Sexual Abuse: Where the Church Erred

clerical collarFrom February 6 to 24, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held its wrap-up sessions for the Catholic Church. Back in December 2012, I published an article in Quadrant on the child sexual abuse crisis called “Reaping the Whirlwind”. I wrote it for two reasons: to show that Vatican II was not the origin of all the Church’s troubles with sexual abuse, and to argue that liturgical abuse had paralleled child sexual abuse, including mismanagement, cover-ups, and victimisation of complainants.

That was four years ago. What has since emerged from the Royal Commission’s hearings is an appalling story of child sexual abuse, overwhelmingly male-against-male, across denominations and institutions of all sizes and types. A culture of harsh physical punishment, sexual secrecy, and an automatic tendency to disbelieve children combined to produce a perfect environment for widespread predation.

Government institutions were exempted from this inquiry; if they had been included, exactly the same pattern would have been revealed. This is simply what society was like. Now, we have replaced one perfect storm with another: political correctness, cultural relativism and sexual autonomy. That’s why Aboriginal children are raped in their own communities, children with gender dysphoria are denied proper psychotherapy, and African Muslim girls are mutilated in the suburbs. But I digress.

I have no patience with the (admittedly dwindling numbers of) hard-core Catholic apologists who focus on dodgy figures and who claim that the Commission engaged in a witch-hunt. It’s not persecution; it’s justice, and it’s long overdue. We gave our enemies a great many weapons to use against us, and if we are getting an absolute hammering now, it’s actually less than we deserve for letting these crimes happen in the first place.

Just to make sure I alienate everybody: I would gladly see every diocese bled dry by compensation claims if it would give the victims peace and atone for what we allowed to happen. This would be a marvellous opportunity to find out just how badly Catholics want their parish priests, schools, hospitals, welfare agencies and nursing homes. It would also allow them to decide whether they want to keep paying for thick layers of diocesan bureaucracy. The final choices would be very enlightening.

The wrap-up sessions were covered by Sydney’s Catholic Weekly, and I recommend you visit their website and read Monica Doumit’s summaries, which are concise and informed. These summaries also take care—with hard evidence—of unbalanced claims made by some Church officials and academics who appeared as witnesses during the wrap-up.[1] Key issues came up over and over again, and they are all worth talking about—celibacy, clericalism, supervision, changes in practice, the seal of the confessional, and so on. But at the same time, a colossal elephant in the room was barely discussed. I want to talk about this elephant, as I believe it may be a significant factor in the child sexual abuse problem.

Let’s look at the Commission’s own statistics.

  • Of the 4444 complainants, 78 per cent of complainants were male, with an average age of around eleven years at the time of the alleged abuse.[2]
  • 90 per cent of the perpetrators were male, and were most likely to be clergy or religious.[3]

Around a third of all offences were committed by diocesan priests, and another third by members of male religious institutes, whether priests or religious brothers.[4]

Is this the usual gender balance of victims to perpetrators, compared to the general population? No, it isn’t. Even allowing for the difficulty of getting reliable data, the overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse victims in Western countries are female.[5] This anomalous finding has been commented on by other researchers, including the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which also noted that the other group where the number of male victims was statistically far higher than the norm was among gay and bisexual men.[6]

Trying to discern the causes and motivations behind child sexual abuse makes for very muddy research waters. The literature is contradictory—some studies show that victims are more likely to become perpetrators in later life; other studies show they that aren’t.[7] Contrary to the dogmatic statements you may encounter on websites or Facebook, there is no agreement across a range of disciplines about the specific causes and motivations for child sexual abuse, except at the very broadest level: the perpetrator wanted to do it, and had the opportunity. The other thing everyone agrees on is that it is a very complex question, and that there is not a lot of research evidence or reliable data.[8]

When we talk about “child sexual abuse”, many of us think of very young children. We tend to forget that in Australia, a “child” is anyone up to the age of eighteen, and the sexual age of consent in most states is sixteen. The Royal Commission reports that, based on data collected from the Catholic Church in Australia, 40 per cent of all victims were aged thirteen and over at the time of the abuse, but that the ages of victims rose over time, so that from the 1970s victims were much more likely to be teenagers.[9] Similar results were found in the United States: around 40 per cent of victims of clerical child sexual abuse were males aged thirteen or above.[10]

So over a third of the cases involved teenage boys, rather than pre-pubescent boys. It is this group that I want to focus on. Why does an adult man act out sexually with a teenage boy? There are really only two answers, one or both of which may be true. The first answer is that the man is in prison or some other isolated and confined all-male environment where he has no normal sexual access to women (“situational homosexuality”). The second answer is that the man has a pre-existing sexual attraction to other males (“same sex attraction”, “homosexuality”, “being gay”).

Is male-against-male child sexual abuse by priests and religious a case of situational homosexuality? This is a reasonable argument when looking at closed communities like single-sex boarding schools, especially in more isolated rural areas. The dioceses with the highest numbers of child sexual abuse reports by diocesan priests are all rural, and the religious community with the highest number of priest perpetrators is the Benedictines of New Norcia, an isolated rural community.[11]

But for diocesan priests in urban settings, with freedom of movement and daily access to a wide range of women, sexual acting-out with adolescent boys is clearly not “situational homosexuality”. Most diocesan priests spend a lot of time with women as part of their normal ministry. The history of the Church has shown, anecdotally at least, that if a priest wants a sexual relationship with a woman, it is distressingly easy for him to find one.[12] So why did this particular group of diocesan priests in Australia—and in other parts of the world—target teenage boys instead of available women?

It is customary at this point to start talking about “hebephilia”. But we actually need to peel back a few more layers first. The term “homosexuality” as we currently understand it is a construct of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century psychology.[13] “Homosexuality” in the modern sense was initially classed as a mental disorder.[14] “Hebephilia” and “ephebophilia” were similar constructs, invented to classify the practice of adult males having sex with pubescent and late adolescent boys as mental disorders.[15]

The diagnostic lenses used by psychology and psychiatry are notoriously blurry: diagnostic categories change frequently, and for all sorts of reasons.[16] In 1973, “homosexuality” disappeared from DSM-II as a mental disorder.[17] The present-day gay community has also been anxious to dissociate itself from men who have sex with pre-pubescent boys,[18] and attempts to have hebephilia included in DSM-V have been controversial.[19] This is why, if you make any link between the adult male sexual abuse of adolescent boys and what we understand as “homosexuality”, you will be shouted down very quickly. The Royal Commission’s own researchers restrict themselves to saying that “justification for the concept of hebephilia (and similarly the concept of ephebophilia …) remains controversial in the literature”.[20]

There are two sides to this argument. One is that there are robust studies of child sexual abuse which class all male-against-male sexual abuse as “homosexual”. These demonstrate a very high correlation between “homosexuality” and the sexual abuse of young males. If homosexual adult males account for less than 2 per cent of the general population, they are thus enormously over-represented among sexual abusers of males under the age of eighteen. The argument against this is that the studies are over-inclusive because they are based on the acts, not on the abuser’s orientation or self-identification as homosexual. This is often supported by claims that the actual homosexual population is more like 10 per cent, which makes male-against-male sexual abusers less statistically anomalous.[21]

This is the only difference in the two arguments. If you read the studies involved, everything hinges not on the actual numbers of victims and their attackers, but on how the key categories of sexual preference are defined. Despite the sweeping polemics on gay-rights websites, there is actually no mass of data that shows that coercive male-against-male sexual acts between adult males and boys are unrelated to “homosexuality” as a whole. It’s all in the definitions.

So what is actually going on? We could disappear right now into the vortex of causation versus correlation, except for two uncomfortable facts.

The first uncomfortable fact is that since ancient Greece, countless texts demonstrate that the culture of male homosexual activity in the West largely revolves around adult men sexually enjoying boys and adolescent males. There are novels, non-fiction, poetry, plays, memoirs, histories, documentaries, interviews, and other texts in abundance, the most recent example being that which caused Milo Yiannopolous’s very public downfall.[22] They all provide a very similar picture: close-knit communities with their own rules of sexual engagement which are often at odds with those of the dominant culture; initiation, secrecy, substance abuse and violence. Male youth has always been the most powerful and desirable currency in this sexual world, and the younger, the better.[23]

The second uncomfortable fact is that there are also abundant texts which demonstrate that in the confused years after the Second Vatican Council, many Catholic diocesan seminaries in Western countries became overt or covert enclaves of homosexual activity. Diocesan seminaries and male religious orders were the perfect hiding places for Catholic gay men.[24] And the same patterns apply: close-knit communities with their own rules of sexual engagement which were at odds with those of the dominant culture; initiation, secrecy, substance abuse and violence. Because this was a question of deep-seated same-sex attraction and preference, it persisted beyond the seminary and into the community.

Diocesan seminaries are under the authority of the local bishop, but in many cases the fox was in charge of the chicken coop. Celebrity cases immediately spring to mind—Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, Keith O’Brien of Scotland, Reginald Cawcutt of Cape Town, Hans Groer of Vienna.[25] In the case of Corpus Christi seminary in Melbourne, its informal psychological assessor for thirty years, Ronald Conway, was a discreet but apparently active homosexual who has been accused of sexually exploiting vulnerable young adult men.[26]

There were also Catholic theologians (and their followers) who argued that same-sex attraction and acting-out were not impediments to living a happy and healthy priestly life.[27] These theologians have been at work in the Catholic Church since the 1960s, in seminaries, dicasteries, diocesan offices and Catholic colleges. They have made life very difficult for the Courage ministry, whose chastity-based approach has proved successful for many self-identified gay Catholics.[28] These theologians were also gravely displeased when in 1986 the Church issued official guidelines on the pastoral care of homosexual persons,[29] and then in 2005 a clear instruction not to ordain men with homosexual tendencies.[30]

You can see this troubled internal dialogue at work among the Royal Commission’s Catholic witnesses. Appropriately, it was Day Seven of the wrap-up (February 14), right at the heart of the process, that the elephant in the room was finally mentioned. Sr Lydia Allen RSM, the Director of Human Formation at Sydney’s Good Shepherd seminary, has a PhD in psychology and a solid track record in seminary formation. Monica Doumit summarises her evidence on February 14:

Sr Lydia … explained that deep-seated homosexuality was more than same-sex attraction, but a desire to make that part of their identity, to be part of the gay community and a refusal to be of the same mind as the Church in such matters. Justice McClellan asked whether deep-seated heterosexuality was treated in the same way, but Sr Lydia said it was not, saying that there was a need for a person to accept the natural law and ideas of masculinity and femininity.[31]

This is a perfectly straightforward summary of standard Catholic thinking and practice on the issue. But another witness present on the same day was Dr David Leary OFM, a Franciscan friar and lecturer at Yarra Theological Union in Victoria. He also has a PhD in psychology. Here is how he responded to Sr Lydia’s comments:

Dr Leary criticised this, saying that homosexuality did not impact on ministry, and that viewing it as a disorder had no basis in good theology or psychology. He said a capacity for compassion was much more critical. To illustrate his point, he told a story about showing a movie about grief and loss to his seminarian students, and receiving a complaint from one seminarian because the movie [possibly Brokeback Mountain] featured two gay men as the main characters.[32]

Look at how quickly Dr Leary—whose doctoral thesis was on the development of resilience among male street sex workers[33]—shut that conversation down. And that was the last anyone heard about clerical homosexuality as a possible contributing factor for the remainder of the hearings: an authentic case of the love that dare not speak its name. This knee-jerk reaction speaks volumes about the ongoing omertà in certain Church quarters; an entrenched unwillingness to turn over that rock.

It is not homophobic or unreasonable to speculate about an association between a cohort of homosexually-active adult men in the diocesan priesthood and an increase in clerical sexual abuse of adolescent boys. The major argument against this is that it’s not currently politically correct to do so. Where we may struggle is in determining the extent to which homosexual orientation may have contributed to the problem.[34] The American scholar Myra Hidalgo sums up the conundrum when she says, in her book Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Catholicism:

I do believe that the homosexual nature of the majority of the sexual abuse offences reported, along with a disproportionate representation of homosexuals in seminaries and convents, are critical factors related to the problem but that homosexuality itself is not the cause.[35]

Fr James Martin SJ argues that there has been a recent increase in the numbers of homosexual priests, and that this has led to a fall in abuse cases, but both of these claims are based on questionable evidence.[36]

The Royal Commissioners stayed on safer ground and instead focused on priestly celibacy as a contributing factor to child sexual abuse. Most of the witnesses obligingly said that yes, it was probably a factor, and it was very difficult, especially as it was mandatory. The one notable exception was Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who consistently maintained that celibacy in itself was not the problem, but rather a lack of sexual integration.[37]

Fisher is right. Priestly celibacy is not a secret; it is not sprung on the candidate the day before his ordination as a special surprise. Candidates for ordination have at least six years in which to practise living as celibate men, and many of them realise it’s not for them, leave the seminary, and get married. But like marriage, celibacy often turns out to be very different from what you signed up for: more demanding, less room for selfishness, lonelier.

Heterosexual men who have freedom of movement do not usually try to have sex with adolescent boys; they seek adult women who are reasonably attractive to them and reasonably willing. When clergy do this, it’s now politely called an “adult boundary violation”. Again, it is almost impossible to get accurate data on how common this is in the Catholic Church worldwide, historically and today, because of a paradoxical mix of under-reporting and sensationalism, and a lack of formal data collection. There are some research studies, but these are based on tiny samples, I suspect because there are very few priests who want to complete an “anonymous” survey on their sex life.[38]

Last year I took part as a witness in a formal diocesan investigation of an adult boundary violation. This gave me an opportunity to experience the Towards Healing process first-hand, and it was profoundly distressing. I made a complaint afterwards to the Western Australian Professional Standards Office (WAPSO)—the “independent” body funded by the Catholic Church’s insurance offices—about how the investigation was carried out. WAPSO followed up on my complaint immediately. I also made a formal written complaint to the Archdiocese of Perth. That was last July; I have yet to receive any acknowledgment of this complaint from the Archdiocese, and I have yet to see any consequences for the priest involved.

Experiences like this don’t fill me with confidence when I think of how the Church will handle sexual abuse and boundary violation cases in the future. We may be telling Royal Commissioners that we now have transparency and accountability, and perhaps we do with children, but we have a long way to go when dealing with adult boundary violations and other failures in clerical celibacy. The complainant in the case described above had a previous sexual relationship with another diocesan priest, who had had sexual relationships with other adults. The previous bishop allowed him to remain in the active ministry, but he was eventually laicised. Had he been laicised after his first reported sexual relationship as a priest, a lot of heartbreak and scandal might have been avoided.

Last year Fr (now Bishop) Richard Umbers wrote:

When the bureaucratic mindset is coupled with secrecy, with an inability to be held accountable and questioned, the results can be catastrophic … Canon Law is meant to be a mirror of justice, but where asymmetric information rules there is too great an opportunity for mischief and cover up. In clergy sexual abuse cases, the call for permanent silence only compounds the hurt.[39]

So what are some possible solutions?

The collection of transparent data on child sexual abuse and adult boundary violations by each diocese is essential. Last September, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference formed Catholic Professional Standards Limited, a Church-funded “independent” organisation which will apparently publish reports on compliance with professional standards by individual dioceses.[40] If it collects reliable data, that would be a considerable step in the right direction.

However, it’s not enough just to collect it; they must publish it. This would constitute genuine institutional accountability. If we as a Church can’t see the size of the problem, how on earth can we fix it? If the problem is actually heterosexual adult boundary violations, what are we doing about educating both priests and lay people about the problem?

As to same-sex attraction, I wish I could say that men in this situation would make fine priests, but I can’t. The psychological strain placed upon a priest makes him vulnerable, and he cannot afford to have to struggle with a deep-seated sexual attraction to other men in addition to everything else. I think many people personally know priests who are in this situation, and their priesthood is rarely a happy one. The Church’s ruling on ineligibility for ordination is a sound and compassionate one, not just for the men themselves, but for those who may be at risk of being exploited by them covertly in the future when they can’t cope.

Careful screening of candidates and good seminary formation is next, and this must be matched by an episcopal willingness to let numbers fall if necessary. Quality is now more important than quantity. Good priests are men who are good spiritual fathers, and they are made of the same material as a good human father. This isn’t an argument for married priests, because celibacy actually frees a man to be a spiritual father to everyone he meets. In a society that is starved of fatherhood, the priest as father—rather than “leader” or “servant”—is a role waiting to be rediscovered and renewed.

Religious celibacy is the single greatest sacrifice a healthy heterosexual man can make for his God. It’s meant to be a sacrifice, and a sacrifice is ipso facto something uncomfortable. Proper formation in the seminary should include training in the need for prudence in personal relationships with women. Common sense can’t always be assumed, and priests also can’t be expected just to pick up this knowledge on the job, especially when more and more seminary candidates come from cultures outside Australia, with different attitudes to women, and who cannot instinctively read a situation when it gets out of hand.

A third solution is better pastoral care of diocesan priests. They are often exhausted and overworked, but that’s because most of them are doing work which should be done by the laity—committees, courses, meetings and so on. The diocesan priest’s principal job is to administer the sacraments; that is his core business, and everything else should be oriented towards that. The Royal Commission witnesses talked about the dangers of “clericalism”, but in fact the opposite is true: diocesan priests are now expected to be jolly, matey, prayerful, popular and well-liked by everyone in their parishes, even though this is impossible. The burden of “niceness” is the modern equivalent of clericalism: the priest, especially if he is young, is not allowed to be human.

I have always thought that priests should be encouraged to live with other priests wherever possible. This can alleviate loneliness, put the brakes on selfishness, and keep susceptible individuals out of the more obvious sorts of trouble. However, it would be wise to allow some degree of personal choice with this, because some people simply cannot live together, and it can cause more trouble than it’s worth. This may also require some merging of smaller parishes, but as most Catholics own cars and drive, this should not be seen as impossible.

Above all, the culture of omertà which privileges clerical privacy over lay distress has to change, and quickly. There is a lot at stake, and so far the Church in Australia has not distinguished itself by its in-house handling of child sexual abuse. If we are serious about protecting non-negotiables like the seal of the confessional from the heavy hand of the state, we had better come up with some viable alternatives for facing and managing some unpleasant truths about our clergy.

Dr Philippa Martyr is a Perth-based historian, university lecturer and academic researcher, who currently works in mental health services. The opinions expressed here are her own.

[2] Michael Proeve, Catia Malvaso and Paul DelFabbro, Evidence and Frameworks for Understanding Perpetrators of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse: a report commissioned and funded by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, University of Adelaide, September 2016, p 25.

[3] Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Interim Report No 1, 2014, 6, p 48.

[4] Proeve, Malvaso and DelFabbro, op cit, pp 18-19.

[5] There is a massive amount of research and grey literature available in this area, so I have selected just a few examples: “Child Sexual Abuse Statistics’, Darkness To Light, – accessed 3 March 2017; Kelly Richards, “Misperceptions about child sex offenders’, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice no 429, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, 2011, – accessed 3 March 2017; Lorraine Radford et al, Child Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today, NSPCC, 2011, which looks at sexual abuse in the family setting, but acknowledges that these rates are very low, 45; RAINN, “Children and Teens: Statistics’, – accessed 3 March 2017. See also Proeve, Malvaso and DelFabbro, op cit, p 21.

[6] Judith Cashmore, Rita Shackel, “The long-term effects of child sexual abuse,” Australian Institute of Family Studies, CFCA Paper No. 11—January 2013; the chapter in question is – accessed 3 March 2017.

[7] James Ogloff et al, “Child sexual abuse and subsequent offending and victimisation’, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice no 440, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, 2012, – accessed 3 March 2017, has a good summary of the contradictions in this area, and offers some surprising results. See also Proeve, Malvaso and DelFabbro, op cit.

[8] Proeve, Malvaso and DelFabbro, op cit, pp 5-8.

[9] Proeve, Malvaso and DelFabbro, op cit, p 25.

[10] John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse by Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, 1950-2000, p 69. The total number of victims aged 13 and over was 4717, but Table 4.3.2 does not show age and gender. By using Table 4.3.1’s figure of 19% of victims as female, this produces a total estimate of male victims over 13 as 3821, or just over 40% of all victims whose age was reported (n=8956).

[11] Proeve, Malvaso and DelFabbro, op cit, pp 16-17.

[12]There are multiple studies and accounts of this phenomenon, very few of which have been produced by the Catholic Church. Some introductory material which may be useful includes Richard Sipe, Sex, Priests, and Power: anatomy of a crisis, Brunner Routledge, New York, 1995; see also Margaret Kennedy, “Sexual abuse of women by priests and ministers to whom they go for pastoral care and support’, Feminist Theology, vol 11, no 2, 2003, pp 226-235. The website The Silent Majority: Adult Victims of Sexual Exploitation by Clergy ( – accessed 5 March 2017) offers a range of perspectives across denominations.

[13]The phenomenon of same-sex acting-out was historically more usually described by the sexual acts involved (buggery, sodomy, tribadism), and the men and women involved were treated according to the dominant culture’s attitudes. Again, there is a massive collection of published material, and some introductory summaries which may be useful include: Francis Mondimore, A Natural History of Homosexuality, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996; Vernon Rosario (ed), Science and Homosexualities, Routledge, 1997; for the twentieth century in Europe, see Florence Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality: Europe Between the Wars, Algora Publishing, 2006, 2 vols.

[14] See Philip Hickey’s Szasz-inspired approach, “Homosexuality: the mental illness that went away,” Behaviourism and Mental Health, – accessed 5 March 2017.

[15] Bruce Rind, Richard Yuill, “Hebephilia as mental disorder? A historical, cross-cultural, sociological, cross-species, non-clinical empirical and evolutionary review’, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2009, DOI 10.1007/s10508-012-9982-y; Karen Franklin, “Hebephilia: quintessence of diagnostic pretextuality’, Behavioral Sciences & the Law, vol 28, no 6, 2010, pp 751–768.

[16]Allen Frances, Saving Normal: An insider’s revolt against out-of-control psychiatric diagnosis, DSM-V, Big Pharma, and the medicalisation of ordinary life, William Morrow Paperbacks, 2014; Jack Drescher, “Queer Diagnoses: parallels and contrasts in the history of homosexuality, gender variance, and the diagnostic and statistical manual’, Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol 39, no 2, pp 427-460.

[17] Philip Hickey, op cit.

[18]See for example Harris Mirkin, “The Pattern of Sexual Politics: feminism, homosexuality and pedophilia,” Journal of Homosexuality, vol 37 no 2, 1999, pp 1-24. There is an entertaining and readable account of this process in Michael Brown, A Queer Thing Happened to America: and what a long strange trip it’s been, EqualTime Books, 2011.

[19] See for example Richard Green, “Sexual preference for 14-year-olds as a mental disorder: you can’t be serious!!” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol 39, no 3, 2010, pp 585–586.

[20] Proeve, Malvaso and DelFabbro, op cit, p 7.

[21] Stephen Clark, “Gay priests and other bogey men’, Journal of Homosexuality, vol 51, no 4, 2006, pp 1-13, covers most of the for and against arguments, and comes down against.

[22] See for example, “Milo Yiannopoulos says he was not supporting pedophilia,” CBS News, 20 February 2017, – accessed 3 March 2017.

[23] For a scientific study of this phenomenon, see Zebulon Silverthorn, Vernon Quinsey, “Sexual partner age preferences of homosexual and heterosexual men and women,” Archives of Sexual Behaviour, vol 29, no 1, February 2000, 67-76. Be sure to look at Figure 1, which speaks volumes.

[24] The definitive US full-length study of this phenomenon remains Michael Rose, Goodbye! Good Men: How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations From the Priesthood, Hope of St Monica Inc, 2002. For vivid popular media exposes in the Anglosphere concerning the same time period—and this is just a small selection – see Guy Adams, “Drunken parties at the seminary, crushes on young “pups” and a gay mafia accused of bringing down Britain’s top Catholic,” Daily Mail, 2 March 2013, – accessed 3 March 2017; Brandon Thorp, “The Catholic Church’s secret gay cabal’, Gawker, 28 July 2011, – accessed 3 March 2017; and James Martin SJ, who takes a predictably permissive approach in his article, “Weeding out gays from seminaries’, America, 31 May 2010, – accessed 3 March 2017, while confirming the extent of the problem.

[25] There are more cases of individual bishops at BishopAccountability, – accessed 3 March 2017. Cawcutt was not accused of abuse, but was found to have posted indecent images and salacious commentary on a closed web group called St Sebastian’s Angels, set up for actively homosexual clergy.

[26] This was the late Ronald Conway, an occasional contributor to Quadrant who was given a glowing eulogy by Tony Abbott in parliament. Conway’s career and influence have been extensively researched and presented by Broken Rites, – accessed 3 March 2017.

[27] Historical examples include activist priest Fr John McNeill of New York, and theologian Leonardo Boff. Recent examples include the Dominican priests Frs James Alison and Timothy Radcliffe, Jesuit Fr James Martin, and lay academic David Berger. A number of pro-sexually active gay Catholic ministries also emerged in the 1970s, including Dignity, New Ways (US) and Acceptance (Australia), which were supported by priests and nuns at odds with the Catholic Church’s stated position on homosexual activity. A comprehensive account of the era and its agenda from the inside can be found in former Jesuit priest Robert Goss’s book Jesus Acted Up: a gay and lesbian manifesto, Harper, San Francisco, 1993. The Dignity USA group led a campaign in 2002 to “Stop Blaming Gay Priests” for the abuse crisis.

[28] Fr John Harvey, The Homosexual Person: new thinking in pastoral care, Ignatius, 1987. The Courage movement began in 1980 in the United States. It does not aim to change a person’s sexual orientation, but focuses on helping the person to live chastely according to Church teaching. – accessed 5 March 2017. This makes Courage different from other Christian “conversion” based approaches like that of the original version of Exodus Ministries.

[29] Congregation for the Doctrine Of The Faith, Letter To The Bishops Of The Catholic Church On The Pastoral Care Of Homosexual Persons, 1985.

[30] Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, 2005.

[31] Monica Doumit, “Day 7 of the Royal Commission’s Catholic wrap-up’, Catholic Weekly, 14 February 2017, – accessed 3 March 2017.

[32] ibid.

[33] – accessed 6 March 2017.

[34] The John Jay College of Criminal Justice report, op cit, cites a study by “Langevin et al. (2000) who concluded that while the clergy offenders in their sample were similar to the matched group of non-clergy offenders, 70.8% were sexually deviant and characterized as homosexual pedophiles with courtship disorder’, p 181; citing Langevin, R., Curnoe, S., & Bain, J, “A study of clerics who commit sexual offenses: Are they different from other sex offenders?” Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 2000, pp 535-545. Jason Berry is no friend to the Catholic Church, but his book Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic priests and the sexual abuse of children, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013, makes the same connection.

[35] Myra Hidalgo, Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Catholicism, Haworth Press, Oxford, 2007, p 51.

[36] James Martin SJ, “John Jay Report: on not blaming homosexual priests’, America, 17 May 2011, – accessed 5 March 2017.

[37] Monica Doumit, “Day 14 of the Royal Commission’s Catholic wrap-up’, Catholic Weekly, 24 February 2017, – accessed 5 March 2017.

[38]See for example Anne Hoenkamp-Bisschops, “Catholic priests and their experience of celibacy’, Journal of Religion and Health, vol 31, no 4, 1992, pp 327-336; Patrick J McDevitt, “Sexual and intimacy health of Roman Catholic priests’, Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, vol 40, no 3, 2012, pp 208-218. Small samples are a problem in other areas—see for example Olivia Kelly, “63% of priests want to end celibacy, survey finds’, Irish Times, 3 March 2008, – accessed 5 March 2017, where 500 priests were surveyed, but only 83 responded.

[39] Fr Richard Umbers, “Cardinal Pell, Church secrecy, and the banality of evil,” ABC Religion and Ethics, 2 March 2016, – accessed 5 March 2017.

[40] Tessa Akerman, “Catholics form company for child protection’, The Australian, 20 September 2016, – accessed 5 March 2017; Monica Doumit, “Day 10 of the Royal Commission’s Catholic wrap-up’, Catholic Weekly, 20 February 2017, – accessed 5 March 2017.


3 thoughts on “Sexual Abuse: Where the Church Erred

  • Jack Brown says:

    Very much on the mark. What I found interesting in the Catholic Church’s stance a few years back was its insistence that the focus of any investigation had to be on the ‘victims’ expressed in terms of whose feelings about the matter had to considered most whereas what they should have done was address behaviors and focused on the behaviours of the clergy and hierarchy. It isn’t that they didn’t have a model for this when staring them in the face was their rite of confession / reconciliation. Yet in their Clayton’s ‘apologies’ wherein they expressed sympathy for the survivors’ feelings they never offered an unconditional acknowledgement of fault, just the classic non-apology of having made mistakes. Even their expression of being concerned about the ‘victims’ betrayed a sense of condescending authority when they were not in a position to so presume and should have instead humbled themselves and asked for forgiveness. The latter state is where the survivors need to be for healing, and the Church denies them that opportunity.

  • whitelaughter says:

    The claim that the majority of victims of rape are female depends on self-reporting by the victims; those child abusers who admit to their crimes admit to raping an equal number of boys and girls. It is probable that the difference is purely due to males not being willing to speak out. Meaning that the full scale of child abuse is still vastly underreported.

    • Jacob Jonker says:

      Of course, sexual abuse, child sexual abuse and child abuse is underreported. Something happened on the way to the Forum. The false accusers discovered a profitable market for their wares. Remember genuine refugees? They were trampled in the rush to claim asylum in the West, in a country of choice. In the meantime, many of the abused did not realise they were abused. They coped, and were not made any the wiser by the MSM, which had and has an obligation to prevent people getting wise to the ways of abuse and the ways and means of abusers.

Leave a Reply