Another Sexual Abuse Cloud Drifting to the Conclave

As if there were not enough scandal and controversy bubbling up to muddy the waters at next month’s conclave – there’s this:

Three priests and former priest report Cardinal Keith O’Brien to Vatican over claims stretching back 33 years

Cardinal Keith O'Brien

The Observer, Saturday 23 February 2013 21.31 GMT

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Catholic clergyman. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Three priests and a former priest in Scotland have reported the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, to the Vatican over allegations of inappropriate behaviour stretching back 30 years.

The four, from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, and demanded O’Brien’s immediate resignation. A spokesman for the cardinal said that the claims were contested.

O’Brien, who is due to retire next month, has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved”. Last year he was named “bigot of the year” by the gay rights charity Stonewall.

One of the complainants, it is understood, alleges that the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him, resulting in a need for long-term psychological counselling.

The four submitted statements containing their claims to the nuncio’s office the week before Pope Benedict’s resignation on 11 February. They fear that, if O’Brien travels to the forthcoming papal conclave to elect a new pope, the church will not fully address their complaints.

“It tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs,” said one of the complainants. “The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit.”

The revelation of the priests’ complaints will be met with consternation in the Vatican. Allegations of sexual abuse by members of the church have dogged the papacy of Benedict XVI, who is to step down as pope at the end of this month. Following the announcement, rumours have swirled in Rome that Benedict’s shock move may be connected to further scandals to come.

- continue reading at  The Observer.

Reports of sexual abuse by priests, and of the associated cover-ups by bishops, have been plentiful in recent years. Most of the attention though, has presented the problem as primarily one of “child abuse”. This ignores the fact that the victims have more frequently been adolescents, often altar boys. This is not because the perpetrators were “homosexuals”, but simply because these were the young people most easily accessible to them. And young people were the victims – because with their repressed sexuality as they emerged from seminary, this was the age group closest in their level of psycho sexual development to their own.

But it was not only adolescents who were the victims. There are also numerous instances of more senior clerics, such as bishops, preying on vulnerable seminarians, junior priests, and women in religious houses. Below are some examples that have become known – others have been hushed up, or hidden under the mask of “resignations”:

  • Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër – removed from office by John Paul II for alleged sexual misconduct involving either homosexuality or pederasty.
  • Archbishop Rembert Weakland – retired  following the revelation that he had used $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to settle a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment.
  • Juan Carlos Maccarone, the Bishop of Santiago del Estero in Argentenia =  forced to resign after images were released of him engaged in sexual activity with another man.
  • Bishop Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira, the Bishop of Minas in Uruguay was forced to resign in July 2009, following a gay sex scandal in which he had faced extortion

There is abundant evidence that compulsory celibacy for priests is at the very least a contributory factor. Richard Sipe puts it clearly (quoted by Michael Bayly at The Wild Reed):

Studies of the priesthood have indicated that 66 percent of priests are psychosexually underdeveloped or maldeveloped. Part of the reason is that clerical culture encourages the idealization of adolescents (for their purity and passion), as well as encouraging dependency and conformity in its priests.

When adults — gay or heterosexual — function on a level that is equal to most adolescents, it’s not surprising that the people they’re sexually attracted to are adolescents. And in general, the adolescents whom priests spent time with were boys — mainly altar boys. No one was suspicious when priests spent time with those boys — even after Mass — because part of the priests’ duty was to mentor boys they thought would make good priests.

In the end, the root of the sex-abuse problem may well be the church’s demand for celibacy without adequately training for it and responsibly supporting it. That’s not to say that many men cannot choose to remain celibate and be happy with that life. But for those who joined the priesthood failing to make such a decision, or because they were confused about their sexuality, celibacy can become too difficult to sustain.

In my own ethnographic study of 1,500 priests from 1960 to 1985, I found that only 50 percent, at any one time, were practicing chastity. Gays do just as well — or poorly, take your pick — as heterosexuals in observance.

The structure, if not the intent, of the Vatican’s seminary investigation — combined with the possible ruling against gay seminarians — is a smoke screen to cover up the fact that too many priests and bishops, gay and straight, are not practicing the chastity they promised and did not protect the children in their care.

The Wild Reed

(quoting from a Richard Sipe article)

We should be grateful that in the build-up to the conclave, many voices are being raised, asking for an end to this arbitrary, unbiblical and dangerous practice. (Cardinal O’Brien, ironically, just this week, became the most prominent of these).

Let us pray that the conclave has the courage to grasp this nettle, and elect a pope who will end the tragedy of compulsory celibacy for priests ordained in the Catholic Church, and under the Western rite.

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3 comments for “Another Sexual Abuse Cloud Drifting to the Conclave

  1. February 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Why does this not surprise me? Another gay homophobe allegedly engaging in gay relationships. How many more will ooze up from the bottom before the next three weeks conclude with another ‘Holy Father’. Makes one proud to be Catholic it does.

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