Pedophilia and the RCC

I was going to comment on Bill’s post about the Vatican’s most recent apologia on child abuse within its clerical ranks. But my comment kept getting longer and longer, so I decided to publish it as a post instead.

It was Oddjob’s trenchant observation that NO ONE else even remotely approached the level of evil that was the Archdiocese of Boston that set me off.

I was raised Catholic until I turned 17, when I quietly lost my faith. (When I converted to Judaism at 22, I told the rabbis I didn’t believe in god. That was ok as long as I agreed to follow ha’lacha.) As an ex-Catholic former Catholic school student, I have a theory about why child abuse is so rampant in the RCC.

I think it’s due to a combination of the following:

1)The fundamental belief that sex is dirty, sinful and only for procreation when/if you aren’t holy enough to be a celibate priest. Stated another way, the belief that celibacy–which I consider to be an unnatural and almost unattainable state–is not only possible, but THE ideal state.

2)A doctrine that states that “impure thoughts” are sins. In other words, little or no distinction or separation between thoughts, temptation, and deeds. Hence, once a priest imagines having sex with an altar boy, he’s already sinned. Committing the actual deed only makes the sin a bit more serious. And if you’re struggling with feelings of lust and guilt, that bit more can seem pretty irrelevant. (Also, see number “4”.)

3)An odd mixture of sexism, idealism, dogma, authoritarianism and other factors that result in a very high percentage of emotionally stunted, developmentally immature, self-absorbed-to-the-point-of-borderline-personality priests who feel, on many levels, entitled. These men, when they experience natural feelings of lust, cannot imagine or fantasize about relating to another adult. It’s far too threatening because emotionally, they’re stuck in boyhood. They’ve never grown up and priesthood, with it’s artificial separation from the intimate experience of life’s progressive passages, encourages them to never grow up. In addition, their utter self-involvement–after all, they are god’s representatives on earth–limits their ability to emphasize with their victims.

And finally, 4)Guilt and repression. Anyone raised Catholic can attest to the powerful charge guilt can add to sex of any kind. More repression, leads to more guilt, leads to a more powerful sexual release when you finally give in. This can, if finessed, be a great and good thing when two adults are relating consensually. In a pedophile, it can feed their downward spiral.

The whole mix, IMHO, seems almost guaranteed to produce child sexual abuse. And as far as I can see, the Church has addressed none of these factors. That’s why, in combination with the hierarchy’s pattern of denial and enabling, I fully expect the issue to raise its ugly head again.

And again.

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30 Comments

Filed under 08_brynn

30 responses to “Pedophilia and the RCC

  1. Well, you’re probably right, but me, I thought it was more the atmosphere. I mean, guys dressing up in skirts, candles, incense. It sets a mood, y’know?

    (With apologies to The Onion.)

  2. Jay in Oregon

    Wow, Brynn.

    I think you managed to sum up my thoughts on the whole issue perfectly — and as you are a former Catholic, you can say so with more authority than I.

    In my “what I’d do if I were the Pope” comment, I was going to tackle the issue of celibacy in priests, but opted not to as I’m too ignorant of the actual church doctrine.

  3. peter

    oddly, your personal history and reasoning runs parallel to my own. rcc til age 17 and rsp (red sea pedestrian) at 22, and for essentially the same reasons. it takes a long time to shed the guilt and repression and develop healthy attitudes about sex. my wife always says that everyone she knows who was raised catholic is twisted.

  4. Don’t forget the rather phallic nature of churches, Quixote.

  5. I would add that the mental illness of pedophilia means that those who have this often feel they are special in some way, and particularly feel that they have something special to offer children. I would imagine the lifestyle of a priest would be very appealing to someone with the sickness that is pedophilia.

  6. There are structural aspects at work as well, and they may be as important in the way that the scandals developed. The internal affairs of Catholic parishes are controlled by the diocese to a much greater degree than in Protestant churches, even ones that have bishops. Catholic parishes, for example, have little control over what priests get assigned to them and how long they stay there. So a pedophile can basically continue in ministry in various parishes until the diocese decides to take action or a victim takes the story to the press or police. If hiring decisions were made at the parish level instead of the diocesan level, you wouldn’t see the kind of shuttling that was rampant in Boston.

  7. I would add that the mental illness of pedophilia means that those who have this often feel they are special in some way, and particularly feel that they have something special to offer children. I would imagine the lifestyle of a priest would be very appealing to someone with the sickness that is pedophilia.

    Very good point. The clergy as a profession is, unfortunately, full of people who as part of emotional disorder think they have special things to offer, and also people who think that being in the clergy will help them to deal with their unresolved psychological problems.

    To be a bit vulnerable, that’s a lot of why I went to seminary and why I stuck it out for so long even after I knew that the last thing I wanted to be was a minister of any kind. I just wanted to stop hurting, and I thought that some combination of being extra holy along with helping people would heal me. I’m so thankful for my wife, who was able to see my Depression for what it is before anything catastrophic happened.

    Another aspect of the whole issue is the severe priest shortage in the US. They’re just so happy to get anyone who actually wants to be a priest that they don’t pay attention to warning signs.

  8. Molly, NYC

    Part of it’s: what kind of man would sign on to give up sex? The myth is that you get a man with enormous dedication and strength of will. But I think what you get in fact are a lot of guys who just can’t deal with sexuality at all, not even their own. The church offers them a niche where that sort of prissiness (And Cardinal Law, from what I saw, was the prissiest thing on two legs) is a feature rather than a bug.

    Suppose you get these guys in the hierarchy, and a problem comes up with a pedophile priest. Bishop Prissy-pants isn’t merely going to be concerned with a discreet solution; he also wants a fast solution. He wants this messy, disgusting, fleshy business to go away as quickly as possible, and for him to have to deal with it or think about it as little as possible.

    In dealing with a pedophile priest, bouncing him out of the Church and into the court system could take months, lawyers, depositions, confrontation with the sort of physical ickiness that our bishop became a priest to avoid–whereas a transfer is probably just a matter of signing some papers and delegating some other details.

    So I don’t think the cover-ups were just about laziness or CYA. Suppose the priest had been caught stealing from parishioners. The archdiocese might not want publicity and they might negotiate for leniency from the prosecutors. But they probably would turn him in and they certainly wouldn’t just transfer the guy to another parish. Just so long as they don’t have to deal with teh sex.

  9. Constant Comment

    Excellent assessment, Brynn. I agree with all of them but especially think #3 is the real combo clincher.

  10. Dan

    Well, to add: I also grew up Roman Catholic( altar boy, lector and interviewed for seminary) but gave up about ten years ago with Pope John Paul’s statement basically saying that he didn’t want to hear about women as priests, gays role in the Church or married priests from the pain in the ass Americans anymore. Also, to be completely honest, I struggle with a belief in God at all so mores the reason.

    With that being said, I think you could also add the RCC’s role, in action if not by statement, that the Church is the middle man between the laity and God. In other words look to the Church first to understand the Trinity, your fellow person, what prayer is, interpretation of the Bible, what to eat and how to live. As a brother(Jesuit) once said to me the Church’s biggest mistake has been that instead of growing up with a greater understanding of Christ, the average Catholic grows up with a greater understanding of the Church.

    To me, the arrogance this breeds is a key element in the abuses. It’s the idea that the clergy hold such sway over the parishioners lives that in some manner these kids belonged to them. Even if one were to say that by the law of averages the Church or any clergy would hold some pedophiles, the RCC’s belief that they are the middle man, they are the authority, can make the perfect petri dish for these guys to grow. As Brynn said, “their utter self-involvement”.

  11. oddjob

    Another aspect of the whole issue is the severe priest shortage in the US. They’re just so happy to get anyone who actually wants to be a priest that they don’t pay attention to warning signs.

    I have to quibble with this particular observation, although I don’t quibble with the rest at all. Most of these incidents have not occurred recently, which means the current priest shortage isn’t really the driving factor. Most of this took place in an earlier time when there was no real shortage to speak of. It suggests instead that in the 1950’s through 1970’s the seminaries & hierarchy were far less discerning in who they accepted to the priesthood, and also that there was a big subset of seminarians who chose the priesthood for very unhealthy reasons.

    At least, that’s how it appears in Boston, and that also was something the Globe discussed in one of its analysis articles when it was revealing all this in 2002.

  12. Dan

    It suggests instead that in the 1950’s through 1970’s the seminaries & hierarchy were far less discerning in who they accepted to the priesthood, and also that there was a big subset of seminarians who chose the priesthood for very unhealthy reasons.

    Yeah oddjob, I agree. Growing up Irish/Italian Boston Catholic, you were”called by the Holy Spirit” to join the priesthood. The mere fact you wanted to be a priest meant that God himself had tapped you and there was no question as to whether you were fit for the job.

  13. I think Stephen makes a good point addressing the proliferation of pedophiles amongst the clergy. It seems like a lot of men with issues go into the Church expecting to have their demons exorcised, so to speak, and then end up in a room full of children, with a doctrine in hand that encourages repression over any real mental and spiritual examination.

    As well, celibate priests are even not part of the Church’s original tenents, and I think somewhere down the line some wingnut decided it was the way to go. It seems like no one has been able to really swing things back to what appears to be a much healthier system.

    With the shortage of priests though, sooner or later the Church is going to have to re-examine its stance on the priesthood and allow women to minister, as well as abolish the celibacy vows it imposes (and which ends up working itself out so negatively).

    Like I used to say when I was kid and my mom would force us to go to Mass:

    “Stupid Church.”

  14. Brynn

    Part of it’s: what kind of man would sign on to give up sex? The myth is that you get a man with enormous dedication and strength of will. But I think what you get in fact are a lot of guys who just can’t deal with sexuality at all, not even their own.

    Excellent point, Molly!

  15. Brynn

    the idea that the clergy hold such sway over the parishioners lives that in some manner these kids belonged to them.

    Exactly! That’s what I meant, too, by a sense of entitlement.

  16. DBK

    I have a different theory. I think being a priest puts people in a unique position of authority and they succumb to the temptations because of some peculiar innate personality similarities in the type of person who becomes a priest. Not all of them, mind you. They don’t all do it. But just like there are similarities in the personalities of people who become actors or politicians or software developers, the same is true of priests. So maybe they all have some measure of control freak in them and that’s why they mess with kids. Add in the repressed sexuality and the stuff you mentioned and you probably get closer to the truth than not.

  17. anangryoldbroad

    I think it’s the repression and guilt that keeps this locked behind closed doors. Lots and lots of shaming,lying and manipulations are required to keep it secret.

    I wish I could sue the church. My mom was a victim of the catholic church too. As a direct result of that,I had no childhood,no real mom/mothering,our family dynamic took all the fun out of dysfunctional. For all practical purposes,I’ve been an orphan since my 20’s and before that I was just kind of everyone’s emotional scapegoat.

    Another factor here could also be drug and/or alcohol abuse. In Mom’s case,her molester was a raging alcoholic,so were her parents. The church knew what was going on and blamed my mom(who at the time she told was 11 yrs old). And she had to deal with the man who was raping her being invited into her home,over and over by her own parents. Ack.

    After all the stuff that’s come out about this,you would think people wouldn’t let their kids near a catholic church. Not without watching like a hawk at least.

  18. Molly, NYC

    On the bright side: If you assume that the entire population of Catholic men, on average, are no crazier than the general population, and that the priesthood siphons off their bigger whackjobs, it means that the rank-and-file Catholic men who remain are, on average, more stable than the general population.

  19. oddjob

    DBK, your theory actually covers most of the issues involving any Christian church with a strong pastor. Pastor’s kids (“PK’s”) are notorious for being either super high achievers or serious derelicts. I think that profession attracts to itself a lot of sick people seeking cures. Unfortunately ministering to others usually compounds your problems more than heals them. It also messes up those to whom you minister.

  20. Dan

    anangryoldbroad: I think it’s the repression and guilt that keeps this locked behind closed doors

    Well, guilt is such a part of the Catholic Church’s way. If there is an underlying mantra that is repeated is “you are not worthy”. Instead of a God who’s love is unconditional in spite of being sinners, the Church’s take in my opinion, is you are unworthy of God’s love because you are a sinner and should walk in guilt and shame because of it. This sets the clergy up as judge and arbitor which allows a sense of entitlement, to repeat Brynn.

    My grandmother was right of the boat from Ireland, and up until a few years ago, the laity wasn’t even allowed to let the Host touch their teeth at communion. Again, reinforcement of the idea that you are unworthy.

  21. oddjob

    This sets the clergy up as judge and arbitor

    Something they reinforce via the Gospel:

    “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
    – Matthew 16:18-19 (New International Version)

  22. (having been the wife of an ex-NYC catholic) I’ve always wondered why any sane person would give their kids over to a group of people to whom the notion of HAVING kids of their own is so unimportant to them that they would pledge to be celibate and live without the other sex in their lives forever….

  23. Lisa

    Former RC here as well. I took a little longer to listen to my doubts; I went through the motions until I was in my 30’s. Stephen touched on the idea of the priest shortage. I do think this does have something to do with it. The mere fact that there are so few new priests coming in means the Church has to hold on to the older priests longer. Those that came in at a time when, if you were a good Catholic family with more than one son, you sent one to seminary. I think there were more priests ordained in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s out of a sense of familial duty than true calling. That sort of pressure and the inherent ‘Catholic guilt’ we all acknowledge can breed resentment. Resentment, guilt and the laundry list of other psychological issues already mentioned make a really fucked-up psyche looking for an outlet

  24. Dan

    I think that during the 50’s thru the early 70’s, entering the priesthood was akin to becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Many Catholic families would have encouraged their son to enter seminary. I agree with Oddjob that the priest shortage was later and may have had less to do with any of the abuse cases.

    Oddjob references apostolic succession (and the movie Dogma..lol). Imagine the divine power these older priests, the ones that were caught I mean, must have felt imbued with. Again, more to the arrogance and self entitlement.

    I must say also though that I still hold some place in my heart for the church I grew up in. It was very welcoming and family oriented and was a part of found memories of childhood. To this day, I can take my mom to that local church on Easter say, and the memories will flood back. But after the Popes edict and the abuse scandals I just couldn’t stomach the hypocrisy. Also, I always found that parishoners would criticize the Church in Rome but excuse their local parish, much in the way people criticize Congress but think their Senator/congressman is ok

  25. Brynn

    Oddjob, excellent editorial. IMO, the corruption goes all the way to the top!

  26. oddjob

    Thanks, Brynn. Now let me show you all something about that little bit of Matthew. It’s fundamental to understanding the difference between the “Catholic” churches (quotes added to include all those which care about Apostolic succession in a formal sense rather than simply Rome) and the others:

    “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”

    If I understand/remember correctly, in the original Greek, this differentiation between the formal name “Peter” (which means “stone”) and the follow-up “rock” isn’t clear at all. Why would it be when the same word is used twice?

    What does it really mean that the same word is used twice?

    The “Catholic” churches, but in particular the Roman Catholic Church, hang the entire claim to sole legitimacy upon that one phrase, asserting that those who minister without the benefit of being in a direct line of supervision succession from Simon Peter, the leader of the Apostles & other followers after Jesus left, are frauds because they are apart from the founding event they cite in this single passage.

    The Protestants don’t see it that way, and they interpret the passage non-literally (or less literally, anyway). On this blog I usually use the New International Version when I cite a Biblical passage, but I do that on purpose. I do so because I know this translation was done by fundies, and is a fundy favorite.

    Because of who did the translating, this linguistic fancy footwork is glossed over with one small footnote acknowledging that “Peter means rock”. They don’t bother to mention that in the Greek it’s the same word twice!

    They interpret it this way. Jesus renames “Simon” (his original name) as “Peter”, but that the foundation of the church is not Peter the Apostle, but rather his statement of faith (“You are Messiah, the Holy One of God.”)

    Over this have several ugly wars been fought, including (indirectly), “the troubles”.

  27. oddjob

    I must say also though that I still hold some place in my heart for the church I grew up in.

    Nothing wrong with holding onto fond memories of a healthy congregation, although I agree with you about the disconnect between “them” and how it doesn’t apply to “us”.

  28. The decision to have priests take a vow of celibacy has very little to do with Teh Sex; it was decided so that the riches of the Church could not be left AWAY from the Church to other legitimate heirs. Because priests (and monks) could only be unmarrried, all heirs were therefore illegitimate.

    In the Middle Ages Catholic priests were notorious for having “nephews” (sons) that they brought INTO the Church as a profession; many priests were having tons of Teh Sex with female parishioners or concubines, as we read in Chaucer.

    All that is worldly wealth a priest may accumulate belings to the Church.I believe this is still the case.

    If you are an Episcopal priest, you get to marry, have children, and are responsible for our own finances. Of course, then you aren’t Catholic anymore.

  29. oddjob

    If you are an Episcopal priest, you get to marry, have children, and are responsible for our own finances.

    I think that’s true of the Orthodox faiths, too. Are the Roman Catholic priests of the Byzantine Rite permitted to marry, or must they stay celibate as well?

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