January 22, 2021

“How do you say ‘no’ to God?”


When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, and when a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say no to God?

• Phil Saviano in Spotlight

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

• Mitchell Garabedian in Spotlight

• • •

globe-coverFourteen years ago, while America was still reeling in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, The Boston Globe ran a story that punched us in the gut again. “Church allowed abuse by priest for years” ran the headline. The story began:

Since the mid-1990s, more than 130 people have come forward with horrific childhood tales about how former priest John J. Geoghan allegedly fondled or raped them during a three-decade spree through a half-dozen Greater Boston parishes.

Almost always, his victims were grammar school boys. One was just 4 years old.

Then came last July’s disclosure that Cardinal Bernard F. Law knew about Geoghan’s problems in 1984, Law’s first year in Boston, yet approved his transfer to St. Julia’s parish in Weston. Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the cardinal’s attorney, defended the move last summer, saying the archdiocese had medical assurances that each Geoghan reassignment was “appropriate and safe.”

And so the lid was blown off what has become known as “The Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal.” Since that opening salvo by the Globe newspaper, the scandal has become a worldwide crisis for the Church. A 2014 Frontline documentary on the current state of the problem stated:

It’s difficult to estimate the full scope of the abuse crisis. While allegations first surfaced in the U.S., the problem has become a global one, with widespread reports of abuse emerging in Ireland, Spain, Germany, Italy, Latin America and elsewhere.

In the U.S. alone, 16,787 people have come forward to say that they were abused by priests as children between 1950 and 2012, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the organization for the Catholic hierarchy in the country.

They also noted that the data was incomplete and investigations ongoing. Here is a BBC page (from 2010) with summaries of some of the scandals in various countries around the world.

Just this week, a grand jury report came out about the Altoona-Johnstown (PA) diocese, stating that there was widespread abuse by more than fifty priests, involving hundreds of children, over the past four decades.

And the Church has been under fire in recent days in Australia, as a bishop gave testimony in Rome about a Royal Commission investigation.

Though Pope Francis has spoken about the scandal, saying, for example, in Philadelphia last fall, “The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors cannot be kept secret any longer. I commit myself to the zealous watchfulness of the church to protect minors, and I promise that all those responsible will be held accountable,” the New York Times (Sept. 2015) commented: “Since becoming pope, Francis has taken steps to address the abuse problem, but has not made it a top priority. His only known encounter with abuse victims came 15 months into his papacy, when he celebrated Mass with six victims, then met with them individually over three hours.” The National Catholic Reporter opines about the “strange disconnect” between the Pope’s words and actions with regard to this matter.

Houston, we continue to have a major problem here.

Last Sunday night, the Oscar for Best Motion Picture went to Spotlight, the story of the investigative team at the Boston Globe that first broke this story back in 2002. I found it a thoroughly engaging film. It focuses on the diligent work of a special group of reporters to bring the truth to light.

I concur with Ty Burr’s review, which affirms that the film does not present a screed which draws a simplistic contrast between the heroic media and the evil Church. Instead it shows flawed but caring and talented people doing their jobs, with their own conflicting emotions and perspectives, “stumbling around in the dark” (as their editor says) while attempting to bring truth to light.

Even though I know the story, tears came to my eyes as it unfolded and the horrors of the situation became clearer.

Stanley-Tucci-Spotlight-movieEarlier in the day, I had listened to NPR’s Here & Now as they interviewed Mitchell Garabedian, a key attorney and moral center of the story (played in the film by Stanley Tucci). Garabedian believes that the abuse is continuing today and that the Church’s culture of power and secrecy must be broken.

There has to be a fully independent entity investigating the church’s activities. They state that they have these programs for the prevention and safety of children within the parish, for instance, but what they don’t tell you is those programs are voluntarily implemented.

…The church’s commission has not done anything. It’s just a PR stunt by the church. What has Cardinal O’Malley done to help victims? He made a statement. They’re not helping victims. How can you possibly trust an entity that has allowed sexual abuse to occur for decades and centuries to be a watchdog over themselves?

I agree.

And in that light, one of the best responses I’ve read is by a prosecutor named Burke E. Strunsky, called, “The Treacherous Intersection of Faith and Child Abuse.”

This problem of abusing power to exploit the vulnerable is not simply a Roman Catholic problem, but it has been and can continue to be a definite problem in communities of faith, where authority, secrecy, trust, intimacy, and lack of outside accountability can create a dangerous mix.

Strunsky posits that those of us who are members of faith communities sometimes forget that we are human just like all other people, and that the faith we hold is not about escaping or denying our humanness, but recognizing it and nourishing its best qualities while fighting against its worst. That includes being transparent and accountable before our neighbors.

He writes:

Keep silentToo many make the tragic mistake of relying solely on their faith in cases of crimes, particularly child sexual abuse. Some religious groups might see these events as strictly a crisis of the soul when, in fact, concealing these atrocities only contributes to even deeper spiritual crises for the victims and their families. That’s why I make this plea to families of all faiths: Please do not rely exclusively on the guidance of your religious institutions to deal with the crime of child molestation. If people truly believe in God or a higher power, then they should open their minds and hearts to the possibility that, in addition to their capacity to believe, they also possess the ability to reason for a reason.

…Washington State attorney Timothy D. Kosnoff has dedicated more than a decade of his life to representing survivors of child sexual abuse. He has won cases against many well-respected groups–the kinds of organizations that make you think the world is basically up to everything good, including the Boy Scouts of America, a number of Catholic dioceses, the Salvation Army, the Jesuits, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, among others. “Church leaders too often cover up or turn a blind eye to evidence of child sexual abuse and attempt to deal with pedophilia exclusively as a matter of sin and not as a crime and a grave threat to children and families,” Kosnoff says. “No organization, and especially not a church, should knowingly allow such a thing to happen.”

…Religious leaders have a responsibility to care for and protect members of their congregations and communities. That’s why the reporting of child abuse to the police and child protective services (rather than to the church’s legal department or clergyperson) should stand as the primary tenet in any book of faith. The confessional was created so that people could reveal their torments to God and genuinely ask for forgiveness. In fact, the meaning of the word “repentance” indicates actually altering one’s thinking and making a significant change.

Although I agree that we need the legal protection of the clergy, penitent privilege should never be broadly or loosely interpreted. Our laws should be based in the common sense and common morality of what we, as a society, believe is right or wrong to do to another human being. We can’t allow this exemption to shield child molesters.

Michael Spencer used to write about the dangers of being “too God-centered” in the way we approach our faith and practice.

How horrifyingly tragic when such a “faith” provides the context for allowing those in power to inflict harm on the helpless.


  1. I wonder how much Jesus suffered when he became “as sin”, for us, over this horror. How did he bear the sufferingvof each child in torment over their oppressor ? For those too damaged to go on , maybe what He did in the Harrowing of Hell, will be the answer.
    I can’t think of a wors abomination in the church! The church is missing discipleship (even in some of the monastic traditions). When “teaching” & “dogma” replace “living”, when certain gifts of the Spirit are exalted above others (the infallibility of clergy – guilt by association), when love becomes a religious icon, then evil is “knocking at the door”. The church should look back at Israel & note that outward observances don’t “cut it” with God.

    Furthermore Jesus detests hypocrisy. This alone should “smack leaders in the head”.

  2. Robert F says

    When the Church (whatever branch) engages in protection of its clergy and its public image and status at the expense of children, it is Satanic. The Church that oppressed the Donatists and exterminated the Cathars and persecuted the Jews and drowned the Anabaptists and witches, and that blessed the soldiers who wiped out native populations in the Americas and elsewher,e also preyed on, and continues to prey on, children. Thank God that there is a living awareness in the secular social world today of what has gone on for so long in the secret and “sacred” precincts of the Church, and that there are those trying to hold the Church to account for its crimes against children.

    This should be the top priority of every Church body; how horrible that it is not. It gives the lie to the sanctimonious moral posturing of the Church in every other matter, and reveals the moral hypocrisy that exists at its center. Why should people believe or trust a religious body that has done this for so long? They are right not to.

  3. The Wartburg Watch has been leading the charge on this for quite some time, and the scandals covered have included prominent evangelical and neo-Reformed congregations in the DC area. There was a LOT of schadenfreude in places like that when the Catholic scandal broke. It appears that the wheel has finally turned…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Yeah. I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of my snark comment “I THANK THEE, LOOOOOOORD, THAT *I* AM NOTHING LIKE THOSE FILTHY ROMISH PRIESTS OVER THERE…” in the mouths of Protestant Pedo-protecting Pastors.

  4. Andrew Zook says

    Let priests marry… like most other denominations. Not a silver bullet solution but a start.

    • Robert F says

      My wife experienced this as a child, at the hands of a pastor in an evangelical denomination, who also happened to be her father. He was frequently moving from congregation to congregation, and I now surmise that he must have been involved in abuse outside the family in each church he was pastor of; when his predatory activities began to be discovered, he moved himself on to another church, and started over, or at least that’s what I conjecture. My mother-in-law divorced him when my wife was in her teens, and he ultimately ended up in a series of independent Baptist churches in the South, remarried to a woman thirty years his junior, my wife’s age.

      Mercifully, he is now dead; has been for about a decade. I can only guess at the amount of human wreckage he may have left behind, but it’s that, guesswork, since we have no specific knowledge of any of it; but my wife will struggle all her life with the legacy of abuse that she suffered at his hands. The same code of secrecy and silence exists in many Protestant churches that exists is the Catholic; and it may be even harder to detect and track these kinds of abuses in independent churches, since migration from one church to another is so common among clergy and laity alike, and accountability structures are weak to non-existent. I’m not sure allowing marriage makes much difference in this; those who prey on children of their congregation may also prey on their own families. It is a crime of the powerful against the powerless.

      • flatrocker says

        Amen and amen. Pinning this on the presence or lack thereof of married clergy moves the focus from the real issue. As you rightly stated “It is a crime of the powerful against the powerless.” And this goes beyond the vile act itself and leads to the potentially more heinous sin of institutional protection and ambivalence.

        Saying marriage is what is needed in eliminating this cancer is naïve and misguided. It’s like saying the way to get my mind off my gambling problem is to take a nice relaxing vacation to Las Vegas. The bigger question becomes what was present in the structure that enabled the institutional protections and ambivalence to metastasize? Address that and now we’re on to something.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Saying marriage is what is needed in eliminating this cancer is naïve and misguided. It’s like saying the way to get my mind off my gambling problem is to take a nice relaxing vacation to Las Vegas.

          Or (a bit more apropos) “Just Getting Laid (“Married” in Christianese) will solve all your problems.”

    • When you say let priests marry, I am assuming you think the issue is about not having an appropriate outlet for sexual needs. If that is true, then you don’t have a full understanding of the scope of this issue. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse of some nature before they are 18. Many of the abusers are married men. Sexual abuse is about power over one who is weaker and more vulnerable. The perpetrators use sex like any other weapon the causes great harm. If I misunderstood your comment please let me know.

      • Sexual abuse may be primarily about power, but pedophilia is also about misdirected desires. I think it is very much a sickness or a mental disorder, in addition to being an inexcusable perversion. Marriage may or may not help some by providing them a legitimate outlet, but I think that ultimately the problem is a lack of interest in suitable candidates for marriage. Priests who just need sex often have secret relationships on the side with an adult, and those who only want children are drawn to the priesthood for the positional advantage it gives them.

        You are right. Giving the priests wives is not the solution. Changing the structure to effect accountability and defend the victims instead of the institution is the one thing that is most needed.

        • David Cornwell says

          Miguel, I think you are basically on to part of it when you say that pedophillia is about misdirected desires. In fact the definition of perversion is “the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.” One can think of a stream of water, like a creek or river that is artificially moved to run in a different direction.

          This misdirection begins early in life. The culture and theology of a Church that denigrates sexual urges, thoughts, and actions often as far back as infancy must have an effect on everyone it comes into contact with. Its a misdirection that runs through not only the immediacy of the present, but through generations. And those who are sometimes seen as the “most spiritual” or religious are those who have inculcated deeply into their natures this teaching. And those who feel called to serve the church as pastors and priests. So to say that they are actively seeking a positional advantage may be true, but its not always that simple. I think many really and truly want to serve God. Maybe I’m wrong.

          And it is not just Roman Catholic by any means, but also through much of Protestantism. The teachings are carried out not only overtly in the Church and in families, but through the deeply ingrained attitudes of parents and families. And then add this to a culture that reeks of unhealthy sex at every turn and there is the possibility of a natural conflict, and a further misdirection of a holy stream.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I long ago concluded that Christians (of whatever stripe) are just as screwed-up sexually as everyone else, just in a different (and usually opposite) direction. Communism begets Objectivism.

  5. Sorry to hear, i pray may Gods continued healing weave into the tapestry of her life. May you have the strength to assist her journey as well.

    Yes, in the denominations where pastor’s achieve “rock star” status, detection would be a nightmare. Id hate to think how it would go down in “prosperity Gospel” land…

  6. Two things stuck out to me in the movie. One was the expert psychologist who stated that in his studies, these pedophile priests generally had the mental state of about a 12 year old; the other was the reporter who said, near the end of the movie, that although he had not attended mass in years, he had assumed he would always someday return to the faith, but after what he had discovered, he could no longer do so. Ever. I thought it very sad.

    I’ve encountered quite a few clergy in my day (due to a close family member’s job & several of my employment places) and I’ve found far to many who seem attracted to the “Lord’s work” as a way to heal themselves psychologically or as a way to give themselves a sense of power. There is an underlying belief that by doing God’s work, you are guaranteed not to fail because he wouldn’t allow that, right?
    I vividly remember a conversation I had with a young man attending Seminary. He talked about respect for the clergy had waned and how this was so bad for the church, society, etc. When I gave him a couple of scenarios I had encountered of bad clergy behavior, he was astonished! “You mean you have to earn the respect??”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’ve found far to many who seem attracted to the “Lord’s work” as a way to heal themselves psychologically or as a way to give themselves a sense of power.

      Like the old saw about how a lot of Psychiatrists go into the profession because they’re trying to self-treat in secret.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One was the expert psychologist who stated that in his studies, these pedophile priests generally had the mental state of about a 12 year old;

      I remember hearing somewhere that people are attracted to those who are the same physical age as their own emotional/personality-development age.

      And more recently, that same-sex pedophiles normally self-identify as straight and arousal testing seems to bear this out. (While same-sex ehebephiles — those who go after post-pubescent “jail bait” — self-identify as homosexual.) The theory is that what attracts the same-sex pedos is that a pre-pubescent male does NOT display male secondary sexual characteristics (such as deep voice and facial hair) and the absence of same makes them seem more female.

  7. CM, the Australian in question is Cardinal George Pell. I read a great deal of the Guardian’s live coverage of the hearings, and cannot believe his callousness and lack of concern and empathy, let alone his repeated attempts to blame everyone but himself. He is despicable. (There really is no other wsy to describe him.)

    Our state AG is trying to get the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse nullified. I sincerely hope she wins. The hot line she established for tips snd help re. abuse in the Altoona diocese has been flooded with calls. Up to date coverage can be found on pennlive.com

    • Hi Numo , yes it is Cardinal George Pell and this is 4th appearance before the Royal Commission. It’s a complicated situation and I wouldn’t rely on the Guardian to give an unbiased account. Sure some of his comments came across as quite unfeeling, and I suspect he regretted his brusque reply to the Commission’s prosecutor in chief. t needs to remember the timeframe of the offences as well – and the Cardinal has said that the situation was handled abominably, in fact he referred to it as a “catastrophe”. It needs to be remembered that when he became archbishop of Melbourne, he set up a response to the scandal “Towards Healing”, the first such program in the world. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but at least it was an acknowledgement of wrong done. Unfortunately, because of his high profile, it seems that in some people’s eyes he is responsible for every case of abuse, when for most of the time he was much lower in the catholic hierarchy. From what I’ve seen he has been always willing to testify and to meet with the victims of this terrible time in his church. Nothing will repay the victims for their suffering however. The Commission is also investigating abuse in all organisations, which indeed has been an eye-opener for Australians.

  8. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

    As I was reading through the post, I was thinking, “But Catholics ain’t the only ones. They’re just the one monolithic structure that can be pinned down, and have Bishops on which to focus blame (and deep pockets to pay out). They are essentially the low hanging fruit of this scandal. Not so easy with the million anthills that are Protestant churches where the same thing is happening under the radar with almost no hope of broad exposure…”

    And then you bring it.

    Thank you.

    “And then some who were present at the very time told him about the children who had been abused by priests behind the sacristy, and their muffled cries were mingled with the prayers and confessions of those in the sanctuary. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these children suffered this way because they were Catholics, and that placed them in greater danger than children in other churches all over the city? Not at all. But let me make this clear, unless you repent, you will suffer the same fate. Or how about those priests and bishops who are now being roasted to death over the slow fire of public exposure and legal prosecution for the systematic abuse of children for years and years. Do you think that they deserve that fate more than the pastors, and leaders, and workers in protestant churches who quietly and systematically prey on helpless children and women? Absolutely not. But let me make this even more clear. If you protestants don’t repent, you are just as hell bound as those Catholics.” Luke 13:1-5 Pastor Dave’s Revised Version

  9. Well at least someone is willing to criticize Pope Francis. What has he actually done other than allow the Church to change the subject?

    The Church is always on the cusp of great changes but it never seems to really change.

    Excellent movie. And what makes it great is it doesn’t let anybody off the hook.

  10. I look at this whole unfortunate situation and I see two big unanswered questions:
    1) Can abusers be healed, and if so, how?
    2) Can those abused be healed, and if so, how?

    It seems to me that all the hand wringing in the world is not going to make much difference in either. Exposure may improve this situation somewhat in at least making it plain that we have a problem, but I don’t see much healing going on. Abusers seem to go on being abusers. Those abused seem to mostly continue living damaged lives. Putting abusers in prison with violent criminals may stop their predation and satisfy those who operate at levels of retribution, but it doesn’t seem to stop the flow. If churches become too vigilant, abusers will just go elsewhere.

    There’s a good chance here to study both groups, the abusers and the abused, if enough people identified as either would make themselves available for that study. I don’t have full confidence in science and academic study to get to the root of the problem, but it seems like a good place to start. Who’s going to pay for this? I dunno. If nothing else it seems like a good opportunity for the Catholic Church to step up, but they are hardly the only ones involved.

    It strikes me that the common lack of remorse in abusers is probably just part of the syndrome that in the past used to identify some as psychopathic personalities, and seems to include a lack of both conscience and empathy. Not all sociopaths, or whatever they are called now, are serial murderers. Some become politicians, some become CEO’s, some become pedophiles. Here’s a chance to figure out what makes them tick and how to defend ourselves against them. And how to get out from under.

    • There’s a good chance here to study both groups, the abusers and the abused, if enough people identified as either would make themselves available for that study.

      What would be the purpose of ‘studying’ the abused? If we want to verify that they have suffered, then we need little more evidence than what we already have: They did. Terribly. It’s sort of a slam-dunk.

      As as for studying the abusers, well we’ve sort of done that too. The short answer is that anyone can be an abuser but that specific things about religious communities–access to children, insularity, prevalence of trusting relationships, plus certain aspects of the abusers’ own inner life (i.e. intense guilt)–make religious life appealing.

      And then of course what magnified all of this hundredfold had little to do with sex or abuse or even religious doctrine but just plain old bureaucratic institutional self-preservation: A desire not to see the institution suffer or be wrapped up in complications but rather to ‘resolve the matter quietly’.

      There are few mysteries here. We can learn everything we need to not with hundreds of hours of psychological study but rather just by reading the church’s own, helpfully voluminous documentation on what was actually done and said (or not said).

      In sum:

      -Who can be sexually abused? Anyone.

      -Who can be a sexual abuser? Again, anyone.

      -What kind of organization would try to cover up such a crime? Really any large, organized grouping of humans.

      • I think what Charles F was asking (but correct me if I’m wrong, Charles), is more along the lines of: Can pedophiles be healed?

        In my own opinion (and this subject is very close to me), No, they cannot. As Suzanne stated, probably “these pedophile priests generally had the mental state of about a 12 year old.” I’d just slightly change that to *emotional state* not mental state — these priests had normal IQs AFAIK. But their emotional development was that of a 12-year-old male — little to no empathy or compassion simply because those capacities can take more time to develop in boys. (This was around the age G. W. Bush used to blow up frogs, you might recall.)

        So with a pedophile you have adult men with adult feelings, sexually attracted to children, but they have the empathy and conscience of a much younger person — and no one to restrain them. Then, you tell them they can never again in their lives have sexual satisfaction (which they find in children). As the British say, it’s a non-starter.

        I think they can never be cured — that trying to cure them is like trying to “cure” any other sexual attraction. We’ve pretty much decided it’s wrong and also impossible to try to “cure” homosexuality. Pedophilia is probably the same type of condition. I know most of us, certainly I, could never be “cured” of feeling like a heterosexual or a gay person, so why should this be different?

        What to do about pedophiles? Apart from unending vigilance on the part of the rest of us, I have no clue.

        • H. Lee, you may have described it well. “Emotional state” is better than “mental state,” and I’m surprised the writers of the movie didn’t use that instead.

          I have often wondered the same thing, particularly in the case of a friend of mine who is currently in prison on a child pornography charge, photographing his kindergarten female students behind closed doors in the school. He is a married man with two children himself, and his daughter would have become his kindergarten student if he hadn’t been caught. In his case, I believe that his sexuality never matured beyond an attraction to children—or perhaps, as you suggest, his sexuality matured but his preference remained in childhood.

          We’ve often heard that Catholic priests should be allowed to marry to prevent this, but it may not solve the problem. In my fairly close circle, I have known one Catholic priest to have been convicted of child molesting, but also two married Protestant clergymen, a married kindergarten teacher (production of child porn), a married children’s choir director, and two other heterosexual men in family relationships (one child porn, one serial date rape with drugged wine). All but one landed in prison, with one of the clergymen defrocked but not jailed because of statute of limitations (in my state that has been corrected since his crime) and another pending investigation. This sort of thing hits a rural area pretty hard.

          I think addiction is one important component to child abuse or child porn. I agree that we may not be able to change our sexual orientation, but indulging in a dangerous side of it can become addicting and may compound the problem.

        • The term emotional state may have been used in the movie, but I don’t quite remember. But, yes, the point was that many of these men were emotionally or mentally stuck in early adolescence. If that is the case, this is all the less surprising. In their minds, they were just hanging out and fooling around with “the guys” and as you say, H Lee, kids that age aren’t known for their good sense or empathy.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I’d just slightly change that to *emotional state* not mental state — these priests had normal IQs AFAIK. But their emotional development was that of a 12-year-old male — little to no empathy or compassion simply because those capacities can take more time to develop in boys.

          1) Again, I have a long-ago memory of hearing that people are attracted to those whose physical age is around the same as their own emotional/personality development age.

          2) 12-year-old boy. As in “Bart Simpson Syndrome”, where anything gross and disgusting is hilarious.

      • Also, J., I would say this to your last questions:

        In sum:

        -Who can be sexually abused? Anyone.

        But abusers can smell the blood in the water. They seek out the weakest and most vulnerable. Parents who are not brainwashed by their clergy can tell their children what to report, what to resist, and how NOT to keep secrets.

        -Who can be a sexual abuser? Again, anyone.

        I doubt this to some extent. Women are much less likely than men to be sexual abusers, for instance. And pedophiles are a special case. I think the way to watch for sexual abuse in churches is to implement some simple but hard fast rules: “Volunteering no longer cuts it, there is an application with references and a background check. Classes are led by 2 or more unrelated adults.” Certainly my church has done this in the past 10 years and I’m very glad of it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          But abusers can smell the blood in the water. They seek out the weakest and most vulnerable.

          Where Prey is gathered together, the Predators will swarm.

        • Women are much less likely than men to be sexual abusers, for instance. And pedophiles are a special case.

          H. Lee, when I did some online research a few years ago about pedophilia (my friend was under investigation for child porn) I read that the profile for child porn includes people of ALL professions, ALL educational backgrounds, ALL economic backgrounds. The average age is 41, and the only thing in common is that ALL of them are male.

          Coincidentally, my friend was 41 at the time.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I’m curious as to why “ALL of them are male”. That seems to be the only exclusive characteristic among the inclusives (ALL professions, ALL economic b/g, ALL education levels).

          • I think it was an extreme statement too, but that’s what I remembered. Realize that it was, after all, an internet search. But it’s probably pretty close to accurate.

    • I remember seeing an article about the healing of paedophiles, There was one man in Missouri (?) who had developed a program based on the 12 step program of Alcoholics anonymous, but the thing that stood out to me was that the program didn’t work unless the offender had not one, but several, mentors who were committed to the most rigorous non-judgmentalism. For the developer of the program, this was the bottleneck; finding mature, compassionate adults who could befriend someone who had committed outright barbarities against defenseless children and not betray some repugnance or disgust in their company.

      Yeah, I don’t think I could do it either.

    • Christiane says

      ” . . . Not all sociopaths, or whatever they are called now, are serial murderers. Some become politicians . . . ”

      this is so true

  11. Klasie Kraalogies says

    But what really gets me as that at the same time the this is still going on, the Church (Rome, but others too) would rather spend their energy on preaching against “the gays” etc etc. In my mind, Rome especially has lost all moral right to utter a single word about sexual mores.

    • Agree. Any church group that has covered up sexual abuse has no business railing against sex anything.

      I read an article recently by some author whose name I don’t recall, but in it, she (he?) discussed the Great Awakening as a time when Christians were urged to examine their own moral failings and attempt to rectify them. The last evangelical “awakening” which gave us the Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwells of the world urged Christians to focus on the moral failings of society, which would therefore be focused on the failings of others. A huge difference.And so we get the focus on gays, etc. more than examining our own hearts and seeing what lurks there.

      • Suzanne, you might mean Jimmy Swaggart instead of Jerry Falwell. Falwell had other quirks, but I think he kept his pants on.

        About the time of Bakker and Swaggart, there was a similar scandal in nearby Bangor Maine, in a prominent Baptist church, also headquarters of the two Christian radio stations in the area. When that pastor fell in shame, it was his friend Jerry Falwell who came and held the congregation together as interim pastor. Thankfully, the church survived, but the radio stations are as dismal as ever.

        • No, I did mean Falwell, not because of any sex scandal, but because he was part of the not-so-great awakening of the late 70s and early 80s that encouraged Christians to focus on the moral failings of others (beware of that worldly culture out there! Hunker down! They are coming for your children!!) not their own failings.
          Jimmy Swaggart was kind of in a class by himself! I remember watching his tearful admission of guilt on tv and thought he was truly sorry until he demanded to be reinstated in his church just a couple of weeks later.

          • I understand. Falwell was a large part of the Religious Right “awakening” of that period (The Moral Majority). This election season may be the outcome of that.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Falwell was a large part of the Religious Right “awakening” of that period (The Moral Majority). This election season may be the outcome of that.

            As in The Trump and The Cruz are Jerry Falwell’s illegitimate sons?

          • Maybe. Maybe indeed.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            (beware of that worldly culture out there! Hunker down! They are coming for your children!!)

            “THEY’RE HERE!
            THEY’RE THERE!
            SO BEWARE!”
            (But WE have an Escape Route — The Rapture! For just one Sinner’s Prayer (and regular tithing afterwards), YOU can be beamed up before THEY come for you and your child!)

      • Perhaps we’re having a great awakening right now: the mass of nones and dones leaving.

    • “In my mind, Rome has lost all moral right to utter a single word about sexual mores.”
      I don’t know if I’d go that far, Klasie. I would dare say that there are RCC clergymen who have kept their vows and have maintained moral integrity over the long haul. Affiliation with Rome aside, those who have proved themselves morally should have the right to speak on moral issues — and we would be wise to at least consider what such people have to say. And rather than trying to silence the voice of corrupt religious institutions when it comes to morality, I think we would do better to encourage and even help these institutions to regain or achieve greater moral integrity and credibility. Of course, that would have to begin with the leaders of these institutions owning up to their moral failures. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that, but, then again, with God all things are possible.
      If you hold to universal tolerance as the greatest of all goods, then go ahead and run all the moralizers out on a rail. But once we’ve torn all the fences down, we’ll have no cause to complain when the wolves come hunting in our own backyards. And somewhere down the road, we might just find ourselves being shouted down as judgmental and hypocritical for even suggesting that adults using children as sex toys is morally wrong. Such practices were commonplace and generally accepted in pre-Christian Rome. Heck, children (especially slave children) were free sport for just about any perversion back in those days. The same is true for many dark corners of our world today. I say that voices of morality speaking from a genuine foundation of both love and moral integrity are needed now more than ever.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Such practices were commonplace and generally accepted in pre-Christian Rome. Heck, children (especially slave children) were free sport for just about any perversion back in those days.

        Here’s a YouTube Top 10 List on just that subject:
        (May or may not be NSFW — remember, when the church began, THAT was the mainstream culture they were immersed in. THAT was what was Normal.)

        “When ‘what is right’ has been thoroughly deconstructed, ‘What I Want’ will still remain.”
        — attr to C.S.Lewis(?)

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        There is a difference between an individual, faithful priest, and a corrupt institution who cannot face up to its own trespasses.

  12. Besides confession, where can the priest go for help and advice when hidden sexual desires and fantasies are starting to get the better of him?
    To whom can a young single youth pastor safely turn when what started as some innocent flirting with one of the teenage girls in his youth group has started to cross the line?
    To whom can a senior pastor confide when a pretty young wife in his congregation has set her sights on the man behind the pulpit?
    I’m not trying to make excuses for sexual abuses in the church or those who are guilty of such abuses. The emotional pain and suffering caused by sexual abuse often stays with victims throughout their entire lives. There is nothing that justifies hurting someone else to satisfy one’s own sexual urges. I’m just saying that maybe some of these situations could be prevented before any lasting harm is done.
    I think church culture too often creates an unsustainable environment of expectation when it comes to moral purity, particularly when it comes to church leaders. And the maintenance of that public image of moral uprightness seldom leaves room for the simple reality that the church is made up of sinners of every grade, from average to vile to criminal. Things get swept under the rug, and a lot of air freshener is required to keep that sweet churchy smell in the air. And God help anyone in authority struggling with real sin issues, especially those of a sexual nature. For them, their own church can become a private, isolated hell, where they are contantly squeezed between the fear that their secret sins will be discovered and the fear that, if left hidden away, these same sins will ultimately lead to the destruction of their souls.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that church leaders need a safe avenue by which to deal with their inner sexual struggles and demons before those hidden desires become actions. And if sexual abuse does happen, churches need policies to deal with these matters directly and transparently with a focus on both accountability and healing the hurt through love. Just cleaning the outside of the cup can be more perilous than leaving the whole thing dirty. At least those who choose to drink out of an obviously filthy cup know what they’re getting.

    • I agree with this too, human. If a pedophile reports his urges and desires to *anyone* — another clergyperson, a counselor, a psychiatrist — I think it’s the law that the hearer MUST report that person to the police. There should be a safe way, but I don’t know what it would be.

      • I’m not too sure the police can do much about a person’s urges and desires if those urges and desires have not been acted upon. And I’m not sure a person who hasn’t acted upon those urges and desires is yet a true pedophile. If a person could be charged and convicted for every thought that runs through their head at one time or another, then I would have been thrown under the jail a long time ago as a multiple sex offender and mass murderer. Thank God for his mercy and the spiritual fruit of self control.
        But I’m pretty sure a person has to have actually molested a child and/or be found in possession of child pornography before the police can do anything.

    • I think church culture too often creates an unsustainable environment of expectation when it comes to moral purity, particularly when it comes to church leaders. And the maintenance of that public image of moral uprightness seldom leaves room for the simple reality that the church is made up of sinners of every grade, from average to vile to criminal.

      Yes. And this may help explain the failure of abstinence-only sex education among evangelical churches.

      • Any church leader who thinks that the underage sheep in the flock are getting their info on sex exclusively from church teaching should be tested for signs of brain activity. I can remember as a youth being amused at how cautiously the adults in church tip-toed around the issue of sex. And we would all just play dumb and innocent so the older folk could feel good about leading us younglings on the right path.
        By all means, encourage abstinence before marriage in the church. But we need to stop pretending that we need can effectively shield our young people from the sexually saturated world out there. What we need to give them is straight, honest talk and pertinent information.

  13. No one has mentioned the other side of the coin. In my church, as in many others, they began implementing new rules for those involved in childcare or Sunday school. Volunteering no longer cuts it, there is an application with references and a background check. Classes are led by 2 or more unrelated adults. I am not sure the exact rules for those with actual offices, but when I have gone in to consult with someone, the door was left open. At least on the prevention end, some progress has been made. Initially it was an awkward transition, hard on us as we had late in life children and I was not willing to give up my involvements with church music to stay home with them as one pastor suggested. Still, the more I see of what can happen, the more I appreciate that it is now done this way.

    • flatrocker says

      Thank you Ann for this.
      When we move past the supercharged rhetoric of the “global problem” and see what is actually going on at virtually every parish we encounter a powerful and hopeful commitment to NEVER allow this to happen again. Background checks, required and documented training, elimination of isolated adult/child interaction – all of this has become part of local parish requirements and culture. Does it excuse the past? – no. Does it provide hope for the future? – a resounding yes. Must we remain ever vigilant? Oh my God yes.

  14. How indeed?

    As always, there’s a U2 song that applies to this. This song, Sleep Like a Baby Tonight, off of the Songs of Innocence album that you all owned briefly (lol), is about a Catholic priest molesting a young boy during the band’s childhood/teen years. Little is known about who the boy is, who the priest was, etc. But it was formative enough to make it onto the new album.

    The guitar solo is…devastating. You feel it. All of it.

    Hope is where the door is
    When the church is where the war is
    Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

    “Some can live with cruelty and abuse. Some have to… When the children of any church aren’t served, but are instead enslaved by an abuse of power, extraordinary acts of atonement are required to put things back together. Honesty is just the starting point…secrets can make you sick. Ireland in the ‘70s was a tough place.” – Bono, Songs of Innocence 2014


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