Child Abuse And The Catholic Church: A Gospel Of Tragedy
(MintPress) – In sworn deposition before the Massachusetts Superior Court, “John Doe 16” tells his story. A parishioner at the St. Patrick’s Church in Stoneham, Mass., he was a shy and withdrawn child with not many friends of his own age. He befriended Father Paul Shanley, who extended an open door if he needed to chat. At age 12, John had surgery to lower his undescended testicles. In light of the embarrassment he felt, he went to Shanley to talk and get some encouragement.
Shanley asked John to pull down his pants to see the outcome of the surgery. Not thinking that there was anything sinister about such a request, John complied. Shanley went on to fondle John’s testicles, in a show to examine them. John denied the father’s request to re-examine his testicles two weeks later.
At around age 15, Shanley took John to the residence of another priest, Rev. John White. While there, Shanley offered to help John “figure out” his sexual identity. Despite John’s panic, the father showed him a pile of pictures of naked men and went on to anally rape and genitally manipulate John.
Unfortunately, John’s story is not a rarity. According to the BishopAccountability.org, 6,115 American Catholic clergymen and clerics have been accused of sexual abuse to a child from 1950-2011. In whole, that is 5.6 percent of the Catholic religious population since 1950 in the United States. Of the accused clergy that was made public, 22 were bishops, 3,303 were priests, 89 were nuns, 215 were brothers or monks, 50 were deacons and 21 were seminarians.
According to annual reports from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the report “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons,” by Karen Terry et al., 16,324 victims alleged abuse toward the Catholic clergy, at a rate of 2.7 victims per priest. The actual number is not known, but the estimates range from the low presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (16,324) to a high of 280,000 — based on the Rev. Andrew Greenley’s estimation applied to USCCB-provided statistics. Fewer than 2 percent of all allegations involved in this scandal were found to be false.
Despite the existence of the Crimen sollicitationis — the 1962 “instruction” of the Holy Office, also known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which codified the procedures for investigating, trying and punishing clerics for using Penance as a tool toward making sexual advances towards penitents — roughly ⅔ of the U.S. Catholic leadership allowed priests guilty of sexual abuse to continue working. In an Associated Press investigation, it was revealed that in 30 cases, the offending priest was transferred or moved abroad. An example of this is the Rev. Santiago Tamayo, who was transferred from Los Angeles to the Philippines. Tamayo molested Rita Milla, starting when she was 16 at a church in Carson, Calif. At age 18, Tamayo introduced her to six other priests, who all abused her. She was impregnated by Tamayo in 1982.
Tamayo suggested that Milla get an abortion, in strict violation to church doctrine. When she refused, he sent her to the Philippines to have her child, Jacqueline. Milla returned to California and successfully sued the diocese for $500,000. Tamayo was sent to the Philippines and ordered by the church to not disclose information about the case. He was also made personally responsible by the church, and he made a deathbed apology in 1999.
Another example is Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, who was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct involving a 14-year-old girl during his tenure at the Crookston, Minn. diocese between 2004 and 2005. Jeyapaul was sent to India prior to the formal filing of charges to work at the diocese in Ootacamund and has said he will not return to the U.S. to face his charges. Since then, his bishop has modified the stance to allow for extradition, if requested.
From 2001-2010, the Vatican has stated that only 600 priests accused of sexual abuse worldwide were laicized — or stripped of pastoral authority and excommunicated from the Church. Half of this number were requests from the priests themselves.
It is believed that this system of suppression and cover-up continues today — despite the media coverage of the scandal.
As reported by the Associated Press, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles must release the names of the church leaders and priests identified in internal documentation detailing the sexual abuse allegations over the decades, as ruled in California Superior Court last Monday. The church argued and a 2011 order agreed that the priests deserve their privacy. The ruling Monday overturned the 2011 order. Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias, who drafted the ruling, remarked, “Don’t they have the right to know what happened in their local church?” before ruling from the bench.
This problem is not limited to the United States. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI issued a pastoral letter issuing a rare apology from the Vatican to the victims of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy in Ireland. The pope wrote to the victims and their families, “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.
“Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings.
“It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.”
In the same letter, the pope tries to explain why this tragedy happened, “Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person.”
The pope added, “Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”
Abuse cases have been filed in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Austria, Germany, the Philippines and Australia, with the litigation cost in the United States exceeding $2 billion. (Italy is also thought to have abuse cases, but a standing treaty with the Vatican bans Italy from arresting or criminally charging Catholic Church officials). Six diocese in the United States were forced into bankruptcy, and the average cost per diocese for this situation averages $300,000 annually.
The ramifications of bad behavior
Katherine Van Wormer is a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa and is the co-author of “Restorative Justice Today.” In conversation with MintPress, Van Wormer states, “The ramifications of the [child abuse] scandal are enormous as the sanctity of the Roman Catholic church is called into question as are the motives of many for entering the priesthood. The results are positive in promoting the healing of grown children from all of the world who were not listened to and even condemned as I found in my research of women who were abused by priests.” Wormer continues to say, ”They were basically told to shut up at the time and quit spreading lies on the father. And now the public is much more aware of the risks to boys of sexual abuse and of the psychological damage that is done. The old boys’ club is breaking down and people are calling for an end to all the secrecy and accountability for the harm that was done.”
Wormer says the results though, are not always good. “The archaic requirement for celibacy for Catholic priests continues to be enforced. This requirement attracts people who are running away from their sexuality and denies normal men of receiving this kind of love. There are many good priests who have made the sacrifice because of their upbringing and faith; the scandal is casting a shadow over them. And in Ireland, the Catholic Church — which was a major source of personal strength for so many — has had its reputation shattered. The worst part of the scandal, of course, was the systematic cover up by the Catholic hierarchy. Few sign up for the priesthood today. A disillusionment has set in and the image of sexual predator looms over the whole priesthood. Generation is divided from generation and the religious faith of many has been destroyed.“
The Catholic Church finds itself in rarified air diplomatically. The Roman Catholic Church’s See, Vatican City, is recognized as an independent nation. As a sovereign state, the Vatican can be sanctioned internationally for the action of its officials (as the Catholic clergy are). As a religious organization, the administration could be punished administratively by its host nation. But, as both a religious organization and a nation, the Vatican is sheltered from direct consequence for this scandal.
As one of the largest religious sects in the world, sanctioning the Vatican would be seen as an attempt to suppress a specific religion and is unlikely to win public support. The Vatican’s slowness in responding and willingness to initially classify this scandal as “an American issue” has brought critical scorn on the 1,700-year-old institution that the church only recently recognized.
However, the indirect consequences of this scandal are numerous and threaten to crush the church. In Italy, the church has lost its property tax exemption. While this is seen as a move to raise funds in light of the shrinking tax base and austerity, such a move would have been unthinkable 30 years ago.
Great Britain and Spain have moved with similar measures to strip the church of special financial consideration. Questions about the Vatican Bank and its past history of shady and — at times — immoral transactions, are questioning the ethical base of the church. In many parts of the world where the Catholic Church is influential, the number of new converts has dropped, a higher rate of defections from the congregation have been reported and fewer people are entering the clergy.
Timothy Lytton, law professor at Albany Law School and author of “Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse,” says the Catholic Church is losing its credibility as a moral voice in America.
“Whereas the Catholic bishops have traditionally been highly respected advocates for a range of moral issues related to economic justice, human rights and peace, in the wake of the scandal, many Americans no longer take much notice when they speak out. I can only imagine that, as the crisis spreads to other countries, the church will suffer a similar diminishment of prestige.”
Lytton continues to say, “The church has been engaged in an internal struggle for three decades about how to address this issue adequately. The first step is that bishops and other high church officials must take responsibility for their failings. Without this, the culture is unlikely to change, and new policies to protect children are likely to be less effective. If the Church fails to repair the damage to its moral standing through real accountability and institutional change, one can only imagine that it will erode support for the church and its mission.”
There is a growing population that feels that traditional schemes toward seeking justice would be ineffectual. While forcing a public reprimand against the church can satisfy the basic appetite for vengeance, such actions are problematic. First, while the entire overlying political structure within the Catholic Church is responsible for allowing this scandal to happen, only 5 percent of the clergy was actually involved. Second, the church is an active religious organization in which its missionary efforts — namely, Catholic Charities — help millions worldwide. In this case, it is thought that restorative justice (RJ) — or, the approach that the needs of the victims and the community takes precedence over the punishing of the offenders — is the best approach.
It is felt that the church should actively seek forgiveness from the victims of the child sex abuse cases and work toward repairing the outstanding damage via financial support, administrative reform to ensure that these abuses cannot happen again and supportive action to the victims and the community in general.
Dr. Howard Fradkin is a psychologist and an expert in sexual abuse and is the author of “JOINING FORCES: Empowering Male Survivors to Survive.” In regards to the child abuse scandal, Fradkin said, “The emotional and spiritual price clergy abuse survivors pay is immensely devastating for many of them; and often they suffer for decades after the abuse. The wounds caused by the betrayal of the acts done to them often impact every aspect of their lives: their self-image, ability to trust others, work and career problems, relationship problems, spiritual disruption, difficulty with processing their emotions, depression, suicidality and anxiety are all prevalent. Since their belief in a God who could protect them was so central to their being prior to the abuse they endured, it is especially damaging in recovery because most clergy abuse survivors are unable to or have great difficulty in calling upon their spiritual beliefs to help them in healing from the trauma.”
Fradkin says justice for clergy abuse survivors can be achieved, but believes that “achieving justice is at least in part the ability for survivors to regain functionality in their own lives. Waiting for the church to take full responsibility and accountability is still for many unfortunately a long time away, although great progress has been made.
“It remains the church’s responsibility to completely follow through with all of the promises made to survivors and to the church and society to rectify the problems they created by refusing to protect the vulnerable children who were being perpetrated. I still see evidence that some members of the church refuse even today to accept that rape is not consensual under any circumstances, and this must change if the church will ever be able to repair the damage they caused,” Fradkin continues to say.
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