The Australian has reported that a landmark report from the Catholic Church's leaders that the vow of celibacy "may have contributed to decades of child sex abuse committed."
For the first time, the church establishment within Australia says “obligatory celibacy” may have resulted in the abuse of thousands of children and that priests should undergo “psycho-sexual development” training as a result. In a report to be released today, they also criticise a church culture “geared to power over others” and call for “greater clarity around the role of the Vatican and its involvement with the way in which church authorities in Australia responded to abuse allegations”.
By publicly acknowledging the potential role of celibacy in this way, the report sets an international precedent. Issued by the Australian church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, whose supervisory group includes the archbishops of Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide, its findings are in stark contrast to a recent US study that said celibacy could not be blamed for the epidemic of abuse.
Francis Sullivan, the council’s chief executive, said the church must now examine “how individuals who have chosen to be celibate, how they can remain healthy and not begin acting out of a dysfunctional sense of self”.The report is critical of a culture of “obedience and closed environments”, openly criticising “the impact of ‘clericalism’, which can be understood as referring to approaches or practices involving ordained ministry geared to power over others, not service to others”.
“Church … leaders, over many decades, seemed to turn a blind eye, either instinctively or deliberately, to the abuse happening within their diocese or religious order, protecting the institution rather than caring for the child,” it says...
In July, Pope Francis estimated 2 per cent of Catholic clergy worldwide were child abusers. “I would be absolutely certain that in Australia the proportion of child abusers and pedophiles in the church would be at least double that,” Mr Sullivan saidThe Victorian Parliament’s Betrayal of Trust report, published in November 2013 discusses the culture in religious organisations that permitted their members "closing ranks"
"[I]n any organisation, a misguided sense of group loyalty or personal empathy can influence the nature of the organisation’s response to offences by its members. In the case of the Catholic Church, many perpetrators of abuse were members of a relatively closed community. They had formally dedicated their lives to the service of their religion, giving up the prospect of the ordinary relationships of marriage and family. They had taken vows of obedience, poverty and celibacy. In that situation, it seems almost inevitable that a protective mentality, an inappropriate empathy among peers and superiors, and a desire to guard the reputation of the religious order, should develop, unless Catholic Church leadership squarely confronted the issues. But the latter was certainly not the case for many years. Many people who provided evidence still questioned whether, in spite of many statements to the contrary by the Catholic Church leadership, and although much has been and is being done, the basic priorities have changed. They wondered whether the Catholic Church still gives central significance to organisational self-protection. This cynicism is a consequence of the Church’s self-created damage to its own reputation."
Part one of the report (5.8 Megabyte PDF) includes discussion of the role of celibacy and the dangers of young, sexually immature boys being placed in seminary:
The issue of celibacy
One aspect of the culture within Catholic Church organisations is celibacy. While research evidence establishes no clear connection between celibacy and child sexual abuse, Cardinal George Pell acknowledged that celibacy might be a contributing factor to the many instances of criminal child abuse in the Catholic Church:
But one of the suggestions is that it is because of the celibacy of the clergy. That might be a factor in some cases. Two final points just at this stage: as we all know, of course, most of the paedophilia is acted out outside institutional settings and by married people, so marriage is no necessary deterrent to the paedophilia; also—and I am sure we will come back to this—the entry procedures, the criteria, the searching and the investigation of candidates back, say, in the middle of last century was much too loose.
The Committee considered the role of celibacy in the sexual abuse of children. Archbishop Denis Hart gave evidence to the Inquiry in respect of Fr Desmond Gannon about the issue of ‘compartmentalisation’ of child sexual abuse with the notion of a priestly vow of celibacy. The psychologist report assessing Fr Gannon in the context of up to 100 instances of child sexual abuse said as follows:
In all areas of formal prayer, private devotions, charity, priestly duties and church life, Father Gannon came across as a very spiritual man. He has developed the prayerful habits of a priest and fulfils his obligation to the divine office, Eucharist, spiritual reading, retreats et cetera without difficulty. He finds the promises of obedience, celibacy and living simply ‘easy enough’ to keep.
In response to the notion that Fr Gannon had found his promise of celibacy ‘easy
enough to keep’ Archbishop Hart said as follows:
That is right. It shows the disconnect in his mind. In other words, he has got it in a box. He has got what the Church asks of him in this box, and then he has this other box over here where he can do what he likes. This to me says that there is a lack of integration in his sexuality and in his person. That to me underlines the need for proper integration, which is what we do work on very hard these days.
Celibacy has been a tradition and part of the culture in the Catholic Church since the fourth century, and became a requirement for all clergy in the Western Church from the twelfth century.
In line with research evidence, Professor Desmond Cahill explained to the Committee that celibacy is not the direct cause of offending. He did note, however, that celibacy has an important influence on an organisational culture that has led to a narrow, closed and ultimately destructive clericalism (clerical power and influence). The systemic and worldwide pattern of clerical child sexual abuse is but one major symptom of this clericalism.
A number of witnesses raised the question of celibacy, particularly in the context of the Catholic Church’s acceptance of married priests. Mr Peter Johnstone, on behalf of Catholics for Renewal, said that, with respect to married priests:
I have to say this is an excellent example of a command and control system in a very large worldwide organisation that adopts policies and does not find it necessary to explain them. I think that most in the church would say this is an administrative decision of convenience not to have married priests. It might cost a bit more to have to upkeep a family as well, perhaps there might be other reasons; there could be all sorts of things like that. It is convenient to the church not to have married priests. The church has a different position about the ordination of women where they say it is a matter of doctrine and we are not allowed to even talk about it …
A related topic is the sexual maturity of those recruited for religious life. One aspect of this is the sexual maturity of priests and clergy, given the practice of recruiting teenage boys who were still forming their sexual identities, then cloistering them in seminaries of boys of similar age and celibate men. Br McDonald from the Christian Brothers acknowledged this in his evidence to the Inquiry, saying that ‘It is just unhealthy’.
The Committee also received evidence of sexually inappropriate behaviour in seminaries. Bishop Connors acknowledged in evidence to the Inquiry that there was a cultural problem in a seminary for priests in the Ballarat Diocese in the 1970s. It notes that sexually inappropriate behaviour between ministers of religion is unrelated to the violent crime of child sexual abuse, which is an abuse of power and trust in the context of vulnerable children who do not have the maturity or capacity to consent.
The Committee heard that seminaries and religious houses gave little or no initial training on sexual matters, and in the past did not properly manage the preparation for a celibate life. The Catholic Church pointed out in its submission to the Committee that these organisations take a different approach today, with much more rigorous screening and development for a celibate life.Roy Morgan research has previously found that Australians are less likely than ever before to identify themselves as Christian, partly because of media attention given to the Royal Commission and cover-ups of child sexual assault by church organisations.
|George Pell accompanies Gerald Ridsdale to court in 1993. Ridsdale was later found guilty of raping and abusing 54 children.|