Questions of Recidivism
Recidivism # 1 Recidivism # 2 Recidivism # 3
Consequences of the Clerical Culture &
The Predisposition to Abuse: A QUESTION

January 8, 2006  -  The structure of the clerical culture IS. It maintains a stability and influence far beyond its recognition. That enduring dominance over the lives of men within it, and in turn, those whom they serve (or control) has been a force, both personal and societal, for positive and negative accomplishments. For good and evil, if you will.

To consider the bad that the Catholic Church has done and the negative consequences of the clerical culture does not vitiate the tremendous good that the institution and its clergy have done and are doing. As I struggle to understand the question so frequently posed to me: How can men of the cloth do such horrible things to kids? I do not loose sight of fine, honest, hard-working, self-sacrificing clerics I know and admire.

An analogy with an emergency-room physician helps me keep a balance - acknowledging good clerics and yet not loosing focus on the painful seriousness and urgency of dealing with clerical sexual abuse. Under the pressure of saving a life one cannot waste time commenting on the patient’s good eyesight, acute mental function or healthy skin and muscles - all important, positive features - when the whole organism is endangered and under threat.

The subject at hand - repeated abuse of minors by clergy - certainly is dire and vitally important to save the life of the church. The repeated sexual abuse of minors, by men who have been trained, supported by, and participate in clerical culture has the power to destroy lives and the life of the church as well. Understanding the causes and combating this deadly threat poses daunting challenges.

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice Study of the crisis is a commendable start to determine the scope of the problem of minor-abuse by Catholic clergy. The American Bishops initiated it and to a degree held the reins on it. The result is not wholly honest.

The study is a self-report and each bishop (all except 3 dioceses) determined what from his files should be included in “credible accusations.” Next the bishops loaded the denominator by including deacons and religious priests with the diocesan populations.

These two factors alone seriously skewed the dimension of the actual number of abusing clerics. A more real range of abusing priests and bishops runs closer to 8 to 10 percent lifetime incidence. (Even the J-J Report reflected 10 percent abusers in the 1970s and 8 percent in the 1980s.)

Many priests and bishops who abuse minors do not persist in sexual activity with minors for an extended period of years, but indulge in adolescent-like experimentation—truly transitional pedophilia. Yet the average number of victims of clergy abuse does in fact, exceed two—the number of reported victims from diocesan files. Victims per priest unfortunately average closer to twenty.

Because a significant proportion of superiors and bishops have had this transitional behavior in their own past they minimized the harm done to victims and maximized their optimism for the reform of other priests after one or two episodes of sex with a minor.

Two other factors contribute to the leniency of superiors in dealing with repeated sexual involvement of clergy with minors and others: the first is their experience of hearing the confessions of other clerics and a multitude of the laity. Confessors know how common sexual activity is. They are privy to the wide array of sexual activity in broad segments of the Catholic population. The other factor inducing blindness to repeated offences is that they are called upon to forgive the same transgression many times over.

Even Pope Leo X resisted St. Peter Damian’s entreaty to deal forcefully with abusing priests (c. 1050 C.E.) only to be told that action could be taken only if the behavior persisted. That, of course, often meant even beyond the second or third offence.

The facts are that some bishops and priests sexually abuse minors, and some abuse minors repeatedly. A central question remains: what, if any, causal relationship exists between clerical culture and clerics who abuse minors? 

Next:  A look at factors in the clerical culture.






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Freedom from personal accountability