New book examines clergy sexual abuse — in the wide lens of history

Dyan Elliot Corrupter Boys

Title: New book examines clergy sexual abuse — in the wide lens of history
Author: Thomas P. Doyle
Publisher: National Catholic Reporter
Date: 10OCT2020

The “Catholic sex abuse crisis” is not a crisis. A crisis is a temporary period or series of events of an unstable and dangerous nature. It passes and the original situation is either better or worse than before.Violations of the Christian obligation of chastity by clerics have been part of the life and culture of the Christian community since the first century. Throughout the two millennia of church history, the leadership elite — popes, bishops, abbots et al. — have tried in a variety of ways to keep the various violations covered by secrecy. History has shown that their success rate has been inconsistent.

By Dyan Elliott
448 pages; University of Pennsylvania Press; 2000

Prior to the 1970s, public knowledge of the Catholic clergy’s problems with celibacy had been largely limited to occasional stories of priests who have left the priesthood to marry or who were caught in an illicit relationship with a woman. Wrapping a good Catholic mind around the real possibility of the sexual violation of a child or a young adolescent by a priest was close to impossible in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s or even in the post-Second Vatican Council ’70s.

The invisible but thick wall of secrecy began to crack in 1984 when revelations of multiple cases of sexual abuse of male children and young adolescent boys surfaced about Thomas Adamsonin of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Gilbert Gauthe from the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. The secular media and the civil legal system got involved. The cracks in the wall rapidly spread, and the wall started to crumble. The rest is history, as they say — or is it?

What was surfacing was not a crisis that prayer, papal and episcopal exhortations, policies, programs or even apologies, sincere or not, would or could stop. Instead, a very dark and destructive dimension of the institutional church was revealing itself. The shock and anger of many was accompanied by the demand for answers. The first wave was focused on the perpetrators themselves. The hierarchy, from Pope John Paul II to the local bishops, conjured up excuses but provided no credible reasons why clerics violated children and why bishops were incapable and unwilling to respond in an effective, compassionate and intelligent manner.

The conversation that centered around the reasons why changed significantly in 1992 with the publication of Jason Berry’s landmark 1992 book Lead Us Not into Temptation and in 1995 with the publication of Richard Sipe’s breakthrough work Sex, Priests and Power and Anson Shupe’s groundbreaking sociological study In the Name of All That’s Holy. All three authors went beyond the stories of sexual abuse to the real issue, the systemic dimension of what we now know to be a churchwide and timeless phenomenon.

In the space of the next three decades, hundreds of books and scholarly articles appeared, many of which were significant contributions to the comprehensive search for what this phenomenon is all about. Those who tried to minimize the issue, shift the blame or make excuses got no traction. The leadership ranks of the institutional church added nothing of true value to the search, beyond defensive and self-serving pronouncements.

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