Monday 16 April 2012

Book Review: Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Catholicism: How Priests and Nuns Become Perpetrators

Author: Myra L. Hidalgo
Publication details: NY: The Haworth Maltreatment & Trauma Press: 2007

I'll begin by saying that the book is a good place to start for anyone  trying to come to grips with the issue of sexual abuse of children within the Roman Catholic church, with some caveats.

The Positive

Chapter 5: "Systemic Sexual Shame and Catholicism" This is probably the best reason to read this book. Years ago, I made an off the cuff statement that Roman Catholicism causes an obsession with sex right from a child's earliest awareness. When questioned [after all, it wasn't a popular statement to make :-)], my explanation was - all you have to do is look at the "Virgin" Mary.

The problem is of course that so much of the analysis is based on limited data. One can never make definitive statements based on such small populations. Since 2007, there have been more and more research done around priest offenders. I will discuss some of it in later blogs. However, the chapter is the first that I have read that actually looks at "passive sexual abuse trauma" in the context of the Roman Catholic church. Bravo for that!

The Caveats

One, one must be careful of her prevalence statistics. I'm not sure that they will be found to be all that wrong in the long run - but the information that she basis her prevalence stats on is limited - something that she does acknowledge. One of the things that this book adds to the discussion is the attempt to look at prevalence comparatively, using limited data. This is not easy since there are few surveys and studies out there that does this. She compares Roman Catholic clergy to Protestant clergy, educators (psychology professors), and therapists. As always, it should be noted that these numbers only reflect those who have been "caught". Her numbers are startling - for the population in general, RC clergy are almost 4 times more likely than the general population in the US to abuse children - there are no stats for RC sexual abuse of adults. However, the group that she doesn't include are elementary and high school statistics - they do exist and are relevant to the issue since the commonality - access to children - between the groups is clear. The comparison between Protestant clergy and Roman Catholic clergy is also interesting - in the statistics that she depends, there are no sexual of children by Protestant clergy, although there is plenty of inappropriate peer related sexual contact. But Protestant clergy do sexually abuse children and adolescents - but most of it is anecdotal , in the sense that little data collection has been done in this area to date. But there is some (see some early info in my dissertation).

Just to say, I actually think that her numbers are probably closer to the truth (and probably even low) than, say for example, the John Jay report - but we don't have the data to support it. Then again, they said I would find nothing when I began my dissertation; my 1993 article on Catholic institutional response made a number of predictions: today, I can only say I TOLD YOU SO!!!  A little schadenfreude is good for the soul at times.

Two, there are problems with her historical section. However, this is more because of the lack of depth and analyses in her sources that anything else. She is clearly not a historian and focuses on attitudes towards sexuality as the primary lever for the child sexual abuse scandal. It's that little things that bother me - for example, she thinks that Aristotle would have been a better basis on which to structure Roman Catholic theology - however, it was Aquinas who brought Aristotle and his methods into his scholastic structures around sexuality - viz. women are deformed males, get their souls later than male fetuses, all basic tenets of Aristotle's basing "his explanations of natural phenomena on empirical investigations rather than abstract reasoning alone." (p. 74) etc..

FYI: see my dissertation for a short discussion of priest/father/incest secenario in the introduction - I do agree that it works in explaining the impact on victims - I just don't think that the rest of the analysis really works.

Three: Chapter 4, I don't like family systems theory - it tends to lend itself to an "everyone is the victim here" scenarios. I belong to the school that says adults are supposed to be adults and hence, bear greater responsibility for any abuse that occurs within the family structure.  It can work as an explanatory model, but offers little in the long run for societal change.  [Look for the next blog, which will be my take of FST] Her explanation of systems theory and its use in understanding family dynamics is readable. However, when she tries to apply it to the Roman Catholic church, it gets very confusing.

Some of the confusion:
a) Vatican II versus Pope Paul VI - compares this to marital discord & emotional estrangement between parents - so who is mother and who is father - if PP6 is father and V2 is mother, then is V2 removed from the family, distant, allowing PP6 to abuse the laity (the children)?

a2) Her theory depends on accepting that what happened in the 60s & 70s is a new phenomenon. Thus she is implicitly blaming V2 for the problem, even though she mentions that this has been an historical problem  What she is implying is that although there has been sexual abuse within the ranks of the Catholic church from early days, it is much worse now, and that is caused by the dissension in the ranks. But, if her argument is correct, wouldn't "sexual shaming" (& its impact) always have been the case, minimally since the time of Augustine and, then Aquinas? So it would seem to me that the only reason that this is now a major issue is that society is finally willing to take seriously the victims' stories, and thus, we have people willing to come forward. As I and many others can attest, this was a major problem long before V2 was a glint in JP23rd's eye.

b) She blames the general attitude towards women - their powerlessness, lack of integration into the spiritual structures of the church - as a reason why male Catholic child molesters prefer male targets. "It is no wonder that, even among male Catholic child molesters, male victims are the preferred targets for erotic expression." (p. 76) So female Catholic child molesters prefer male victims? How do the female victims of male priests fit into this? I would agree that misogyny is a hallmark of Roman Catholicism, however, as more and more data and information is becoming available about priest perpetrators attitudes towards women is hardly a major indicator of CSA - availability of/access to male children, past abuse, parental trust and adoration of the "father" priest are far greater indicators of victim choice than anything else. [She starts to discuss these in the next chapter - it is my contention that these are probably more important that the FST structure for understanding why priests and nuns offend.]

c) Then there is the case study of the Boston scandal. So the "father" is the institution and the "mother" is the priest? The priests are disillusioned with the Church hierarchy & therefore, just allow their fellow molesting priests to get away with it? What I can't figure out is who the "grandparents" are. She then suggest that the "abused children of the Church finally reached a critical point in their own psycho-spiritual development" (p. 77) and then disclosed. A cursory reading of David France's Our Fathers, for example, would suggest that this is not only simplistic but far from the truth.

Comments on the Final Chapter: There is some good points here, but all I can say is "Good luck with that!" Twice she has  mentioned returning the Church to the people - as the first Apostles (cap. in text). All I can say echoes Richard Sipe's comment: "Welcome to Wittenberg!" (see previous blog). And Wittenberg implies protestantism - & protestants have problems too - hence, my position that there is something fundamentally flawed at the core of Christianity - but that's a story for another day! or read my dissertation!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church

With a new introduction & afterword by the authors
Authors: Frank Bruni and Elinor Burkett
Publication details: New York: Perennial, HarperCollins Books, 2002 (1993)

"My friends, welcome to Wittenberg!" This is the one really new thing that I will take away from this book. It was how Richard Sipe greeted the first meeting of sexual abuse survivors outside of Chicago (p. 224). The book is notable for its realistic look at the scandal. The personal stories are once again, horrifying. The church's responses are as expected.

What is significant for a book from 1993 is its insightful analysis of the problem and realistic assessment of how likely it is that the church will actually face up to what has been happening. The new introduction and afterward were written in 2002, just as the "Boston Church's Tea Party" was beginning to erupt.

As to Wittenberg, I think that few people would have had the insight that Sipe had in 1993, that this particular scandal does have the potential to sever the church. I know because I was battling on the same front academically - and people just didn't (& don't?) want to know.

In 2012, there are more and more calls for major rethinking and (one hopes) restructuring of the Roman Catholic Church. Here is a link to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's plea for a "total re-examination of Catholic faith. The following is a quote from the National Catholic Reporte:

The "major fault" of the church in the scandal, Robinson said, is that it "refuses to look at any teaching, law, practice or even attitude of the church itself as in any way contributing" to the crisis.
"In studying abuse, we must be free to follow the argument wherever it leads rather than impose in advance the limitation that our study must not demand change in any teaching or law," he continued. "We must admit that there might be elements of the 'Catholic culture' that have contributed either to the abuse or to the poor response to abuse.'"

However, people are walking away from the church with their feet & closing their pocketbooks, in North America and around the world. How about the case of Austria, where people are dis-affiliating themselves from the Roman Catholic church, primarily because of its handling of child sexual abuse cases in Austria.There is even the interesting case in Missouri of  a Polish Roman Catholic church that has broken away from its diocese (& Rome, one assumes). Whether it has anything to do with the sexual abuse scandal is not known, but then again, one can only wonder.  Perhaps worth following up on at some point in the future (note to self! :-) )
Maybe things are changing, but ........

We know what the Roman Catholic Church's response was to the Protestant Reformations (Revolution?)  - The Council of Trent, the Jesuits and the Inquisition! So far, it looks as if the church has just replaced the Iron Maiden and the rack with lawyers!!

Monday 9 April 2012

Words to Remember and Why I love Babylon 5

At least once a year, I watch the entire Babylon 5. Usually it is in the summer, but as I began reading all of the more recent books on the child sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic institution, I just felt the need to watch it much earlier than usual. Here's one of the reasons why.

Season 2, Episode 14: "There All The Honor Lies" @ about 31  minutes - added italics

Captain Sheridan: .... I'll never forget that feeling of helplessness. I never thought there could be anything worse than being alone in the dark
Delenn: But there is. Being alone in a crowd. If you're cut off from your people, from your government, you even begin to doubt yourself. I understand it so well that it cuts to my heart.
Captain Sheridan: You said that the Mimbari never lie, but that's not entirely true, is it?
Delenn: You must understand that there's no greater honour among my people than to serve. They  worked for generations to create a legacy, a tradition. In the service of their clan they are ready to sacrifice everything - their individuality, their blood, their life.
Captain Sheridan: Their honour? Oh we've had plenty of that ourselves. Conspiracies of silence because the larger ideals have to be protected. But you can't have larger ideals if the smaller ones get compromised.It's like building a house without a foundation. It can't stand. You know that as well as I do.

Irony of Ironies

Look what came out in 2002 - 'Nuff said!!

Boston's Cardinal: Bernard Law, the Man and His Witness (Religion, Politics, and Society in the New Millennuim) edited by Romanus Cessario and Forward by Mary Ann Glendon

Just to wet your appetite, a few quotes from the Amazon site:

Editorial Reviews


Boston's Cardinal is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the recent influence of the Catholic Church in America or, for that matter, the profound relationship in our time between faith and culture. Anyone who reads this book will reap the benefit of a lesson in Catholic Church history, and also will meet one of its most distinguished prelates. (Anderson, Carl A. )

Bernard Francis Law, one of the most influential churchmen of his generation, has important things to say about the Catholic Church, America, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and world politics at the dawn of a new millennium. Through his own words, and thanks to a fine introductory biographical essay, we meet Boston's Cardinal in a way he's not been met before—and we are enriched by the encounter.... (Weigel, George )

Cardinal Bernard Law is a great leader of the Catholic Church both nationally and internationally. He is a wonderful friend to the Jewish community and as this book makes very clear, he has a profound concern for the needs of every human being..... (Rabbi Samuel Chiel )

Guess I won't be spending money on this one :-)

Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

Authors: Jason Berry and Gerald Renner
Publication Details: New York: The Free Press, 2004
DVD website:
Cast of characters:
The good: Father Thomas Doyle, defender of victims
The bad: Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ
The ugly: the Curia, John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger

This is a book that is story of 2 men and their interactions with the "powers that be" in Roman Catholicism. While clearly, the story is a unified whole, Jason Berry is predominantly responsible for the sections on Father Doyle, while Gerald Renner researched the sections on Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. Both men are investigative journalists.

It gives a biography of both men: Father Doyle who is shunned by the Vatican; Father Maceil who is defended and supported by the Vatican under Pope John Paul II. What it does primarily is show where the priorities of the Curia and Pope sit vis-a-vis the child sexual abuse scandal. Published just after the mess in Boston overseen by Cardinal Bernard Law, it puts one more nail in the coffin of the institutional church.

It is, once again, a story of ideology over the pain and suffering of the individual. It was interesting reading about a Roman Catholic order that I had never heard about before - the Legionairies of Christ. It is another ultra-conservative Roman Catholic group similar to the Opus Dei. Both remind one of the medieval church with its saints and abuse of the self. Despite clear evidence of the founder's propensity to child sexual abuse and drug abuse, Maciel was given a pass. Maciel died in 2008 and was forced to leave "public ministry" before his death by Pope Benedict XVI, who as the head of the Inquisition (see previous blogs for why I still call it that), dismissed/ignored Maciel's victims.

As I was finishing the book, I wondered what Berry, Renner and Doyle thought about the election of Ratzinger to the Papacy. They must have died a little inside.  

The order has now to deal with the truth of Berry and Renner's book. See the following article from the New York Times: "Catholic Order Jolted by Reports That its Founder led a Double Life". It is notable for the apology issued by the managing editor of the National Catholic Register:

 Tom Hoopes, managing editor of The National Catholic Register, which is affiliated with the Legionaries, posted an apology on the Web on Tuesday for having dismissed the sexual abuse accusations, saying, “I’m sorry to the victims, who were victims twice.”

So. You know what is left out of the discourse????

 Children Just Saying ........... The discourse of rape culture, of course, in the academic literature, of course. Just struck me as I was r...