The Roots of Scandal

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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108 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    I don’t know that introversion, bookishness and a culture of reluctance to discuss sex contributes to child abuse. Such a trait would be found in any geek raised in a conservative culture that is undergoining massive changes. Without a comparison with other cultures, I don’t see how such conclusioins aren’t anything but speculation.Report

  2. There are a lot of assumptions and ways of speaking about this (some probably witting, some probably unwitting) which I urge you to reconsider or about which I urge you to clarify what you mean.  I  do admit I’m far from an expert on the Catholic Church, on pederasty, or on the Church scandals:

    1. The assumption that “introversion” is a marker of someone more likely than others to engage in sexual abuse.  I’m not so sure that introversion or social awkwardness is a reliable indicator, or something highly correlated with, abusive behavior.  (Maybe there is a correlation, to be sure, but I think such a correlation needs to be documented and approached with some skepticism.)
    2. The assumption that the seminaries in the 1960s were not sites of discussion about sex or about helping helping people deal with sexual urges.  It might be a true assumption, but I don’t know that it is and the claim is bandied about with some frequency.  Maybe someone here knows more about “what actually went on” in the seminaries.
    3. There is something unstated here about “homosexuality” and proclivity to abuse.  I know–or t least believe–you’re not saying being gay makes one more likely to be abusive, but I do think one might conclude you intend that by the remark, “What remains unclear is whether the abuse of boys specifically were crimes of opportunity or were these gay men who were sexually adolescent?”

    Finally, I’ll nudge you a bit on this claim, which seems to be the point of your blog post:  “It seems clear that cause of the sex abuse scandal must lie with the seminary system and the culture it created.”  Making this point partially relies upon whether adults similarly situated in other faith traditions (or perhaps non-faith traditions) might represent a population that is comparably disposed to abusive behavior.  In other words, are/were priests statistically more likely than other adults in positions of trust to abuse that trust?  Even if the answer is no (and I suspect the answer is no although I don’t have the data to back it up), that does not excuse the culture created by the seminary system or the confidence and power placed into the priesthood, but it does focus the scandal more on the cover-up and less on the culture.

    I have for a long time believed that the big story was that the Church was so hierarchically organized as to make a failure to address the abuse problems more grave than, say, the American Baptists Association’s refusal or failure to address similar problems, because the ABA, as I understand it is more a loose confederation of local churches and not comparable to the Catholic hierarchy.  (I mean no offense against Baptists, and I don’t know if there is or isn’t a scandal with the ABA.  I’m just raising it as a hypothetical.)


    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      Pierre/ Murali,

      The linkage between shy, introverted, socially-awkward kids is theoretical, however, those kids would have likely been less-equipped to deal with the emotions and cultural pressures they faced at that time than, let’s say a popular kid with a healthy dating life who felt a calling towards the priesthood. I think it’s a reasonable linkage. There’s also a possibility that some of those people were socially awkward and introverted because they were closeted homosexuals at a time when almost no one was out. This adds an additiional dynamic.

      As for the seminaries not being open about sexuality I believe that every article I link to makes a similar claim.

      On the homosexual linkage, this is the logic (from the Boston Globe piece):

      “Scholars say that somewhere between 1 and 10 percent of the general population is gay, but that in the priesthood it may be as high as 50 percent.

      “For a normal heterosexual man to be attracted to a 16- or 17-year-old girl might be a very stupid and dangerous thing in lots of ways, but most of us would not look at it and say, this person should be locked up for the rest of his life,” Jenkins said. “For gay men, maybe there is going to be an attraction to 16- or 17-year-old boys. Is it stupid? Yes. Is it immoral? Yes. But it’s in a very different category from pedophilia.”

      Another article I read with the Los Angeles Times (can’t locate at the moment) suggests that the priests’ sexuality was stunted when they were adolescents and entered the priesthood. When they left the seminaries they identified sexually with other adolescents even though they had aged.Report

      • I’m not entirely distrustful of the idea that the priesthood might self-select for people less likely to be mature or responsible about sexuality, but I do think it’s at least as intuitive to claim that the outgoing extrovert who everyone likes can also be an abuser because he or she wins people’s confidence so easily.

        It’s possible that every one articles you link to make the claim about seminary cultures–and, again, that claim might be true–I’m just think the truth is taken too easily for granted in a “after all, these are Catholic seminaries from the 1960s we’re talking about” way.  Of course, if I actually read the articles you linked to, then maybe I’d be on firmer ground in critiquing them.  I know no more, and I probably know less, than you do.


        • wardsmith in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Pierre, given that one of the articles linked (in the Boston Globe) was quoting a priest, it is likely that he knew that seminaries didn’t discuss sex from personal experience. This actually became an issue later on when priests in the 70’s were suddenly thrust into the role of marriage counselors and given the proclivity of sexual problems in marriages, they were forced to spend time in school to learn what they hadn’t learned before. This was discussed in multiple Catholic newspapers of the time, but alas was pre-internet so no links. 🙁

          As for homosexuality and pederasty, it seems the gay community is still working hard to distance themselves from NAMBLA and their ilk.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      “The assumption that “introversion” is a marker of someone more likely than others to engage in sexual abuse…”

      is not the assumption that this essay makes.

      The assumption that the essay makes is that someone who doesn’t properly understand their sexuality is more likely than others to engage in sexual abuse.  And, further, that children who were shy and introverted were more likely to be encouraged to join the priesthood–which, at the time, was extremely reluctant to discuss anything involving sexuality, thus tending to produce a group of men who didn’t properly understand their sexuality.Report

  3. Stillwater says:

    “It seems clear that cause of the sex abuse scandal must lie with the seminary system and the culture it created.”

    I like this take on it, but I’m not sure how far you can extend it. It’s also at odds with some of the other stuff you say in the post – that external culture and individual personality are also contributing factors. There are lots of studies (well, I don’t know exactly how many) that show a correlation between the experience of prolonged stressors giving rise to aberrant behavior. I think that’s probably how I’d understand the meaning of the quoted claim. Personally, I think it’s highly unnatural, and therefore highly stress inducing, to take adult males (and females too!) and expect them to refrain from engaging in sexual activity as well as other, more normal ‘run-o-the-mill’ type human relationships and experiences. And of course, part of the premise here – at least one suggested in the first quoted link – is that this type of behavior is somehow new, having been caused by changes in societal mores in the 60s and 70s. Is there any evidence for the idea that priests haven’t been engaging in pedophelia prior to that?


    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

      It seems that the seminary experience left them unprepared for the culture they were thrown into. Then they were given lots of power and the abuse became easier to commit. It’s important o also remember that ‘abuse’ also means sexual relationships with adult women. It was just the child abuse that has become so well-publicized.Report

    • North in reply to Stillwater says:

      Ireland Stillwater, the revelations of long running abuses (of children of both sexes) by the clergy in Ireland have turned the country from a staunch Catholic state to a cynical a-religious one almost overnight.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

        Ireland could use a little separation of Church and State.Report

      • Simon K in reply to North says:

        It was already headed that way – attitudes towards divorce and contraception had changed dramatically before the scandal broke and the church had mostly stopped interfering in politics too. The sex abuse scandal just broke final rhetorical connection between the Irish state and the church.Report

  4. Nob Akimoto says:

    I think the social power angle is a very powerful one. It seems to me whenever there’s a power disparity and a tendency for society around them to accept the authority without question, these sorts of abuses are more likely to occur.Report

  5. Taylor says:

    Is there any reason not to believe the RCC’s culture of child rape goes back centuries? It’s only in the past few decades that child abuse has become recognizable as a problem.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Taylor says:


      I wondered this myself but it’s interesting how few cases have come about from beyond a certain timeframe. It could just be less willingness on the part of older Catholics to talk about it.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Part of it is probably the lack of willingness of older Catholics to talk about it. Another might simply be that most of the Catholics from beyond a certain period are dead, and dead folks tell no tales. I wonder if we had the ability to check through old records for say parish reassignments from internal church records we might see more evidence of this sort of abuse.Report

      • Taylor in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Isn’t this theory more plausible than the search for some mysterious x-factor? A certain percentage of men will rape children: authority, insulation from accountability, and sexual deprivation are enough of a “perfect storm.”
        Perhaps people recoil from the simplest solution because two millennia of child rape is too horrible to contemplate?Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Taylor says:


          I don’t follow. Are you saying the child abuse is just the same statistics we would see outside the priesthood?Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            He’s saying that Catholic priests have always and forever been rampant pederasts but nobody ever said anything to anyone about it until 1994.Report

          • Taylor in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            No. Child rape is above all a crime of opportunity. The above factors make the RCC a rape prone ecology. In hindsight, it would be surprising if an institution with the qualities of the RCC weren’t a hotbed of pedophilia.Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Taylor says:

              I think you’re reaching a bit, there.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                “Hotbed of pedophilia” might be a reach.  But the idea that pedophilia has been an issue long before the current scandal erupted, for many of the reasons Taylor points out, is one worth exploring.  Again, weren’t their accusations of such offense in Germany (I believe they were attempting to tie them to the Pope’s time there)?

                Generally speaking, I am skeptical when groups propose that they are batting 1.000 when dealing with internal corruption.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                Generally speaking, I am skeptical when groups propose that they are batting 1.000 when dealing with internal corruption.

                Generally, I am skeptical about any organization’s claims about internal audit.  Unless someone says with a straight face, “Hey, we’re pretty terrible at it.”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Heh.  Well put.  I hate the specious reasoning that comes into play.

                “How do you know there aren’t any others?”

                “We caught them all.”

                “How do you know you caught them all?”

                “Because there aren’t any more to catch.”Report

              • Taylor in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                My point isn’t that all priest are rapists, but rather the institution had numerous factors that made it more likely.
                This is in fact the simplest solution to the dilemma raised in the OP.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Taylor says:

                Unfortunately, we have nowhere near enough data to know anything with reasonable certainty… a glaringly horrible state of affairs for which – to be absolutely clear – I place the blame entirely and utterly damningly at the feet of the Church.  Their inability to perform their penance is the major reason my butt isn’t in a pew any longer.

                We cannot assess what, if any, institutional factors may be involved here, because we don’t even know which orders – if any – were more likely to have child predators instilled in their ranks.  The educational, vocational, and practical life training mechanisms vary by the orders.  A Jesuit is not a Franciscan who is not a Dominican.  If the vast preponderance of child predators is one or two orders who share some community aspects and very few are in others who don’t share that aspect, that would be useful goddamn data.  If no Barnabites are child predators, that may very well tell us something.

                Then again, it may tell us nothing.  If the population of aberrant actors is spread throughout the priesthood, this calls a lot of graver questions out into the mix.

                Then again, we know little about possible cases of clerical abuse of children in other organized religions.  It happens, of course, but it is likewise generally not publicized until the present day, either.  I don’t know that we can draw any reasonable conclusions about monasticism without examining other monastic orders in other religions, at the very least as a control.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I think it is worth pointing out that, for many of us, those most outrageous aspect of the scandal was the immense cover up.  I don’t know if it can be measured, but I’d be curious to see what impact this had on the rates of pedophilia, either in terms of the number of guilty priests or the frequency of any given priest’s abuses.  When the leaders do what they can to sweep it under the rug and continue to put known abusers into situations where they can easily abuse, this sends a tacit endorsement of the act, which I have to assume either encourages it (at worst) or fails to discourage it (at best).

                At least regular pedophiles have to sneak around and hide what they do.  Those in the church had a certain level of protection that likely made them only more brazen.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                The cover-up at the time doesn’t surprise me due to a number of organizational factors.

                If I get a report that Bob the Chaplain is maybe doing something untoward, I first have to suss out the likelihood that I think this report is legitimate.  I then have to take an action, which probably requires me to deal with a higher-up.  If I transfer Bob, I probably don’t know where Bob goes or what happens to him when he gets there.

                Since the information about Bob’s accusation probably stays between me and my single higher-up, there’s no guarantee that if Bob winds up in any other diocese that reports to a *different* higher-up that there’s any way to link patterns of abuse together.  Quite simply, nobody talks to enough other people to actually track any of this stuff.

                In and of itself, this isn’t evidence of nefariousness*.  Organizations that self-police make this sort of fundamental audit error *all the time*.  It’s one of the hallmarks of bad audit.

                However!  Once the lid comes off, and it becomes glaringly evident that you have several egregious institutional barriers to properly auditing yourself, the only really responsible course of action is to FIX IT.  This requires getting an outside party involved, and having them correlate and collect and research and gather every bit of lost data that your institutional structure has, unintentionally or no, prevented from being linked.  And then linking them.  And then passing judgement on yourself, and doing what is necessary to prevent this from happening again.

                An apology is not enough, even if it is heartfelt.  Assurances that you’re doing things – even if you are doing things! – is not enough.

                There has been no credible inquisition.

                * there is, however, plenty of anecdotal evidence that there were people in high enough positions in the Church that they may have been exposed to the pattern enough that they should have recognized it.  At this point it becomes both a problem of institutional weakness to audit and actual malfeasance by individuals as well.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                “There has been no credible inquisition.”

                Well, we saw how things worked out the last time the Catholic’s held an inquisition…Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                I submit that it’s their karmic duty to submit to one, at this point.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I don’t follow. Are you saying the child abuse is just the same statistics we would see outside the priesthood?

            Here’s how I would unpack it. Given the authoritarian structure of the church, the power differential between Priests and the laity (I almost spelled that lay-ity!), and the suppression of normal human sexual activity, the likelihood of deviant sexual behavior exhibited amongst priests should be statistically higher than in an institutional structure without those features (on the assumption that they’re contributing factors).Report

    • James K in reply to Taylor says:

      The best argument I’ve heard about how long this could have been going on for is that if it had been orevalent during the Wars of Religion then the Protestants would have made a big deal about it, so it’s probably more recent than that.

      Mind you, that still leaves a long time period.Report

  6. Stillwater says:

    Also, this

    The lead researcher said no one factor was responsible for the actions of the priests. Both celibacy and homosexuality were ruled out as causes. Instead, researchers found that priests were influenced by societal changes during the 1960s and 1970s, what they called an increase in “deviant behavior.”

    sounds suspiciously like apologetics. I mean, what the claim really amounts to is that nothing internal to the priesthood or the Church gave rise to the pedophilia epidemic. Rather, it was the result of changes in broader society, and thus, due to factors external to the Church and beyond it’s control.


  7. Burt Likko says:

    If your conclusion is right, that suggests that a significant step towards a solution would be more open seminaries and cultures more accepting and enlightened about how sexuality manifests itself in young men. But the whole point of a seminary is to impose a degree of isolation on the seminarians, a remove from the day-to-day live of secular culture so as to inculcate the temporal and spiritual (whatever that means) values and learning of the Church — initiation, or phrased somewhat more cynically, indoctrination. The remove from secular society, to my understanding, is necessarily a critical part of that process. And the RCC remains powerfully and seemingly indelibly opposed to tolerating the kind of expressions of sexuality engaged in by young men which larger secular Western culture has largely come to accept.

    So if something about the isolation, initiation, and indoctrination process of seminary cultivates the seeds of child abuse, then that means that this is a problem the Church will necessarily never be able to extricate itself from addressing. That does not mean it cannot find an effective way to cope with the problem it cultivates short of discontinuing the recruitment and training of new priests; it means that it must meaningfully search for and implement such procedures. I’ve no idea what those procedures might be but this isn’t my problem to solve.

    I think the point raised towards the end of your gloss on the report is a bit more critical: in secular culture, there was an assumption that when a man put on the collar, he somehow became asexual and therefore morally trustworthy. The scandals of the past decade (more, really) have shattered that assumption and priests no longer stand atop the pedestals they once did.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “So if something about the isolation, initiation, and indoctrination process of seminary cultivates the seeds of child abuse, then that means that this is a problem the Church will necessarily never be able to extricate itself from addressing.”

      I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly with me.  If you can’t make a priest without making a few pedophiles along the way… well, there is something deeply, deeply problematic about that institution.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I have to wonder how much difference it would make in sending them to seminary a few years later.
      That might reduce the pool of applicants to make it an unacceptable solution.
      But I think they would be better able to handle it with a few years on them.Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    My friend theorized that people prone to sexual deviance might have sought out the priesthood as a remedy.  “I have these really uncomfortable urges.  Maybe if I just cut myself off from sex and relationships alltogether, they’ll go away.”  Unfortunately, they did not go away.

    It’s an interesting theory, but one hard to prove or disprove.

    I will say that I’m uncomfortable with even tacit linkage between pedarasty/pedophilia and homosexuality.  Most of the research I’ve seen shown that homosexuality and same-sex pedophilia are unrelated.  Given that the priests had acces to an almost exclusively male population of children at their behest, is it any wonder that almost all of their victims were male?Report

  9. greginak says:

    Blaming the cultural changes and stresors of the 60’s and 70’s seems a bit weak to me, but i don’t have much of any experience with Catholicism. However i did wonder about another time of immense pressure and stress: World War 2. Most of the countries in Europe that were occupied and were fought over for years had substantial Catholic minorities or are Catholic majority countries. Were there effects on Catholicism from having Catholics participate in genocide and aggressive war? Did that lead to priests abusing kids or doing other terrible things? Certainly the stress of WW 2 and 60’s/70’s was very different but why would one massive stressor cause abuse while another didn’t?Report

  10. Kyle Cupp says:

    I remember hearing about this study when it came out, but I don’t offhand recall the overall response to it.  If memory serves, the John Jay report was commissioned by the Catholic Church, which I believe raised some red flags.  I seem to recall criticisms that the report took a “blame the deviant 60s” approach to the problem.  Not sure if this was an accurate assessment.Report

    • Chris in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      The biggest problem with that conclusion is that there’s no data. It’s all a correlation: we started seeing a phenomenon around this time, therefore this particular aspect of the culture at that time must have been a (the?) cause.

      A better study would look at the actual psychology of the situtation and work backwards to that time and try to figure out what might have caused it. If I remember correctly, this study did no such thing.Report

  11. BlaiseP says:

    Sexuality has always been a problem within the Christian church, going back to the time of St. Paul.  I Corinthians talks about the core issue:  the sorting-out of priorities between a family and a congregation.

    Even married pastors have problems: everyone in a position of authority will have some enemies to spread rumours about him.   Guilty or not, it’s a question of perception.   If the Catholic church covered up the sins of its priests, it had done so for many years.   Wisely or not, ethically or not, they knew what would come of revealing this sort of thing:  the general besmirching of the Church’s overall reputation for the sins of the few.   We who sit outside in judgement of the Catholic Church’s unethical behaviour are well within our rights to damn them for their hushing-up of these crimes.   The Hausa say “that which is a perfect secret on the first night will become perfectly obvious in nine months.”   Literally, it’s ten lunar months in Hausa, but they speak of a child conceived outside of marriage.   The Catholic Church’s sins could not be hid forever.   They hid those sins, as we all hide our own sins, from the fear which silences our consciences.   Genesis 2:

    And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

    That’s when we start hiding.   When we’re naked.

    When the press started going after Billy Graham, they published a picture of him walking past a table full of collection plates.   In response, he gathered together a council of advisers, including Arthur Andersen the accounting firm, who set out some guidelines.   Put yourself on a salary.  Empanel a board of directors.   Do not close the door of a room with a woman inside it.   Do not go into a town or city without an invitation from local churches.   Form up a corporation for each crusade, publish the results to the news services, close the corporation.

    The press of the 1950s had it in for Billy Graham.   You see, Rev. Graham had black people on stage with him and that was not how a North Carolina preacher was supposed to behave.   Graham fended off his critics.    He outlasted them, he was proactive, knowing they were gunning for him.

    The Catholics, well, I can’t speak for them.   I can only speak for the hypocrisy and the sexual sins which went on in the churches I knew.   My old man had a problem with women.   There were consequences.  Lost jobs, moves, I went through six different high schools.   We didn’t talk about that elephant in the room as a family.   It happened more than once.   My old man eventually laid off his womanising ways, but not before many people got hurt.  My mother got hurt.  My siblings got hurt.   I got hurt.  So you might say I have some insight into why the Catholic Church tried to hide those dreadful episodes.   They hoped they were just one-off incidents.   They weren’t.   But like my mother, we all went on hoping he would change.   Call us a bunch of self-deluded hypocrites.   Some wounds don’t heal.   All you can do is put up some defensive structures against further wounding:  one such weapon is sublimation, self-delusion, irrational hope.Report

  12. Jason Kuznicki says:

    In my dissertation research I routinely encountered accusations of priestly child molestation (both male and female) from eighteenth-century France.  I have no idea of the relative prevalence, but it’s certainly not something that started with those dirty hippies.  I suspect Kazzy at 12:37 is correct:

    People prone to sexual deviance might have sought out the priesthood as a remedy.  “I have these really uncomfortable urges.  Maybe if I just cut myself off from sex and relationships alltogether, they’ll go away.”  Unfortunately, they did not go away.

    The priesthood would become a magnet not just for the devout (which it certainly is) but also for the deviant.  And these two categories aren’t even mutually exclusive.

    “Deviant” here might include gay people and pedophiles of any orientation.  And the Church could easily have acted as an attractor to all of them for centuries.  The new thing to look for in recent decades is an increase in opportunity, with children left alone more often, perhaps.Report

    • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Well heck, for a devout catholic who was also gay the church would always be a no brainer. Outside the clergy a man uninterested in women would be viewed with suspiscion at best and be treated as a pariah at worst. Inside the clergy a man uninterested in women would be a pillar of the community.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I will say that I can’t take credit for that theory as a friend had initially proposed it.  We were in undergrad at a major Catholic institution in Boston when the scandal broke so it was a regular topic of conversation.Report

    • It might simply be that norms allow people to speak out against priests and be heard. I’d imagine the last time that was even a possibility was when the Jacobins were sacking the church in France, and that only lasted a while until the people got sufficiently defensive over their cultural institution.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      The Church could be an attractor of gays and pedophiles, but it could also have been an attractor of anyone who was uncomfortable with simply having sexual urges, or acting on them, no matter what type of urges they were. Lust = sin and all that.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Gilles de Rais?Report

  13. Matty says:

    Did I read somewhere that most victims of priestly abuse were actually teenage girls?

    Not that this would make that much difference to your argument but it would raise awkward questions about why the focus of discussion is on the minority of cases where boys were involved.Report

  14. James K says:

    It seems to me there is an incentive-based argument here:

    Growing up in the Church during the 70s and 80s I saw firsthand just how much power a parish priest had. They were kings of their small communities and if they were outgoing they achieved near-celebrity status.

    So being a priest gave you a lot of power over others.  Add that to the fact the church apparently had little interest in holding priests accoutnable for their behaviour (or permitting temporal authorities to hold them to account), and you create a prefect environment for really awful things to happen.  Acton warned about absolute power, hell he was talkign about the Catholic Church when he first said it.

    On a similar vein, I can’t discuss this topic without linking to  (very NSFW) song by Tim Minchin on the subject.Report

  15. conkal2 says:


    Report: Protestant Church Insurers Handle 260 Sex Abuse Cases a Year.

    I know many Catholic bigots will hate to read this.

    Read Insurance journal.comReport

    • Chris in reply to conkal2 says:

      Conk, if you understand why people are angry with the Catholic Church, then you understand that the abuse isn’t really it. It’s the coverup. If Protestants are covering it up, and sending preachers whom they know to be pedophiles to new churches to abuse another group of children, then people will be as pissed at Protestants.Report

      • conkal2 in reply to Chris says:

        What, child abuse isn’t it??? Cover-ups are everywhere. Child abuse is everywhere. I don’t approve what the Church has done but you should not accept the high numbers we are seeing in the protestant church or their cover-ups!Report

        • Chris in reply to conkal2 says:

          Show me evidence of widespread coverups that led to more children being abused in Protestant churches, and I’ll be just as outraged, I promise.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

            It happens with startling frequency in the Protestant community.   It’s been a problem for as long as I’ve been alive.  Granted, the Protestants act on it when they detect it, but not always.   There are cover-ups.   It’s awfully hard to sort out the rumours from the actual molestations, but there’s no shortage of it.   And it goes back a long ways, and it’s not just male authority figures.   A teacher I knew who taught at a Christian school got involved with one of her male students, was fired, she left her husband and took up with this kid.

            I grew up in that nasty fish tank as both a missionary’s child and a pastor’s child, I know what I’m talking about here.   A lot of men are drawn to the ministry because they can become authority figures.   They take advantage of their positions, especially these Youth Pastors, usually fresh out of seminary or Bible college, lot of hormones, lot of teenage girls (and boys, less common but not unknown), explosive combination.Report

            • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Right, I know it happens a lot in Protestant churches. Like I said, the outrage at the Church itself isn’t over the abuse, which it is likely powerless to prevent in the first place, but at the coverup, which leads to more, now preventable abuse. If there are Protestants doing that, then they suck as much as the Catholics.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

                It happened in my synagogue. I wonder at my parents, who let me go there for years, despite having been “warned” about the cantor. He’s since been arrested and done jail time.Report

              • conkal2 in reply to Kimmi says:

                Thanks for sharing your story……..Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                The only reason we don’t see more of it in the Protestant community is because they lack the command structure to transfer the offender from church to church.   In the old days, these sickos would move on from church to church, re-offending, and nobody was the wiser.

                These days, most churches won’t bring in a youth pastor unless he’s married.   It’s just too much trouble otherwise.   If the Catholics wanted to cut to the heart of the problem, and it’s larger than just losing credibility over offending priests, they’d allow their priests to marry.   The Pope could do that, overnight.

                I did a gig for Moreau Seminary, at the heart of Notre Dame University, years ago.   It was once full to brimming with men entering the priesthood.   By the time I got there in the mid-90s, only a handful of seminarians were around.   Spooky place, lovely people.   Came to genuinely admire the people I was working with.

                Had a long conversation with one of the directors.   He wistfully remembered the glory days of the 50s and early 60s.   Then came Vatican II, the altar was turned around, the great mysteries of the faith were reduced to feeble caricatures.   We talked about the Latin language, the Catholics have done a great deal to revive and popularise it again.   I observed:  if only the Catholic faithful understood the enormous landscape of history which gave everyone the calendar we use every day, they’d demand a return to the faith of their fathers and abandon every attempt to be relevant in today’s world, all these wretched guitar masses and cheap homilies and bad art.   The Vatican is full of masterpieces, Catholics should be made to get spiritually fit with a few painful laps around the track of the catechism.   He laughed ruefully,  “A Protestant tells me this, if only the Catholic hierarchy would.”Report

              • conkal2 in reply to Chris says:

                Chris- Sadly, child abuse is everywhere!  I think at this point we need to get into schools and address this problem early. Hating any one group will not fix the problem. Fact is fact, most pedophilia’s were abused themselves. We need to educate children early in every walk of life as this problem is growing. As for the Catholic Church, I think the majority of their problems with problem priests are over or better controlled.  It’s time to address other faith’s and have them step forward as well.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to conkal2 says:

                honestly, I doubt this. To support this with regard to most fetishes, you’d say that the people who like snuff were what — throttled as a kid to near death? How about sadists? How about the people who fetishize vore?

                And what the hell do you say about the people who fetishize “shrinking”??Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kimmi says:


                Chris is right. I believe the number is 57% of child molestors were molested themselves.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Which, AGAIN, doesn’t speak much at all to the fetish as a whole, simply the people who abuse their authority and give in to the damn thing.Report

              • Chris in reply to conkal2 says:

                Yeah, I think addressing child abuse is a good thing, period.

                But again, the Catholic Church didn’t abuse anyone. Some of its employees did. What the Catholic Church did, as an organization, was cover it up… repeatedly.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to conkal2 says:

      I’m coming late on this, but it should be noted that numbers for the Catholic Church and insurance claims are skewed, because the vast preponderance of Catholic schools and larger churches go the self-insurance routes with their various archdiocese.

      Also, aside from the RM stuff, I’m unsure what the point of your comment is.Report

  16. tom van dyke says:

    From what I’ve read on the Sandusky/PennState thing—the secular analogue to the Roman Church’s pedophilia scandals—it’s that the pedophile “loves” his victims, He does not hate them or wish to victimize them—anything but.  He [she?] seeks an intimacy that they can’t find in the adult world, or do not know how to begin to seek in the adult world.

    All the more tragic.  That “Short Eyes” is merely a predator—and surely some are—is too easy an answer.

    I grew up in the Roman Church, BTW, and aside from being hit on by a splendid priestly queen in college, was never harassed. Or if I was, I don’t recall it.  Talking altar boy at age 8, choir after that, the “lector” [reads the Epistles before the priest reads the Gospel] as a semi-delectable teen.  Guitar mass after that, even.  Spent a lot of time in church.

    In our Catholic high school, there was a priest or 3 whom we detected was “funny that way,” but never a whiff of scandal came their way. They were beloved, not shunned.

    Anyway, I write here to offer testimony, not pontificate.  After reading about the Sandusky thing, that the pedophile “loves” and does not hate…

    There was was “incident” that wasn’t an incident—I was in 8th grade, and they had the “Vocations Fair” at my Catholic school.  [That I considerted becoming a priest at some point will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.]

    Anyway, I hit it off [age 13?] with one priest who was recruiting for his order.  He was a bit of an artist, and pencilled some sketches of me, and if I recall correctly, made me look quite dreamy.  I think he even came to dinner at our Catholic house.

    My father—a Protestant permitted to marry my mother only under the bishop’s dispensation and a promise that the children would be raised Catholic—put a Big Foot Down on me replying to any of Father John’s letters that followed thereafter. 

    My father is a wise man.  I do not think that Father John wanted me to bend over and bark like a dog for him.  I do believe he “loved” me.  So much more the human tragedy of this. To take Short Eyes out back and kick him to death would be as easy as killing Hitler.  Way easier.  To think of the pedophile as a human being, it’s almost unthinkable.Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to tom van dyke says:

      It’s possible to think of someone who commits a crime as a human being, yet still want him to be punished for what he did. And to be pissed off at the people and insititution protecting this human being so that he can continue committing the crime over and over again, with new victims. Those things are not mutually-exclusive.Report

    • Will H. in reply to tom van dyke says:

      That may be the case in some instances, but it’s certainly not true across the board.
      I’ve seen reports– not isolated, mind you– of the complicity of nuns in sexual abuse, and even of the nuns selecting which boys would go to the priests as ‘punishment.’Report

    • Kimmi in reply to tom van dyke says:


      Yes, a worthless human being. Must I talk of pedophiles? Yes? Well, let’s give all due praise to the ones who NEVER TOUCH A CHILD! They do exist — some are even fantastic artists (Raita springs to mind…)

      It is not and never will be done for anything other than lust. Lust perhaps colored by a person’s justification, but lust nonetheless.

      If you say otherwise, then you are saying that these idiots don’t know the meaning of right and wrong. And I deny that. Even Michael Jackson knew the meaning of right and wrong, even if he was often on the side of wrong.Report

    • conkal2 in reply to tom van dyke says:

      I can say as a family of 3 generations of Catholics, our experiences with the Catholic Church has been wonderful. I know many Catholics personally and they share those same convictions. Many of our children were alter servers. Almost all of us went to Catholic school. Never a problem or issues. I am not justifying the Church scandles but you seem to have gone into great detail with numerous accusations against the church, so i do have to ask, do you belong to a anti Catholic organization?Report

      • Kimmi in reply to conkal2 says:

        What, do you need to be referred to Muslim Matters so you can see the issue discussed with different villains?

        Seriously, there’s enough people around here with enough axes, you can bury your hatchet anytime you want.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to conkal2 says:

        The plural of anecdote is not data.   The Catholic hierarchy not only failed to protect children from priestly predators but systematically covered it up.   I am no enemy of Catholicism.   I’ve admitted the Protestants have the same problem, hell, there are sexual predators in every walk of life.   The Catholic priesthood is just another such group.

        There is a difference.   We now know that Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, knew of sexual predation and did not act against it.   He covered it up.   This rot goes to the core of the Vatican and it must be rooted out.

        Luke 17:2 and 3:   And he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones.

        That the Catholic hierarchy has systematically acted to cover up crimes against children is simply inexcusable.   If you are willing to rhetorically ask if we’re anti-Catholic, may I return the favour and ask if you are pro-pedophile.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to tom van dyke says:


      Oh, yes, let’s think of the HUMAN monster.

      I must say, this does make me reevaluate much of what you’ve already said, in terms of what others might call oblique racism. It casts you in an altogether different, and much less flattering light.

      It would be one thing if I were to paint you with the black brush of racism, but I shall not. I will instead paint you with the infinetely darker brush of instinctive apologist. In the above, you mention Hitler. I think you’d have apologized for him too.

      Shall I do it for you? “Oh, but his Jewish Father left him and his mama to starve in the streets!” A man who only shows such sympathy for the aggressor, the oppressor, the seriously warped, is not a man, but a dirt-grubbing fool.

      Now, do Vitter! It’s a gimme!Report

  17. wardsmith says:

    There is one further element to this that only the LD’s amongst us can relate to. The priest who “confesses” in the confessional to another priest or superior. If that occurs, the hearer of the confession can no more break the silence than can an attorney (and I know far more attorneys who “talk out of class” about their clients than priests who talk about what they have heard). Now it would set a pretty “damning” precedent if the RCC hierarchy broke their own sacred vows. I’ve always found it interesting that people will condemn a priest for instance who doesn’t turn in a known murderer (who has confessed to the priest), while turning a blind eye to the lawyers who do the same thing and worse every day of their professional lives (without the confession, and including “advice” on how to get away with it).Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to wardsmith says:

      Was anyone demanding that priests broke their vows regarding confession? The court didn’t need testimony from priests telling tales about what they heard during confession to convict the abusers after all. There are ways for the bishops and other church higher-ups to investigate the allegations of misconduct by a priest without going to his confessor and forcing him to break the seal of confession. The choice is not between 1) Force priests to violate their vows and break the seal of confession or 2) Just ignor ethe allegations and shuttle the priest from parish to parish. There are other avenues of investigation.Report

      • wardsmith in reply to sonmi451 says:

        Somni, how many courts “convicted” abusers? By my count this was largely about garnering funds from the RCC. Yes there were victims and the RCC paid them off, but the priests who went to jail were few and far between. For the most part the statute of limitations had expired and these were tort not civil cases. In other words, the criminal justice system didn’t have enough to get a conviction on the crime of pedophilia, but rather the “crime” of covering up known malfeasance.

        To further muddy the water, the RCC believes in redemption along with forgiveness of sins. So if a priest “confesses” then proclaims himself “redeemed” can’t he go back to work?

        To put this another way, airline pilots for Northwest Airlines were caught red-handed flying a plane while drunk. We all know they were fired, but how many know that they were REINSTATED as pilots thanks to the Airline Pilots Union? After all, they were alcoholics and therefore a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act. So the next time you’re on an airplane, you can wonder if that pilot up there is doing well with his 12 step program, or if he’s slipped a little (or a lot).Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

      The priest who “confesses” in the confessional to another priest or superior. If that occurs, the hearer of the confession can no more break the silence than can an attorney

      Point of fact, I believe that they can, Ward, if the confessor is not penitent.  The sacrament is not valid if the person offering the confession is not contrite.

      If you walk into a confessional and tell a priest that you just killed three people and you’re going to do it again, you are not a penitent, and you have no seal of confession to protect your “confession”, because strictly speaking by canon law, that’s not a confession.

      Of course, if you come into a confessional and tell a priest that you committed child molestation and you’re not going to do it again, and you exhibit contrition, they are obligated to grant you absolution and your confession is protected under seal… even though it’s very likely that you will do it again.  Even if you do it again.Report

  18. Bill says:

    Some of this discussion seems a bit uninformed.  There are many confirmed reports of Catholic clergy sexually abusing children before the 1960s.  Here are three examples:

    1) In Australia, the rape of boys at Christian Brother schools and orphanages have been confirmed, (if my memory serves) some awful cases going back to the 1930s.  Some cases involved toture and rape contests in which certain brothers strove to rape a victim the most.

    2) In Ireland, the Magdalene asylums, which from the early 20th century became places in which the female inmates were sexually humiliated and often used a slave labor.

    3) Let us not forget the rape of boys in Holland by priests in the 1950.  To perpetuate a cover-up, one victim who reported the abuse was castrated when the rapist denied the abuse, claiming that the boy was gay.

    I am sorry, but if you are going to write about this stuff, you should be at least slightly informed.


    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Bill says:


      I am not suggesting that no abuses happened before the 1960s and 1970s. What I am interested in is what dynamics lead to a documented increase in abuses during those decades.Report

      • wardsmith in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Mike, the incidence of abuse reporting went up hand in glove with the willingness of the Catholic Church to pay out large sums of money. “Evidence” that would not be allowed in any criminal court is accepted as is by the tort lawsuits and the RCC and their insurers write the checks. Now a jaded individual might worry about whether there were those who lied about abuse just to collect the money, and whether there were any unethical lawyers chasing this particular ambulance.

        The nearly $3 billion in compensation paid out so far by the U.S. Catholic Church to sex-abuse victims has encouraged lawyers in Europe to seek new cases to “take advantage of this legal goldmine,” says Massimo Franco, a leading Italian commentator on Vatican affairs. In doing so, he contends, they may have expanded the dimensions of the church’s already serious crisis in Europe.Report

    • conkal2 in reply to Bill says:

      Again, I have to ask.  Do you belong to a anti-Catholic organization?  You appear to have a agenda.Report

      • conkal2 in reply to conkal2 says:

        Sorry, I meant my other comment for BillReport

        • Bill in reply to conkal2 says:

          I assume that I am the Bill to whom you referred.  I am Irish Catholic (more precisely, an American of Irish Catholic descent.) During this season, I am observing the Lenten fast (i.e. no meat on Friday or Ash Wednesday.)  I went to a Catholic grammar school, which i do not look back on fondly.  I went to a Jesuit high school called St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, NJ, which was a great experience.  ( When I was a freshman, Nathan Lane, then Joe Lane, was a senior.) 

          My agenda is that I am tired of the crimes, lies and appalling conduct of much of the Church.  Since I read a reasonable amount, I was able to cite the examples above.  (However, the Dutch was in the news within the last two weeks.  It was not difficult to be aware of it.)Report

          • conkal2 in reply to Bill says:

            I love the Church. I am unhappy with the church as well,  however, the church has been a blessing for families for generations. What  would the world have done without Catholic Charities which is the largest charitable organization in the world?  What would we have done without St. Jude hospital a famous cancer hospital for children? What about Mother Theresa and all her good works? How about priest and nuns who have been gunned done for the sake of education, starvation and sickness in Europe. Yes, man has failed this beautiful religion. We are addressing our sins of the church but what about the over faith’s who also have cover-ups and abuse problems.



            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to conkal2 says:

              Stop.  Remove the plank from your own eye before pointing at the specs in others.  Yes, the Roman Catholic Church has done and continues to do good things.  Yes, other religious organizations have had problems with abuse of minors.  Neither of these two things is relevant to the discussion at hand.

              The members of the congregation do not know who among the clergy may have committed these acts.  We do not know if they are still serving congregations somewhere.  I myself spent several years in close proximity to someone who was found to commit fairly horrendous acts; nobody in the Church ever contacted me and asked me anything about him.  Nobody asked me if I was abused.  Nobody in the Church ever contacted anyone else who was alone regularly with this man, to the best of my knowledge.  The Church is not investigating itself.  The Church is responding to each one of these events in isolation.

              The Church is not doing what it should be doing if it wants to serve true penance for its sin. It must stop waiting for the abused to speak up, and it should seek them out.  It caused them harm, and they deserve better treatment from the institution that caused them harm.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to conkal2 says:

              Any sentence which contains either But or However is a negation, preceded only by fig leaves.   The world would have done just as well without the election of Ratzinger, as it might have done without the Medici popes or Pius the Impious who waved goodbye to the Jews of Rome on their way to the concentration camps.   Man has indeed failed your beautiful religion and man fails it now.  But you are also a human being and continue to make excuses for it.

              I have endured all the excuses I ever intend to hear in life.  Performance, not excuses, are all that matter.   You are not addressing the sins of your church, you beg questions like some dime store lawyer, demanding proof for what is now known beyond the shadow of doubt, that like Adam, the Catholic Church has hidden its sinners, its own clergy, from the law and from God Almighty.   Like God, we ask you, “Where art thou, Adam?”  knowing full well where you are, lost in delusion and self-excusing.Report

              • conkal2 in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I have acknowledge the sins of the church but I also know how much good they have done. Your arrogance has a agnostic tone of bigotry. Oh most knowledgeably one. Good Grief!!!Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to conkal2 says:

                Grief is good.  If only you would admit as much.   You may think the Church can hide from the Almighty, smearing the good it does over its rotten core.   A whitewashed tomb is your Church, full of dead men’s bones. Until you can root out the rotten core of deceit and tolerance of the intolerable, it simply does not matter how much good it does.   Men love darkness rather than light, for their deeds are evil.   The Church has skulked around and protected these molesting priests for long enough.

                Be not deceived.  God is not mocked.  Whatsoever a man, or a Church sows, that shall it also reap.Report

              • conkal2 in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You are disturbed. Stay on this page and promote your Catholic Bigotry!

                Hate does not help it promotes more hate and of course you know that!Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to conkal2 says:

      The problem of falsely accused clergy does exist.

      This problem is largely exacerbated by the Church not releasing information about *non-falsely accused clergy*.  All of their settlements include NDAs.  The Church has not given any public acknowledgement of those among its clergy who actually are guilty of the sin which the Church has freely admitted has been going on under its watch.

      I know two clergy members who have undergone false accusations.  I feel quite badly for them.  I also know perfectly innocent priests who have retired because they’re sick to death of the shattering of trust that has happened and they don’t feel like they can actively minister any longer.  They feel like the Church has failed them, too.  If you expect the media or the general public to believe that these accusations are false, you cannot hide them behind an NDA.  You cannot settle this out of court and bury everything, and expect people in the media, or in the general public, or in your congregation, or even other members of your clergy to trust what is going on.Report

      • conkal2 in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        You are out of your mind. Many cases were dismissed and these cases were included in the reported cases. Why, reaching into the deep pockets of the church!

        So easy to sell hate and make stuff up!Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to conkal2 says:

          I make nothing up.  This will be my last post to you, because you are making me very, very angry.

          My friend, I was routinely exposed to this man in high school.  As were 1200-some odd of my classmates.

          Did he abuse me?  No, he did not.  Could he have?  Absolutely.  He was actually criminally charged later, and convicted, and is a registered sex offender.  By the article, his first reprimand for sexual misconduct was in 1993.  That was four years after I graduated.  I was alone with him on multiple occasions, as were several other members of my class who served in campus ministry.  He was known, later, to have serious problems.

          None of my classmates, nor myself, were ever asked if he did anything to us (at least, none of them that I’m aware of, and I’m in touch with a good number of them).  After an actual conviction in a court of law, after knowing that this person had a history of sexual misconduct, no attempt was made to investigate and find any of his other victims, if there were any.

          This is what a responsible Church should have done.  It is one thing to defend your clergy from false accusations.  It is another to not investigate your own, when you know that they have a history of abuse.

          If he ever abused anyone in my class, the Church did nothing to find them, to help them.  This is contemptible behavior in a secular organization.Report