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RMIT University: Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: an interpretive review of literature and public inquiry reports

Child Abuse Catholic Church

Author: Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson

Publication: Centre for Global Research School of Global, Urban and Social Studies RMIT UNIVERSITY, MELBOURNE via Bishop Accountability Org website

Date: Aug2017


The scandal and tragedy of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church While variously described as a problem or crisis or scandal or nightmare or scourge, the sexual and emotional abuse of children within Catholic settings by priests, religious brothers and sisters, is ultimately a tragedy of immense proportions. Novello (2015) calls it the Church’s Biblical lament while for Coldrey (2004) it is a Christian apocalypse. For Abbate (2012), it is the Church’s Golgotha. The ravished innocence of the child – abused, assaulted, violated, raped, and sodomised – lies at the very centre of this Catholic catastrophe. Many thousands of lives across the world have been badly damaged, if not destroyed, in the continuing and tragic saga of the sexual abuse of children which can be traced back to New Testament times in the first century as we shall see. It has become an unholy mess. A priest offender has reflected, ‘…and what would God think?’1 The tragedy is further compounded by the knowledge that the Catholic Church has during that time educated and cared for millions of children, even in the most scarifying of circumstances, giving them bright, fulfilling and transcendent futures. Jesus, living in his contemporary Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts, overturned the concept of the child. He told his adult followers that they must become like little children (Mt 18, 2), and witheringly denounced those who might harm a child: ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea’ (Mt 18, 6). In his view, children are important; they have status and they have standing. He scolds his disciples for preventing parents from bringing their children to him: ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs’ (Lk 18, 16). Zelyck (2017), writing for the periodical of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, reflects on Mt 18, 1 – 14 how Jesus presents eschatological warnings of divine retribution for those who sexually abuse children. He notes that the verb ‘scandalizo’, used by Jesus and rarely used in or outside the Bible, has a strong sexual connotation. The Maronite poet, Khalil Gibran, has reflected in his poem on the mystery of the child: Your children are not your children; They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

1 This was said by an Australian priest offender who did not begin abusing a child until in his fifties. He was one of the 12 interviewees for the Ph.D. study by Jacqueline Winship (2012) in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Sydney.

2 Taken from Gibran, K. (1973) The Prophet (William Heinemann, London), p. 20. page 16 On 27 September 2015, in a press briefing during an official visit to the United States soon after Pope Francis had met with survivors saying that ‘God weeps for the sexual abuse of children’, the Vatican’s chief spokesperson, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, admitted to the global nature of the issue, which he described as ‘a universal problem in the universal Church everywhere’ (McElwee 2015).

For more information visit: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/reports/2017_09_12_Cahill_and_Wilkinson_RMIT_Child_Sexual_Abuse.pdf

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