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Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis

Edited by Jane F. Adolphe and Ronald J. Rychlak | Foreword by Jeffrey Mirus

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In 2018, as accounts of clerical sexual misconduct in Chile, Honduras, and the United States roiled the Catholic Church, an international meeting of experts in journalism, law, pastoral care, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and theology, was convened to study the incidence of clerical sexual abuse of males. Under the skilled editorship of Jane F. Adolphe and Ronald J. Rychlak, Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis is the result of that meeting and the incisive, insightful studies which it generated.

  • Part I: Challenges—Church Culture and the Social Sciences explores the data on clerical sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and also exposes prevalent cultural myths which conceal the roots of the problem.
  • Part II: Contributing Factors—Extra-Church and Intra-Church Influences situates the problem of clerical sexual abuse amidst the surrounding problems, including the broader cultural roots of abuse, Catholic organizational culture, and clericalism.
  • Part III: Consequences—Legal and Policy Issues examines Canon Law, Criminal Law, and Civil Law and their impact on the punishment and control of abuse.
  • Part IV: Charting the Course Forward—Biblical, Theological and Pastoral Reflections identifies the Catholic roots of a true and abiding solution.

Jane F. Adolphe is Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law, in Naples, Florida, Adjunct Professor, at the University of Notre Dame, School of Law, Sydney, Australia, and former expert of the Holy See, Secretariat of State, Section for Relations with States. She has co-edited several books: The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East: Prevention, Prohibition, and ProsecutionEquality and Non-Discrimination: Catholic Roots, Current Challenges; and St. Paul, the Natural Law, and Contemporary Legal Theory.

Ronald J. Rychlak is Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi, advisor to the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations, and serves on advisory boards for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He has written several books, including Hitler, the War, and the PopeRighteous Gentiles: How Pius XII Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis; and Disinformation (with Ion M. Pacepa). He also edited American Law from a Catholic Perspective: Through a Clearer Lens.

Paperback: 510pp.

ISBN: 978-1950970988

Reviews

Preempting clerical sex abuse

August 4, 2020 • Thomas J. Nash • The Dispatch

New book analyzes what went wrong and what must go right for the Church to move forward.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6)

Jesus’ sober words about scandalizing young Catholics should be imprinted on the hearts of all Church employees, clerical or lay, who have anything to do with the oversight of children in the universal Church (see CCC 2284-87). The grave damage done to many victims and their families has been far-reaching, striking a severe blow to the Church in advancing her God-given Great Commission (see Mt. 28:18-20). While things have undoubtedly improved overall since the Long Lent of 2002, we still await Pope Francis’ reckoning regarding Theodore McCarrick, two years after he resigned from the College of Cardinals.

Consequently, I welcome Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis, which is edited by Doctors Jane Adolphe and Ronald Rychlak. The book, which also addresses the abuse of adults, is valued not only because of its scholarship, but also for the commitment to Catholic orthodoxy of its contributors, who realize that any remedies must be faithful to the liberating truths Jesus has revealed to his Church in particular and to mankind in general.

“When the Church suffers under the weight of the sins of her members, it is always her most devoted sons and daughters who do the heavy lifting,” says Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, founder and president of Trinity Communications, in his foreword. “What is truly remarkable about this book is the breadth and depth of the analysis of the entire sex abuse crisis from men and women possessed of deep Catholic identity and firmly committed to authentic Catholic renewal.”

Clerical Sexual Misconduct serves as a reference work to understand better the key factors that enabled the scandal to develop over time, and also proposes measures to ensure it never happens again. Mirus provides a helpful distillation of the book’s main sections:

In Part I (Challenges: Church Culture and the Social Sciences), the authors explore the data on clerical sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Considering past studies, seminary formation, the problem of homosexuality, and differences in the data over the past twenty years, this portion of the study also reflects the courage of the authors in exposing prevalent cultural myths which conceal the roots of the problem.

In Part II (Contributing Factors: Extra-Church and Intra-Church Influences), the authors set the problem of clerical sexual abuse against the background of the surrounding problems which influence it. Here they consider such things as the broader cultural roots of abuse, Catholic organizational culture, and clericalism.

In Part III (Consequences: Legal and Policy Issues) we learn much about the complexities of canon law, criminal law, and civil law as these impact the ability of both the Church and the world to punish abuse and bring it under control. This material is indispensable for an understanding of why sexual abuse has been, and continues to be, such a difficult issue to deal with effectively.

Finally, in Part IV (Charting the Course Forward: Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Reflections), the study saves readers from discouragement by identifying the authentically Catholic roots of a true solution. For most of us, who do not have to deal directly with the abuse problem, it is this part which will make us better Christians, uniting us more fully to our Incarnate Lord, and strengthening both our understanding of human sexuality and our commitment to moral life in Christ.

An index should be made for this first and any future editions, because it will aid Church leaders in navigating the book more efficiently and effectively.

Supporting priests and eliminating clericalism: Both essential for needed reform

Priests in particular must be supported and defended, so that these men of God are empowered to do the work for which Christ and the Church have called them. This means proper formation, beginning in the home, Catholic schools, and seminaries, including learning that celibacy is a gift to help them serve as spiritual fathers. “In taking the title ‘Father,’ the Catholic priest stands as an image of natural fathers and of God, the Father,” writes Dale O’Leary, a journalist and author. “[A]nd therefore sexual improprieties of any kind are rightly viewed as incestuous and blasphemous” (p. 66).

In addition, our Eucharistic Lord must be their priestly role model, devotion to the Blessed Mother encouraged to grow in chastity and charity, and fraternity among fellow priests and fellowship among faithful lay people promoted to preempt the loneliness that tempts priests from living a holy life. Dr. Robert Fastiggi, a professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, cites an exchange between an Italian journalist and the former head of the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees the handling of clerical abuse cases, to illustrate the importance of a Christ-centered life:

Andrea Tornielli: “In the face of the scandals of abuse, Benedict XVI and Francis insisted on the path of conversion and prayer….”

Cardinal [Gerhard] Müller: “It’s the most authentic way. There are procedures that have been established to combat the phenomenon, but spiritual renewal and conversion are more important. There are priests who never go to spiritual exercises, never approach the confessional, never pray the breviary. And when the spiritual life is empty, how can a priest act according to Christ? He risks becoming a “mercenary,” as we read in the Gospel of John (p. 312, emphasis added, alluding to John 10:10-15).”

In addition, while priests and bishops need to be respected and otherwise supported in leading the Church, the Church also must be vigilant in opposing clericalism to avert another scandal, as Pope Francis has emphasized and the authors affirm. “Clericalism has contributed to the current crisis in two important ways,” write a group of women faculty members, including Dr. Janet Smith, in an appendix to the book:

“First, because clericalism leads clergy to believe that they “deserve” special perks that may lead them to engage in immoral behavior; and second, because it encourages priests and bishops to dismiss legitimate criticism of bad behavior, especially criticism made by lay people.” (p. 393)

The faculty members elaborate on the latter point:

“In essence, it is the sense that being a priest entitles one to a certain respect above that to be bestowed on others, especially lay people—respect not just for the office but for the person of the priest and all his decisions and actions. It is the belief that because of a priest’s ordination, education, and sacrifices, he deserves special deference, even obedience, and is not to be questioned by a lay person who may have greater expertise…” (Ibid.)

The cautionary tale of Cardinal Law and the need for the Church to self-police

A classic example of clericalism was the punishment—or lack thereof—that Cardinal Bernard Law experienced after his grave mishandling of sex abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Boston. While Cardinal Law was rightly removed from his episcopal office, he could have, arguably, gone to prison for his misdeeds, including for reassigning the notorious John Geoghan and Paul Shanley. Consequently, when Pope St. John Paul II reassigned Cardinal Law to head St. Mary Major, one of the four major basilicas in Rome—a prominent position the cardinal held until his retirement—it marked one of the most ill-advised decisions of John Paul’s pontificate, not least because of the pain it caused victims’ families in Boston and beyond.

A much better assignment would have been designating the cardinal to serve quietly as a confessor for a community of retired women religious, with prohibitions on his speaking and serving the Church otherwise publicly. While Cardinal Law did not directly abuse children, he enabled derelict clerics to continue committing grave sins, which is a distinction without much of difference, given the harm that resulted.

“It is no surprise that legal systems are responding,” Professor Rychlak writes. People rightfully expect civil authorities to protect them from crime. Government systems have long accommodated Church needs, but wrongdoers have exploited those accommodations. It is, therefore, not surprising to see lawmakers removing them. However, many innocent priests are now under scrutiny and feel as if they are suspects. If charged with a crime, they wonder whether prosecutors, judges, and juries would truly accord them the presumption of innocence.

But the Church is not helpless. It can and must start by policing itself (pp. 223-25).

Aiding that cause will be a new Vademecum, or guide, “On Certain Points of Procedure in Treating Cases of Sexual Abuse of Minors Committed by Clerics,” which the CDF recently issued.

Finally, in considering exceptions to a zero-tolerance policy that permits offending clerics to return to ministry after having paid their debt to society, Rychlak emphasizes that bishops

“must protect the most vulnerable of the flock. That likely means that perpetrators must be placed in carefully selected positions when they have resolved their legal situations. Parents have a right to know if someone in a position of authority has previously committee crimes against children.” (p. 225).

However, given the moral peril of reassigning clerics who have been justly convicted of personally abusing children—not to mention the legal liability—the Church would be wise to heed the counsel St. John Paul II gave to US cardinals in April 2002, counsel which also reaffirms the need to uphold the totality of Church teaching on sexuality if we’re to advance successfully our God-given mission:

“People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. They must know that Bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.” (no. 3).


The best book (by far) on the scandal of clerical abuse

July 8, 2020 • Dr. Jeff Mirus • Catholic Culture

In 2019 I was invited to write the foreword for a collaborative study on priestly sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, a thorough study proceeding under the leadership of Jane Adolphe, Professor of Law at Ave Maria Law School in Naples, Florida. The results have now been published by Cluny Media: Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis. Rather than pretending I have just discovered this impressive volume, I am simply reprinting my foreword below. This important book will be the gold standard in its field for a very long time.

The most important thing to know about Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis is simply this: When the Church suffers under the weight of the sins of her members, it is always her most devoted sons and daughters who do the heavy lifting. What is truly remarkable about this book is the breadth and depth of the analysis of the entire sex abuse crisis from men and women possessed of deep Catholic identity and firmly committed to authentic Catholic renewal.

Without these qualities, those who study and comment on the crisis offer little more than fluff, an emotional rehashing of either their own prejudices or whatever the world wants to hear. But the contributors to this volume enter into their subject at a far greater depth, not only thoroughly studying the failures but analyzing them in the light of a goodness that only Christ and the Church herself can shed on every form of human evil.

There is no need here to itemize the contents or introduce the nearly thirty Catholic scholars who have contributed to the work. The critical point is that every aspect of the topic is thoroughly covered by highly competent Catholic scholars who care deeply about truth, virtue, and grace. Consider these questions, which most of us have:

  • How is the sex abuse crisis in the Church related to the problems of our culture as a whole?
  • Is the Church impervious to real change?
  • Are sex abuse and clericalism related?
  • How have sexual shifts in the modern world exacerbated these sinful tendencies?
  • To what degree are our culture’s new sexual myths to blame?
  • Is seminary training at fault?
  • Is it primarily a matter of homosexual priests?
  • Does Christian anthropology legitimately ground human identity in homosexual orientation?
  • Has the problem gotten any better since it became public knowledge?
  • Why haven’t Canon Law, church structures, and accountability solved the problem?
  • What about the legal efforts of victims and governments to punish or correct the Church?
  • Are some legal remedies more dangerous, or more promising, than others?
  • What can we learn from Biblical sexual morality?
  • How does the maleness of Christ fit into all this?
  • How can we understand clerical celibacy in the midst of the abuse crisis?
  • Can we improve formation for all Catholics, and especially for clergy?
  • Is pastoral care possible for both victims and perpetrators?
  • Can women offer any special insights about how to set things right?

The remarkable thing about the collaborative effort which resulted in this book is that every one of these questions is thoroughly explored and answered to the degree that correct answers are available—a degree which necessarily varies between probable and certain depending on the topic.

In Part I (CHALLENGES: Church Culture and the Social Sciences), the authors explore the data on clerical sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Considering past studies, seminary formation, the problem of homosexuality, and differences in the data over the past twenty years, this portion of the study also reflects the courage of the authors in exposing prevalent cultural myths which conceal the roots of the problem.

In Part II (CONTRIBUTING FACTORS: Extra-Church and Intra-Church Influences), the authors set the problem of clerical sexual abuse against the background of the surrounding problems which influence it. Here they consider such things as the broader cultural roots of abuse, Catholic organizational culture, and clericalism.

In Part III (CONSEQUENCES: Legal and Policy Issues) we learn much about the complexities of Canon Law, Criminal Law and Civil Law as these impact the ability of both the Church and the world to punish abuse and bring it under control. This material is indispensable for an understanding of why sexual abuse has been, and continues to be, such a difficult issue to deal with effectively.

Finally, in Part IV (CHARTING THE COURSE FORWARD: Biblical, Theological and Pastoral Reflections), the study saves readers from discouragement by identifying the authentically Catholic roots of a true solution. For most of us, who do not have to deal directly with the abuse problem, it is this part which will make us better Christians, uniting us more fully to our Incarnate Lord, and strengthening both our understanding of human sexuality and our commitment to moral life in Christ.

We know, of course, that a deepening of the spiritual life and growth in virtue are the bedrock answers, but we also know that the Church is made up of sinners, and so we must clearly identify and define the problem, discern its interconnections with the broader and sometimes deeper cultural problems which contribute to it, and figure out why the normal tools the Church has for regulating the conduct of the clergy have failed to accomplish the ends for which they were devised. Yes, authentic renewal is essential; but no widespread renewal is possible without concrete formative and administrative mechanisms that actually work. This study leaves none of these stones unturned.

Finally, there is the last question on my list. It is answered in a very strong appendix, in which four experienced and highly-regarded women seminary professors offer a series of recommendations which will help these institutions guard against sexual abuse and do a better job of forming future priests, both to embrace celibate chastity and to avoid clericalism. Here we have a wonderfully concrete proposal for effective and immediate reform.

The scholarship on display here is, by the way, impeccable. The footnotes alone could fill a separate volume, and yet the writing remains, in its very clarity, once again a tool of authentic renewal. I am not only impressed with, but grateful for, what Jane Adolphe and the entire group of authors and editors—priests and laity, men and women—have given us in these pages. The result of their efforts must already be declared essential to the Catholic mission which we are all called to serve.

Jeffrey A. Mirus, Ph.D.
Trinity Communications
CatholicCulture.org

Feast of All Saints
November 1, 2019


Book takes scholarly yet accessible look at clerical sex abuse crisis

July 2, 2020 • Deborah Gyapong • Catholic News Service

Two years ago, the world learned former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick faced credible accusations of sexually abusing underage boys.

The Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark in New Jersey revealed secret settlements had been made in 2005 and 2007 with former seminarians that McCarrick had preyed upon while he was the bishop in those dioceses. Somehow, despite revelations that several individuals had made internal complaints about McCarrick as early as the 1990s, he rose to become archbishop of Washington and a cardinal.

The precipitous fall of one of America’s most prominent clerics was not, however, an isolated incident in 2018. It followed scandals of clerical abuse of seminarians by priests and bishops in Chile and in Honduras. In addition, as the McCarrick bombshell exploded, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued its report, cataloging years of horrendous clerical abuse dating back decades in six dioceses in that state.

McCarrick has since been dismissed from the clerical state. Pope Francis also commissioned a report to explain how someone with such a history of sexual predation could have risen to such heights in the Catholic Church. Though the report is finished, there is no word on if or when the pope will make it public.

Those seeking answers, however, need not wait for the McCarrick report. An international group of Catholic scholars and experts from a range of disciplines have produced their own comprehensive document titled “Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis.” Edited by Jane F. Adolphe and Ronald J. Rychlak, it belongs on the shelf of every chancery, seminary library and rectory.

In September 2018, to respond to scandals in Chile, Honduras and the United States, the International Center on Law, Life, Faith and Family invited a group of international experts meet at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida, to discuss clerical sexual misconduct with males in the Catholic Church. This book is the fruit of that gathering.

The volume is divided into four sections: Part one examines church culture through the lens of the social sciences; part two looks at the cultural influences inside and outside the church that exacerbated the problem of clerical sexual abuse; part three takes a legal and policy perspective; and part four provides pastoral and theological reflections to guide the path forward.

“Clerical Sexual Misconduct” examines the causes of the crisis, both inside and outside the Catholic Church, such as the role that cultural Marxism has played in undermining the family and sexual morality; the impact of the now-debunked Kinsey reports on human sexuality; and the pernicious theories of Wilhelm Reich that undergirded the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

At the same time, seminaries began to shift from a traditional approach to Catholic morality to a therapeutic, psychological model, among other internal shifts, the authors argue.

The experts in this volume blast the prevailing notion the Catholic Church has suffered a pedophilia crisis when in fact rates of pedophilia are far lower in the church than in society at large and, unlike the society at large, the vast majority of the victims of clerical sexual abuse are adolescent males not females.

The book explores the impact of changing views of homosexuality, including the propaganda of the so-called gay gene, and examines how modern interpretations of Scripture have tried to argue there is no New Testament basis for prohibitions against homosexual relationships.

“Clerical Sexual Misconduct” reveals new analysis of data regarding the correlations of clerical sexual abuse on males with a concentration of homosexuals in the priesthood.

Sociologist Father Paul Sullins shows that fewer homosexuals have been ordained since 2000, and consequently reports of sexual abuse against males also have gone down, indicating the wave that peaked in the 1970s has diminished and now receded. But Father Sullins warns the persistent but low level of abuse of girls remains “undiminished.”

Other studies of clerical sexual abuse and news reports have often blamed clericalism and the discipline of celibacy for the problem. Both issues are given a thorough analysis in the volume.

Perhaps of most interest to chanceries will be the section on legal and policy matters that looks at canon law, church structures, episcopal accountability, civil law and criminal law in relation to preventing abuse, punishing perpetrators and helping victims.

While comprehensive and packed with scholarly footnotes, “Clerical Sexual Misconduct” offers an engrossing read, accessible to anyone who cares about cleansing the scourge of clerical sexual abuse from the church and in preventing its resurgence.

The analysis is unsparing and multifaceted but at the same time hopeful. The last section of the book looks at ways the Catholic Church can recover her teaching on human sexuality. It looks at the nature of manliness exemplified by Jesus Christ and at the examples set by the lives of saintly priests. It also advocates renewal of a Scripture-based morality that includes the Marian dimension and the power of the Holy Spirit to make living a holy, loving, chaste life possible.

***

Gyapong is a freelance journalist in Ottawa who covered Canadian national affairs for Catholic media for 15 years. Previously, she spent 17 years at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 12 of them as a television news producer.


Review by Dr. Pravin Thevathasan

July 28, 2020 • Pravin Thevathasan • Christendom Awake

Copyright © Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2020

In September 2018, a group of international experts met at Ave Mari Law School to respond to the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. This book is the result of that meeting. Over the last decade I have read several books on the subject, often written by disgruntled Catholics or liberals who loathe the Church and who exploit this very real issue to further their own agenda. What I felt was required was an in-depth analysis in order to bring about an authentic Catholic renewal. I believe that this is the book that was needed.

There are four parts in this book. The first looks at the data on clerical sexual abuse. The second seeks to examine problems in the larger society that has contributed to this. The third looks at the legal aspects and the fourth very importantly identifies the Catholic solution towards an authentic renewal.
I was particularly interested in how Alfred Kinsey and Wilhelm Reich sought to undermine traditional sexual morality. Both were enormously successful.

Both turn out to have been sexual deviants themselves. Indeed so many of the “expert”s turn out to have had their own very personal agenda. Also of great interest was the effects of cultural Marxism in the Church, universities and other institutions. This movement sought to eradicate traditional sexual morality especially by promoting sexual activity in young people.

Some of the findings noted are well known but fully worth reiterating: rates of pedophilia in the Church are much lower than in the wider society. However, the majority of victims in the Church are adolescent males. In the wider society they are young females.

In my own, now sadly dated, CTS booklet on the subject, I suggested that homosexuality was at least part of the problem. For saying this, I was criticized in the liberal Catholic media. I was therefore particularly interested in the chapters on homosexuality by Paul Sullins. It would appear that in the last decade, seminarians are more likely to be orthodox in belief and less likely to be homosexual. As a result, there are less current reports of sexual abuse of young males within the Church. His conclusion appears straightforward: both homosexual Catholic priests and the spate of male-on-male abuse have come and gone, in twin waves that crested 30 years ago and have now receded to almost nothing. We can but hope he is correct: some excellent young Catholics told me recently about their negative experiences in a well known seminary not too far from Britain. Less dramatic but more enduring is the sexual abuse of females, which over the same period of time has taken place at a relatively constant rate that persists undiminished to the present day.

It is also noted elsewhere in the book that gay men are more likely to have been sexually molested as boys and to have experienced other forms of family disruption. The abusers of children are more likely to have been abused themselves as children. Gay men see these experiences as less harmful than heterosexual men. They may not fully realize the damage caused.

The book ends with a discussion of how the Church can recover from this tragedy. We need masculine priests who image the person of Jesus Christ. We have met them, loads of them and thank God for them. Towards the end of my own booklet, I asked the question: how can we get to heaven without priests? Masculinity and tenderness can and ought to go together. I have noticed that priests who have a strong devotion to Our Lady are particularly good in the confessional. We see this combination of masculinity and tenderness in the saints, Saint Francis de Sales, for example. There also needs to be an orthodox formation in the seminaries. So much of the seventies theology turned out to be useless psycho-babble. The authors also call for a return to a Catholic morality that is solidly scriptural.

In summary, this is by far the best book on the subject.


Review by Michael McAuley

November 2020 • Michael McAuley • The Quadrant

Adolphe and Rychlak’s Clerical Sexual Misconduct: an Interdisciplinary Analysis is a very controversial work, especially for those who consider the Report of the McClellan Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse beyond question. The perspective which underpins the Royal Commission is a perspective indifferent, if not hostile, to religious belief.

Adolphe and Rychlak bring balance to the debate about Clerical Sexual Abuse by providing another perspective, a perspective which was missing in the Final Report of the Royal Commission. Clerical Sexual Misconduct provides a perspective which will be endorsed by a variety of other religious groups, as well as other voluntary associations.

Jane Adolphe, Professor of Law Ave Maria University, and Adjunct Professor of Law Notre Dame Sydney, referring to Cardinal Pell’s acquittal in the High Court, comments on the debilitating challenges faced by the majority of seminarians, priests and bishops whose commitment to their priestly vows remains the bedrock of their spirituality, but who find themselves vilified due to the misdeeds of their colleagues.

For faithful Catholics, Clerical Sexual Misconduct is a disturbing read, suggesting that both seminaries, and houses of formation for religious, in the past sixty years, have, on occasion, been seriously corrupt – and that some men have been ordained, and/or admitted to the religious life, who ought not have been. Jane Adolphe, refers to Pope Francis, commenting on “cliques”, “lobbies”, and “duplicity”, even within the Roman Curia, acting to corrupt the Church.

Sexual violence and cover-up within the Church is illustrated by the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Emeritus Archbishop of Washington. McCarrick was ordained in 1958, appointed Auxiliary Bishop of New York in 1977, Bishop of Metuchen 1981, Archbishop of Newark 1986, Archbishop of Washington 2000, a cardinal in 2001. McCarrick co-founded the Papal Foundation which gave him access to large amounts of money, and provided an international profile. Friendly, warm, gregarious, charismatic, McCarrick exercised enormous influence and power. McCarrick has a long history of predatory criminal conduct, involving not only minors, but seminarians. There were credible complaints long before McCarrick’s eventual laicisation. There is a good argument that priests and bishops covered up McCarrick’s criminal acts. McCarrick was laicised in 2019.

Catholics have always realised the Church is a church of sinners. With the exception of John who remained with the women at the foot of the Cross, Peter and the Apostles skedaddled at the Crucifixion. Judas, of course, betrayed Jesus. Grahame Greene’s The Power and the Glory (1940), is the story of an alcoholic priest, unfaithful to his vow of celibacy, in the Mexican state of Tabasco during the persecution of the 1930’s. The whiskey priest, despite his failures, remains faithful to his priesthood, celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments. Christ’s kingdom, his power and his glory (words taken from the Mass) is a kingdom of sinners.

Clericalism goes a long way to explain McCarrick’s rise to the top-most levels of the hierarchy, even though the allegations and suspicions concerning him were apparently known to, or at least suspected by, highly placed persons in the Church at a fairly early date. Despite what they knew or suspected, these persons turned a blind eye, allowing McCarrick’s ascent to continue. This was clericalism at work. McCarrick was a well-connected part of the system.

Pope Francis denounces such clericalism in strong terms. Shaw argues that the fundamental error of clericalism is to suppose that the clerical state sets the standard of excellence, the norm, for everyone. But it is personal vocation that sets the standard, and establishes the norm of fidelity to God’s will for each of us. For some, that involves the priesthood; for others, it is a calling to the life of a lay person living by the Gospel in the middle of the world. Hearing and heeding God’s call is what counts.

Clerical Sexual Misconduct is a symposium of twenty or so Catholic scholars, more than half of whom are women, most of whom work in American Catholic universities, seminaries, and other Catholic bodies. It deals with misconduct by Catholic priests and religious as regards boys, adolescent males, seminarians, and candidates for the religious life. Its focus is on the United States, but much of the argument might well apply to Australia. Clerical Sexual Misconduct deals with this from sociological, cultural, legal, and theological perspectives. All of the authors have a Catholic approach – which means they see human sexuality as good, as a gift from God, to be exercised in mutual self-giving by a man and a woman in marriage for the sake of each other, and for the sake of their children; and celibacy in the priesthood and religious life, also as a good, a challenging good, to be adopted as a way of life for those who are able, as self-giving for Christ and his Church. Given the scholarship and depth of Clerical Sexual Misconduct (exemplified by the footnotes, which run to almost eighty pages) I select here the discussion which I find most interesting.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse claims that sexual abuse is not related to sexual orientation, albeit noting that most of the victims are boys or adolescents, and most of the perpetrators adult males. By contrast a number of the scholars (including D Paul Sullins of the Catholic University of America, and Judith A Reisman, Professor in the School of Behavioural Science, Liberty University, Virginia) who contribute to Clerical Sexual Abuse take a different view. Ultimately, this is an empirical issue to be determined by the evidence. Chapters 1 to 5 of Clerical Sexual Misconduct (which have a sociological perspective) should be read together with the Final Report of the Royal Commission. In many respects, the Royal Commission and Clerical Sexual Misconduct provide contrasting viewpoints, such that one’s understanding can only be enhanced by reading each.

Nevertheless, both the Royal Commission and the various contributors to Clerical Sexual Misconduct agree that processes for selecting, screening and training candidates for the priesthood and religious life need to be enhanced. The formation, support, and supervision of priests and religious also needs to be reformed. There are many aspects of the Royal Commission Final Report about which the contributors to Clerical Sexual Misconduct have no great issue.

American Catholic priests and religious have been influenced by the culture in which they have grown up, a culture which has perspectives deeply at odds with the Catholic world-view, a culture in which sexual addiction is common. Christians, priests included, are passive recipients of this profoundly anti-Christian culture. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, a professor from the Cardinal Wyszynski University, Warsaw, argues the roots of clergy sexual abuse are embedded in the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s. The extra ecclesial factors in clergy sexual abuse include the writings of Karl Marx, William Reich, Alfred Kinsey, Herbert Marcuse, as well as certain technological developments. One might also add Hugh Hefner of Playboy magazine, and indeed pornography, which is freely available in almost every newsagency, and on the internet.

The intra-ecclesial factors, the roots of clergy sexual misconduct, include the adoption of therapeutic tools that mushroomed into a therapeutic culture. Sin, indeed crime, is seen no longer as sin, no longer as crime, but as an illness. For instance, in the diocese of Ballarat Bishop Mulkearns sent predators off for “treatment” when he ought have commenced a canonical process against them, and ought, in the meantime, have removed them from ministry. Susan Mulheron, Chancellor for Canonical Affairs, Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, comments the accused priest, if he did not steadfastly deny the allegation, would typically express remorse for the sexual sin, and promise not to do it again. The Bishop would usually send the priest away for psychological treatment, and receive him back with a report from the treatment centre that the priest was safe to return to ministry. When this was able to be done without public disclosure, it was considered to be for the good of avoiding scandal and damage to the reputation of the priest, and of the Church.

Other intra-ecclesial factors include the culture of silence that protected predators from criminal sanctions. Concern for a priest who has committed a grave sin is one thing, but protecting (even concealing) a depraved man because he is a priest is entirely different. Another intra-ecclesial factor is the improper Eucharistic culture in which priests, systematically committing grave sexual sins, are daily celebrating Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion. Finally, an intra-ecclesial factor in the sexual abuse crisis is a loss of faith among some clergy, which often involves a denial of sin, and deep opposition to Church authority.

What has been the role of the law of the Church, canon law, as regards clerical sexual abuse? Why did Bishop Mulkearns, Bishop of Ballarat, not act against priests who were abusing children? Cardinal Raymond Burke, perhaps the Church’s foremost canon lawyer, has commented it is often asserted that the scandal was caused by the absence of a proper legal procedure to address clerical sexual misconduct. The truth is that the Church has dealt with such crimes in the past, and had in place a process by which to investigate accusations, with full respect for the rights of all parties involved, including protection of alleged victims during the time of investigation; to reach a just decision regarding their truth, and to apply the appropriate sanction. The law in place was simply not followed.

The Royal Commission commented on the failure of the Catholic Church in Australia to engage with canon law before the Melbourne Response (1996) and Towards Healing (1997). What the Royal Commission referred to as the “reluctance of Catholic Church leaders to engage with canonical disciplinary processes” may be attributed to antinomianism, and disregard for authority which prevailed in the Church in the 1960’s, ’70’s, ’80’s and even beyond. The means for dealing with sexual predators amongst the clergy were available in Books VI and VII of the Code of Canon Law. Susan Mulheron, argues that the norms were not applied because the bishops (or their canonists for that matter) did not understand them well enough to employ them, or the bishops outright rejected the use of penal measures as being incompatible with the pastoral approach of the Church.

Canon law derives from a theological understanding of the Church and of the priesthood. The Royal Commission, lacking a theological understanding, indeed displaying theological ignorance, makes a number of proposals at odds with the Catholic tradition stretching back to the Apostles.

Russell Shaw argues that clericalism is not the cause of sex abuse by priests, nor is sex abuse by priests the cause of clericalism. But clericalism provides a congenial environment for abuse by clergy and a rationale for it to be covered up by Church authorities. Clericalism is pervasive where bishops and priests are regarded as the active and dominant element in the Church, leaving the non-ordained merely to pray and pay.

Clericalism is a sense that being a priest entitles one to respect above that to be bestowed on others, especially laypeople – respect not just for the office, but for the person of the priest, and all his decisions and actions. It is the belief that because of a priest’s ordination, education, and sacrifices, he deserves special deference, even obedience. It is accompanied by a sense that, since priests have such an elevated status, and have renounced spouse, family and career, they deserve to be compensated with nice things – nice residences, cars, vacations, and dining at fine restaurants. Laity can be at fault for nurturing clericalism, especially that of bishops. Laity can fawn over their priests and bishops, and pamper them. This is often meant to show gratitude, love, and respect, but it can also serve to put clerics beyond criticism. Seminarians need to be warned about the tendency of laity to ‘hero-worship’ clergy, so the special attention and deference they receive does not make them proud.

Such clericalism is inconsistent with the teaching of the Church, as illustrated by the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, and Pope St John Paul II’s Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, Christifideles Laici, as well as the 1983 Code of Canon Law which reflects that teaching. Canon 208 provides:

“In virtue of their rebirth in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful (that is to say, among clerics and laity alike) a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in building up the body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and function.”

What is the theological perspective which underlies Clerical Sexual Misconduct? The argument by the scholars who have contributed to this work is very consistent with Benedict XVI’s piece on The Catholic Priesthood published in 2019. Benedict XVI, despite his advancing age, has lost none of his acuteness. Benedict argues that the priesthood involves becoming one with Jesus Christ, and renouncing all that belongs only to self. The fact that Jesus gives himself forever as food during the Last Supper signifies the anticipation of his death and Resurrection. This transforms an act of cruelty into an act of love and self-giving. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church, and humanity, are ceaselessly drawn into this process and involved in it. The vocation of the priest is one of self-abandonment. This requires exclusivity with regard to God. The priest must continually be purified and overcome by Christ, so that Christ is the one who speaks and acts in the priest. The exercise of priestly ministry must be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least, and the servant of all. The priestly vocation is not easy.

Nevertheless, the Church has always understood that the presence of Christ in the priest is not to be seen as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. Whilst the action of the Holy Spirit extends to the sacraments, so that the priest’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the priest leaves human traces not always faithful to the Gospel.

Although Clerical Sexual Misconduct is mainly directed to the United States, Dr Jane Adolphe, does discuss, the Royal Commission. Jane Adolphe considers the Royal Commission’s analysis of clericalism as a trojan horse used to attack the Church, in effect, a vehicle used by the Royal Commission to attack religious freedom. Jane Adolphe refers to the Royal Commission’s flawed analysis of “clericalism” to justify a critique, beyond its competence, of certain theological concepts. Adolphe comments that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church succumbed to organisational pressures similar to those of secular organisations, not something peculiar to the Catholic Church. Adolphe further argues that the Royal Commission assumes the Church is equivalent to an international non-government organisation. Catholics, of course, believe the Church was founded by Jesus Christ who gave it a particular constitution. The Church has both divine and human aspects, something which the Commissioners do not understand. Adolphe points out the Royal Commission has made assumptions impacting its research, based on what is, from the Church’s perspective, a flawed understanding. While the Royal Commission has made findings and recommendations, some of which are useful, those findings and recommendations are limited by the Royal Commission’s underlying philosophical and theological assumptions.

In a postscript to Clerical Sexual Misconduct, five female Catholic scholars – who teach young men aspiring to the priesthood – comment that there have been instances where the culture of some seminaries has led to toleration or even facilitation of sexual activity and the sexual abuse or harassment of seminarians. We now know that those who have attempted to expose such corruption have often been disregarded, and sometimes dismissed. Such a culture not only violates chastity, but also creates a dangerous climate of secrecy and sexual indulgence that is likely to lead to sexual abuse of minors by a few, and continued sexual misconduct with adults by others. The Church cannot recover from this crisis without assuring the proper screening of candidates prior to admission to the seminary and rigorous formation in the habits needed to achieve priestly virtue.

Clerical Sexual Misconduct is a magisterial work, providing a much-needed balance to some of the assertions of the McClellan Royal Commission. These issues are too important for there not to be real dialogue, real debate on contestable matters. The Church will reform the seminaries, the priesthood and religious orders, in accordance with the sources of Christian belief, a reform from which there is no going back.

Michael McAuley is a Sydney barrister


Helpful insights into the Sexual Abuse Crisis • Review by Michael McAuley

October 19, 2020 • Michael McAuley • MercatorNet

The conclusions of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse are seldom questioned. But the perspective which underpinned the work of the Royal Commission is indifferent, if not hostile, to religious belief.

Jane Adolphe and Ronald J. Rychlak help to remedy that deficiency in the splendid study which they have edited, Clerical Sexual Misconduct: an Interdisciplinary Analysis.

This weighty book contains papers from a symposium of 20 or so Catholic scholars, more than half of whom are women. Most of them work in American Catholic universities and seminaries. It deals with misconduct by priests and religious as regards boys, adolescent males, seminarians, and candidates for the religious life from sociological, cultural, legal, and theological perspectives. Its focus is the United States but much of it applies to Australia as well.

For faithful Catholics, Clerical Sexual Misconduct will be a disturbing read. It acknowledges that over the past 60 years seminaries and houses of formation for religious have sometimes been seriously corrupt. Unsuitable men have been ordained or admitted to the religious life.

However, Catholics have always known that their Church is a church of sinners. With the exception of the Apostle John, who remained at the foot of the Cross, Peter and the other Apostles skedaddled. Judas betrayed Jesus.

Given the scholarship and depth of Clerical Sexual Misconduct (exemplified by the footnotes, which run to almost 80 pages) I have selected the discussions which I found most interesting.

Formation for priests

Both the Royal Commission and the contributors to Clerical Sexual Misconduct agree that processes for selecting, screening and training candidates for the priesthood and religious life need to be enhanced. The formation, support, and supervision of priests and religious also need to be reformed. There are many aspects of the Royal Commission’s final report with which the contributors to Clerical Sexual Misconduct have no great issue. The Church cannot recover from this crisis without assuring the proper screening of candidates and rigorous formation in the habits needed to achieve priestly virtue.

American priests and religious have been influenced by the culture in which they have grown up, a culture deeply at odds with the Catholic world-view. It is a culture in which sexual addiction is common. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, a professor from the Cardinal Wyszynski University, Warsaw, argues that the roots of clergy sexual abuse are embedded in the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s.

The extra-ecclesial factors in clergy sexual abuse include the writings of Karl Marx, William Reich, Alfred Kinsey, Herbert Marcuse, as well as certain technological developments. One might also add Hugh Hefner, of Playboy magazine, and widespread pornography.

The roots of clergy sexual misconduct also include the adoption of therapeutic tools that have mushroomed into a therapeutic culture. Sin, even serious crime, was seen no longer as sin, no longer even as crime, but as illness. For instance, in the diocese of Ballarat (in the State of Victoria) the late Bishop Ronald Mulkearns used to send notorious predators off for “treatment” when he ought to have commenced a canonical process against them and removed them from ministry.

Susan Mulheron, Chancellor for Canonical Affairs, Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, observes that an accused priest, if he did not steadfastly deny the allegation, would typically express remorse for sexual sin, and promise not to do it again.

Thereupon the bishop would usually send the priest away for psychological treatment. When he returned, he would be clutching a report from the treatment centre that the priest was safe to return to ministry. This “discretion” was considered to be for the good of avoiding scandal and damage to the reputation of the priest, and of the Church.

In a postscript to the book, five female Catholic scholars comment that there have been instances where the culture of some seminaries has led to toleration or even facilitation of sexual activity and the sexual abuse or harassment of seminarians. We now know that those who have attempted to expose such corruption have often been ignored and sometimes dismissed.

This culture was a disaster. It not only fostered violations of chastity but also created a dangerous climate of secrecy and sexual indulgence that was likely to lead to sexual abuse of minors by a few, and continued sexual misconduct with adults by others.

Other factors are also at work. These include the culture of silence that protected predators from criminal sanctions. Concern for a priest who has committed a grave sin is one thing, but protecting or even concealing a depraved man because he is a priest is entirely different. Another factor is an improper Eucharistic culture in which priests who regularly commit grave sexual sins are daily celebrating Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion. Finally, there is a loss of faith among some clergy, which often involves a denial of sin and deep opposition to Church authority.

The role of canon law

What has been the role of the law of the Church (canon law) as regards clerical sexual abuse? Why did Bishop Mulkearns not act against priests who were abusing children? Cardinal Raymond Burke, perhaps the Church’s foremost canon lawyer, says that the scandal was not caused by the absence of a proper legal procedure to address clerical sexual misconduct. There was a legal procedure available.

The truth is that the Church dealt with such crimes in the past. It had in place a process to investigate accusations, with full respect for the rights of all parties involved, including protection of alleged victims during the time of investigation; to reach a just decision regarding their truth; and to apply the appropriate sanction. The law was simply not followed.

The Royal Commission commented on the failure of the Catholic Church in Australia to engage with canon law before the Melbourne Response (1996) and Towards Healing (1997). What the Royal Commission correctly referred to as the “reluctance of Catholic Church leaders to engage with canonical disciplinary processes” may be attributed to antinomianism and a disregard for authority which prevailed in the Church in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and even beyond.

But the means for dealing with sexual predators among the clergy were readily available in Books VI and VII of the Code of Canon Law. Susan Mulheron, chancellor for Canonical Affairs for the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, argues in Clerical Sexual Misconduct that the norms were not applied because the bishops (or their canon lawyers, for that matter) did not understand them. Sometimes the bishops rejected outright the use of penal measures as incompatible with a pastoral approach.

Clericalism

Another contributor, Russell Shaw, makes some very perceptive comments on clericalism. He contends that clericalism is not the cause of sex abuse by priests, nor is sex abuse by priests the cause of clericalism. But clericalism provides a congenial environment for abuse by clergy and a rationale for it to be covered up by Church authorities. Clericalism is pervasive where bishops and priests are regarded as the active and dominant element in the Church, leaving the non-ordained merely to pray and pay.

Clericalism is a sense that being a priest entitles one to more respect, especially from lay people — respect not just for the office, but for the priest himself and all his decisions and actions. It is the belief that ordination, educational attainments, and self-sacrifice entitle a man to special deference, even obedience. It is accompanied by a sense that, since priests have such an elevated status, and have renounced spouse, family and career, they deserve to be compensated with nice things — holiday houses, cars, vacations, and dining at fine restaurants.

Laity can be at fault for nurturing clericalism, especially that of bishops. Laity can fawn on their priests and bishops, and pamper them. This is often meant to show gratitude, love, and respect, but it can also put clerics beyond criticism. Seminarians need to be warned about the tendency of laity to hero-worship clergy so the special attention and deference they receive does not make them proud.

Such clericalism is inconsistent with the teaching of the Church, as illustrated by Second Vatican Council documents and Pope St John Paul II’s statement on the laity, Christifideles Laici, as well as the 1983 Code of Canon Law which reflects that teaching. Canon 208 provides:

“In virtue of their rebirth in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful (that is to say, among clerics and laity alike) a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in building up the body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and function.”

The case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, formerly Archbishop of Washington DC, illustrates the evils that clericalism can spawn. McCarrick was ordained as a priest in 1958. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York City in 1977, bishop of Metuchen in 1981, archbishop of Newark in 1986, archbishop of the nation’s capital in 2000, and a cardinal in 2001.

McCarrick co-founded a Papal foundation which gave him access to large amounts of money and gave him an international profile. Friendly, warm, gregarious, and charismatic, McCarrick exercised enormous influence and power. But he had a long history of predatory criminal conduct, involving not only seminarians but also minors. Long before his laicisation in 2019, there had been credible complaints, but they were ignored.

Highly placed persons in the Church suspected McCarrick at a fairly early date. But they turned a blind eye, allowing him to ascend further. This was clericalism at its worst.

A theological perspective

What is the theological perspective which underlies Clerical Sexual Misconduct? The argument by the scholars who have contributed to this work is very consistent with an article which Benedict XVI wrote on the Catholic priesthood in 2019. Despite his advancing age, he has lost none of his acuteness.

Benedict argues that the priesthood involves becoming one with Jesus Christ, and renouncing all that belongs only to self. The exercise of priestly ministry must be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least of all and the servant of all.

Nevertheless, the Church has always understood that the presence of Christ in the priest is not to be seen as if he is preserved from human weaknesses including a spirit of domination, error, and even sin. While the action of the Holy Spirit extends to the sacraments, so that the priest’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the priest leaves human traces which are not always faithful to the Gospel. The priestly vocation is not an easy one.

Clerical Sexual Misconduct is a magisterial work, providing a much-needed balance to some of the assertions of the McClellan Royal Commission. These issues are too important for there not to be real debate on contestable matters.

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

Michael McAuley is a barrister practising in Sydney, Australia