Language, power and harm in clerical sexual misconduct

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Three years ago, when I began my research Masters into clerical sexual misconduct involving adults (CSMIA), I wrote an article for Eureka Street on this issue. I have now completed that study.

Woman in confessionalIt revealed highly relevant and crucial information towards the understanding of CSMIA. One conclusion based on my and other studies is that three major aspects need to be included in any discussion of CSMIA, in order to reach a fuller understanding of how CSMIA is able to occur, how it is interpreted, how it affects people's lives, and how it is dealt with. Those three aspects are language, power and vulnerability, and harm.

Language and definitions surrounding CSMIA, consent, celibacy and vulnerability are of major importance in coming to a balanced understanding of this phenomenon. CSMIA continues to be commonly defined as simply a mutually consensual affair, albeit sinful and canonically illegal. However, when perceived as abuse of power, abdication of fiduciary duty, or the crossing of ethical and professional boundaries, a very different discussion emerges.

For example, when defined as such, instead of the focus being on the victim/survivor and whether they consented to such a relationship or not, it shifts to the behaviour and role of the professional/cleric. All the experts reviewed agree that the responsibility for all professional sexual misconduct lies with the more powerful person — the professional/cleric.

Until such behaviour is discussed and defined under these more professional concepts, aspects such as consent, power, vulnerability, and harm are not considered seriously or intelligently enough to do justice to the reality of victims/survivors.

However, such a concept is still quite foreign to both common and official language surrounding CSMIA. The major Church document, Integrity in Ministry, at least, is partly acknowledging this more professional approach when it states that clerics must 'exercise caution in the use of one's status or institutional power, never using these for one's own advantage'.

That fact that clerical positional power has been used as a tool for the abuse by both male and female clerics is obvious — the evidence lies in the stories of victims/survivors themselves. Clerics are the respected and trusted religious professionals ordained by the church to minister to the needs of its members. In the course of Catholic life, women and men often divulge very private vulnerabilities to these clerics which becomes, by nature, a relationship based on a power imbalance.

The power imbalance is not the issue — all professional interactions are based on such an imbalance, and indeed this is why professionals are sought out: for their expertise. However, in such a professional context, the more vulnerable person can easily be manipulated and abused.

 

"Statistically, young adults and young male and female Religious usually figure very highly among victim numbers; this group also often express some of the most painful accounts of the harms they experienced as a result."

 

But clergy are not only religious 'professionals' — they become family friends, youth group leaders, and are involved in any number of everyday activities in parish life. This mixing of professional power with more personal or intimate roles can lead to a blurring of boundaries and can contribute to the ability of a potentially abusive cleric to sexualise relationships, an action that in other professions would be seen as a gross violation of trust and professional boundaries. As such, clerical/professional power, and the corresponding 'positional vulnerability' of the laity, and, 'lesser' clerics, needs to be included if any deeper understanding of CSMIA is to occur.

What also, most importantly, needs to be factored in is the state of personal vulnerability with which adults come to their expert clerics for help. Until positional and personal vulnerabilities in relation to clerical power are included in discourses on CSMIA, the common perception of CSMIA being simply 'affairs' between power-equal adults will remain the common and official fall-back position, and the harms that CSMIA creates will remain unresolved.

The harm that CSMIA produces needs to be seriously and transparently investigated. The fact that CSMIA causes serious harm is more than evident. Statistically, young adults and young male and female Religious usually figure very highly among victim numbers; this group also often express some of the most painful accounts of the harms they experienced as a result.

However, all survivors of CSMIA revealed harms resulting from their experience/s of CSMIA. Those harms included deep and life-long psycho-spiritual disorientation, a breakdown of trust, physical illnesses and sequelae of practical consequences. These harms are then only compounded when Church responses neglect to define CSMIA correctly and do not take complaints seriously.

When the elements of language, power and vulnerability, and harm are included in discourses on CSMIA, a broad range of hitherto unaddressed dynamics are revealed such as grooming, consent, and disclosure issues. Also, clearer distinctions between overt assaults, the more grooming-based CSMIA, and clerics 'falling in love', are more clearly delineated.

Without the inclusion of these three elements, CSMIA can never be accurately or rationally discussed or understood, and a resulting lack of drive for justice and compassion-driven change cannot help but result. Justice and compassion are not needed if CSMIA is believed to be only an 'affair between mutually consenting adults', often simply because the victim was over 18 years old. According to such a definition, the event is now an 'affair', not abuse; it involves a 'consenting adult', not a groomed, vulnerable person, and it is 'mutual' and, therefore, not exploitative.

The way CSMIA is being perceived and dealt with at present is similar to how the clerical sexual abuse of children was dealt with just a few decades ago. Then, the spotlight was shone on the issue. CSMIA now needs to be spotlighted because its victims, like their abused-as-children counterparts, are not being believed, they are suffering, mostly in silence, and they need their Church and society to hear them.

 


Stephen de Weger headshotHaving just completed his Master of Justice (Research), Stephen de Weger is about to continue his research into clerical sexual misconduct involving adults, as a PhD student. His main areas of focus will be Church, and criminal justice responses to victims/survivors of CSMIA, with some focus on male victims/survivors.

Topic tags: Stephen de Weger, clergy sex abuse


 

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Stephen it is not just about abuse of power and inequality. The Church is steeped in degrees of status rank. It is a wealthy medieval political organisation which refuses to answer to secular authority. It beggars belief that the "Church", (if you can call the members of the Catholic Congregation that), decrees men take a vow of celibacy when it is clearly incapable of being kept. If nothing else, the scandals uncovered by the Royal Commission should show that priests and religious must have the right to marry. Why persist with the celibacy charade?
francis Armstrong | 16 February 2017


Sexual misconduct by professionals involving adults who trust them damages both people. This is so for clerics as well. Abuse of power can be very complicated. Those adults who have been abused by someone in the more powerful position have had their personal integrity violated, their body has been violated and their sense of trust has been very significantly damaged. The path back to mental and physical health is arduous and as painful as life gets. No one who abuses other people escapes consequences either. Hopefully, studies such as Stephen's will educate people about this very complex issue.
Pam | 16 February 2017


It seems to me that an un-reported consequence of the sexual abuse revelations and the consequent huge loss of confidence in clergy, is a further and dramatic fall in participation by lay people in the sacrament of reconciliation. Even among regular mass attenders in my diocese, only a tiny fraction attend reconciliation. If the sacrament is to survive at all, - and I do not doubt its value - the third rite must come back. Burying heads in the sand about this, like clerical celibacy, and contraception, is just daft. The laity are voting with their feet.
Lew | 17 February 2017


What you say rings true, Stephen. The former Cardinal in Scotland was removed from his position because of his abuse of young seminarians. The current Cardinal has said he does not want this man back in Scotland. A Cambridge cleric, who was both an academic and an assisting priest at a church in the city, as well as a Canon of Ely Cathedral - a Canon Theologian in fact - was suspended from duties due to his conduct with vulnerable young men at the university. This problem is quite frequent and has a devastating effect on the victims. A former Anglican clergyman - himself gay - did not attend one theological college in England because the older gay students there treated new students as fair game. He was not prepared to accept this. There are 'clerical cultures', assumptions and practices which are extremely unhealthy and which need to change. Some of the conduct is positively criminal and when so needs to be prosecuted. You are right, the language, mode of thought and action in clerical circles are in urgent need of reform. Perhaps the Church/es could do this before more scandals engulf it/them?
Edward Fido | 17 February 2017


In this discussion of clerical abuse, during the weeks of the Royal Commission's "Catholic Wrap-up", Mr de Weger rightly alludes to the power of language -- and thus of the ways in which we all think -- as everyone tries to understand this appalling story and its causation. One of the most widely-used words during these hearings has been religious "formation", though as I listened to the evidence I decided that "malformation" would be a better term. Why not simply say "education" or "training" (it was good enough for me in my days as an educator of young doctors)? A few people spoke as if they believe that seminarians should be like putty in the hands of the seminary staff and that those staff know perfectly (even uniquely) how to "form" them. In the Cold War era we would have called that "brain-washing", and, as with that time, what I heard convinced me that many of those people were the very worst ones to have any role in the "formation" of priests, their world view seemed so narrow and cocksure.
Dr John Carmody | 17 February 2017


Stephen. Did your research include the cohort of clergy and religious who were not the instigating seducer but rather the victims of seduction to their disadvantage with subsequent long-lasting personal and professional damage? I have had personal and professional experience of four priests and one brother who became victims of predatory women. I have not had personal experience nor heard of women religious being victims of predatory males but imagine it also happens.
john frawley | 17 February 2017


Thank you for this article. This is a difficult and sensitive issue which you have explored with determination and skill.
Ross | 17 February 2017


Francis |Armstrong:”a vow of celibacy when it is clearly incapable of being kept”.... The story of David and Uriah (2 Samuei 11), throws a lot of light on aspects of this topic. Uriah’s wife,Bathsheba ,while Uriah is serving in the army, bathes herself in view of David, who is struck by her beauty, and sends for her, and makes her pregnant. To try to cover his deed, he summonses Uriah from battle, and bids him “Go home and enjoy yourself”. However Uriah, from a feeling of dedication and solidarity with his fellow fighters declined to enjoy himself while they were still suffering. In desperation, David arranged for him to be exposed to the enemy and killed by them, effectively murdering him. David blinds himself to his crimes, until Nathan contrives to make him face them. Uriah could remain celibate from dedication to a cause, as could many clerics, but when modern scholarship and changed circumstances revealed flaws in their beliefs, they became disoriented and a prey to base and basic instincts. This helps explain, while not excusing their conduct.
Robert Liddy | 17 February 2017


Robert Liddy's comment is perplexing. Is he blaming "modern scholarship" for a centuries-old crime? When did this "scholarship" appear compared with even 20th-century clerical paedophilia? And did those criminal priests and brothers really read that professional literature, thereby becoming "disoriented". And how on earth would that fact make them (in his somewhat lurid language) "a prey to base and basic instincts"? That potentially applies to everyone -- but it is no excuse (nor, really, a plausible explanation) for criminal (not to mention exploitative and egotistical) actions. Of course, he's right: celibacy (however captiously many priests define it to exculpate themselves) is a "Charade" and should be abandoned, no matter what any individual thinks might be its "contribution" to this appalling catalogue of clerical criminality. The fundamental sin is, surely, the abuse of power and that (though unrecognised by the perpetrators) had been going on at every professional and hierarchical level in the Church for centuries. There are none so blind (or perverse or evil) as those who will not see. Regrettably there are still many -- clerics and laity -- who want to keep their eyes shut. This immensely important Royal Commission has made that odious truth all too plain.
Dr John CARMODY | 17 February 2017


Robert Liddy, your analogy is hardly relevant since neither Uriah nor David had taken a vow of celibacy. It was a simple case of a king smitten by the beauty of another man's wife and using his position and influence to seduce her. The later facts of Uriah sleeping with the guards at the palace rather than return home to Bathsheba, reveal he was in a state of battle readiness and believed he should bivouak with his troops rather than indulge himself with comforts denied to them. If that is what you mean by celibacy, it was temporary chapter rather than a lifetime vow. The cover up by David and his decision to send Uriah to be where the fighting was most intense, was despicable. He later married Bathsheba and the child died (as Nathan predicted) because he offended the Lord. The point of the story is that David acknowledged his guilt before the Lord and the Lord forgave him.
francis Armstrong | 17 February 2017


I agree wqith Francis Armstrong- The conclusions of Robert Liddy to my mind are complete red herrings in the context of this article. My broader comment is that I hope Stephen's study does not fall astray by concentrating only on clerical abuse - to avoid that , I hope he is also comparing with abuse by non-clerics, in oder to find what is peculiar to the clerical cases. In particular, I trust that he is also looking into the significance of the many cases in churches where celibacy is not the rule, and those aspoects of the power syndrome whereby the cover-up perpetuates the harm for decades. This latter phenomenon is found among all institutuinal bureaucracies including those with nothing to do with either clerics or celibacy- such as the police, armed forces/ defence academies, state institutions etc.The Catholic church stands out because it has far more clerics and far more institutions where power can abuse the fiduciary relationship than others-and cover it up, and it is world-wide. This is not at all to excuse the abominable statistics, but it needs to be recognised if the proper root causes are to be identified.
Dennis | 17 February 2017


An enormously valuable article by Stephen de Weger; and many good comments. A close friend was propositioned by a senior priest chaplain of young adults. He has never been able to completely reconcile that event which inhibited him from following a call to priestly vocation. How often do our archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons strongly communicate the 10 commandments? Last Sunday's Holy Mass readings emphasised them. Yet, our homilist completely distorted them and then assured us if we had love we could do what we wanted. It's time for a full liturgical year concentrating on the 10 commandments and how they resonate with Jesus' obedience and sacrificial love. Homiletic effeteness has probably contributed to a corrupt church culture in which "anything goes" and where many of the powerful do whatever they like. A smudging of New Testament clarity does not bring caring into a parish or a church but alienation.
Dr Marty Rice | 17 February 2017


In all fairness, this is one instance Brigidine Angela Ryan deserves plaudits. Her balance and integrity on the issue will never make the front pages and deserves to be made mention of here.
Lynne Newington | 18 February 2017


Dr John CARMODY: “Is he (Robert Liddy) blaming modern scholarship for a centuries old crime? (a), There is no blame on modern scholarship. But it was the occasion for the disillusionment and disorientation of many clerics. If there is any blame to be allotted it is on the religious leaders who were carried away with the success of The Way, which was mis-named ‘Christianity’, and exalted to seem to be a God-guaranteed and unique interpretation of God’s relationship with people. (b), we agree that the disopientation is no excuse for abuse, but I contend that it was one of the contributing factors in the recent widespread outbreak of abuse. There were, of course many other contributing factors. ( c), the ‘scholarship’ involved has been growing for many years, but it only lately that its impact on the entrenched ‘tradition’ of the Church has become more effective.
Robert Liddy | 18 February 2017


francis Armstrong: " what you (Robert Liddy) mean by celibacy.... Celibacy means abstaining from sexual relationships; whether undertaken for life or temporarily. Analogously, soldiers can endure hardships when they believe their cause is just and their efforts are effective, but if they lose commitment there have been many cases when they have turned feral, and resort to abuses.
Robert Liddy | 18 February 2017


@ john frawley 17 February 2017 Hello again, John. It is easy to fall into absolutism and myopia when studying any topic or group of people especially ones that you feel strongly about. The ability to be objective, (total objectivity is not possible), needs to be constantly monitored through personal reflection and peer-reviewing both official and unofficial. The issues you raise, firstly that of predatory women (and perhaps men as well) seducing male clergy, and secondly, women religious being victims of predatory males are very real, while statistically speaking, occurring nowhere near as often. With the latter, you will find some information on this in a 1998 study by Chibnall et al. Some very interesting material there. In regards to the former, it is an aspect I have thought long and hard about. I also know it exists. To think that such a reversal of at least personal power cannot or does not happen is unreasonable. However, I have tried to study up why some women might choose only clergy as their 'targets '(if this is the assumption you make here). Not many experts and no researchers have tackled the aspect of the sexual attraction to, or abuse of clergy, but some have connected it to an attraction, not so much to the person but to their positional and personal or spiritual power, and also, unresolved father-need. Predatory behaviour, I suspect (and I’m not a psychiatrist), is also simply based on a need to regain something lost, somewhere along the line. Some such as Janice Russell (see "Out of Bounds") do discuss the issue of attraction to clergy/professionals. If you are referring to 'predatory women' going particularly after clergy, again, you have to ask, why? In such cases Schaeffer points out that there are often issues of transference and very often backgrounds of child sexual abuse. While some of my participants expressed small elements of this 'attraction to priests' these were always women and one man who had at the time, unresolved child sexual abuse traumas or needs of some sort, and/or, who were more ‘attracted’ to the spiritual prowess and expertise of the cleric. As I said, I am not a psychologist/psychiatrist but I have friends who are. Some have referred to a psychological phenomenon called repetition compulsion stemming from unresolved sexual abuse in their past. Often, women (or men) behaving sexually towards a cleric/professional is a form of this. However, if this is not understood by the cleric, such behaviour may be misinterpreted. However, any cleric worth their weight and with enough training would never ‘go there’ anyway (and the belief that men can’t stop themselves once turned on, is a cop-out, a myth). Having said this, there are two major points to be made: a) there is no room here for victim blaming, none at all; b) if a cleric is being seduced by someone, it is their responsibility to stop this. If they can't, don't know how to, don't have the psycho-sexual maturity to do so, then they need help, because the position they are in calls for such knowledge and maturity. Of course compassion is also called for in such cases, for both the clergy and the other person. This is no room for any narrow-minded, one-group-always-bad/other-group-always-good absolutist dichotomy. Predatory behaviour can be found in any social group against any other social group and the more we understand it as a phenomenon in itself, the better equipped we are to stopping it. At the heart of all predatory behaviour is not so much sex but the need to over-power. My question is always, “why does that need exist”. In my case, I have chosen to study the predatory and/or impulsive behaviour of clergy, and for good reason. I need to finally say here that not one of my participants could at all be classes as ‘predatory’ in an way – all were indeed victims/survivors of the behaviour of a clergy person who seriously failed in his/her commitment to their calling. So, while I have written at length here on this, I don’t want to deflect from them and would like to keep the focus on them. They need to be heard.
Stephen de Weger | 18 February 2017


@ francis Armstrong 16 February 2017 Hello Francis. The issue of celibacy as a cause is, in my view, a distraction, sort of. Let me explain. Celibacy, is a state of life found in many religions, e.g. Buddhism (which, by the way is not at all free of its own sexual/power abuse issues, against both children and adults). It is meant to free a person for spiritual pursuits and service. When approached correctly it can achieve this. However, one major issue I have personally had is that it took me decades to truly believe that I could also achieve this as a married man, with children. Indeed, true poverty, chastity and even obedience are not that unusual in the married life. But that’s a little beside the point. Firstly, in response to your statement, I am convinced that even if the Church allowed married priests, CSMIA would still occur; it does in all religions which allows their minsters to be married. In such cases (married ministers offending) there are also, sadly, many other victims such as one’s partner and children. So, celibacy, in and of itself, is not a major cause. However, it is a major contributor and in a number of ways. Firstly – ‘clericalism’ or the establishment of a clerical class. In such a context, there develops a mindset that somehow the pursuits and lived realities of this more ‘noble’ class are somehow more important than those of us mere married or single lay people. This results in the neglect of the victims when celibates fail in their celibacy. This brings us to the second point: Celibacy, complete celibacy from when vows/promises are made to when the cleric dies, is extremely difficult and if Sipe’s figures are to be believed only around 5% of clergy achieve this. Shocking figures indeed but not to me, and I am sure, many if not most clergy/Religious Brothers and Sisters. Many may beg to differ but either way, the issue of non-celibacy rather than celibacy is a major problem which the Church has failed and continues to fail to deal with. Furthermore, how does the Church deal with a predominance of lifelong non-celibacy amongst its clergy? There are two major aspects here which so need serious attention: Firstly, As Kieren Tapsell has shown, the Church a few hundred years ago only, decided that is was best to develop a code of secrecy by which to contain the reality of clerical sexual offending away from public knowledge and discourse. As a result of this secreting away of a very real problem, there has been such little discussion and research into the phenomenon. As well, when it happens victims have little or no language with which to frame their experiences except in the predominant one of ‘somehow, they must have caused it because clergy don’t do such things’. The second major issue that remains hidden just below the surface if the culture of secrecy that results from official secrecy. Within this culture, failures of celibacy are fed by intense guilt or often outright rejection of guilt, blaming the church for imposing such a harsh requirement on its clerics. Either way, but especially because of the guilt aspect, because there are so many sexually active clergy at any one time, (and clergy do gossip) the prospect of blackmail against action, and/or simple inaction when sexual abuse of either children or adults occurs and is reported, is all too possible. How much then, can the sexual activity of clerics be blamed as another direct cause for the covering up of clergy sexual misconduct in all its forms? This is another question I hope to explore in my PhD. So, is celibacy, or mandatory celibacy a cause or problem? Yes, but not for the usual reasons people think. Yes, celibates become lonely and seek love – who can blame them in one way – it’s a discussion few are allowing (see Maltese Married Catholic Priest). Some have even suggested that the definition of celibacy be widened to include occasional sexual activity (see Bordisso pp. 63-66). My question is (and it’s a very seriously neglected question), “what becomes of the other person involved in the ‘noble’ pursuit, the ‘journey to celibacy’?” Also, what of the whole issue of gay clergy and seminary sex (see Thinking Catholicism), and those victims caught up in this form of CSMAA? Regardless of what one may think of such websites or authors, the reality is that CSMAA has victims and we need to hear from their side, their experiences, to get a more realistic version of this whole issue. Hence my study.
Stephen de Weger | 18 February 2017


John Carmody is on the money albeit let's not get celibacy / chastity mixed up with abuse of positional power and predatory exploitation. Perhaps it's an amalgamation and that is something Stephen can further examine.
Jennifer Herrick | 18 February 2017


Marty, the 10 commandment are Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus actually overturned many of them or reinterpreted them. Loosenes in the RCC, Yes. but let's not confuse Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures and basic prolific immorality within out Christian Heirarchy.
Jennifer Herrick | 18 February 2017


One ASPECT i would encourage Stephen to further in his study is the notion of targeted rather than vulnerable. Karen Howe CEO of Disabilities Vic pointed this out to me. To speak of vulnerable adults puts the onus on the victim. To speak of targeted puts the onus on the predator. She said "we have to shift this language". I agree.
Jennifer Herrick | 18 February 2017


To John and Stephen, I need to challenge the notion that lay women in the Catholic Church can be predators of male clerics. Given that women are on the lesser power side of the gross imbalance of power that exists between lay women and male clerics I cannot see how predation is possible from a position of weakness. The cleric holds the position of power. The lay woman does not.
Jennifer Herrick | 20 February 2017


@ Jennifer Herrick 18 February 2017, "targeted rather than vulnerable". Hello Jennifer. I absolutely agree with this concept. It is crucial for the healing and progress of those who have been targeted in CSMAA to break away from the victim-mode which often is exacerbated by victim and self-blaming. Anything, therefore, that contributes to such misplaced blaming such as the focus on 'vulnerability' needs to be further refined and clarified. However,, the reality of vulnerability cannot be by-passed in CSMAA. Virtually all the participants in my study were most definitely vulnerable and in so many different ways, and not just according to definitions of 'vulnerable adult' currently found in Church policies. It is because they were vulnerable that they were targeted, and why they believed the lies the cleric was telling them that the sexual activity was "not wrong" and even "countenanced by God". But you simply cannot blame anyone for being vulnerable. Vulnerability is not characterological but situational and positional. I have gone to great lengths in my study to point out that there can be no victim-blaming because of vulnerability - the concept is an absurdity. However, I will make an even greater effort to use the term 'vulnerability' in the context of 'targeting' as you suggest here. It is after all a question of language, one of the central issues in my conclusions.
Stephen de Weger | 20 February 2017


Thank you for your response, Stephen. You have given me a pile of references which I will pursue in a bid for truth over personal opinion, something we human beings sometimes fail to embrace sufficiently
john frawley | 20 February 2017


Dear Jennifer Herrick - I hope you'd be ready to post specifics on which of the 10 commandments you feel Jesus overturned . . . Was there one that he himself breached? Most biblical theologians read Matthew 5 (with other texts) to show Jesus extended and increased the force of all of the 10. Teaching others to ignore them is surely a risky matter? Yet God is merciful if we show sincere repentance and go and sin no more. Returning to Stephen's work: the proposal is that effete homiletics have contributed to a church culture in which godly self-control is empirically diminished. What do you think, Jennifer?
Dr Marty Rice | 20 February 2017


Jennifer, I can assure you that women do possess remarkable powers of seduction of the male regardless of the male's position in any institutional power structure.
john frawley | 20 February 2017


@ Jennifer Herrick 20 February 2017: "The cleric holds the position of power. The lay woman does not". With this, again I agree, Jennifer. One of the big issues I tried to untangle in my own mind is the issue of power. Outside of this study, it was virtually impossible to always fit everything and everyone and every occasion under 'power imbalance'. What did that mean? As such, I felt the need in this study to split up this element into positional and personal power. Positionally speaking, yes, the clergy is always in a more powerful position. However, when it comes to personal power, this is also most often present but not always. It is not that difficult to imagine a lay person being more personally powerful than a cleric. However, it is also not difficult to imagine less personally powerful clergy ‘flirting’, and using his positional power as an attractant, and doing so for many reasons, one being psychosexual immaturity, and then getting in too deep. One quote from Margaret Kennedy really helped me understand how power imbalance can be used in CSMAA. She said “Clergy may not force, and the woman may desire him, but he has constructed this context, in which he makes her responsible, whilst relinquishing his responsibility for the boundary-keeping he knows he, as the professional, should maintain (Kennedy 2009, 131)”. Regarding vulnerability, I had the same dilemma about that term as I did with 'power'. As a result, I also split these into personal and positional vulnerability. All the participants in my study were positionally vulnerable, but most also revealed elements of personal vulnerabilities in regards to difficult issues they were facing in their lives. Half had been already sexually abused as children, many by priests. Interestingly, two participants (both women) in my study did not have a great deal of respect for the positional power of the clergy, and also did not have any major personal issues at the time. Both of these women were able to 'defend' themselves from the sexual advances of predatory or opportunistic clerics. However, as Tom Doyle says, the people most often victimised in clergy sexual misconduct are the devout and too trusting Catholics who want to be even better Catholics and who have been encultured into putting clergy on a pedestal. These people never suspect for a minute that these representatives of Christ would take advantage of them. Sadly, they do, and too often. But what can such people be ‘blamed’ for? For being Catholic? Again, my study is about predatory and opportunistic clergy but more so, about the lives they damage and destroy. Again, I would like the focus to be on these people and what they have to say. So I’ll finish off this mini-thesis with the words of one of the participants. This young woman was 19-year-old and had been sexually abused as a child and raped a year earlier. She came to the cleric because she was suffering from PTSD and needed help. Her comment shows the manipulation, confusion and deception that victims become trapped in: “I was depressed and frequently suicidal. In retrospect NONE OF IT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED except that HE INITIATED a sexual relationship. I can say for absolute certain that, if it was up to me at all, I would have followed my sense that he was celibate and out of bounds. I fell for his bull-shit because I was convinced he was truly holy”. Hope this goes some way to answering your concern.
Stephen de Weger | 20 February 2017


@Dr Marty Rice 20 February 2017. (Most of the below is my opinion, not my actual research). "Yet, our homilist completely distorted them and then assured us if we had love we could do what we wanted". You and Jennifer raise a major issue which I believe has contributed to CSMAA. While not belonging to any conservative/liberal dichotomy, I do think that while there was a specific meaning and intent behind this oft quoted phrase, it has become a central euphemism by which clergy have groomed, confused, sexually assaulted and trapped their victims. I also believe (though have not yet done the research) that this is where there could well be a connection between possible surges in clergy misconduct and the sexual revolution, one which did certainly have as one of its central tenets - "Love and then do what you will". This is not what Jesus said or meant when he superseded and positively redirected (but did not eliminate) the 10 commandments: Jesus said, A NEW Commandment I give you: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" Trouble is, no one these days seems to really know what 'love', in all its forms, is. Far too often have I seen this 'love' now misinterpreted by the 'sexual celibate' becoming the 'sexually active celibate', in the name of the 'love and then do as you will' mantra. It is the very message with which they ensnare their victims - calling their behaviour 'love' and therefore, somehow OK and even blessed by God, because God is Love after all. Nah, doesn't cut it guys. This is more of a case of clergy wanting their cake and eating it too and having found a nice little phrase to try to justify this. Meanwhile, so many leave a path of destruction on their 'journey,' or, even worse still, intentionally use of a religion as a home base in which to hide and receive all the benefits thereof, with sex on the side.
Stephen de Weger | 21 February 2017


What twisted (professional/religious/pastoral/priestly) mind, spirituality or psychology, believes they are acting in 'love' by activating sexual activity with someone coming to them for help because of sexual abuse, all kinds of confusion, spiritual needs, comfort in loss...the list goes on. Same goes for activating sexual activity with younger, more naive people, simply not equipped to cope with such a come-on. But such is what almost all of my participants experienced. Those abused in Religious life also had their 'superior's' superior attitude to cope with. Is this a MAJOR problem numbers-wise, or even ethics-wise. Yes, it certainly is. While there remains victims/survivors who have been pushed aside and forgotten, it is still a major scandal. Is CSMAA also still happening? It certainly is. My concern is also especially for all the new clergy and the new devout Catholics who have a arrived here from foreign lands. Church authorities need to act and if they don't, then perhaps the criminal justice system will, as is beginning to be the case in the USA at least - and don't we always follow them?
Stephen de Weger | 21 February 2017


You ask Stephen, "Is CSMIA still happening"? and answer, "it certainly is". I look forward to the report of the evolutionary incidence of clerical sexual from the Australian enquiry which I expect will mirror that of the 11-year enquiry conducted by Justice Murphy in Ireland. I am sure you are familiar with the revelations of the Irish report. To me, the tell-tale answer to the problem lies in the findings of that enquiry. The enquiry presented the percentage (incidence), decade by decade of the total reported cases of sexual abuse by clergy. These percentages (of the total number of reported cases) showed the incidence to begin at 2% in the 1940',. 7-9% 1950s, 20-odd%1960s, rising over the 1970s and 80s to a peak of some 38%. In the 1990s the incidence fell to 9% and in the 2000s to 2% by 2010. Three things stand out; first, the incredible surge in the 3 decades following the sexual revolution, the contraceptive pill and the second wave feminism that accompanied it; second, the amazingly rapid decline during the last 2 decades at a time when the current younger generations would be more likely to report abuse; and third, the close proximity of post-Vatican II liberalisation to the former two. It is notable that the majority of claims in Australia seem to be historically related to those first 3 decades of the sexual revolution. It is understandable that the Church was slow to react but also true that the Catholic Church was the first to address the issue in any meaningful way with a system widely adopted in Europe and the Americas with some modifications. While I agree that abuse almost certainly still happens, its incidence I think we will find is now much reduced. People, including the young, are now more knowing and sophisticated, in the true sense of the word, and less likely to be compromised.
john frawley | 21 February 2017


Marty, I believe Stephen has addressed the issue very well regarding the 10 commandments of the Hebrew Scriptures vs the 2 Commandments of Jesus within the Christian Scriptures. His answer reflects contemporary Biblical Exegesis.
Jennifer Anne Herrick | 21 February 2017


John, I am not assured at all that personal female lay power ever overrides professional male systemic clerical power. Stephen has tried to indicate the intersection of the two. I continue to hold that personal power cannot override systemic professional clerical institutionalised male power in its current form.
Jennifer Anne Herrick | 21 February 2017


John, the statistics appear to have tapered off at present because, as is widely attested by psychologists and reported recently by the RC 2 weeks ago, the average time period to realise one's abuse and have the strength to come forward is 33 years. 33 years back from now is abuse that occurred around the early to mid eighties - many still yet to come forward, and those in the nineties and this century generally yet to come foward.
Jennifer Herrick | 21 February 2017


Congratulations Eureka Street for publishing this incredibly important research. Re: fundamental causes/ facilitators of adult sexual abuse by clergy let's note the part played by pervasive ignorance of basic Roman Catholic doctrine; e,g.: "The 10 Commandments and Catholicism have been bound together since the time of Christ. In fact, Jesus refers to the 10 Commandments and assures their validity in his dialog with the rich young man in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 19:16-21). The Catechism refers to this at #2052. It’s important to note that each Commandment simply summarizes a whole category of actions. Don’t be legalistic, searching for a way around them because their wording doesn’t fit you perfectly! e.g.: “bearing false witness against your neighbor” covers any kind of falsehood: perjury, lying, slander, detraction, rash judgment, etc. The 10 Commandments are linked together to form a coherent whole. If you break one of them, you’re guilty of breaking all of them (Catechism, #2069). The Ten Commandments express our fundamental duties to God and neighbor. As such, they represent grave obligations. To violate them knowingly & willingly in a significant way is to commit mortal sin. (Catechism, #2702-3) http://www.beginningcatholic.com/catholic-ten-commandments
Dr Marty Rice | 21 February 2017


@ john frawley 21 February 2017. Well, I suppose statistics don't lie??????? But they can be manipulated and even more so, misinterpreted. A couple of things: there are no figures (available to the public at least), in regards to clergy sexual misconduct against adults - the phenomenon I am studying. The figures you gave (correct me if I am wrong) concern child sexual abuse. Secondly, in regards to spikes in the 70s and 80s, that period of time liberal Catholics prefer to deflect, yes, almost all statistics will show that spike, even mine did dealing with my participants. There has to be something in the fact that society in general, as you point out, did become much more liberal in regards to sexual activity. Sadly, I think this applied to clergy as well. However, there is one really obvious issue with all these statistics: They are, as far as I know, based on research and one cannot research dead people, i.e. those before this time. And sexual misconduct in all its forms is documented by the church to have existed for almost as long as it has existed. This fact cannot be minimised by research that can only be carried on living people in one particular era. Secondly, it is a very well-known fact now that especially in regards to sexual abuse in a religious context, victims generally do not report or disclose often until decades later, so statistics concerning the present could well be very inaccurate. I am also very concerned about statistics/sexual abuse/misconduct in developing nations and those in Africa, Asia and South America, Many of these nations have not been freed of clericalism and outdated perceptions about clergy. However, I do agree that overall, in the West at least, levels of naivety and blind pedastalling of clergy are pretty much over. Also, there is more acceptance now of people when/if they do report so the waiting time may be reduced somewhat. More research is needed though. However, in regards to my area of study, while the predominant perception of CSMAA remains that of an 'affair' or, one which believes it was the other adult that instigated it (as Bishop Geoffrey Robinson recently to the Royal Commission, is still the general belief in clergy/hierarchical culture), there will be a deep fear and reluctance of victims to come forward. As well, if the estimates are correct, (that 4 times as many women are abused, and 2 times as many men, than children), then there is still a problem. I get emails form victims around the world, confirming this. We don't need a 'softly softly' attitude at the moment but a clear and transparent acceptance that CSMAA is a current and harmful problem. As well, even if the incidences have fallen, there are still all the victims from the 'spike' period who have not been considered with justice and compassion. They, and those who have not reported or disclosed, still exist and are reading these comments. Apologies for yet another mini-thesis but this topic has just too many nuances for just a few sentences.
Stephen de Weger | 21 February 2017


One more small thing: well not so small... feminism has been one of the most important movements in the liberation from oppression and sexual abuse of both children and women. For centuries, men have dictated how well life was going while so many women and children tried to put up their hands to say "no it isn't". Sadly for us, men rarely deeply appreciate the pain women and children, and other marginalised men, have had to endure because of centuries entrenched male-only perspectives. My whole study utilised a feminist approach called Feminist Standpoint Theory which, when I first came upon it just made so much sense, and seemed so , well, 'of course this is right'. Good feminism is in fact good humanism and even good spirituality; good feminist research methodology is simply good, sane research methodology, not because it's feminist, but because it is so realistic and human. Yes, like every human movement, ideology, religion, you have your extremes, your conservatives and liberals, but these problems only happen when people BECOME their belief systems. To question it then is to question one's own existence. Too terrifying for most. Well, that's how I see it anyway and it's not well expressed here.
Stephen de Weger | 21 February 2017


Dear Stephen - no need to apologise about giving us the good oil. You are a 'Saint Peter Damian' to us (his feast day yesterday). We're in desperate need of fair dinkum prophets who love humanity and love Christ's Church. Tell us the truth; tell us everything! Hold steady; don't falter!
Dr Marty Rice | 22 February 2017


Semitic Ten Commandments originally reflected the cleanness of the right hand (the first five commandments) and the uncleanness of the left hand (the second five). Tough if you were born left-handed! Today, can we be true to the original and yet present the commandments via a positive, personal, ecumenical, and egalitarian hermeneutics, accessible to 21st Century people, informed by the New Testament? One possibility is suggested: HAND ONE, Thumb: With all my heart, mind, body and soul I will worship the one God revealed by Jesus Christ: Father/Son/Holy Spirit; Index Finger: I will have no other god nor any idol; Middle Finger: I will not use God’s name profanely; Ring Finger: I will keep the Sabbath Day holy; Little Finger: I will honour my mum and dad. HAND TWO, Thumb: I will love every person and not kill anyone, nor think evil of them, nor hate or revenge myself on them; Index Finger: I will maintain sexual purity and faithfulness in thought, word and deed; Middle Finger: I will not steal; Ring Finger: I will not tell lies, deceive nor slander; Little finger: I will not covet for God in Christ has provided all I need. What's not to love?
Dr Marty Rice | 22 February 2017


"but these problems only happen when people BECOME their belief systems." This statement is fair enough when the belief systems are wholly founded upon empirical and therefore potentially falsifiable (ie. fallible) knowledge. A belief system that is both a foundation of revealed knowledge and a superstructure of knowledge that is derived by human logical processes from the foundational revealed knowledge is a different story. For example, to prescribe as a cure for sexual abuse the institution of a feminine priesthood is to mistreat the superstructure as analytically independent of the foundation. Where a belief system includes elements of revealed knowledge, the logical adherent is conscious that s/he has to embody the revealed beliefs and their implications before s/he can start questioning the logic of the superstructure.
Roy Chen Yee | 22 February 2017


@ Roy Chen Yee 22 February 2017. Hi Roy. There are so many things I could say in reply here, but I'll say in it a saying: "What comes first? The chicken or the egg" or perhaps better still: "Does the cart pull the donkey or the donkey pull the cart?" All religious establishments are the donkeys (human quests and questions) pulling carts (religious systems to answer those questions). As soon as you turn it around, you have serious problems. However, this whole process becomes so complicated when we insist that our 'cart' is the true and only one populated with all the answers for all generations. This is a 'belief' not a provable reality. The problem is when the horse makes the error of also wanting/needing to be the cart.
Stephen de Weger | 22 February 2017


Marty, your clause "Christ has provided all I need. What's not to love?" is the Christian reinterpretation of the Hebrew 10 commandments based on Jesus' 2 commandments. You have said it yourself now. Good. I would like to say too that the Catechism which you quote repeatedly is not a theological document. It is a catechetical document. It gives the "end result" but not how to interpret that end result now does it show how we got there. That is the domain of biblical exegesis which has been for the last 70 years critiquing both sets of scriptures. I question the use of the Catechism in order to comment on Stephen's work. It is not equipped to cope thus.
Jennifer Herrick | 22 February 2017


Hi Jennifer, thank you for kindly commenting. Looking at Raymond E. Brown on Matthew 5: the Ten Commandments are the highest expression of God's will, and the eight beatitudes neatly summarise Jesus' special emphases. David L. Turner infers from Matthew 5 that Jesus fulfills the commandments, declaring them to be perpetually authoritative. Apart from these world-leading biblical theologians, about a billion Roman Catholics accept the Catechism when it says deliberate breach of any of the Ten Commandments is a mortal sin. I was rather hoping you'd spot the failure of many Australian clergy to faithfully preach this has imposed an antinomic ethos that can be exploited by potential abusers and those who protect and cover for them. As you can probably see from my post yesterday, I look in awe at my ten fingers for what they can tell me about a proper attitude to God and to others. Did we evolve ten fingers because God had ten commandments for us; or did God give us ten commandments because, having evolved ten fingers, we'd find them easier to remember? Maybe, as an Israeli friend said, when God told Moses the commandments were free Moses said: "I'll take ten!"
Dr Marty Rice | 22 February 2017


Hi again Jennifer. Am happy to agree that one hand can be understood as worshipful love of God; the other hand as Christ-like love of other people. Am hoping you'll agree too that both hands need their five healthy fingers to function properly. Maybe we've been saying the same thing in different ways. All the best from Marty
Dr Marty Rice | 22 February 2017


“…."Does the cart pull the donkey or the donkey pull the cart?" All religious establishments are the donkeys (human quests and questions) pulling carts (religious systems to answer those questions). As soon as you turn it around, you have serious problems.” Stephen, even to say the above is to assume (like Robert Liddy) a neutral but God-like position so high above the religious terrain that you can magisterially pronounce what religions should or shouldn’t do. No, because that leads to Hillary Clinton. As a user of sociology, eg., Feminist Standpoint Theory, you’d know that everyone looks out at the world from inside an habitual, non-neutral way of looking at things. People who choose to follow a religion are, by definition, choosing to believe habitually in “not a provable reality.” The Christian unprovable reality is that nobody can become one unless called by grace. You never knock on Jesus’ door, he knocks on yours. The cart always adopts the donkey. It even decides what is a legitimate question. If Islam has a problem with the Trinity, for the sake of Middle Eastern peace ought Christianity change the Nicene Creed and go Unitarian? Should the donkey spend any time on this question?
Roy Chen Yee | 22 February 2017


Roy Chen Yee 22 February 2017 . Hi again, Roy. My analogy doesn't really work well - it's a very deeply philosophical even anthropological question you pose or statement you make. But at the risk of pushing the analogy even further into the slightly bizarre, I was thinking later, well, "who hitches up the donkey to the cart?" There is one 'thing' that does this more so than anything - the culture we (the donkeys) are born into. (Is that a God-choice?) Also, pushing the crazy analogy even bizarrely further, I like the fact that Jesus rode the donkey, and the donkey was OK with that. Enough of the analogy. What we tend to be talking more about here anyway is what one of the recent Royal Commission witnesses called Constantinianism rather than Christianity. This is a crucially central point in all this discussion in regards to solving the problem of clergy misconduct. it's a problem of Constantinianism, not Christianity. Referring to another comment you made, I do think having women, if not priests, then at least equal in power in the Church, would make a huge difference, as again almost all of today's Royal Commission witnesses agreed. Good women help humanise any institution..it might even work in Constantinianism. I know all this talk, all this abuse, causes doubt and deep anxiety in many Catholics (I've been through it myself and still am) but as Kierkegaard (I think) once said: "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom', and freedom in this case means being a mature Christian, one who has been through the mere ethical stage of conformity for acceptance, and become a fully psychoologically mature and educated-by-life individual who has chosen to believe what s/he does. But such freedom is something we deeply fear and we prefer to rather relinquish our minds to others to tell us what to believe. It doesn't necessarily mean you reject what you were brought up with but rather you accept it for yourself, usually after deeply doubting and questioning it. While I now personally struggle with the existence of God, certainly the one I was brought up with, I do believe in a great deal of the core moral teachings of Catholicism I was brought up in. But I ask, how could all these 'good' leaders of my old faith, have been and still act in ways so foreign to the Gospels. I think I now know the psychological and social reasons, but these have nothing to do with anything spiritual. In their own way, all of my participants have been thrust into this deep world of angst and doubt by their abuse, yes, but also by how they have been treated by their church: hopefully they will learn some deep lessons and become healed and freer people in spite of the original 'faith' most had. Again, apologies for all these long-winded comments but thank you Eureka Street for the opportunity to present this issue and many of its peripherals on behalf of those who are still, for the most, hidden and suffering.
Stephen de Weger | 22 February 2017


Stephen, the Church has long known the difference between dogma, doctrine and discipline. If Constantinianism means that priests are vulnerable to believing themselves to be gods because of the satanic temptation (there being, for a Christian, no other source of temptation) in Lord Acton’s maxim, that’s old news. Peasants have always simultaneously been sceptical of the monarchs who ruled them even while accepting their claim of divine right because, once Gutenberg started publishing Bibles and even before that, merely from listening in church, any attentive peasant would have known that David, the greatest king of Israel, had his serious defects despite his divine right to rule. Nobody would have been more sceptical of the royal person than the couturier who served closest, familiarity breeding at least a certain realism. Behind every great man is a wife who knows otherwise and, presumably, behind every pope of great reputation is an official aware of the daylight between myth and substance. But power abhors a vacuum. If non-clericalism means that the hierarchy creates institutional channels for listening to the laity, fine. If it means the laity, as in some denominations, having legislative influence, forget it. Laities are no slouches at breeding tinpots.
Roy Chen Yee | 24 February 2017


It seems to me that the examples given of CSMIA can't all simply be regarded as predatory and abusive, Surely gay trysts in seminaries and other clerical flings are wrong, but not likely to lead to psychological trauma. In the couple of cases of CSMIA i witnessed growing up during school and uni - the two priests involved ended up leaving the priesthood and marrying the women and having families!
AURELIO | 24 February 2017


@ AURELIO 24 February 2017 "Surely gay trysts in seminaries and other clerical flings are wrong, but not likely to lead to psychological trauma". Sorry, Aurelo, in this you are quite wrong. I have a number of cases where this was indeed the case with results leading to lifelong harm. You may be referring to the fairly common (I might add) sexual activity between seminarians who are quite OK with that. Perhaps if that's what your referring to, then I might agree but what are they doing in a seminary, wanting to be celibate priests? Now, they are not required to be celibate/chaste until they have made their final vows/promise but seriously, why are they there? Well, it could be the best place for gay men to hide and continue sexual activity, perhaps. Until the Church allows married priests and even gay-couple priests, such behaviour doesn't belong in the clerical life. In Ireland, at present, there is a roaring debate (if one can call it that) about such trysts (go to a website called Thinking Catholicism). It is causing such a scandal and no amount of harm to straight and gay clergy alike. Let me repeat, I have many cases of men deeply, deeply harmed by gay sexual assaults on them when they joined religious life/the seminary. It's not an area that one can yet discuss freely, however because, in some part, to fear of offending gay communities. It's politically very touchy and messy but so needs to be discussed and researched.
Stephen de Weger | 24 February 2017


Stephen, the website you call thinking Catholicism with the information you describe is at http://wisecatholic.blogspot.com.au/ and thanks for being prepared to bring to the light what needs bringing...to gain clarity and open the door to realistic discussions.
Gordana Martinovich | 24 February 2017


Stephen, in no way in my previous comment was i justifying religious/clerics/seminarians having sexual trysts and flings - I explicitly said it's wrong - just as any sexual activity is wrong outside of marriage, gay or straight, according to the catechism. But Catholics, whether religious or lay, are not immune to temptations of casual sex and the perils and emotional damage of hookups, etc. I'm sure there's nothing you could say that would offend or surprise "the gay community" - which obviously the seminarians in your study are a part of. If there's coercion and sexual assault, call it out for what it is, but if it's men behaving badly - then I guess the church has more in common with the rest of society than it would like to admit.
AURELIUS | 24 February 2017


@ AURELIUS 24 February 2017 "If there's coercion and sexual assault, call it out for what it is, but if it's men behaving badly....." Hi Aurelius. I though that's what I did. I did think it was clear from what I said that the cases in my study were of young men who were coerced and sexually assaulted while in the seminary/religious order. These were by no means merely 'men behaving badly' whatever that means to you. I'm also not sure what you mean by 'other clerical flings' as being, yes, wrong, but not leading to any psychological damage. For whom? Again, I have too many examples of what a cleric might have defined as a 'fling', but for the other woman (or man) there was most definitely psychological damage. Yes, for the clergy who left and married, that's a whole different story. They were the honest ones. In regards to 'offend or surprise "the gay community"', that was relating to the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality as well as a sometimes opposite general attitude that anything gay is OK, or that because gay people have been so oppressed in the past, society needs to give them more slack. I'm sure there are many gay people who would both agree and disagree with this as well as the Catholic approach. Same-sex CSMIA is a big area, and one which needs a great deal more teasing out and research. There are different nuances, social attitudes and beliefs about same-sex behaviour and thinking and, therefore, same-sex assault, far too complex to get into here.
Stephen de Weger | 27 February 2017


@ AURELIUS 24 February 2017. One more thing, but it's important: Unlike a central church structure of dogma, there is no one "gay community". There are 'gay communitIES' though. Some of those communities believe in monogamy, others anything but. Some believe in sex with children but most gay communities, thank God, reject such 'gay/child love' as 'ephebophilia' or 'paederasty'. Some gay communities believe that being gay is something they were born as and to be celebrated. Others believe that being gay is a result of sexual abuse/assault (especially for lesbians) or incomplete parenting and arrested development. So, when discussing same-sex CSMIA, it's just not black or white. In the end, all that concerns me as a researcher is the abuse of power - the why of the desire or need for one person in a position of power to overpower another, often using sex as the instrument. This is especially interesting in the context of religion and religious leaders given the taboos, rules and particular quirks of a male, celibate?, hierarchical, spiritual? system, one which believes that homosexuals can only ever be celibate but which has a clergy which is around 50% homosexual, many actively so. It's an interesting organisation alright.
Stephen de Weger | 27 February 2017


I went to a Christian Brothers school in Sydney and was interfered with on many occasions by two of the brothers , via the short pants boys wore in those days, Stephen, I have had several questions ,most have arisen since . One, why did I never tell my mother ? Two, did the brothers find sexual pleasure in their actions - to the point a bit short of of ejaculation,or even that far . Three, in adulthood, my only feeling for them is compassion..... What a waste of a life .To enter on a supposedly holy life, and end up by playing with the genitals of small boys. Four It must be celibacy but did the sexual revolution contribute?
Peter Bowden | 27 February 2017


Stephen in reference to your quote from Kennedy (2009, 131) the power imbalance and the distinction between personal and professional responsibility: a cleric can be personally weak whilst professionally strong at the same time. In some, personal power which is weak can over- ride professional power. Narcissism is founded in deep personal insecurity, which results in little self-awareness. Therefore in your example it makes sense that the cleric has constructed a context in which he relinquishes his own responsibility and makes the woman responsible (in his mind). Bruce Lee in "The Passionate State of Mind" writes about the importance of self-awareness, since there is a craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus we can free ourselves from the responsibility for acts that are prompted by our most questionable impulses, so both strong and weak can grasp at an alibi. Lee says the latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience, and the strong claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instrument of a higher power - God (Bruce Lee: "Artist of Life", 2001). Vulnerability comes in many forms, but if you listen to Brene Brown who made a study of the 'Power of Vulnerability', it is not a weakness. But then how do you explain the fact that in the St. John of God Order there was an appalling number who abused young men and boys who had severe intellectual disability? Definitely a power imbalance at work!
Trish Martin | 27 February 2017


@ Peter Bowden 27 February 2017. Firstly, Peter, let me acknowledge your abuse: Such events should never happen to anyone, especially a young boy in the care of an educational and religious organisation. It is monstrous and I hope you have been able to deal with it in your own way, and to a point where it doesn’t detour you from your life’s goals and desires. It sounds like you have dealt with it somewhat. Good for you. Secondly, I am neither a counsellor nor a psychologist so anything I say from here on is simply my thoughts based on study of clergy abuse and as an attempt to respond to your questions – and they are good questions. While I could find studies to support what I am saying, there isn’t room here to include them. “Why didn’t you tell your mother?” You’re by no means alone in this. It appears from studies that most children at the time of abuse believe that they had done something sinful and therefore, are afraid to tell an adult, especially a loved one who, they believe, might then reject them for it. Also, people just didn’t talk about such things and children especially, didn’t have the language to speak about it. “Did the brothers find sexual pleasure in their actions?” Bloody good question. I suppose on a purely physical level they probably did but their ‘joy’ would no doubt turn to ashes in their mouth (as a saying goes), that is, until the next time they sought out a victim, then they forget ‘the ashes’. Why did they do this repeatedly? Compulsion? Most aggressive predatory behaviour, I think, comes from a deep-seated need of some sort, to over-power, often based on the perpetrator having been over-powered in some way in their own childhoods. Children and vulnerable adults are available and easy targets for powerful but abuse-orientated clergy hiding in the context of a religion of love and trust. The use of sex to express this appears to also be related to deeper psychological connections and disturbances between libido, anger and power, especially male controlling/dominating power. Andrea Celenza’s article “Sexual Misconduct in the Clergy: The Search for the Father” discusses many of the points your questions raise. “My only feeling is compassion”. I do get this, and your feeling is probably a result of your having resolved a lot of your pain and anger. Sometimes, however, having ‘compassion’ can be a way of avoiding these, though. Only you can answer which is which. But, yes, often these men are themselves victims of sexual abuse but they’ve let that fester and distort them rather than them trying to deal with and resolve their own damage. Unresolved victims will deal with their abuse in many ways as the Royal Commission has more than shown us. Sadly, a few resort to repeating what happened to them with those at the same age it happened. There are psychological explanations for this but too complex to include here. Living in a highly sexually charged because guilt-based environment based on a belief in and demand for sexual purity, only increases the need for sexual release, sadly on others. In regards to celibacy and the sexual revolution, see some of my above comments. Again, please note that these are simply my own thoughts and not based on this particular study. I’m sure others would have much more to say. Thanks Peter for your contribution here – it puts a human face to theory.
Stephen de Weger | 28 February 2017


@ Trish Martin 27 February 2017. Wow, some brilliant stuff there, Trish. Must get Lee's book. Also, I am familiar with Brene Brown. I first saw her on a Ted Talk where she speaks of this - the power of vulnerability. It puts a new slant on the issue and is worth watching especially for those seeking healing because they feel their vulnerability, as a result of it being targeted and abused. When properly understood and communally respected, vulnerability can be reclaimed and intelligently and maturely embrace it in the way it needs to be. But yes, self-awareness is the key and it is the key to almost everything, every problem. Self-aware people know why they do things, think things and therefore, can have better control over thoughts and actions. I also love a quote from Pamela Cooper-White where she says any power we might have should only ever be used as "power with" (or 'for') and never as "power over". No small thanks should be given to feminist theorists who really have so thoroughly teased out the issues of power and language and its part in abuse, hitherto mostly unrealised or ignored, or suppressed.
Stephen de Weger | 28 February 2017


People often ask me, "Why am I only focussing on the Catholic Church?" Well there are a number of reasons on of which is that it was the religious system I was brought up in and know but also, as a (once???) Catholic, feel some responsibility to society as a result. But the main reason for not going on and on about where such abuse occurs everywhere else (as deflectors always do), is from the Gospel...."remove the plank form your own eye so you can see better to help remove the splinter from your brother's/sister's eye". Again, this is, I believe, something Vincent truly seems to grasp and something many Catholics, including bishops and archbishops have yet to accept... in action, not in mere words, humanly, and not clinically or clerically, and sincerely, out of deep personal conviction, not because they've been 'forced' to by public exposure and Royal Commissions. My hope is that the Church will now take on the sexual/power abuse of adults as well, and again, sincerely, freely and immediately and not because they will be forced to after decades of trying to keep it hidden or euphemised away.
Stephen de Weger | 03 March 2017


Stephen, I was merely borrowing repeating the term "gay community" in reference to your comment to make the point that it's a rather meaningless term - but I've never heard of any gay community based on "sex with children". You seem to have taken quite a baffling and irrational leap there, and would suggest you are referring to a "pedophilia ring" , and hopefully now "the prison inmate community".
AURELIUS | 04 March 2017


Hi again, Aurelius. I was merely trying to point out the fact that I too was reminded as a beginning student that there is no such thing as 'the gay community'. And to emphasise that point I referred to the very controversial issue of some adults want sex with children to be 'normalised'. Nambla, for example, has tried to be accepted again, after being rejected by ILGA (the International Lesbian and Gay Association) - see http://www.qrd.org/qrd/orgs/NAMBLA/nambla.replies.to.ilga.secretariat. That's all I was trying to say. However, it is important - clarifying language, terms, definitions, all play a part in helping us break away from stereotypes and towards a more intelligent understanding of issues. This is the same issue I have been trying to point out in my article. There is no one form of CSMAA, one type of predatory cleric, nor one form of victims/survivors, just as there is no one 'gay community'. I hope this clears up what I was saying.
Stephen de Weger | 06 March 2017


Stephen, your research is obviously very thorough. As an ex-priest, now married, sitting in the ever-more-vacant pews, I just want to express my regret that the concept of married clergy is always or usually discussed as a kind of possible solution to problems - so seen as a kind of reluctant stop-gap for shortages or shortcomings. I just wish the overwhelming probable advantages of having people who have matured in the reality and hard knocks of a truly human intimate relationship as presbyters, elders, ministers in the church could be appreciated and encouraged for the positive contributions they could offer. I find most celibate clergy are immature, and having been one for 25 years, from my own experience I think I know why. So - not just to solve the vacant parishes and the overload for the latter, nor their sexual difficulties: rather to give the church a much needed dose of maturity and humanity, it's about time to make marriage an option. I'm convinced the empty parishes would be once again functional, the suffering celibates relieved of impossible burdens and the people of God would be much better served. The clergy might even have time to hold down a second job or career, be they male or female.
JO'D | 10 March 2017


Dear J'OD, Your heartfelt post adds a reality that is sometimes missing from this important debate and you show us the inside truths. It's always seemed a problem to me that a person with a priestly vocation is FORCED to surrender the possibility of becoming married and of then exercising their ministry as a married couple. Surely, in the Lord this should be an option? St Paul recognised that different people have different gifts in that regard (e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:28). Plenty of married clergy from other denominations now serve well as Catholic priests. We also have numerous excellent married Deacons. As you say, it is entirely misguided to raise the idea of using marriage as a method of ensuring priestly sexual virtue. There are far stronger positive reasons to encourage a dual vocation in those who feel this call. Thus, some priests will be well married like St Peter; others truly celibate, like St Paul. Where's the problem?
Dr Marty Rice | 10 March 2017


@ JO'D 10 March 2017. I agree with your bigger picture about married people not being a gap-filler solution - great point. It's such a shame that the only way the church ever seems to change is when they are forced to. The residue of such change is whether it was ever sincere. I always think of what at first I thought was a rather cynical secularist statement from the series Brides of Christ. The lay teacher asks Mother about Vatican 2 and who started that change. "Aggiornamento", was her reply. "But", he responded, "who got that started?" The men of the church (or something like that was her comeback). His response then was, "Ah yes, they got in first because he who starts the ball rolling decides where it rolls and who gets run over in the process". Maybe we need some one else to start a new ball rolling. All the married priests out there, that could be a good start, if you're still interested. Just a thought. I do think having you and such men and God willing, women, back in the role of pastor that the face and heart of the church would change deeply and abuse would lessen. Is it too late?
Stephen de Weger | 10 March 2017


There is a perceptibly aesthetic difference to mark the substantive difference between the sacred and the profane. My dad pulls teeth. Mine fixes cars. What does yours do? He changes bread and wine into the real flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, and he saves you from Hell, for a moment at least, by removing the stain of sin from your soul. Priests are set apart, and should be seen to be set apart, because what they do is unique. Their uniqueness shouldn’t be obscured by the other accretions of society, whether it be commonplace clothing or the social default of being in a sexual relationship.
Roy Chen Yee | 13 March 2017


@ Roy Chen Yee 13 March 2017. No problems with this, Roy. Experts in whatever field are usually presented in particular ways - uniforms, degrees, hats and codes of conduct, and expectations of the role. Yes, the Council of Trent taught that ordained priests are indeed to be elevated, even above their other religion and historical tribal counterparts because, as that council emphasised, they and they only, can perform the rituals of eternal life. This is so much institutionalised and personal power for mere human beings. However, as Jesus showed (and Vat II taught), that power can only be used as a service, as a power ‘with’ or ‘for’, not as a power ‘over’: and it is not their power anyway – they are mere instruments, channels of God’s power, or Divine Love – which is what it should all be about anyway, something we are all supposed to be. We get it very wrong if we see this power as belonging to, or owned by the priest. Thing is, priests and even popes have personal histories, unconscious lives and personal damage-induced motivations. In the real world, we need to also emphasise this reality as well as that of the Tridentine emphasis on ontological change, something, by the way all baptised people go through. Only if we maintain the vigilance that these priests are also men like us (sorry to all women), can we protect ourselves from the possibly abusive ones, let alone be free to discuss and deal with the pain and sorrow of victims of clergy misconduct.
Stephen de Weger | 13 March 2017


Dear Roy Chen Yee, The beauty of permitting priests to choose whether to be celibate or married is that those (like you) who see something uniquely important in priests being 'set apart', will have access to such (St Paul-style) priests. Others (and they are probably the majority of Australian Catholics) who don't mind married (St Peter-style) priests, will also be well catered for. Also bear in mind that, without knowing, you may be being ministered to by long married Catholic priests, who came to us from other denominations and have been allowed to keep their wives. I wonder if you - or anyone else - could tell the difference? My poor understanding is that Our Lord Jesus Christ looks not only at legalities but also the fruit God desires - like love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, humility, and self control. If you know of any sociological research that has shown our married priests are less fruitful unto The Lord, please provide the references. Also, I'm sure you'd agree that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses were 'set apart' and did great work for God, in full unity with their wives. Let's not 'religiously' discriminate against married ministers, please.
Dr Marty Rice | 13 March 2017


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