Questions for me


In yesterday's AP picks up Maciel incest allegations thread, Bill White asks me some good questions. Namely...

- Any thoughts about the historical and sociological roots of the modern wave of religious sexual abuse?
- Did it start just a couple of generations ago, or has it been with us the last two millenia or more?

To answer Bill's second question first, clerical sexual misconduct has been with us since the beginning of the Church. It tends to come in waves. This is why tradition built up a whole body of canonical jurisprudence to prevent and punish molesters among the clergy. Had Marcial Maciel been living in the Middle Ages, he would have risked public execution for witchcraft.

Similarly, retiring to a monastery for "prayer and penance" is a tradition as old as monasteries themselves. I suspect this may be where the word "penitentiary" came from as a synonym for prison. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to conclude that monasteries were exclusively for grave sinners. In times where the secular clergy were infested with perverts and the power-hungry, pious celibates would band together and found monasteries to escape the debauchery (often sexual, financial and political) among their secular counterparts. Regardless, the Church has always struggled with the issue.

That being said, let's look at Bill's first question. From my experience with the recent sexual misconduct crisis to face the Church in North America, and now Ireland, I've come to take a dim view of the Church's minor seminaries. Basically, ripping young teens from their families while they're going through puberty - a time when they need the example of Mom and Dad and healthy relationships between the sexes - is a recipe for disaster down the road. Often one emerges from these seminaries a grown man intellectually and physically, but still a teenager emotionally and in terms of mental maturity.

Many of my clients were older priests who had gone through the minor seminaries, and who in their first year of priesthood had committed one or two inappropriate acts with sexual overtones against teenaged boys. This is behavior that a parent or coach would normally correct if exchanged among teens of roughly the same age, but feel no need to approach law enforcement authorities over if the two parties had been roughly the same age. I'm talking things like rolling up your wet towel in the dressing room after a shower and whacking your team-mate in the arse. It's immaturity when exchanged between two 15-year-old boys. It's creepy when coming from a grown man who also happens to be clergy.

So the young priest is dragged before the bishop, is rebuked severely, and shipped off to a grueling assignment away from youth for the next year or two (such as chaplain to local Catholic nursing home). He comes back to parish ministry, and ministers for several decades without further incident or complaint. However, come the sex abuse crisis, the Church opened all the old files and these priests now found themselves shipped off to "prayer and penance" because of these types of incident during their first year of priesthood. And no, I'm not justifying what they did at the time. But I feel many of these incidents might have been avoided had these priests spent their teen years with their families, rather than in minor seminaries. After all, St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother and the local synagogue were good enough for Our Lord Jesus Christ during His formative years.

That being said, the question has taken a more gruesome turn if recent allegations are true. As noted by Randie in the comments section of Life-After-RC (click here), "Maciel's son said his abuse began when he was 7 years old. I hope we can stop splitting hairs over whether MM was a pedophile or an ephebophile." And this is without considering the incest angle, as well as the allegation Maciel photographed the abuse of his own children.

Which is why at this point my reaction as a father to young children trumps my reaction as a canonist or Catholic journalist: SID - SHUT. IT. DOWN.


Pete, can you give some insight? If it has already been demonstrated that Maciel was (at least)a fraud, can there be any legitimacy to his claim of charism? Is the Holy See then merely trying to determine if a charism other than the one claimed by the founder/imposter exists?” Can a charism exist within a movement apart from its founder, and can a charism exist in a movement/order without it’s knowing or defining it? To my knowledge there is no precedent for that in church history.

Bill -

If you are looking for some insight into the history of clerical sexual abuse, you might want to check out the book Sacrilege by Leon Podles. Though not a history of the abuse problem, per se, Sacrilege covers a lot of historical ground, particularly in the USA. One of the really illuminating aspects of this book is how Podles profiles the type of individual who becomes an abuser. Earlier in his career, Podles worked as an investigator in the Federal Office of Investigations. In the book he discusses his experiences dealing with liars and confidence-men types (i.e., con men), which helped him in his research of clerical abuse.

Podles devotes a porton of the book to the Legion crisis, but I believe that his book published either just before or just after the 2006 Communique, so more recent history will be missing.

Hope that helps.

Pete, thanks for the in-depth answer. We'll benefit from your expertise as our children grow and consider their vocations. Every time I read about Maciel I thank God we didn't get involved in any LC/RC activities at a former parish.

Frank, thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out.

I can also recommend Mr. Podles' book. As best as I can see, he has no ax to grind from a liberal/conservative perspective, nor from a sensationalistic perspective. And most importantly, Richard J. Neuhaus disliked how truthful it was; I personally can't think of a higher recommendation than that.

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment, Pete, about the minor seminaries and would add to that the unhealthy way in which sexuality was viewed in general in our culture.

The craziness that has been going on among the laity concerning this subject for many many years is indicative that we have not had a healthy, God-focused understanding of our sexuality for a long time.

What a Godsend John Paul II and his Theology of the Body are for correcting this illness.

"What a Godsend John Paul II and his Theology of the Body are for correcting this illness."

Lauretta, I bear you no ill will but your comment would be laughable if it weren't so grotesque. JPII was instrumental in protecting Maciel (and several other favorites of his). When the CDF was originally investigating the multiple allegations of sexual abuse from multiple sources against Maciel, it was JPII who ordered that investigation shut down. He did not want the truth nor did he give a good damn about the victims; all he cared about was the hollow, worthless, fictional reputation of his favorites. Cardinal Ratzinger had to wait until JPII was dead before he could reopen the investigation and reveal the truth.

Thank God for JPII? When it comes to priests screwing youth, JPII repeatedly proved himself to be on the Devil's side.

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This page contains a single entry by Pete Vere published on March 4, 2010 10:24 AM.

Questions for individual LC and RC was the previous entry in this blog.

REPORT: LC knew about Maciel's son in 2008 is the next entry in this blog.

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