Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Red Herring

Do they still not get it? Apparently.
Researchers commissioned by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops to analyze the pattern of clergy sex abuse have concluded that homosexuality, celibacy and an all-male priesthood did not cause the scandal.

The study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York instead said that the problem was largely the result of poor seminary training and insufficient emotional support for men ordained in the 1940s and 1950s, who were not able to withstand the social upheaval they confronted as pastors in the 1960s. Crime and other deviant behavior increased overall in the United States during this period, when the rate of abuse by priests was climbing.

"The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in society generally," the report's authors said. "Factors that were invariant during the time period addressed, such as celibacy, were not responsible for the increase or decline in abuse cases over this time."

Great. I think anyone with an ounce of thought already knew that. Celibacy, or the all-male nature of the priesthood, or homosexuality didn't cause the abuse. Duh.

What many of us would question, though, is whether the dynamics of an institutionalized world of celibate males did not cause the cover up and the absolutely negligent response to it all. Not the abuse itself; that just happens in our fallen world, sadly. But the scandal was really all the institutional self-preservation, and that I do think could be linked more to a celibate institutional world.

Which is to say, I agree with this:
Victims' groups dismissed the report as an attempt to focus blame for the scandal on priests, instead of on bishops who allowed offenders to stay in ministry without warning parents or police. "They want us to fixate on abusive priests, not callous bishops," the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said in a statement.
Only silly people believed that celibacy or the all-male nature of the priesthood or homosexuality could somehow cause child molestation to erupt in men after they're already adults.

The real question that this distracts from is whether entrenched institutional dynamics facilitated or led to all the cover-ups, lack of swift response, feet-dragging, denial, etc. I think people intuitively have an instinct that this is true (just like prisons, by nature, are going to breed all sorts of terrible things among both prisoners and guards).

Another article mentions the report saying, "
the problem grew worse when the church's hierarchy responded by showing more care for the perpetrators than the victims." And yet, don't they see how that is very likely a result of the dynamics of clerical institutional culture?! A culture in which celibate homosociality, power and authority, and the bizarre interpersonal values emphasized by "human formation" in institutionalized seminary living...are structural features.

But they're choosing to blame the 60's and 70's rather than asking the deep questions about structural institutional reform. They're applying palliatives (and even then only fumblingly and after intense popular pressure) in the form of enforcement policies that will hopefully treat the symptoms; a great development, in itself, which will protect children in the future. But it treats only this one issue, not the systematic institutional dysfunction and spiritual sickness of clericalism that led to the negligence in the first place. So while these policies will thankfully help mitigate the most egregious results of this sickness, I can only believe it will continue to fester and manifest itself in a million more petty ways.

So they still don't get what this is about! They still don't get why people are outraged. It's not really because child abuse happened (as outrageous as that is). That happens in our schools, community centers, other churches (and, unfortunately, homes). No, what people were and are so mad about was a pattern of response to it that demonstrated absolutely warped and perverted priorities among the clergy. About a strange and self-justifying clerical culture that enabled the abusers to get away with it for so long.


Peter said...

Spot on. One should add, however, that compulsory celibacy does create an ideal environment for those with something to hide. Hence we get not only the culture of cover-up you talk about, but also the prevalence in clerical circles of self-hating, closeted homosexuals (as often as not distinguished by their shouting the loudest in denouncing of the homosexual "enemy"). The great tragedy of the silly document on admitting gays to seminary is that it will not lead to more heterosexual seminarians (a thing greatly to be desired), just more liars. A homosexual man who has faced the issues honestly and chosen celibacy is much more capable of a serious commitment than the closeted refugee, who can run but in the end cannot hide.

A Sinner said...


Celibacy in itself, for the individual, does not cause dysfunction.

But "mandatory" celibacy across the board as a structural institutional likely to attract the already dysfunctional.

Roman said...

You seem to be forgetting that this phenomena of covering up sexual abuse is not just isolated to the institutional aspect of the Church but extends to other sectors of society as well such as the family.

Rather than castigate the Church for it's clericalism, I think we'd do well to look at what's happening in the Church as a microcosm of what has happened to society at large. Perhaps only then we will actually be able to help victims of abuse not only in the Church, but also in families, schools, and communities at large.

Robert said...

@Roman. I agree that abuse is something that happens in other parts of society. But frankly within the minds of the laity and non-catholics, the Church is held to a higher moral standard. Whenever it merely meets average standards of morality (I vaguely recall reading that the rates of abuse by priests is about the same as abuse by parents), it fails miserably in the minds of the laity and non-catholics. In some strange way, I and many others are more comfortable with abuse happening within my school than within my parish; a large contributor to this feeling is my elementary school makes no claims about being a divine institution founded by God with absolute teaching authority concerning faith and morals on Earth. The Church needs to have a "best practices" mentality concerning the possibility of abuse, since it has more riding on its mission (saving souls) than my elementary school (teaching the 3 R's).

Anonymous said...

Sadly, a lot of conservatives will defend the institution, and there is a dangerous wave of conservatism in the young.

Robert said...

@Anonymous: This is true, but thankfully in the United States and elsewhere, the secular authorities have stepped in. This will at least diminish the rates of abuse, though sadly it might not bring about a situation where structural change will happen. I also think this intervention by the authorities may make the conservative groups more conservative, since they're being prosecuted by the new Caesar. This will be a Caesar that prosecutes only so that children aren't raped.

Fr Paul said...

Go read Rorate Caeli, and you will find that it's all the fault of Vatican II. Presumably, all we need is to return to clericalist authoritarianism, and reinstate the principle of unquestioning obedience to authority figures, and then problems like child abuse will all vanish.

Who Am I said...

In reading a critique of the study from what I presume to be someone not affiliated with The Church, I realized a MAJOR flaw in everyone's reading of the argument.

Drum roll*

The study put forward IS NOT definitive/authoratative. It is MERELY an attempt to POSTULATE a particular position that COULD have allowed for the abuse to occur. If anything, the study should be read more like an ethnography (Criminal anthropology) than it should be as a be all end all study. The truth is, there are TOO many variables in place regarding the sex abuse scandal that it would be foolish for ANYONE to attempt to point a finger any which way regarding who to blame for the abuse. There are various contributing factors regarding the predators and their victim profile.

But THAT study would a) NEVER lead to any particular conclusive data and b) would take a GREAT deal of time, money and effort.

I agree that the abuse scandal was POORLY handled, but who here can provide an authoritative analysis that can't be disputed ?

The latter portion of Fr.Paul's response is in effect PRECISELY a variable regarding "The Times". However, it would have to take ANOTHER study to engage that particular variable. People unfamiliar with ethnographic discourses would not know how to assess and interpret such data.

If anyone is interested, here is the critique I was referring to earlier:

I disagree a GREAT deal with her analysis as she likewise DOESN'T provide parameters for her own analysis and engages in shoddy rhetoric to argue her case (Like failing to mention The DSM-5 etc.). She readily relies on emotion rather than reason in her conclusion.

Likewise, here is another equally conflicting report that contests the study as well:

Lastly straight from the horse's mouth another variable not being considered:

"At what age do you think that sexual relationships are possible?
Saying the age of 18 years is, I think, too inflexible.

Do you think that from the age of 12 years then is fine for sexual relationships with adults?

If it were up to me, they should be.

Will there be in the order of the Salesians more relationships between older people and children?

Just imagine that in the 50s/60s all lived together in 's Heerenberg. We were all away from our family and had only each other. Adults and boys - there was no woman to see - and then lived together and some things bloom."