I put up my earlier post on the Pope’s Christmas Address to the Roman Curia without comment because I had not had time to read it yet, and lo and behold the Commentary Table got stuck into the port and went straight into a discussion of the causes of paedophilia! So rather than continuing that comment thread, which can be read here, I will continue the discussion in a new post.
Tony reacted to this comment from the Pope:
In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos.
Just by way of a note, that comment actually can already be found in “Light of the World”. In fact, the 2010 Christmas includes a lot of ideas that can already be found in the Peter Seewald interview, only this time, arguably, we have the Pope speaking magisterially in his office as pope rather than in personal non-magisterial reflection.
That being said, here is what Tony had to say:
To assert [this]…is utter garbage in the context of the ‘ideological foundations’ of abuse. No child, no parent, no decent human being ‘theorised’ that a priest raping a child was in ‘conformity’ with anything remotely resembly morality.
Arabella and Christine engage Tony by pointing to the case of Fr Paul Shanley and NAMBLA. Tony counters by saying:
There have been such groups since the Romans and the Greeks, Arabella. There are such groups now. The suggestions that they form the ‘ideological foundation’ of clerical abuse at its height is a red herring.
…Clericalism and mandatory celibacy are much more important factors to recognise as ‘ideological foundations’ for abuse, IMO, but they’re too uncomfortable and too close to home for church leaders to face.
Tony may be right in the first case (I don’t know how pervasive that sort of “ideology” was – although if such ideas existed at all, I am sure that perpetrators of abuse would have jumped at the chance to justify their actions to themselves with this stuff) but I think he is wrong in his second assertion that “clericalism and mandatory celibacy are much more important factors” behind clerical abuse of minors.
I say this because, as we know, the incidence of child sexual abuse among celibate Catholic clerics is no different than in the general populace. (And here it is also mandatory that I point out that it should be significantly different – ie. much, much less if not non-existent – given the vocation of the priest.)
I was listening recently to an old pod-cast of a ABC Radio Sunday Night program led by Noel Debien. His guests on the show were
Dr Carolyn Quadrio (a consultant child and family and Forensic Psychiatrist and an Associate Professor in Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales), Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Mons. Stephen Rossetti (an expert on psychological and spiritual wellness issues for Catholic priests who for many years headed the St Luke Institute in Maryland), and Garth Blake SC (a lawyer and the Chair of the Professional Standards Commission of the Anglican church of Australia).
The interesting comment made by Mons. Rossetti was along the lines that his treatment of abuser priests had seen a very high rehabilitation rate of those whom he had treated (nb. not that any of these priests were then allowed back into the mainstream). Dr Quadrio reacted with surprise to this statement, saying that she had a very high failure rate with offenders in the normal populace.
Later in the program, Debien raised the question of Benedict’s Irish Letter and the proposal of devotion to the example of St John Vianney and to the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as an antidote to child abuse. Wasn’t this a case of naivety on the part of the Pope? No, said Mons. Rossetti, because in his experience it was precisely the two-pronged approach of quality psychiatric care and a renewed connection with authentic spirituality that produced the positive results of the treatments he cited earlier. In other words, authentic Catholic spirituality of priestly vocation was one source – but a powerful one – of healing for these priests. I would also read into that – and I think this must be undeniable – that conversely it would not be possible for these priests to commit such offences unless there was, in the first place, not only a psychological sickness but also a severe lack of connection to an authentic priestly spirituality.
Now, put that together with the fact that according to Garth Blake, the Anglican lawyer, the instances of offence were as common among Anglican clergy as among Catholic clergy, and I think Tony’s thesis that “clericalism and mandatory celibacy” are major contributing factors to the instance of abuse by Catholic priests is further called into question. Interestingly, while Dr Quadrio’s statistics shows that in the general populace, the incidence of offence is predominantly committed against girls by family members, in cases of clergy abuse of minors the ratio is directly reversed, with boys being the chief victim group. The commentators put this down to the fact that offenders generally had more access to boys than to girls. But it is especially significant that this was the case in both the Anglican and Catholic experience.
So I guess that while I share Tony’s curiosity about why the Pope would single out some 1970’s ideology that believed sexual acts with minors to be morally acceptable, I don’t share Tony’s rather simplistic reasons for identifying “clericalism and mandatory celibacy” as the chief concerns. I rather wonder whether Tony isn’t making such a claim because he holds particular views about both the status of clergy within the Church and the discipline of celibacy.