Cleaning the Augean / Vatican Stables: Sex Abuse

The first major intervention by Pope Francis to shake up the Vatican bureaucracy was directed at cleaning up the scandal – ridden Vatican Bank. The second was the innovative appointment of an advisory body of eight cardinals, to supervise the entire, continuing process. Now we have another – a commission to advise on the other great scandal of the modern Catholic Church, clerical sex abuse.

As with the earlier commission appointed to deal with the Vatican Bank, it is notable that this commission on abuse will include laypeople as well as clergy, and both men and women.

Vatican announces new papal advisory commission on sex abuse


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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“The Ire of Eire”: Catholic Rebellion Gathers Steam

Vatican attempts to silence its troublesome Irish priests simply draw more support for reform, and encourage unfavourable comparisons with the lethargic response to the scandals of clerical sexual abuse. Vatican authoritarianism simply feeds the tsunami of resistance building up in the Catholic Church.

My primary school teachers were overwhelmingly Irish, sisters of the Dominican and Assumption orders in the earliest years, and then the Christian Brothers, who had left their homes and families to work as missionaries in darkest Africa. In high school, my teachers were primarily South Africans, but also included a few Irish priests. My earliest memory of the Christian Doctrine lessons I received at their hands was of the Roman persecution of the early Christians – and how each death simply strengthened the faith of the others. This message was repeated so often throughout twelve years of schooling that it became, for me, almost an article of faith: the growth of the Church is nourished by the blood of its martyrs.

Today, one might argue that the Roman persecution of Catholic martyrs continues, but with an ironic twist: the persecution is by the central authority of the Church itself, the martyrs are those Irish priests (in company with those of Austria and Belgium, and the American religious women), who are holding fast to the Gospels and central Catholic values. The outcome will be the same: the more that the Vatican attempts to muzzle those troublesome Irish priests, the stronger will grow the Irish resistance. As in Austria, where the papal Holy Thursday warnings against the dissident Priests’ Initiative left the movement unfazed, recent Vatican instructions to Irish priests to cease publishing their opinions has simply fuelled the rebellion. After the news of the attempted silencing, registrations boomed for a planned Irish assembly of religious and laypeople.

 Ireland assembly of religious and laypeople calls for open church, re-evaluation

An assembly of the entire church in Ireland took one step closer Monday with an overflow meeting that saw more than 1,000 priests, religious and laypeople gather to discuss the future of the church.

Organizers say they expected about 200 participants to attend the event, which the Association of Catholic Priests sponsored. However, Dublin’s Regency Hotel was packed to capacity, with many at the event forced to stand.

Speaker after speaker pleaded for a more open church centered around a spirit of dialogue. Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who was recently forbidden to write by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, maintained a discreet presence and was greeted by many well-wishers.

The priests association now represents about 25 percent of Irish priests in active ministry and has called for a re-evaluation of the church’s teaching on sexuality and a “redesigning” of ministry “to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.” The group also wants local involvement in the appointment of bishops.

via  National Catholic Reporter.

Australian Police Probe Suicides of Church’s Sexual Abuse Victims

One of my earliest memories from primary school religion lessons is that suicide is a grievous sin, one of the worst of all. If that is so, how serious is it to be responsible for another person’s suicide? And how serious is it if that person is a representative of the Catholic Church, or indirectly, the whole impersonal structure of the Church itself?

- Queering the Church

I put this question almost two years ago, in a reflection on one of the consequences of the sexual abuse crisis in the global Catholic Church. In Australia, police and government ministers have been asking similar questions, not about sin, but about criminal culpability. Victoria police are preparing a report for the state coroner’s office, in preparation for a possible public enquiry.

CONFIDENTIAL police reports have detailed the suicides of at least 40 people sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Victoria, and have urged a new inquiry into these and many other deaths suspected to be linked to abuse in the church.

In a damning assessment of the church’s handling of abuse issues, the reports say it appears the church has known about a shockingly high rate of suicides and premature deaths but has “chosen to remain silent.”

Written by Detective Sergeant Kevin Carson, the reports state that while conducting lengthy inquiries into paedophile clergy, investigators have discovered “an inordinate number of suicides which appear to be a consequence of sexual offending.

Rob Walsh, whose cousin Martin, and brothers Noel and Damien committed suicide after being abused. Photo: Paul Rovere

“The number of people contacting this office to report members of their family, people they know, people they went to school with, who have taken their lives is constant. It would appear that an investigation would uncover many more deaths as a consequence of clergy sexual abuse,” one of the reports states.

Sydney Morning Herald.

Deputy Commissioner Ashton said an earlier report sent to their coroner liaison office was being re-written with more details.

“They are currently not with the coroner because we wanted to do some more work to flesh out the detail in the report. At the moment it’s a series of listed names.”

He said the initial report recommended the coroner examine “the broader nature of those suicides and their relevance in relation to the Catholic church.”

“We’re not yet saying that we do need a coronial inquiry,” he said.

“But if we find there are systemic links and deaths, no matter where they occurred, or there are broader issues that need to be fixed in relation to ensuring that further deaths don’t occur, then it’s our responsibility to make sure the coroner is aware of those facts.”

Deputy Commissioner Ashton said the issue was widespread and said the church needed to pass information about abuse directly to police.

“We believe there is also an onus on the church when they see matters to let us know about them rather than wait for victims to come directly to us.”

Read more: The Age

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Sex abuse, Poland: National Catholic Reporter

I’ve asked the question before, and now repeat: if suicide is regarded in the Catholic Church as amongst the gravest of sins ….. then how do we judge those who drive a young person to suicide?

Polish church faces demands to confront sex abuse 

WARSAW, POLAND — When Bartek Obloj, a 13-year-old altar boy, hanged himself in his home village of Hludno just before Christmas 2007, he left a letter to his mother complaining of being molested by his parish rector. Police were called and his shocked parents blamed the priest for their son’s death.

A month later, Poland’s Catholic Tygodnik Powszechny weekly reported that Fr. Stanislaw Kaszowski had been moved to a parish 20 miles away after personally saying the boy’s funeral Mass. He’d denied the accusations, the paper added, and defiantly failed to appear at a court hearing.

Hludno’s mayor, Stanislaw Gladysz, testified that locals had long complained of the priest’s “sadistic behavior” and “sexual exploits,” adding that for a decade he’d asked the local ordinary, Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl, to move the priest. However, Michalik, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, had given Kaszowski his full confidence, the mayor said, and refused to discuss the claims.

When Poland’s Catholic Wiez monthly published a special issue on clerical sex abuse this summer, it was the first time a Catholic publication had dared tackle the subject. “The harm caused by sexual molestation of children is unquestionable — but the evil is much greater when pedophilia occurs in the community of faith, and when, in a falsely conceived defense of the church, the authorities hide the facts, conceal the perpetrators and ignore the suffering victims,” the Warsaw-based journal said in its editorial.

-full report at National Catholic Reporter.

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Catholic Sexual Abuse, UK: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

In the UK, Catholic bishops for years have been congratulating themselves  on their strong policies to deal with problems of sexual abuse by clergy, policies which they believed were shielding the country from the worst excesses that have plagued the US, Ireland and other countries. That belief has been shattered this week, with reports that the Vatican has launched an investigation into allegations of abuse at Ealing Abbey, and the news that the church official who was supposed to be heading the church’s own internal investigation, has himself been convicted on charges of possessing thousands of images of child pornography.

The fundamental problem with the church’s attempts at self-regulation have been it’s attempts to place greater importance on canon law than on secular law, and the tendency of the regulators, guided by the regulations prepared by the CDF, to operate as a clerical old boys’ club, placing great emphasis on the rights of the accused to procedural fairness and sympathy, but little attention to the rights of the victims. This English case shows, as the examples of Ireland, Belgium, Philadelphia and Kansas City have all done before it, that the only really satisfactory investigations are conducted by outside authorities.

Church inquiry after official convicted of paedophilia

The Catholic Church is to launch a review of child protection across the South West of England after a religious official investigating child sex abuse allegations was convicted of paedophilia.

Christopher Jarvis, a former social worker, is due to be sentenced later today for the possession of 4,000 indecent images of children.

Jarvis, 49, worked as the child safeguarding officer for the Diocese of Plymouth, where he had been responsible for child protection matters at 120 churches and community groups for nine years.

Before his arrest, he was leading an investigation into allegations of historic sexual abuse at Buckfast Abbey in Devon.

The review has been ordered by the Rt Rev Christopher Budd, the Bishop of Plymouth, after concerns were raised over the church’s handling of clerical sex abuse allegations.

-full report at The Telegraph

(based on the orginial story at the Times, behind a paywall)

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“Clerical abusers shielded by ‘cabal’” -Dr Diarmuid Martin

The Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has admitted that “a cabal” protecting clerical sex abusers may be operating at the highest levels in the Catholic Church.

Dr Martin said: “There may be a cabal in Cloyne. They may have friends in other parts of the Irish Church. They may have friends in Irish society. There may be friends in the Vatican.”

Asked yesterday who was preventing the protection of children, he said: “The numbers that are involved in this are few. The damage that these people cause is horrendous. It’s for all of us to see where they are, but in the long term I have to take the responsibility that in Dublin there are not cabals who reject our child protection laws.


(Columbian) Church ordered to pay $238,000 to child abuse victims

A Colombian court orders the Catholic Church to pay $238,000 as compensation to the families of two victims of a pedophile priest, newspaper El Tiempo reported Tuesday.

According to El Tiempo, the high court of Ibague in the central department of Tolima ruled that the diocese of Libano-Honda in Ibague must pay two families whose children were raped by a priest.

This is the first time the Colombian Catholic Church has been held financially liable for sexual abuse committed by its priest.

- El Tiempo 

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The Austrian “Call to Disobedience”: Resistance to the “Banality of Evil” in the Catholic Church.

A few weeks ago, the news in the UK was dominated for a while by the extraordinary, and rapid decline in the might of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper empire. This has reached a climax of sorts with dramatic, full page advertisement apologies over two days in every national newspaper, declaring to the nation, “We Are Sorry”. At about the same time, there were revelations from the Irish government that the Irish church, egged on by the Vatican, persisted in its cover-ups of sexual abuse and non-cooperation with secular authorities, even after it claimed to have cleaned up its act and cracked down on abusers.  Earlier in the week, there had been news of the remarkable “Call to disobedience” from several hundred Austrian priests, which Bart wrote about yesterday.

There are some remarkable parallels between the meltdowns at the News of the World and the Irish Catholic Church, which provide an important prism through which to view the  Austrian call to disobedience – not least, the profuse (but not always convincing) declarations that -


Catholics troubled by abuse handling

Catholics troubled by abuse handling.

Catholics everywhere would be troubled by the church’s handling of a serial pedophile within their ranks, says a victim of Christian Brother Robert Charles Best.

The victim, speaking outside the Victorian County Court where Best was jailed for more than 14 years on Monday, called for a full inquiry into sex abuse in the Catholic church.

“We really need to look into the reporting mechanisms in the Catholic church related to sex offending,” the victim said after Best’s sentencing on Monday.

via Ninenews (Australia)

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