozen of these, to the tune of $10 million.[8]

In February 2002, 40 years after his criminal predation began, Father John Geoghan, was sentenced to ten years in prison for one of his acts of sexual predation. [9]

John Geoghan, of course was not the only one, as the next section shows. Even more amazing, this scandal is not new, in fact reading through it gives one a sense of deja vu. For ten years ago, in 1992, a similar scandal had broken out and had received as much press attention. Then the "star" predator, was one Father James Porter.

Like Geoghan, Porter's victims were legion; at least 125 boys and girls in at least four states. Like Geoghan, Porter's crime spree went on for a long time, from 1960, until 1974. And finally, again like Geoghan, he was shuffled from parish to parish until he was finally defrocked in 1974.

Porter's predation started in 1960 straight out of the seminary. His first assignment as a priest was at St. Mary's Church in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. While there he would molest both boys and girls of St. Mary's Grammar School. Within a week of his arrival, he had claimed his first victim, fifth grader Paul Merry. The boy was molested for three years. At least once a week, Father Porter would grab and fondle the boy. Within a month of his arrival, he had molested Patty Poirier, another fifth grader, and his first female victim. Porter's predation went beyond molestations. He actually raped many of his victims. In 1963, a mother complained to two priests at St. Mary's about Porter's abuse of her twleve year old son. Porter was the transferred to another parish. At St. Mary's, Porter's victims numbered around forty children.

Porter's pattern of abuse continued from parish to parish. In 1965, while working as chaplain at a hospital in New Bedford, he started abusing altar boys he was training. When he was sent home to recover due to complaints regarding his behavior, he molested children at a nearby parish. When he was sent for treatment in 1967 at Jemez Springs in New Mexico, he would fill up for a priest on leave in a church nearby. There he claimed at least six more victims. He was shuttled to Houston and molested still more children. When he was shipped back to New Mexico, he molested some more. Finally, after more complaints, Porter was advised to petition to leave the priesthood. He was granted his petition by the pope in January 1974.

Porter's victims essentially kept their dark secret until 1992 when one of them, Frank Fitzpatrick, by then a private detective, located Porter and started the process of filing criminal charges against him. Porter was finally arrested in September 1992 and sentenced to twenty years in prison. In that year, more than 100 people charged Porter with molesting them. The Fall River diocese paid out more than $7 million to his victims.[10]

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The Scale of the Predation

As was mentioned above, John Geoghan and James Porter are not isolated abberations of what is an otherwise decent and law abiding group of priests. Given below is a very incomplete list of priests in the US that have been convicted of child abuse, some pending cases and the results of some civil lawsuits brought by the victims or their families:

  • Father John Geoghan: Sentenced to ten years imprisonment in 2002. Accused of molesting around 200 children over a 33 year period from 1962 to 1995. The church admitted (in 1998) that it had settled 12 lawsuits against Geoghan. The settlements totalled $10 million. Other lawsuits are pending and the Boston archdiocese is expected to pay up to $45 million in damages when all these are settled.(see above)

  • Father Paul Shanley[b]: Charged with three counts of child rape dating to the 1980s in May 2002. Pleaded not guilty-case is ongoing. The Boston archdiocese had already made at least five settlements with his victims one of which was for $100,000 in 1998 to a man who claimed he was abused by Father Shanley for a period of four years beginning from 1965 when he was in the fifth grade.[11]

  • Father Rudolph Kos: Sentenced to life imprisonment. In an earlier civil suit, in 1997, the Dallas archdiocese was ordered to pay $119.6 million to the families of eleven boys that were abused by Kos at the All Saints Catholic Church from 1981 to 1992. The reporters of the Boston Globe wrote "It was the largest verdict ever awarded against the Catholic Church."[13]

  • Father Ronald Paquin: Arrested in May 2002 for child rape. Later indicted on three counts of child rape. Paquin had admitted to molesting boys in an interview with the Boston Globe in January 2002. In that interview he told the Globe reporter that he had abused two boys for fifteen years, from 1975 to 1990. The abuse stopped when the Boston archdiocese removed him from active ministry.[14]

  • Father John Hanlon: Convicted in 1994 of raping altar boys in Hingham, south of Boston. Sentenced to three life terms. [15]

  • Father James Porter: Sentenced to 20 years in a Massachusetts prison in 1992. Known to have molested and/or raped at least 125 children. The Fall River diocese agreed to pay more than $7 million to the victims of his abuse.(see above section)

  • Father Gilbert Gauthe: Sentenced (in 1984) to 20 years in prison on convictions including rape and child pornography. Soon after his release ten years after, Gauthe was charged again, this time with molesting a Texas boy. In 1984, the Lafayette diocese secretly settled with nine of his victims. The total settlement was $4.2 million. [16]

  • Father Thomas Adamson: A civil suit in 1990, filed by one of his victims, was decided against Father Adamson. The victim, a former altar boy, was awarded almost $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Many other suits were settled out of court. Father Adamson had a known history of child abuse beginning from his first victim in 1961 until his removal from the priesthood in 1987. [17]

  • Father David Holley: Sentenced to 275 years in prison in New Mexico. Father Holley started his abuse of children in Worcester, Massachusetts. After being transferred to Alamogordo, New Mexico, he molested again. He retired in 1989, active till the end; his last assigment was as a chaplain in a hospital in Denver. His diocese in Mew Mexico has settled at least 17 lawsuits against him. [18]

  • Father Donald Heck: Sentenced (in July 1992) to four years imprisonment in Missouri for sexually assaulting an altar boy after Mass. [19]

  • Father Robert Kelley: Pleaded guilty and inprisoned for molesting a nine year old girl in the early eighties in Gardner, Massachusetts. [20]

  • Father Mark Lehman: Sentenced in 1992 to ten years in prison for molesting three girls from his wealthy parish in Phoenix, Arizona. [21]

  • Father Richard Lavigne: Sentence in 1992 to prison after he pleaded guilty to twelve counts of child rape. The priest, from Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, was also implicated in the 1972 year old murder of a 13 year old altar boy but was never charged with murder due to lack of evidence. [22]

  • Father Daniel Calabrese: Found guilty (also in 1992) of sodomizing a boy in his church in Poughkeepsie, New York and was sentence to 90 days jail. [23]

Some men of the cloth could not take the shame of the revelations and chose to take their own lives instead:

  • A Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama shot himself in the head just before he was about to go on trial for molesting a 12 year old boy.

  • Monsignor Willaim Reinecke also shot himself in the head (on August 11th 1992) after he was confronted by a man two days before who accused him of abuse twenty years earlier. [24]

  • Father Donald Rooney killed himself in April 2002. He shot his head with a handgun at a drug store parking lot. He had been summoned by his superiors to discuss allegations about sexual abuse of a young girl twelve years before. [25]

  • In May 1992, a priest from Bridgeport, Connecticut hanged himself at the St. Luke Institute, a psychiatric hospital in Maryland. He had recently been removed from his parish when 17 men accused him of molesting them during their childhood. [26]

Even this admittedly cursory look should convince that the scale of the problem in the US is immense. The most authoritative research on priesthood and sexuality is that done by psychiatrist, Richard Sipe, a former monk himself. He estimated that, out of 45,000 priests in the US, up to seven percent, or more than three thousand are child molestors. Of these, about one third are true pedophiles, while the rest are ephebophiles (showing more interest in post pubescent children). [27] In the past 15 years some 1,500 American priests have faced allegations of sexual abuse. [28]

Some apologists have tried to argue that Catholic priests are no more prone to child sexual abuse than those of other denominations or in secular caring professions. This defense is not convincing. The best estimates for abuse among Protestant clergy is 2 to 3 percent, which is only one third that of their Catholic counterparts. [c] [29] We will take a closer look at why the Catholic Church seems more susceptible to this culture of abuse in the section below.

This problem is not merely confined to the US. It seems that sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests on children is a worldwide phenomenon:

  • In Newfoundland, Canada, four priests were convicted of child sexual abuse. The children were from a local orphanage. The priests and brothers "sodomized, whipped, punched, fondled and degraded at least thirty Mount Cashel Boys for more than twenty years" until the scandal was discovered in 1989. Similar to their US counterparts, the church hierarchy there essentially ignored the problem although they knew about it.[30]

  • In Poland, Archbishop Juliusz Paetz of Poznan resigned in March 1998 after accusations surfaced about him making sexual advances to young seminarians. He would cuddle up with young clerics in public, paid visits to the rooms of seminarians at night and used an underground tunnel to visit the dormitories of young priests. Archbishop Paetz denied the charges saying that people "misunderstood his words and gestures". [31]

  • In Ireland, Bishop Brendan Comisky, resigned a month after that for mishandling a case of a pedophile priest Father Sean Fortune. Father Fortune committed suicide in 1999 after he was charged with abusing boys. [32]

  • In France, a priest in Normandy, Father Rene Bisset was convicted and imprisoned in October 2000 for sexual abuse of eleven boys. The Bishop responsible for that diocese, Bishop Pierre Pican, is also facing charges for his handling of the case and his failure to report the crime. [33]

  • In Wales, in the same month, a priest, Father Joseph Jordan, was jailed for eight years for child sexual abuse. The bishop of the archdiocese of Cardiff, Wales had been informed earlier of Father Jordan's pedopilic tendencies but did nothing about it. [34]

  • In Australia, Father Gerald Drisdale, pleaded guilty to 46 counts of indecent assault, including sodomy, against 26 childen. His victims were mainly altar boys aged between 11 and 14 years old from the Ballaret Doicese in Western Victoria. [35]

  • In South Africa, Church officials admitted to knowing about a dozen cases of clergy sexual abuse there in the past decade. [36]

  • In Hong Kong, China, local newspapers reported about three cases of child sexual abuse by priests in the 1990's that were hushed by the Church heirarchy. [37]

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The Management of the Problem by the Catholic Church

The church hierarchy's method of handling the problem has been much criticised, and rightly so. In this section we will look at what was done and what was not done by the Church in its approach to this problem.

The most common reaction by the Church hierarchy to individual cases when they are reported to it is to remove the offending priest from his parish or current posting, only to move him somewhere else! This was how it handled the cases John Geoghan, James Porter, Paul Shanley, Rudolph Kos, James Paquin and many others. Always the results remain the same.The method and its result is aptly summarised by the reporters of the Boston Globe:

Like Geoghan, [Father Joseph E.] Birmingham served as a priest for three decades, from his ordination in 1960 until his death in 1989 at the age of fifty-five. Like Geoghan, he was rotated through six parishes, despite a string of complaints about his sexual compulsion. Like Geoghan, he allegedly accumulated dozens of victims even though high Church officials knew he was molesting childen. And, like Geoghan, the number of Birmingham's alleged victims is large-as many as twenty five alone from his third assignment at St. Michael's parish in Lowell, north of Boston, in the 1970's. But in Birmingham's case, the public evidence that the Church stood by and did nothing to stop him early in his career appears to be even stronger. [38]

To exarcebate the problem, the Church never told the parishioners at the former church the reason why the priest was leaving and, more importantly, the parishioners in the new congregation were never told about their new priest's past. All this was to avoid causing an embarrassment to the Church. As the reporters of the Boston Globe wrote, the Catholic bishops "sacrificed the safety of children to the Church's desperate desire to avert scandal." [39]

Indeed, the offending priests access to children were hardly ever restricted. The archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, has come under much criticism for his handling of the crisis in the Boston archdiocese. In 1984, when he took over the office of archbishop, Law received a letter dated December 7th from Bishop John D'Arcy, the Auxiliary Bishop of Boston about Geoghan. In that letter he explain to the new archbishop that Geoghan's assignment to St. Julia's may be unwise due to his previous "homosexual involvement with young boys" and urged that Geoghan's work should be restricted to saying weekend Masses. Yet Geoghan was permitted to remain at St. Julia's with no restriction to his movement. As we have seen above, he molested altar boys there and went prowling around the surrounding blue collar neighborhoods looking for more victims. From that date until the year Geoghan was finally removed from active duty, Geoghan molested at least another thirty children-children which could have been saved the trauma had Law heeded the warning in that fateful letter in 1984. [Postscript: Facing tremendous pressure from the laity and general public, Cardinal Law resigned his position as Archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese on December 13th 2002] [40]

Cardinal Law handling of this case was not at all unusual. The Bishop of Fall River Diocese, James Connolly, handled Porter the same way Law handled Geoghan. Porter was shuffled from parish to parish (with some brief period of "treatment" thrown in between some of these transfers) whenever complaints about his sexual abuse arose. All in all, Porter was transferred at least eight times to different parishes and at no time was his access to children restricted. [41]

Another bishop that came under fire was Archbishop Robert Sanchez, of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in New Mexico. The allegations involved how the treatment center for priests, Servants of the Paraclete, which was located within his archdiocese were handled. Among other things priests were sent there for treatment of child abuse. Yet these very same priests were allowed to serve Mass around the treatment center in the weekends-allowing them free access to children. Sanchez himself was eventually forced to step down in 1993 when it was revealed that he had had sexual relations with five women.[42]

Examples of how Catholic bishops worldwide handled these could be added ad nauseum but the three examples above should suffice. Marian Walsh, a state senator from Boston, summarized best the feelings of most people when she said (specifically referring to Cardinal Law's handling of the situation):

I never though that a leading facilitator for child abuse would be the Church, where the Church would supply the victims and hide the perpetrators. I understand why pedophiles do what they do. I still can't understand, I still can't appreciate, how the Church could do this, how sophisticated and how diabolical it was. And how the cardinal should preside over it. [43]
[Emphasis mine-PT]

In between moving the priests from parish to parish, the church would send some of problem priests for treatment. Two of the centers most frequently used by the Catholic church for sex abusers within their clergy are the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico and the St. Luke Institute in Suitland, Maryland.

There are a few problems with these treatment centers. Firstly, these institutes see the Catholic Church as their boss. The whole treatment is premised upon getting the priests, "fixing them" and getting them back to work. Secondly, the mixing of religious concepts, like prayers and forgiveness, with science tends to make for an inadequately unbiased evaluation of the patients. Father William Peri, one of the directors of the Servants of the Paraclete said this in an interview in 1987 that the center's main approach is "forgiveness" and that "forgiveness leads to healing". As to how they know the priests no longer need treatement, Father William Foley, head of Paraclete order, said that they "just get an intuition that they're going to work out". Thirdly, the centers, according to psychologist Gary Schoner, who have himself treated many victims of molests by priests, trust the priests too much and depend on them wanting to be cured. Victims were not interviewed, there were no attempts to get access to independent background data on the incidents and the victim. [44]

Of course we have direct evidence that the treatment and final evaluation were far from adequate. "Graduates" from both centers continued their pattern of abuse. From Jemez Springs we have James Porter, Jason Sigler, Rudolph Kos and David Holley; all of which continued to abuse children after treatment there. Indeed they were molesting children while in treatment when they were allowed to celebrate Mass in local parishes surrounding the center. From St. Luke there were John Geoghan, Rudolph Kos and Gilbert Gauthe, who also continued their abuse after (sometimes multiple) treatment. [45]

One of the few hard won truths about child sexual abusers is that once they molest, they tend to do so again and again. This is something the Catholic Church (with its naive believe in "prayer" and "forgiveness") have difficulty accepting. As early as 1967, a consulting pyschologist for the Servants of the Paraclete, met with the archbishop of Santa Fe and the head of the Paraclete order and explained to them that long term treatment was required and advised against returning the priests to working with children. His contract was terminated after that meeting. [46]

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The Victims: Scarred for Life

While child sexual abuse may leave no permanent physical marks, it leaves deep psychological scars. Child abuse is a betrayal of trust, a rape of innocence. What more when the abuser is supposedly a man the child has been taught to look up to and trust. We will look at the effects on the survivors of these truly horrendous crime.

  • Patricia Nolan, from Boston, who was abused by a priest as a little girl, suffers from panic attacks for years after the incident. She has difficulty trusting people (who could blame her?) and this in turn makes it hard for her to form meaningful relationship.

  • Peter Pollard, also from Boston, was abused when he was sixteen. The altar boy, who had been an honour student prior to the abuse, saw his grades drop and his ambitions disappear. He dropped out of college and essentially lived the life of an itinerant, celibate hippie. It took twenty years before he was able to begin to pick up his life again.

  • Partrick McSorley was abused by John Geoghan in 1986. The twelve year old boy was fondled by the priest. The abuse traumatised him and he suffered from depression and alcholism for years due to this incident. [47]

There are, of course, even more drastic effects of these abuses:

  • Christopher Schultz, a twelve year old from the New Jersey suburbs of New York City was abused by a Franciscan brother, Edmund Coakeley, who was his teacher and scoutmaster. Among other things the six grader was made to wear flimsy underwear and forced to act out the Stations of the Cross in the nude. The boy was so depressed that he had to be hospitalised. In May 28th, 1979, seven months after his depression started, the boy went to the bathroom and drank a full bottle of oil of wintergreen. He fell into a coma and died the next day.

  • One man, who was abused by a Florida priest, hung himself in his parents backyard in the late 1980's.

  • A thirty-two year old man committed suicide by driving his car into a bridge abutment. His suicide note left no doubt the reason for his suicide. He was unable to live with the fact that he had been abused by a priest when he was seven.

  • Sometimes the victim unleash their anger back at the priest. In May 2002, a man in Baltimore shot a Catholic priest who had abused him in the early 1990's. [48]

Despite its efforts to portray itself as a caring "Mother Church" to believers, the handling of victims by church officials betrays its actual nature. In view of the examples above, it is inconceivable how anyone could say something like this:

We are not involved in the dynamics of rape but with the far subtler dynamics of persuasion by a friend. As we speak to and about the victims we must be aware that the child sometimes retains a loving memory of the offender. [49]
[Emphasis mine-PT]

Yet this is exactly what Father Canice Connor of St. Luke Institute wrote in America Magazine in May 1992! That a Church-recogized expert on child sexual abuse could make such a statement shows how out of touch it is with the victims.

Indeed the Church, in general, showed very little concern for the victims. When Patricia Dolan, a victim of child abuse (see above), got her archdiocese to pay for her therapy sessions, they tried to get access to her personal files from these sessions. When these were denied them, the payment for the therapy stopped. Furthermore a nun specializing in abuse victims actually chided her for claiming she was abused - as the priest was way past middle age. "He couldn't have done that much to you." was what the nun said-adding insult to the psychological injury. [50]

Another example is Tom Blanchette. A victim of abuse in his childhood in the 1960's, he approached Cardinal Law during the funeral, in 1989, of the priest (Father Joseph Birmingham) who had abused him. [d] He told Cardinal Law he was one of those molested by Birmingham. According to Blanchette, Cardinal Law reacted defensively and then laid his hands on Tom's head while saying "I bind you by the power of the confessional never to speak about this to anyone else." Faced with victims, all Cardinal Law could think of was to make him not say anything to anyone! [51]

Indeed there is a tendency in the Church hierarchy to blame the victims for the crime commited on them. This statement regarding Rudolph Kos and his victims by Monsignor Robert Rehkemper was made in an interview with a reported from The Dallas Morning News in August 1997:

They [the children] knew what was right and what was wrong. Anybody who reaches the age of reason shares responsibility for what they do. So that makes us all responsible after we reach the age of six or seven. [52]

So the monsignor is telling us that a child of seven years old is in a perfect position to resist the advances of a Roman Catholic priest; a man who would probably be seen by the child as the pinnacle of morality and authority! If that is not enough, Monsignor Rehkemper, lashed out at the parents of the victims as well:

No one ever says anything about the role of the parents was in all this. They more properly should have known because they're close to the kids. Parents have the prime responsibility to look after their kids. I don't want to judge them one way or another, but it doesn't appear they were very concerned about their kids...Why let boys go and stay an unlimited amount of time in a church rectory with priests? I just don't understand it. [53]

In other words, he is saying, why were the parents, devout Catholics probably, so dumb as to trust their children with priests? I do not think moronic rhetorical questions like this deserve an answer!

Monsignor Rehkemper is not the only Catholic ecclesiastic holding such views. In 1992 a midwestern bishop called a woman, who was abused as a fourteen year old girl by a priest, a "little lolita" out to milk as much money from the church as possible. [54] Cardinal Law, in his recent defense to the charges that Father Shanley molested a six year old boy, asserted that both the six year old boy and his parents were negligent and contributed to the abuse. [55] This is how Kevin Burke, the district attorney in Essex Country, summarized his experience dealing with the church in Boston when he bought charges against a church worker accused of molesting more than twenty children:

[W]hat really struck me, in communications with the archdiocese, was that there was never any concern shown for the victims. Not the slightest nod of concern for these young people whose lives were turned upside down by this abuse. In hindsight, it's striking and shocking that Chruch leaders failed to meet their moral responsibility...They weren't sorry for what happened to those kids. They were sorry they got caught."[56]

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The Causes: The Church Implicated

Conservative Catholics have been quick to blame the prevalence of homosexuality in the priesthood for the current scandal.[57] Indeed recent estimates put the number of homosexual priests around 20%. [58] For the conservative, the solution is neat, for it suggests that somehow it is not the Church that is at fault but abberant priests who probably have no right to be in the priesthood anyway!

Inviting as the solution seems to be, it seems mistaken. There is no credible research that links the sexual abuse of children with homosexuality. As we can see from the examples above, girls and well as boys were molested. Indeed men who molest little boys are more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual in their adult involvements. Richard Sipe, a psychiatrist, summarized it succinctly, "Child sexual abuse has as much to do with homosexuality as rape has to do with heterosexuality." [59]

Two of the main causes of this widespread systemic problem of child sexual abuse are the Church culture of celibacy and the monolithic authoritarian structure of the church.

Celibacy was originally introduced in the Church during the end of the third century (or the beginning of the fourth). It did not become widely enforced until Pope Callistus II called the First Lateran Council in 1123 where he declared all clerical marriages invalid. However continued reiteration of this rule through later councils showed that the enforcements were by no means fully successful. It was only during the Council of Trent in 1563 that celibacy became an absolute rule. [60]

Note that is is not celibacy per se that causes the sexual abuse of children. It is the celibate culture, one in which sex is renounced, that forms an attraction to people already struggling with sexual issues. True pedophiles tend to develop their inclination early and contrary to what many may believe, many of them feel ashamed of such feelings and fight to contain and, in many cases, to repress it completely. If the person happens to be a Catholic male and religious, the celibacy of the priesthood with its promise of grace from God and the provision of the "gift" of celibacy seems just the antedote for his predeliction. Dr. John Morney, a reknowned authority on human sexuality wrote: "These future priests become seminarians partly in the belief that they will, through religion, gain control over the very sexual desire that they resist or fight against". [61]

This is view is shared by another prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Glen Gabbard, who, in an interview with the authors of The Gospel of Shame said:

The most striking thing is the number of them who went into the profession as a way of dealing with these very impulses. The impulses to molest children, the sexual feelings to molest children, don't emerge de novo after they enter the priesthood. They are there consciously, subconsciouly, or preconsciously. They're present when one makes a vocational choice. They have the feelings that these impulses are overwhelming and hard to control, so they think that maybe the structure of the Church and the code of celibacy will somehow help them avoid acting on them."[62]

To that is added the fact that priests are normally given a high level of prestige among Catholic communities. Most Catholic parents would be proud to have a priest they know take their sons to the ball game or for some ice cream. The priest function both as chaperone and companion. Thus this twin aspect, respect/trust coupled with easy access to children, would prove too much for priests already inclined to child molestation. [63] Another important cause of the prevalence of child sexual abuse within Roman Catholicism is the structure of the Church itself. As Bruni and Burkett wrote:

At heart, the problem is that the Catholic Church, in its structure and mentality is a medieval institution trying to cope with modern problems in a very modern world...the entire structure may be tilting on its foundation. The Church...simply does not have the flexibility to deal with a crisis that lingers at the intersection of sexuality, secrecy, patriarchy and blind obedience. Child sexual abuse has become a scandal within the Church not as the result of conscious, or even unconscious, error or evil, but because it is embedded in the very structure of Roman Catholicism. [64]

The Roman Catholic Church has always been authoritarian. As Pope John Paul II said in 1987 "The Catholic Church is a theocratic institution, not a democratic one." [65] Furthermore the Catholic bishops view their Church as a divine institution, descended from the apostles of Jesus. It was their responsibility to protect and make sure people respect the Church. Somehow they would be failing their tasks as bishops if the church reputation is damaged in any way. [66] Thus bishops all over the world did (do?) their utmost to hide the molestors and somehow look upon the victims reporting the crimes as enemies out to destroy their beloved church.

Having identified the causes, some Catholic liberals had tried to suggest some solutions. On celibacy, it has been suggested that ending mandatory celibacy in the priesthood could help. However even a cursory thought shows that this may not work. For there will still be a group of priests that would be celibate. In fact if church history is any guide, celibate priests in a non-mandatory celibate culture will probably be held in higher esteem than married ones. Thus it would not prevent men already predisposed to pedophilia to join and be celibate for reasons cited above. [67]

Attempting to democratise the structure of the Catholic Church is also a non-starter. For the church is committed to maintain the fiction that it is an unchanging, divinely sanctioned, institution. This is part of what Garry Wills called the structure of deceit within the Catholic Church. The statement below made in 1965 by the Catholic theologian, John Ford, on the reason why the Church could not change its teachings on contraception is equally applicable to its structure:

The Church could not have erred through so many centuries even through one century, by imposing under serious obligations very grave burdens on the name of Jesus Christ, if Jesus did not actually impose these burdens. [68]
[Emphasis mine-PT]

The structure of the Church is governed by the sixth canon of the Council of Trent (1545-63) which states:

If anyone says that the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy, instructed by divine ordination and consisting of bishops, priests and deacons, let him be anathema. [69]

The hierarchical structure precludes democratization. And using the logic outlined by Father Ford above, the church could not have condemned so many people in the past ("anathema" means "to condemn" or "accursed") if the Church was not actually a hierarchy!

In the final analysis two of the major causes of the problem lie at the very core of Roman Catholicism. When the structure of a building is damaged beyond repair, there is only one solution-pull the whole structure down.

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a.The technical term pedophilia is used by psychiatric profession to describe the disorder in which an adult sexually abuses a pre-pubescent child, normally defined as someone below the age of thirteen. Many of the cases of abuse in the Catholic church however is that of adults abusing post-pubescent children or teenagers. This is known by the relatively new term: ephebophilia. Since there are incidences of both pedophilia and ephebophilia in the Catholic Church, I have used the more all encompassing term: sexual abuse. In any case I think this term is also more accurate in the sense that, unlike the technical terms, it brings to fore the criminal nature of the acts.
b.Father Paul Shanley's case is an interesting one. Again the pattern is similar, starting from his graduation from the seminary in 1960, his abuse of children started almost immediately. In 1965 he started a four year sexual relationship with a boy in the fifth grade. (In 1992, the man received a $100,000 settlement from the Boston archdiocese after reporting this.) Complaints were raised about him in 1967 when he apparently took three boys to a cabin in the woods. He was moved from parish to parish to avoid complaints. In 1977, as Church record shows, Shanley publicly defended pedohilia. In that event, he was alleged to have said that "the adult is not the seducer. The kid is the seducer, and further the kid is not traumatised by the act per se. The kid is traumatised when the police and authorities drag him for questioning." Father Shanley, according to the church records, also spoke in the 1979 meeting of the NAMBLA (Noth American Man-Boy Love Association.) The church is known to have settled at least five lawsuits against Father Shanley. The whole thing only came to public attention in 2002 Gregory Ford filed a lawsuit claiming that he was raped repeatedly by Father Shanley in the 1980's. Father Shanley was "active" in the priestood from 1960 to his retirement in 1996. The total number of his victims may never be known.[12]
c.That abuse happen in the Protestant clergy is undeniable. In October 1992, an Episcopal priest, Reverend Wallace Frey, had to resign after accusations surface about him molesting ten teenage boys.
d.The priest who abused him in the 1960's, Father Joseph Birmingham, died in 1989. In March 2002, details began to emerge about Father Birmingham's widespread sexual abuse of children. About forty victims have appointed lawyers. The total number of his victims may never be known, but it is suspected that he abused many more children in the six parishes he served during his priesthood. (Caroll, Betrayal: p91)


1.Bruni & Burkett, A Gospel of Shame: pxii
Caroll, Betrayal: p14
2.ibid: p18
3.ibid: p35
4.ibid: p19-20
5.ibid: p21-22
6.ibid: p23-25
7.ibid: p32-35, 82-83
8.ibid: p26-29, 53
9.ibid: p125
10.Bruni, op cit: p3-25, 89
Carroll, op cit: p42-45
11.ibid: p66, 71
12.Bruni, op cit: p xx-xxii
Carroll, op cit: p55-69
13.ibid: p43
Wills, Papal Sin: p178
14.Carroll op cit:: p60-65
15.ibid: p124
16.ibid: p37-38
17.Bruni, op cit: p153-155
Carroll, op cit: p41
18.Bruni, op cit: p35-36
Carroll, op cit: p41, 173-174
19.Bruni, op cit: p198
20.ibid: p72-75
21.ibid: p84
22.ibid: p34
23.ibid: p35
24.ibid: p91
25.Carroll, op cit: p113
26.ibid: p118
27.ibid: p195
Cornwell, Breaking Faith: p147, 164-165
Wills, op cit: p186
28.Carroll, op cit: p55
29.Bruni, op cit: p38-39
30.ibid: p222
Wills, op cit: p185
31.Carroll, op cit: p114-115
32.ibid: p115
33.Cornwell, op cit: p161
34.ibid: p161
35.The Sydney Morning Herald, June 2nd 2002
36.Boston Globe, August 16th 2002
37.Boston Globe, May 19th 2002
38.Carroll, op cit: p56
39.Bruni, op cit: p156
Carroll, op cit: p109
40.Carroll, op cit: p34-35
41.Bruni, op cit: p19-20
42.Bruni, op cit: p37
Carroll, op cit: p42
43.Carroll, op cit: p136
44.Bruni, op cit: p195-197
Carroll, op cit: p174-175
45.Carroll, op cit: p173-174
46.Bruni, op cit: p47, 168
47.Carroll, op cit: p78-84
48.Bruni, op cit: p139-142
Carroll, op cit: p118
49.Bruni, op cit: p41, 252
50.Carroll, op cit: p81
51.ibid: p96
52.Wills, op cit: p180
53.ibid: p179-180
54.Bruni, op cit: p175
55.Carroll, op cit: p162
56.ibid: p130
57.Bruni, op cit: p220
58.Wills, op cit: p180
59.Bruni, op cit: p68, 226
Carroll, op cit: p169 Rosa, Vicars of Christ: p559-590
61.Bruni, op cit: p50
62.ibid: p51
63.Carroll, op cit: p167-168
64.Bruni, op cit: p221
65.ibid: p233
66.ibid: p170
67.ibid: p229
68.Wills, op cit: p94
69.Bruni, op cit: p233

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