For a long time I resisted writing about the assorted scandals of clerical sexual abuse from around the world. After the Irish Ryan report though, I broke my silence, writing for the first time of own experiences, which I presented as just a preamble, declaring my interest, and promised more. You may be wondering what has happened to the rest of reflection on the topic.
In fact, the theme is far from forgotten or neglected, occupying a great deal of my thinking time – and the more I think about it, the wider the scope becomes. It may not be immediately obvious, but a good portion of what I have written over the past few weeks is part of the argument I am developing. (Indeed, it could be stated that almost everything I put onto this site is part of my argument – but that is jumping rather too far ahead.)
For now, I would just like to restate what I have published this far and how it fits in to the bigger picture. Then, I will point to the material which is in preparation, and an outline of where I am headed.
Starting from the beginning: I wrote earlier of the reasons for my initial silence :
“1) This is personal.
2) The issues are far more complex and multifaceted then press reports, or popular commentary, would lead us to believe.
3) Too often, those attempting to spell out in honesty the complexities and subtleties of the issues, are simply branded as apologists for evil.”
Of these three, I have fully explained the first, and there is nothing more to be said. (If you missed this little personal memoir, you may see the two posts combined on the page “Sexual Abuse: My Experience” ). Of the third, I think it will be clear by the end that I am anything but an apologist.
It is the second item, the many facts of the issue, that is the problem. This very complexity leaves me having to spin out what is far too often presented in a few glib sentences and stock phrases over many posts, slipping into what appear to be unrelated digressions. They are not unrelated at all.
Some of you may have seen my earlier post some months back on Bishop Geoffrrey Robinson’s book, “Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church”, in which he argues that the three primary causes of clerical sexual abuse are sexual immaturity in some individual priests; enforced celibacy; and excessively centralised power structures in the church.
It was because enforced celibacy is central to the problem, that I wrote about the Myth of Priestly Celibacy. I will follow this up shortly by expanding on how enforced celibacy leads to abuse. (My recent items on coming out were not only because they were appropriate to Pride week: they were also important because sexual honesty is crucial to mental health, and so key to this discussion). It will also be necessary to say more about the problem of excessively centralised power in the church – although it will be obvious to my regular readers that this is something I touch on constantly.
This alone does not deal with the full complexity of the problem. I noted when I first wrote about abuse that the language is gravely inadequate to the reality, which is covers a wider range of practices, all lumped together into a single term. I want to show how the problem is much wider, and there is a sense in which we are all, at some level, victims of clerical abuse of some kind.
Conventional responses to the problem are also in my view grossly inadequate. Simply pointing fingers at the perpetrators and the Bishop who covered up the scandal, attempting to make amends with financial payouts, does not even scratch the surface of the healing process required. Instead, in looking towards a more viable approach, I have been recalling the approach of South Africa in dealing with the appalling atrocities committed in the name of apartheid, or of the “struggle” against it. Key to this was the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, magnificently led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Dealing with this, and my personal response to the TRC, wil require a short digression into South African history, and to some reflection on the concept of truth.
Only then will I finally be able to present my full conclusions:
- A full understanding of the problem of clerical abuse will show that at some level, we are all victims;
- By allowing the church to persist in the exercise of excessive power, and to pervert the truth for a twisted sexual theology, we are all at some level complicit, and share to some degree in the blame;
- But by simply getting on with our lives, by ignoring those parts of sexual doctrine which are obviously untenable, by showing more sensitivity and compassion in our local parishes than the institutional church does in its documents , and by speaking up vigourously against abuse (of all kinds) wherever we encounter it, we are also, thankfully, already part of the solution. By asserting our right of participation as formulated at Vatican II, creating if necessary our own structures and forums to have our vocies heard, we can extend still further this healing.
I hope you will stay with me as I elaborate this argument in the weeks ahead.
The Paddywhack and Me (personal)
More Worms: Abuse, continued (personal)