Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Revisiting Cahill and Wilkinson's Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church As Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Is Released

Dallas Morning News, June 2002

This is a posting from this blog dated 20 October 2017 that I'd like to re-post this morning, as we wait for the Pennsylvania grand jury report to be made public. When Cahill and Wilkinson's Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church was published last year, it was widely applauded as the most comprehensive report ever published on this subject. In recommending the Cahill-Wilkinson study  with that assessment, the noted authority on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic church Kieran Tapsell also stated that this study is of paramount importance because of the attention it directs to the systemic causes of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church.

Catholic officials have resisted such systemic analysis. As Cahill-Wilkinson note, one of their weapons of choice in seeking to deflect systemic analysis of the problem has been to offer smooth, seemingly plausible "para-explanations" (my term, not Cahill-Wilkinson's) for the abuse situation that glide across the surface of the system while veiling its operations. Those para-explanations include the initial claim that the abuse crisis was an American thing, then an English-speaking cultural phenomenon, then a manifestation of moral decay in cultures that have given women rights, made contraceptive use widely available, tolerated homosexuality, etc.

As these smooth red-herring explanations designed to veil the operations of the system producing abuse and its cover-up were crafted, an explanation of the abuse crisis as all about gay priests was also crafted. We're seeing these smooth, seemingly plausible para-explanations come back right now in full force — and we're going to see them shopped about with ferocity in response to the Pennsylvania report.

The point to keep your eye on as you hear these smooth explanations — ah, it's all about gay priests and moral decay in cultures that accept homosexuality and reject magisterial teaching about contraception! — is that these diversionary arguments serve the interests of those in the Catholic hierarchy who do not want us to see the bigger picture. Who do not want us to see the systemic roots of the abuse crisis…. Hence my decision to share the following posting from last October with you again:

Several days ago, when I blogged about Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson's study Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports, I told you I planned to say a bit more about this ground-breaking study after I had read it thoroughly. My previous posting looked at one of the systemic roots of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church: how the encyclical Humanae Vitae has undermined the credibility of any official Catholic teaching about human sexuality by ignoring the wisdom of lay Catholics as it seeks to impose, from the top down and with no consultation of lay Catholic experience, a ban on contraception widely rejected by the laity. 

My previous posting states,

Cahill and Wilkinson's point: by taking the position it did in Humanae Vitae, the Catholic magisterium so decisively undermined its credibility as it teaches in the area of sexual ethics that nothing it says in this area is now taken seriously by many thinking, conscientious people. This leaves a big lacuna both within the Catholic community and the world at large, given how much influence the Catholic church has around the world. And this lack of any credible, coherent sexual ethic is one of the factors that played into what may have been an acceleration of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the second half of the twentieth century (though, as their historical study shows, sexual abuse of minors has always been a serious problem in the Catholic church, as it has in other religious groups, throughout history).

Today, I'd like to zero in on the word "systemic" and its importance in the Cahill-Wilkinson study. Before I do that, I want to frame my remarks about the study by pointing to a passage from Peter Isely's moving eulogy for SNAP founder Barbaa Blaine: Peter writes,

The hierarchy's difficulty, with Barbara's desire for justice as its cause, is that their endless cover-ups of pedophilia scandals and sex crimes are not simply to "save their reputation," something they have been more than willing to sacrifice. In defending itself, the church has always been defending its innermost, obscene underground secret. Isn't identifying oneself with this secret underside still not a key component of the very identity of a priest? We all know if a priest seriously (not just rhetorically with pastoral clichés sent from headquarters) denounces these crimes and cover-ups, he thereby excludes himself from the ecclesiastical community, he is no longer "one of us." 
It is not simply that the church does not fully participate in the investigation of criminal cases and is an accomplice after the fact. The church as such, as an institution, has to be investigated globally with regard to the way it systematically creates and recreates the conditions for such crimes. 

In defending itself, the church has always been defending its innermost, obscene underground secret. 

And: The church as such, as an institution, has to be investigated globally with regard to the way it systematically creates and recreates the conditions for such crimes. 

I read this powerful tribute to Barbara Blaine as I was also reading the Cahill-Wilkinson study. I'm struck by the conjunction of Peter Isely's analysis of the roots of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, and that of Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson. What Peter Isely is saying about the abuse crisis in the passage I have excerpted is very much akin to what Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson are proposing. As Kieran Tapsell statesChild Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church is "[t]he most comprehensive report ever published on the systemic reasons behind child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church . . . ."

As Cahill and Wilkinson indicate, though the two John Jay reports on child sexual abuse in the U.S. Catholic church "represent the most thorough, comprehensive and empirically-based study of a whole national presbyterate and its child sex abusers ever conducted in the 2000+ years of Church history using professional social science researchers," they have a serious shortcoming — to wit:

Nor did the authors fully appreciate the underlying Church cultural factors. They also neglected the underlying theological and pastoral issues, especially the pushback by many bishops well after 1985 and right up to 2002 (p. 76).

Ditto for the important report in Ireland, the Murphy Report:

The Murphy Report did not really examine the underlying issues as to why the offending priests behaved as they did, why the bishops behaved as they did, and why the Vatican behaved as it did. It did not put the abuse, or the Archdiocese's response to the abuse, into a systemic context (p. 82).

To get at the roots of the crisis caused by sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church, and the cover-up of such abuse, we have to place this story in a systemic context. We have to look closely and critically at the underlying theological and pastoral issues — notably the pushback by many bishops well after 1985 and right up to 2002. (And right up to today . . . .) We have to look closely and critically at systemic, theological-cultural roots like the following:

The Catholic Church in Ireland serves as an instructive case study highlighting the need for clerical sexual abuse to be seen as part of the continuum of the sexual behaviour, sexual deprivation, and sexual ill-health of Catholic clergy, behaviour that is embedded in a completely inadequate theology of sexuality and the absence of a relational sexual ethics for clergy. Also involved is the Church's theology of scandal, its emphasis on protecting its public reputation, and the interplay with power and powerlessness. Organisational reform of clerical life to address the factors that contribute to the genesis of the problem is urgently needed, and all healing response roads point to restorative solutions (p. 85).

As Cahill and Wilkinson note, we can gain a good snapshot of how many members of the powerful Roman curia approach the abuse crisis by reading Massimo Introvigne and Roberto Marchesini's book Pedofilia: Una Battaglia che la Chiesa Sta Vincendo [Pedophilia: A Battle the Church is Winning] (Varese: Sugarco Edizioni, 2014). Introvigne and Marchesini are closely connected to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, and, in key respects, their book is, as Cahill and Wilkinson note, a vindication of that pope's handling of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, and an attack on Jason Berry, Tom Doyle, Richard Sipe, and SNAP. Rather than admit that the abuse situation has any systemic roots at all in Catholic theology, culture, and pastoral practice, Introvigne and Marchesini prefer to target gay priests, instead — and Protestantism, which, in their view, has infected gay priests with a Jansenist disdain for women. 

As Cahill and Wilkinson argue, 

It is important to understand Introvigne's thinking because it would in general terms reflect the thinking of the senior Italian hierarchy and the Italians and other Latins within the Roman Curia. It illustrates that there has been and remains a serious miscommunication problem within the Church in the understanding of what happened and why it happened. The Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (2007, 2008, 2011)* has understood this from the very beginning. He has given an account of the meeting held in the Vatican, on 1–4 April 2000, between senior Roman Curia officials and two episcopal representatives each from the Antilles, Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and the United States, and chaired by the Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy from 1996 to 2006. After the different accounts of the situations in each country, the meeting was addressed by senior canon lawyers who argued for the rights of the priest under canon law without reference to the rights of the victims. The Roman Curia officials insisted on the judicial canonical process and its efficacy, and showed how the Code of Canon Law could be applied (p. 94)
The problem, in the view of Robinson (2007, 2011),* was perceived in Rome as a moral one – if a priest offended he should repent, and if he repented he should be forgiven and restored to his position. At the meeting, Robinson was himself accused of not believing in Christian forgiveness. Another Roman Curia blind spot was to show no understanding that child sexual abuse involved the abuse of power, nor did the Curial officials have much knowledge of the recidivism involved or of the repeated denials and rationalisations of the offenders. The concern of the Roman Curia officials present at the meeting was to protect the innocent priest because of their belief that many accusations were false. According to Bishop Robinson’s later account, they were 'downright patronising' in regarding their Latin Law as superior to Anglo-Saxon Law, had no understanding of the serious problems created by trying to impose Latin Law and canon law over and above the civil law of a nation state, blaming the problem of clerical child sexual abuse on the secular nature of Anglo-Saxon societies, on moral laxity, and on the media. Nor could they appreciate the notion that returning perpetrator priests to ministry involved 'unacceptable risk' to children. Because of their wholly legalistic approach, they did not consider the obligations of the Church towards victims. They were also handcuffed by their cognitive schema – the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for example, classified child sexual abuse under the label of 'the more serious offences', which included offences such as desecrating a host, celebrating Mass with only bread or only wine, and concelebrating Mass with non-Catholic priests. The priest was a privileged person under canon law; the victim was not (p. 94).

In the face of the clearly diversionary, change-the-subject arguments the Catholic hierarchy and people like Introvigne and Marchesini want to advance to deflect attention from the real, perceptible systemic causes of the abuse crisis within the Catholic church, Cahill and Wilkinson propose that we keep our eye on how the Catholic hierarchy has actually behaved in response to the abuse crisis. Despite its persistent claims that the crisis was "merely" an American thing or an Irish thing, despite its attempts to get lay Catholics and the media to focus on a few presumed "rotten apples" in the priesthood, there's this:

The Catholic episcopal response in the various countries across the world has been remarkably uniform. The bishops worked strenuously to keep the problem of clerical child sexual abuse in-house in order to protect the Church's reputation and its financial assets, hoping that the problem would eventually go away. The problem was further exacerbated by an almost incomprehensible refusal to see that it was a systemic issue, not a collection of individual failures (p. 96).

How the Catholic hierarchy has responded to the abuse crisis is itself glaring proof of a systemic problem that can only be resolved systemically. A group of church leaders spanning the globe do not act with such uniform, seemingly planned concerted effort unless they are representing a system in deep reaction to any attempts to curb its destructive behavior and make it accountable to the public. The "similarity in response" of Catholic bishops across the world demonstrated by their almost uniform "lack of concern and care for the victims," their uniform "well-documented failure to regard child sex abuse as a crime (as well as a sin) and to refer matters to the police," and their uniform "need to protect the reputation of the Church and avoid scandal" (ibid.): these put the lie to all the diversionary arguments that the abuse crisis is not deeply rooted in systemic factors having to do with the theology, culture, governance, and pastoral practice of the Catholic church.

Everywhere we turn in the Catholic system, we find a "clericalist solidarity" (p. 108, 266) in which clerics put fellow clerics first, above the rest of the people of God, and in which the ordained shield above all the "secrecy and secretiveness [that] are at the heart of the governance of the Catholic Church" (p. 273). Peter Isely asks, "Isn't identifying oneself with this secret underside still not a key component of the very identity of a priest?"

And we know very well what the answer to that question is — and what Cahill and Wilkinson and Isely all mean when they speak of the systemic roots of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church.

In this respect, Cahill and Wilkinson's analysis of Catholic religious communities whose founders hid dirty secrets about their own abuse of minors — the Marcial Maciel story and the Legionaries of Christ are only the latest iteration of this frightening strand of Catholic history — makes the interesting case that one of the most concerning flaws in the entire Catholic system is the demonstrated ability of "devious and corrupt imposters" to rise to the very top of the Catholic system of power and governance: they write,

The purpose of this section regarding failing and flawed religious orders and less than holy founders is not to denigrate the many committed and holy founders of religious orders down the centuries, whose achievements and legacy has brought great benefit to the world and to the Church through their educational, welfare and advocacy work. Rather it highlights how easily the Church can be infiltrated to the very highest levels by devious and corrupt imposters who, by brilliantly playing the ecclesiastical system, are able to ingratiate themselves into positions of power and influence while at the same time abusing children and young adults. The 'rotten apples' thesis, suggesting that corrupt individuals have infiltrated the Church, is insufficient to give a full explanation to thfis phenomenon because there are many examples of priests leading double lives. As Richard Sipe (1990),* David Ranson (1997),* and Marie Keenan (2012),* have indicated, this phenomenon points to deep systemic factors (p. 152). 

What deep systemic factors? What do Cahill and Wilkinson mean in using this phrase repeatedly throughout their study? As they explain,

Except for researchers such as [Richard] Sipe, [Eugen] Drewermann, [Thomas] Plante, [David] Ranson and [Marie] Keenan, with their in-depth knowledge of the Catholic Church, researchers have given insufficient attention to the under-pinning theological and pastoral factors which have formed priests and religious operating within the Catholic Church’s organisational culture, and which have played roles in the patterns of offending and the responses by bishops and religious superiors. Our review of the literature suggests that the following variables were part of the Catholic Church culture that underpinned the cognitive distortions of the individual offender already discussed, and episcopal responses. These eleven factors are: 
A patriarchal imaginary of God as the all-seeing God
Sacramental confession and cheap forgiveness
Child sexual abuse and the seal of confession
A Catholic clericalist imaginary of religious power and exceptionalism
A theology of priesthood and clericalism based on ontological change
Powerlessness and the theology and praxis of obedience
An essentialist theology of sexuality, marriage and the family
Masturbation as the great sexual terror in the struggle for sexual purity
Homosexuality and the Catholic moral theological tradition
The place of women and gender in the Catholic tradition
The lack of a theology of the Child (p. 213)

All of this analysis leads Cahill and Wilkinson to the following very damning — and very correct — conclusion: 

In explaining the reasons for the scandal of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and religious, the initial defence of Catholic bishops was the 'rotten apples' theory (White & Terry 2008).* This was quickly discredited as more and more cases emerged across the world. The next defence was the false 'homosexuality-as-cause' theory, still much favoured in Italian and Vatican circles, together with the empirically false argument that abuse by Catholic clergy and religious is 'no worse than in other professional groups'. Next came the argument that 'the problem is over and under control' (for example, the 2011 John Jay Report's claim that 'the "crisis" of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests is a historical problem'), which is partly supported by the statistical evidence, although this should be considered along with the caveats presented in Chapter Seven. 
Another reductionist explanation was the 'learning curve' hypothesis, which suggested that the Catholic Church had been on a learning journey since the 1980s in relation to its understanding of child sexual abuse by its clergy and religious. There is some truth to this, as institutional memory is a problem in many large institutions, particularly when records are badly kept or simply destroyed, as happened under Canon 489 and as documented in the Boston Report in Massachusetts. Two inquiries gave some attention to the 'learning curve' hypothesis: the Irish Ryan Report (2009)* decisively rejected it because, among other reasons, it found the allegations of child sexual abuse dated back to before World War II and because the Archdiocese of Dublin took insurance cover to protect itself in the late 1980s, as did many other Irish and Australian dioceses. The Ryan Report also found that many priests had turned a blind eye to episodes of abuse that they were well aware of. Only two canonical trials took place in Ireland, and the Ryan report noted that by the mid-twentieth century canon laws to address the issue had fallen into disuse. All this was a failure in governance. In Australia, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry (2013)* also firmly rejected the 'learning curve' hypothesis as 'a difficult explanation for the Committee to accept' (p. 269).

Or, as Peter Isely puts the point, "The church as such, as an institution, has to be investigated globally with regard to the way it systematically creates and recreates the conditions for such crimes." 

* Works cited by Cahill and Wilkinson, as indicated by an asterisk I have added to the text at various points: 

Betrayal of Trust Report (2013), Betrayal of Trust: Report of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government and Other Non-Government Institutions, Victorian Parliamentary Family and Community Development Committee, Parliament of Victoria. Available at: http://parliament.gov.vic/icdc/inquiry/340  

Keenan M (2012) Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Gender, Power and Organizational Culture, Oxford University Press, New York

Ranson D (1997) 'A personal response to the issue of factors within the Catholic Church which contributes to a climate out of which sexual abuse might occur', Submission to the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission Research Project, Mimeographed

Robinson, G (2007) Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, John Garrett, Mulgrave, Victoria

Robinson G (2008) Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, US Edition, Liturgical Press, Minnesota

Robinson G (2011) 'Changing the culture' in Plante, T & McChesney K (eds) Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002–2012, Praeger, CA

Ryan Report (2009), Report on Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Government of Ireland, Ireland. Available from http://childabusecommission.ie/

Sipe R (1990) A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, Brunner/Mazel, New York

White M & Terry K (2008) 'Child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: revisiting the rotten apples explanation' Criminal Justice and Behavior Vol 35, No 5, pp 358– 378

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