Dialogue 09

John Allen, reporter for the NCR, wrote an article in December 2005 about indications of sexual abuse of minors by priests in Brazil. The fact and the pattern of abuse by clergy is not new in the United States press, but the Brazilian and Italian press accounts are notable because the Latin/Italian churches have been successful in intimidating the populous and the press about exposing clerical sex to the public. This is not because it does not exist.

In fact, I think that the opposite is true. Clergy-sex is taken for granted in South America just as it was/is in Ireland, but the pervasive Catholic culture creates an atmosphere that renders open and public dialogue nearly impossible. There is no reason to hope that priests in Italy or Brazil are any more sexually restrained than Irish or American priests.

Rodriguez indicates (Cf. Priesthood in Spain: Book Reviews) that Spain’s clergy are involved sexually with minors to a marked degree. He estimates that 7 percent of Spain’s priest population is sexually involved with minors. Of the group of sexually active priests he interviewed 26 percent were involved with minors—14 percent with boys, 12 percent with girls.

One of the news worthy elements of the Brazil stories was the discovery of the diaries of Frs. Tarcisio Tadeu Spricigo and Alfieri Edoardo Bompani. Spricigo recorded a list of guidelines for seduction of boys. Bompani wrote detailed accounts of his sexual conquests. Both priests are now in prison. Some abusers do keep notes or accounts of their conquests. Father Gary Hayes of Kentucky produced a diary of the priest who abused him as a teenager as evidence in his trial against the church.

US studies so far have underplayed the number of preadolescent children versus teen victims of priests and bishops. (Cf. John-Jay Report) One reason for this is that older victims are better equipped to remember, validate, corroborate, and eventually report their abuse than younger children. Younger victims are more likely to show up in medical facilities, psychiatrists’ offices, or prisons with varieties of presenting problems masking abuse.

A study of men in Australian prisons revealed that 80 percent reported being abused as youngsters. Fifty percent of those claimed that a Catholic priest or brother abused them. Only 25 percent of the Australian population, however, is Roman Catholic.

Father Spricigo’s checklist corresponds to the modus operandi of many of the clergy predators know in this country. Rules:


Pick out a boy between 7 and 10 years old. Boys of this age are more amenable to following. 


Poor, deprived, lonely, fatherless, and sensitive boys make the best victims. They respond well to attention, kindness, and gifts—gestures that make them feel special and protected by a powerful person.


There are two opposite ways to proceed. The first is to get close to the family of the boy (or girl)—this is the American way. The second is to be invisible to the parents or guardians. The Brazilian priest recommends the latter.

Father Oliver O’Grady (the subject of the movie DELIVER US FROM EVIL 2006) in his depositions, coolly talks about how he went about selecting victims: his youngest was a 9-month-old girl. He had long-term abusive relationships with several children (his preference was boys) beginning at 5-years-old and continuing until puberty.

The John-Jay Study has also produced a record; it gives the impression that adolescent boys are by far the preferred target audience for US priests who are homosexual. The largest number of reported priest-bishop abusers fit this category. I do not believe that that when all the information is out and analyzed that that profile will hold up without revision. There is a great deal under the clerical blankets yet to be revealed about child abuse.


Sooner or later bishops must face the facts and admit that their priests and brother bishops who make minors the objects of their sexual activity are but one visible and criminal aspect of the “narcissistic sinkhole” (as Fr. Thomas Doyle terms it) of clergy sexual abuse and disregard and denial of clerical behaviors. If this were not true bishops would be the first in line to support legislation that makes minor abuse easier to prosecute.

Why the resistance to legislative reform that would make all institutions more responsible for the oversight of its members? (Cf. PROPOSED LEGISLATION TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM SEXUAL ABUSE: Objections and Response, Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., J.C.D., C.A.D.C.)

Supporting the structure of minor abuse is the maze of sexually active clergy that would be exposed if bishops were honest about the problem of clergy sex. Already in 1993 the Vatican Secretary of the Congregation on Clergy, Cardinal Jose Sanchez, said for international TV, “I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures” when a BBC reporter asked him what was his reaction to reports that 50 percent of priests were sexually active.

Underneath and supporting clergy who abuse minors is a structure of bishops and priests who have had or are having sexually active lives. Not all of those relationships are or have been abusive or illegal: I can name several—and so can bishops and cardinals. Among them:


The almost universal but undulating pattern and practice of masturbation. (Not compulsive, but more common in times of pressure and stress.) Jesuit moralists in the 17th Century argued that masturbation was not a mortal sin. The Vatican forbade them to teach this.


Longstanding, loving, exclusive relationship with a woman or man. (Leading a double life.) This is a relatively common practice across the board for clergy of every rank.


Understandable occasional sexual contacts that could be classified as incidental, but responsible and not forming a pattern and practice. A devout priest does not excuse his behavior; he considers it a fault and is careful to avoid its repetition similar to the reaction a recovering alcoholic might experience to a slip. He takes the fault seriously and does not rationalize or deny it.


Transient relationships with women i.e. Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe who admitted under oath that he had sex with five young adult women. He also assured lawyers that he had always used “protection”—condoms. The pattern makes this behavior problematic and dangerous for exploitation.


Transient relationships with men are also problematic. This pattern is relatively common between bishops and superiors with young priests. Cardinal McCarrick’s name was frequently cited by seminarians from Newark for years.


Behaviors that take advantage of adult penitents in confession or people in counseling are always abuse boarding on criminal.

This is but a partial laundry list of clergy behaviors that the church hides under the category of “sin” therefore marking them “personal and private” and untouchable. They are nothing of the sort. They may be sin in the eyes of the church, therefore granting her the jurisdiction to forgive, hide, and deny. These are behaviors that have to be honestly recorded to understand their psychological roots and social implications. They are part and parcel of the problem of sexual abuse of minors.

Posted: 30 March 2007

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