Friday, January 17, 2014

Sexual abuse 1 - by clergy the tip of the iceberg

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


Sexual abuse is a crime against humanity

The sexual exploitation and abuse of one human being by another is a crime against humanity because it is a violation of who that person is in their very identity as a sexual human being. Our sexuality is an integral facet of who we are in our distinctiveness as human beings. We are living beings with a capacity to not only relate to others and to care for them but also to do so in a great variety of distinct ways, with degrees of intimacy and expression appropriate to our age, gender, the nature of the relationship, what it is that we want to express or give, all of which is deeply tied into our freedom as individuals and our capacity for meaning and responsibility.

Sexual and other forms of abuse are particularly heinous when committed against children and other vulnerable, fragile, or innocent beings. They become doubly tragic when those perpetrating the abuse are themselves the distorted product of having in their turn suffered sexual or other forms of abuse, often at an early and deeply impressionable age. 

One benefit, admittedly an incalculably costly one, of the current scandal of sexual abuse of children and other innocent and vulnerable people and by virtue of the actions that have been courageously taken by victims, those who support them, and those individuals and agencies who represent them, but also by virtue of church leaders who have made manifest their willingness to receive complaints, is that social taboos are shattering and it is becoming more possible to talk of these things openly and therefore to begin to work together towards solutions and better safeguards.

The complex nature of the human person and sexuality 

The fundamental and horrible truth of the matter is that human nature, including our sexuality, has been weakened, damaged, tainted since the dawn of human history. The abominable practices and the pain and suffering engendered by misuse of human sexuality is primarily what has caused - almost across the board worldwide - religious leaders to condemn sexual infidelity and all forms of unusual sexual practices as evil or at least to be avoided if not condemned.

Human history, literature, and culture chronicles the many ways in which human beings cause others to suffer whenever they use their sexuality as a way of taking pleasure, often at the expense of others. While men and women differ by design in their naturally occurring genders - with males more intrusive and females more inclusive - sexual predators can and do exist among members of both genders, even if they admittedly can appear and operate very differently with different degrees of destructiveness in the consequences and aftermath of their sexual activity.

Particularly in our day there is an increasingly universal acceptance that sexual expression and even experimentation are acceptable providing they take place among consenting adults. Yet, increasingly there are those bold and aggressive enough to contend that such sexual activity and experimentation is even acceptable by adults to children and youth. These opinions and ideological positions do not take into account the human developmental process nor the subsidiary process of eroticization.

If we are ever to understand what is going on, how the trends in human thought, feeling, conviction, and practice are constantly evolving - and often in ways that bode ill for the common good - we need to have a closer look at the nature of the human person and of our sexual dimension in a dynamic way that makes provision for and takes into account our developmental process.

If sex were not pleasurable, then there would be little need for this dialogue because few if any human beings would engage in sexual activity. It is precisely because of the pleasure that sex can and does afford that the human impulse to engage in it is so strong. The pleasure principle in general and in sex in particular is of itself ambivalent at worst - neither good nor bad - at best high and noble, and in the middle with the average view that sex is simply good, when it is not great.

Sex is good, yes, but not in every instance

Even reluctant or prudish religious authorities have traditionally granted that sex was good with the belief that it was designed and created by God, if only for the transmission of life and the survival of the species. Those with a more objective, realistic, and appreciative eye go further in acknowledging that human sexuality also has benefits for human couples when engaged in by one woman with one man for life; in that the power of sex binds them together, allows them to mutually give pleasure and comfort, and over time can evolve and grow with them and their relationship so as to intensify their mutual attachment, fidelity, and solicitude, that is, their disposition and motivation to look out for the other and to deliberately put the other's interests first, ahead of their own.

Pope John Paul II, the Bishop of Rome from October 16, 1978 to April 2, 2005 was of this view and went much further and deeper in his development of thought on what he called the "theology of the body", which emerged over time from the philosophical reflection he engaged in from his youth on human meaning, freedom, love, and "the acting person". He was of the view that human beings give meaning to their lives by their deliberate choices and that the highest meaning comes in the freedom to make of oneself a total gift to the other. He called this the "law of the gift". His work continues to be promoted all over the world for the common good.

 Why do people pervert sex into violence?

Because human sexuality is so deeply tied into the integrity of the human person, our freedom, our capacity for giving meaning to our life, and our capacity to be open to and care for the other, sexual abuse is particularly bad for the pain it inflicts, the deep damage it causes, and the lasting harm it does as a violent act, and it is increasingly evil the more grievous its effects on the victim, the one whose freedom, integrity, meaning, caring, and openness have been violated.

Why do people then perpetrate such violence one upon another? The answer can only be found in the toxic mixture of the beauty, goodness, attractiveness, power, high purpose, and desirability of sexual expression on the one hand, and the distorted nature of the humanity of the perpetrator on the other hand. By analogy we understand that a hammer in the hand of a sculptor like Michelangelo can be instrumental in creating such inspiring sculpture as the Pieta, but in the hand of a vandal can destroy a thing of beauty, or wound or kill living things and even people.

The beauty and power of human sexuality 

So it is with our human sexuality, which can be seen as a capacity for tenderness. Human beings don't simply have sexuality, but we are sexual beings. Our sexuality informs, colors, and is informed by our whole being at every level. Comforting a child engages our human sexuality, our capacity for tenderness, but in a healthy person does not generally engage one's genitals or erotic stimuli or responses. These tend not to activate without specific stimulation, unlike our other functions which operate automatically.

Our sexuality can be considered healthy when we have effective safeguards allowing us to distinguish different types of relationships giving us freedom to express a wide range of tenderness - actively in giving and passively in receiving - without any confusion from sexual arousal in ways appropriate to the nature of each relationship, time, circumstance, and the meaning we wish to express. Sexuality can be considered most noble when it seeks and effectively accomplishes the good of the other.

Genital sexuality adds to the expression of tenderness other meanings related to the union of a man and a woman and the outcome of their sexual fertility in the procreation of children, the transmission of life itself. Sexual activity outside of a woman / man couple with a mutual commitment for life sets aside the procreative function, the stability of a life commitment, or other dimensions which all have repercussions on those engaging in sexual expression and those affected by it, such as the offspring.

Human sexual development requires mentoring

However, it is easily observable that human beings don't just fall into a perfect experience and sexual life stance, but that this requires careful upbringing, learning, mentoring, and living. We also need to learn to seek and give forgiveness when our expressions of tenderness and sexual union are clumsy or selfish and manipulate, take, and hurt rather than give and care. When our sexuality and capacity for tenderness are poorly formed, mistakenly informed, or incompletely matured, all kinds of harm can be done in the abominations that occur.

We can see this in every generation and just about in every life. Married couples must invest selfless effort to develop their sexuality so that it becomes a mutual venture that enhances their union and bears good fruit for others around them beginning with their family. The more selflessly parents live their sexuality as a couple, the more benefits there are for their children who develop a more healthy sexual outlook from the mentoring they receive.

Wandering away from the original design

Other forms of human couple have the additional struggle of not having the differentiation and complementarity inherent in the basic man-woman couple, or the permanence and stability of being committed to each other for life, or the deepening of their relationship that comes from long term fidelity and exclusivity, or the deeper freedom that comes from sharing a deep personal relationship with their Creator God as the true and existential source of their love, fidelity, and fertility. When fertility is regarded as a curse or medicated as a disease might, it is easy to understand how sexuality can become an arena of disagreement and unpleasantness if not of selfish manipulation and abuse.

When children are brought into the world in a family where at its center the parent couple do not live their sexuality with the purest of motives and the clarity and freedom of unselfish love, one can begin to understand how all kinds of misunderstandings, manipulation, hurts, and deviations can occur. It is the tragic truth that it is most often and primarily in the family that children are abused in various ways including sexually, where parents or other adults abuse children precisely because they cannot assert themselves and are in their innocence most vulnerable and easy to manipulate and exploit.

Once sexuality is in this way perverted in the young, they struggle for their whole lives to live a more wholesome sexuality in accord with our fundamental design for happiness and togetherness. Those who are fortunate are able to gradually sanitize or make healthier their sexuality, but others become inclined to reproduce in their own lives the abuse and perversions of sexual tenderness that marked them in their innocent years. It is much like the children of alcoholics who tend to gravitate towards another alcoholic when they are seeking out a spouse or life partner simply because that is the type of human personality with which they became familiar while growing up.

Exquisitely sensitive spouses or dangerous rapists

It is the very same raw material of human sexual personality that begins at conception and develops through gestation, birth, infancy, childhood, youth, and adulthood. Why, then, do some become exquisitely sensitive and loving spouses, some struggle with clumsy attempts to please, others have trouble setting aside their own desires and come across as "taking" rather than "giving", and still others become manipulators, violators, rapists, pedophiles, ephebophiles, in short, dangerous offenders and monsters?

It is impossible to understand these differences outside of a "developmental model" of the human person as a sexual human being as opposed to a human being who simply happens to have sexual organs. A human being is a single living entity, and all of its experiences interact with all the others throughout its developmental stages and then continuing throughout its entire life cycle. You cannot examine or understand a person's sexuality without striving to understand the entire person, because everything within them is interrelated. You "pull" on one aspect and the whole fabric is pulled along.

Human development is a long and complicated process

Before the advent of discoveries and advancement in our understanding of the human person, it was generally thought - and many people have not caught up with the social sciences and still think - that a person is "born that way", the way they are, and that they cannot change. Advances in scientific observation, analysis, theorizing, and experimentation have revealed that the living entity called a human being as a physical and psychic organism has a wide and complex range of emotive experience as well as expression, and in addition has a more mysterious spiritual dimension that is more difficult to observe and quantify.

The human being begins its development with the genetic material it "receives" from its mother and father and from the moment of conception also absorbs untold billions of "impressions" from both the mother and the father during gestation in the womb and then continues to take in untold quantities of "impressions" from its parents, other people, other living thinks, and everything else that exists all around it, as well as its own inner processes, which in turn are also very complex.

Each individual has received from its genetic material certain "predispositions" to a variety of conditions, inclinations, sensitivities, and sensibilities. As time passes and as it takes in quantities of sensations and experiences, the individual undergoes the ongoing cumulative effect of all that it is taking in, its ongoing growth, and a developing and constantly operating process of "updating" or "rebooting" for understanding and interpretation, judgement and orientation, responsibility and freedom. Sensations, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, interpretations, awareness, feelings, moral judgements, free choices, the acceptance of responsibility and responsibilities, freedom to change, deliberate commitments, ongoing learning, admission of fault, and efforts to improve are only some of the multiple facets and operations taking place more or less simultaneously that taken together are in a continuous way formative of the human person.

Human development - becoming a person

In the social sciences it is now generally accepted that the human being is a dependent entity from the moment of its conception until it reaches maturity. One becomes a mature adult, with at least the essential elements and abilities of an adult, after having experienced 8 developmental stages between conception and the early twenties. These stages are: fetus, body identity, identity of the doer, individual identity, psychosexual identity, psychosocial identity, identity of the self, and early adult.

We more easily recognize them as gestation, infancy (0-1), toddler (1-2 1/2), budding individual (2 1/2 - 3), Oedipus Complex or nightmare stage (3-6), the "flocking" by gender stage (6-12), teenage (12-18), and "getting a life" (18-22). Along the way, each person develops "preferences" of sensation, outlook, expression, reaction, and action. During the first year of life after birth, some become more "captative", active, or outreaching, while others prefer to become more "receptive", passive, or wait expectantly. During the "potty training" stage, some become more "retentive" and hold things in, hold onto things; while others become more "eliminative" and release things, let them go more easily. This generalizes to every aspect of life from personal hygiene to money to generosity of time and spirit.

From the stage where children "fall in love" with their opposite gender parent (3-6), some males befriend their "intrusive" mode (generally experienced as wanting to be like Daddy) - which is inscribed in the very design of their body - and let it become their natural way of being manly in the world; while some - either because they have been harmed by extreme forms of male intrusiveness or simply lacked an available model - prefer the female "inclusive" mode (they prefer to be like Mommy or like a very inclusive father; with the result that being intrusive takes more effort and energy every time they need to employ that mode, particularly if the mother was intrusive in a way that felt angry or controlling or threatening.

During that same stage when little girls "fall in love" with their Daddy, some females befriend their "inclusive" mode (generally experienced as wanting to be like Mommy) - which is inscribed in the very design of their body and let it become their natural way of being womanly in the world; while some - either because they have been harmed by extreme forms of female inclusiveness or simply lacked an available model - prefer the male "intrusive" mode (they prefer to be like Daddy or like a very intrusive mother; with the result that being inclusive takes more effort and energy every time they need to employ that mode, particularly if the father was inclusive in a way that seemed weak or withdrawing, or humiliating.

In their teenage years, boys and girls try out their newly discovered personal preferences and abilities and find that they are energized when they are with others and may become increasingly extroverted, or they may find that being with others is more draining than energizing, so that they may become more introverted. These dispositions may also tend to vary in accord with the size of the group and their familiarity with the others and degree of acceptance by the others. Some will be more inclined to be leaders and others followers and still others, either role depending on the circumstances and the others involved.

Most of us have some "wrinkles" in our development

Social scientists, philosophers, theologians, varied other professionals, and people in other walks of life will define what is a human person from a variety of viewpoints and a wide range of parameters. What does it take to become fully human? If an individual gets stuck in the first stage of life, infancy, when it was the center of the universe and the mother was still felt to be part of its own body, then as an apparent adult, this individual turns out to behave so selfishly with such little conscience that we call them sociopath - without awareness of others as having a life of their own - or psychopaths - so intent on using others for their own ends that they are actually dangerous to life and limb.This is the case of those who in the face of the prospect of being abandoned will kill their spouse, children, and finally themselves, because they suffocate emotionally at the very thought of being abandoned.

Those who get "stuck" at the potty training stage may appear as extremely retentive or miserly or up tight, on the one hand, or on the other hand eliminative or spendthrift or irresponsibly carefree. Such an individual may be developmentally incapable of caring for others - unable to put out what it takes to care for others or unable to conserve what resources or time or energy that caring for others takes.

Those who get stuck at stage four - 2 1/2 to 3 - may never have become an "individual" in their own right, either because they became so merged with a needy parent or parents that, discouraged from paying attention to their own feelings and needs, they became incompetent as an individual human. Such an individual, perennially deprived of individuality or personal identity, would be hard pressed to properly care for others, being ever depleted for lack of self care. If they manage to heroically care for others, it would then be at extreme cost to themselves, being unable to distinguish differences in priority among the needs and wants of others and their own needs and wants, unable to reconcile those of others and their own.

Those who experience difficulties in befriending their own gender come to such difficulties from any number of factors: the degree or lack of masculinity of their father, absence of a father, frightening or humiliating distortion of a father figure, or unsteady, unstable character of their father; the degree or lack of femininity of their mother, absence of a mother, frightening or humiliating distortion of a mother figure, or volatile, unreliable character of their mother; which factors can be exacerbated by one or several occurrences of one or more forms of abuse: emotional, physical, psychological, sexual; or deprivations that are normally associated with social instability, poverty, and violence such as war, unemployment, racial or other forms of negative discrimination, religious or other forms of persecution, and so on.

Healthy, impoverished, or damaged development at any of these earlier life stages has cumulative effects when the individual enters into the subsequent more social stages of human development, which in turn can accentuate or open up delays in development of various facets of the emerging human person. Childhood and teenage bullying, social pressures to conform and even to perform anti-social or criminal acts, neglect or abandonment by significant adults, extreme social upheaval and countless other factors can enhance, hold back, or demolish an individual's human development up to that point in their young lives.

The initial result when the individual "comes of age" and is recognized as "an adult" will be a human individual that is capable of a minimum of self care, awareness of others as independent individuals with their own value and right to exist, ability to live and act in the world and society, and ability to assume the rights and duties of a citizen and member of society. For many, this initial plateau or goal is delayed until later as they struggle to survive, to help their family or basic group to survive, all the while trying to welcome the challenges and events of life as opportunities to continue to grow and to develop into fully functional human persons.

The role of "eroticization" in becoming a human person

Distorted human beings - undeveloped or "petrified" persons

to be continued....


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Case Against the Pope - the Church is taking responsibility for those who have been abused by clergy.

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


I was profoundly moved by the "Culture Project" presentation recently in New York of "The Case Against the Pope" on the Internet after being directed to it yesterday by the "Center for Constitutional Rights". The panel consisted of Gerard Mannix Flynn who wrote and performs "James X' spoke to "How James X Came About", a play that came to him in which he expresses the suffering inflicted on a person by sexual and other forms of abuse and in particular by trusted authority figures such as priests and their struggle to emerge from that dark place into the light; Pam Spees who spoke to "CCR Involvement in James X"; Gabriel Byrne who spoke of his "Motivation for Directing James X"; and Mary Valier-Kaplan who spoke on "How Art Confronts Society".

Each of them also gave personal testimony in the course of addressing their involvement with this 75 minute theater play "James X" which runs without intermission. I was quite taken up by them and found that each panelist came across as entirely authentic, particularly as they confided their personal testimony, and an honest and deeply motivated desire to seek human progress in putting a stop to the abuse, torment, and torture of innocent children at the hands of adults, especially those who are in positions of public trust and for that reason particularly dangerous as predators.

I could not find fault with anything each of them said about the sad realities of abuse and what untold suffering it causes the victims and all those related to them; nor would I want to find fault given that a person's personal experience is of inestimable value. The challenge then for all those who seek to help and intervene in any way and work collaboratively for progress in this troubled area of human existence is to establish the objective truth in both the facts of each case as well as the person's subjective experience of those facts, on the one hand, and on the other hand, to better understand all the players involved, in both their nature and intentions, from the plaintiffs and those representing them to representatives at all levels of the Roman Catholic Church.

I found the experience of listening to this panel very compelling and stimulating in part because they addressed something that deeply distresses not only me but I think most if not all of us alive today on this planet who have any degree at all of sensitivity to the suffering of others, especially vulnerable and innocent children of any generation, whether it be decades ago or only this week. There seem to be many complications around these issues given the time it is taking to achieve workable solutions to the essential problems - both the rescue of and caring for victims of abuse and establishing clear protections for children and other vulnerable people in the present and for the future.

As I listened to the panelists' passionate pleas for progress on these issues - the key motivation in the CCR's action to put the issue to the Vatican officials named at the World Court in The Hague - I came to understand something for the first time: the rampant human emotion of fear on the part of all parties involved in these issues and their attempts to resolve them.

Plaintiffs, those who care for them, and those who seek to represent them, are afraid of the apparent power wielded by the sheer number of individuals and institutions comprising the entity called the Roman Catholic Church - including the "secular arm" called the Vatican City State and the "Holy See" designating the Pope's own ministry and that of all those individuals and groups and services that assist him - and fear for past, present, and future generations of children and other vulnerable people who may risk abuse at the hands of some elements of that authority and power. They fear, and I think rightly so as fear goes, that the harm done may not be redressed and that further harm may be done, and that we may continue to be helpless to stop it. These are legitimate fears that are crying out for our considered attention and timely and concerted action I think.

What was new to my awareness as I listened to the panelists' eloquent pleas for progress in these urgent matters was that fear may also be present and exerting undue influence within the ranks of the Church's own authorities, and servants, and within its numerous international and national primary and subsidiary institutions. Understandably, there may be some fear of being overwhelmed by the sheer number and gravity of the complaints, and some of those fears could likely be assuaged by proper formation and procedures and protocols for attending to the complaints as to both the victims and the alleged perpetrators. Further fears would be generated by concerns for the welfare of the victims of whom many have lost faith in the Church itself, generating a sense of helplessness in those who would be most apt and motivated to offer help. Thirdly, and these fears I think are the ones most likely to obstruct a proper meeting and dialogue with civil entities representing victims and their interests, which fears I would categorize under the impression of a general threat to the very existence of the institution of the RC Church itself.

There exist unquantifiably massive amounts of verifiable evidence and testimony in support of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution bringing untold benefit to humanity - in response to daily human needs as well as to spiritual needs - in just about every nation on Earth, and that in a consistent if progressive way over the past two millennia. When suits are brought to court at various levels by plaintiffs and those representing them, it seems apparent that all too often those suits are brought with such force and in such a way as to trivialize, ignore, or even deny the value of the Church as an institution - as though it were entirely criminal in a totally indiscriminate way or that the fact of the crimes of abuse of themselves could cancel the existence of the entire institution and all of its actors and members - such that one can be justified in taking from these suits and actions and the manner in which they are brought forth the impression that the desired intent or effect, directly or indirectly, intentional or unintentional, of such suit and action would be the destruction of the Church itself.

So on the one hand we have the plaintiffs - the victims - those sympathetic to them and representing them, for the most part afraid of the danger that certain elements of the Church - disturbed and unbalanced clergy or religious or responsible laity - have in the past and continue in the present to represent. On the other hand, we have members and servants of the Church who are afraid that the suits in their lack of discrimination will in effect bring about the destruction of the Church.

Consider those dioceses where the bishops have shown great openness to receive the complaints, to accept responsibility for them, to express appropriate and sincere regret for them, and to accept to fulfill the court's requirement of compensation. Many of them were brought to the brink, if not actually over the brink, of bankruptcy. After all, what is the Church, really? Unlike multinational corporations whose purpose is the amassing of assets, profits, and dividends to shareholders, officers, and employees, the Church's purpose is public service. The vast majority of dioceses have few if any investments, and generally these are to offset obligations of services, often social services, and their only other assets are buildings with their accessories, and people, both employees and members, many of whom are volunteers.

Granted, some church buildings are more lavish than others, but they are generally recognized to contain and represent cultural artifacts of lasting and historical value to the whole human race, not only to those who happen to be using and responsible to maintain them. Then there is the vast range of other assets established for the purpose of public service: hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens and shelters, to name only a few. Compare the benefits to officers of multinational corporations and you will find that bishops, priests, and religious are working and living as relatively "poor cousins". Some enjoy more benefits than others, but the vast majority of priests and religious live poorly and are horrified by the crimes committed by abusers.

From a civil law point of view, local churches or dioceses are incorporated in the person of whoever holds the office of bishop. The bishop is the corporation, not him personally, but him the officer. It does happen that, human nature being the damaged thing that it is, that on occasion a bishop may not properly fulfill his obligations. In countries where a member of the tribe who succeeds in life is then expected to come to the support and aid of his whole tribe or clan, some ethnic bishops have wrongly used diocesan funds to support their tribesmen. We westerners are shocked by such actions, but it is difficult to judge impartially from the outside of a particular social reality. I'm not condoning such misbehavior but just saying that I understand how it happens that people can do such things.

The point that I am trying to make here is that if the Church has any assets anywhere, those assets are the property of the faithful, the ordinary Catholics - the vast majority of whom are poor - and not the property of the clergy who are alleged to be and when proven to be guilty are in reality the abusers of their long suffering victims. Financial compensation of victims comes about by taking from those ordinary Catholics, making new victims of them, as it were, though certainly not in their persons, but still, in a true way, in their investment in their church. When a suit alleges that one or more bishops failed to take proper action to rescue the victims, prevent further abuse, and to attend to the victims' needs, there again, financial compensation takes from Peter to give to Paul or Pauline.

As long as the whole apparatus of action to seek redress for the victims of sexual and other forms of abuse bases its actions and its legal suits on a misunderstanding of what the Church is as an entity that exists in society for service to that same society, then those suits can be expected to continue to generate fear within the institution, fear among its officials, its members, its servants, and its many subsidiary institutions at every level: neighborhood, municipal, diocesan, provincial, national, and international. We all need to become far more astute in our mutual understanding if we are ever to attain a more open and effective dialogue and subsequently achieve together actions and safeguards that will bring both comfort to the afflicted and safeguard to the vulnerable.

As a Roman Catholic man, Christian, and priest myself, I could see here and there in panelists' words some further lack of understanding of the full nature of the RC Church and how it works. Unlike multinational corporations where directives are sent out from the top to all degrees and levels of the company and its subsidiaries with the practical expectation that they will be carried out, the Church does not and cannot function like that. Employees and officers of a company who do not follow directives are disciplined or fired or transferred, and one way or another, no failure to carry them out is tolerated. People earn a salary and are expected to "tow the line". The CEO and their officers have direct authority over employees at every level of the company.

Not so with the Roman Catholic Church, at least, not entirely. While it is true that the Roman Pontiff or his officers do follow up on some outstanding issues or roles carried out by certain individuals such as bishops, priests, Catholic professors, this tends to be in response to complaints that regular authorities have tried and failed to obtain redress. The Vatican in that sense is a kind of ombudsman. The Pope or any other officer of the Vatican - whether the City State or the Holy See - have no authority whatsoever over any bishop or priest's salary, not directly. It is true that a bishop or priest can be disciplined with varying degrees of severity and that these sanctions would then have some practical effects. However, this authority is only morally binding and not legal with civil force.

When a company fires someone, that employee generally has little recourse if the firing was handled astutely and properly in accord with the law. A guilty priest or bishop could be suspended and even excommunicated, but such severe sanctions have rarely until now been employed to stop abusers in their tracks and for understandable reasons. We enjoy in our day unprecedented progress in how we understand the human person and the functioning of all our faculties. Until some decades ago, sexual misconduct was seen entirely as a spiritual problem, one that required confession, penance, and repentance. The fact that sexual abuse by its nature tends to remain hidden and difficult to prove if not difficult to believe in great part led Church leaders to take the part of the accused.

Progress in psychotherapy and counseling has brought to light the experience of the victim and has also brought to light the different kinds of profiles of abusers, the most dangerous being pedophiles - those who abuse prepubescent children - who typically are living in total and unconscious denial. It is even impossible for experienced therapists to help them because they are clinically unaware that they have done anything wrong. Unlike them, those who abuse teens or adults are generally completely aware they have done wrong and generally deeply guilty and repentant, though still in need of help. All this to say that the time has come to assure that authority figures at all levels of the Church are brought "up to speed" on these issues and that proper protocols are put in place and proper formation given on a continual basis, because the Church is an institution in constant transition of personnel as well as of members. People age, become experienced, grow old, die, and are replaced. Those who die bring their wisdom with them and the task must begin ever anew.

The reality also is that each diocese throughout the world - there are currently some 2,846 diocese or local churches worldwide - is autonomous and independently responsible for its normal and ongoing operations. It would be literally impossible for the Pope or the Vatican offices to "micromanage" these dioceses which offer services to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. Nor would it be in accord with Jesus' will that the bishops be controlled by a central autocrat or autocracy. It has always been understood by Catholics that Jesus gave his authority in name to Peter so that it be exercised by all 12 apostles under the leadership of Peter at the service of all. Peter himself was wrong when he denied Jesus and later when he was corrected by Paul, and it is understood that Jesus' guidance continues until today and will continue until the end when the apostles act as one under Peter. It is Catholic understanding that Jesus continues to unfailingly guide his Church and that this can be seen in the unity of the bishops with the Bishop of Rome and the faith of all the faithful.

So what do people do in the face of sexual and other forms of abuse with complaints against priests in particular? How can we understand how the various instances of the RC Church have handled such complaints in the past and how they are handling them today, and what redress can we seek when the response of Church authorities is deemed to be insufficient or even non-existent? I believe that we will make significant progress on these urgent matters only when both parties - the complainants and the representatives of the Church - manifestly show their agreement on the value of the Church as this value is already manifest worldwide and on the timeliness and need of their concerted collaboration on the healing of the abused, the protection of the vulnerable, the strengthening of the innocent, and the prompt and effective containment, treatment, and sanctioning of abusers.

These thoughts are offered in the interest of advancing the cause for the benefit of all parties and of humanity as a whole. Peace to you, reader, and to one and all. Please feel free to comment here or on my Facebook account.


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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