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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
Posted on: Monday, November 18, 2019
By Jennifer Roback Morse
Published on October 31, 2019, at The Stream.
Seminary in Florence, Italy. Image courtesy of pixabay.com.
You see, this Notre Dame study is a good news, bad news situation. The good news is that only 6% of seminarians surveyed reported sexual harassment. The bad news is that less than half the seminaries in the U.S. participated in the survey. The problem is: we don’t know which half is which.
My organization, the Ruth Institute has a special interest in this study. These results are completely consistent with the results of Fr. Paul Sullins’ second report, Receding Waves: Child Sex Abuse and Homosexual Priests since 2000. Fr. Sullins is no slouch. He holds a doctorate in sociology and taught at Catholic University of America. He finds that recently ordained clergy are less likely to be abusers, and less likely to have male victims. Priests ordained within the last 10 years of his data collection are more likely to be orthodox, faithful and chaste. So, the Notre Dame findings are fully consistent with Fr. Sullins’ findings from a very different set of data. The young guys are good guys. Good news, for sure.
But don’t break out the bubbly. We still got problems.
You see, the Notre Dame researchers are serious people, doing serious work. They made good faith attempts to include all the seminaries and houses of religious formation. When some didn’t respond, the McGrath Institute at Notre Dame went the extra mile. Their Executive Director, Dr. John Cavadini, wrote letters to U.S. bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and superiors of religious orders. He told them about the study. He asked that they grant permission to participate in the study to their seminarians.
In spite of this diligence, only about 50% of the seminaries participated in the survey. Nearly 40% (37% to be exact) of seminaries and houses of formation never gave him the courtesy of a reply. Another 15% of seminaries or houses of formation either flat out declined to participate, or they said they were interested but then never responded to multiple attempts to follow up.
It is hard to believe all these schools didn’t know about the request.
It is also hard to believe that the schools that participated and the schools that didn’t are similar in every relevant respect. Some seminary authorities decided to not respond to repeated inquires. Some seminary rectors decided to not allow their men to be informed about the opportunity to participate in the survey. I wonder why?
Do you think the institutions that tolerate sexual activity, voluntary or otherwise, would be eager to encourage their men to participate in a survey about sexual activity and harassment? A school with a corrupt rector, or a diocese with a history of tolerating sexual acting out in the clergy, do you think those are the places rushing to tell Notre Dame, “yes, oh yes, you can ask our students anything?”
Maybe it’s just me. But I’m thinking, “no,” and “no.”
Wouldn’t you like to know, which schools had the students that said, “sexual harassment isn’t a problem here?” Wouldn’t you like to know which seminaries had students who said that seminaries should “automatically expel all men who do not live chastely?” Wouldn’t you like to know which schools couldn’t be bothered to forward the invitation to participate emails to their students?
I’d love to know. I’m thinking you would too.
Now, I’ve done social science research. Promising confidentiality to participants is standard protocol. The professionals at Notre Dame are not going to reveal which schools participated.
But we, dear reader, have every right to ask our bishops and seminary rectors: did our seminary participate in this survey? We, the faithful, have every right to say, “If your school participated, we congratulate you with our sustained financial support! If our school didn’t participate, why not? If you had a good reason to decline to participate, we would like to hear it.”
If they don’t answer a simple “yes or no” question, we have every right to draw our own conclusions.
At the same time, those seminaries that did participate can claim “bragging rights.” They could say, “We released a list of our students for the Notre Dame research team to contact and invite to participate. We encouraged our men to cooperate.” This would be no violation of any confidentiality agreement or of anyone’s privacy. This would be perfectly ethical.
The students who participated in this survey sound like fine young men. When asked to volunteer suggestions for improving seminary life, they wanted their schools to provide stronger formation in chastity. But what about the other half of our seminaries? We have no way of knowing what is going on. Are they all corrupt? Just how bad are the bad schools?
Church authorities who have responsibility for seminaries, I call on you to address this question. If your men participated, we applaud you. Your men are an encouragement to us all. We thank you for them. We wish to help support you, and them.
If you don’t answer these questions, our imaginations are left free to roam. You will have only yourselves to blame if our suspicions increase.
Posted on: Saturday, November 09, 2019
According to Ruth Institute sociologist Father Paul Sullins, a generation of younger clergy formed for lives of chaste celibacy is a major reason why clergy abuse rates are much lower than before 2000.
This article was first published June 10, 2019, at NCRegister.com.
by Peter Jesserer Smith
LAKE CHARLES, La. — Some promising news on the clergy sex-abuse crisis is joined by some warning signs, in a new report by religious sociologist Father Paul Sullins and the Ruth Institute.
According to the report, the overall number of homosexual priests has declined sharply since a peak in the 1980s — and so have the number of victims, who previously have been predominantly male. And it indicates that more recently ordained priests collectively have a far greater commitment to orthodoxy than the preceding generation of the priesthood, including faithfully living out the Church’s teachings with respect to chastity.
However, it states that the reports of sex abuse have also risen somewhat after hitting a low in 2002 and that the majority of victims of current reports within the last decade are likely to be female teenagers.
“Our long-standing interest at the Ruth Institute has been concern for the victims of the sexual revolution, of whom the victims of clergy sex abuse certainly are a prime interest,” Ruth Institute President Jennifer Roback Morse told reporters on a media call Thursday presenting the report, titled “Receding Waves: Child Sex Abuse and Homosexual Priests Since 2000.”
The Ruth Institute made four recommendations: continuing vigilance in protecting all minors against clerical sexual abuse; paying particular attention to the persistent sexual abuse of girls; researching further into clergy self-description of their patterns of sexual attraction and behavior; and increasing educational programs on authentic Church teaching on human sexuality, including St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, at “all levels of education such as seminaries, universities, high schools, elementary schools, and parish catechism classes.”
Sociologist and Catholic priest Father Paul Sullins, who authored the report, found that since the 1960s priests engaged in child sex abuse have been relatively concentrated in two age groups: one ordained in the late 1960s and the other ordained in the early 1980s. The report stated the pattern of 20th-century clergy abuse of minors “closely tracks the estimates of numbers of self-identified homosexual clergy” and the decline of homosexual clergy “roughly equals fewer cases of clergy sexual abuse” in the U.S.
His report admitted there is no concrete data on the number of ordained homosexual priests after 2000, but stated that “statistical projections estimate that recent ordination classes have contained very few homosexual men.”
Father Sullins noted in the media call that the drop in ordinations of homosexual men is concurrent with the rise of a newer generation of young, orthodox candidates for the priesthood coming through seminary.
According to the data Father Sullins analyzed on clerical sexual abuse alleged to have taken place since 2000, priests ordained within the past 10 years accounted for 11% of those recent abuse allegations. More than half (52%) of the recent alleged abuse was perpetrated by priests ordained 30 years ago or more.
Changing Picture of Sex Abuse
Father Sullins said the proportion of male and female victims is changing in recent abuse reports: Seventy-four percent of reported victims were male in 2000 compared to only 34% by 2016.
The report highlights a “disturbing rise of the sexual abuse of children by priests after reaching an all-time low just after 2002.” While reports of current abuse averaged 7.0 per year from 2005 to 2009, he said, they rose to 8.2 per year from 2010 to 2014, a 17% increase.
“We have more abuse today than a decade ago,” he said.
Morse said Catholics should not fool themselves that the sex-abuse crisis is limited to homosexual clergy. The Ruth Institute has a place for survivors to tell their stories, and she said girls were by far the largest group telling their stories.
Still, Father Sullins said the overall abuse rate is well below the 1980s, when there were an average of 26.2 reports of current abuse per year.
Father Sullins clarified on the media call that the numbers from current reports only reflect trends, not the total numbers of abuse victims. The scope of the abuse crisis in real numbers is difficult to quantify. He said abuse victims on average take 28 years to process and report. Even then, he told reporters, only three or four victims out of 10 will come forward.
Father Sullins noted also that the national review board is warning about this very thing, pointing to rising complacency, failure to implement proper screening procedures, and failures to update trainings of adults and children at the diocesan and parish level on possible harms.
At the same time, Father Sullins stated that the rate of abuse in Catholic settings is “much lower” than comparable secular settings. He cautioned against the idea that “clergy sex abuse is a thing of the past.”
However, the Ruth Institute report has drawn criticism. Mark Gray, director of CARA Catholic Polls and a senior research associate at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, told the Register he is concerned that a substantial part of Father Sullins’ data cannot be independently examined.
The data Father Sullins cited from the site VictimsSpeakDB is no longer available online. Gray said it seemed “deeply suspicious” to him the researcher who compiled it would cite “limited interest in statistical data about clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church” as his reason for taking the data offline.
Gray said most sociologists and criminologists would disagree with Father Sullins’ conclusions indicating a connection between the rise and fall of homosexual men in the priesthood and the rise and fall of sexual abuse cases.
“The consensus among researchers who study abuse is that sexual orientation is not a causal factor,” he said.
While there are no doubt specific factors for why the cohort of priests who committed acts of abuse, concentrated between the 1960s and 1980s, were abusers, Gray said there is no single cause, such as active homosexuality, that would be sufficient to explain the phenomenon.
Further Studies Needed
Both Father Sullins and Gray stated the Church does not have any studies that could give meaningful data on clerical sexual activity, or even whether that sexual activity varies depending on settings involving different levels of supervision and mutual accountability: such as whether the priest lives alone, with other priests in a rectory, or in a monastic setting.
Understanding the sexual activity of celibate clergy is key to understanding the phenomenon of clerics who sexually abuse minors and even adults. Stephen De Weger, an Australian researcher of adult sexual abuse, told the Register that elastic definitions of celibacy among the clergy are a component to the crisis.
He noted the most concentrated eras of documented sexual abuse correlate with a certain zeitgeist in seminary that was reacting against a previous culture of repressed sexuality. Books in vogue between the 1960s and 1980s stressed that clergy were “sexual beings,” which, De Weger said, may have given a vast number of psycho-sexually immature men (and women) in religious and clerical life a kind of permission to engage in sexual activity, and to justify it as normal, or an expression of love. Many others, he said, such as serial-offender types, “simply consciously take advantage of their positional power and use such terms as ‘God approves because this is love and God is love.’”
De Weger, who had briefly been in religious life during this time, indicated that some of these works seemed “a short step from the sexual celibate to the sexually active celibate.”
One popular book, he noted, outlined several different “expressions of celibacy” that basically gave justifications for different kinds of sexual contact under the guise of maintaining one’s promises or vows. However, for the faithful who expect that celibates are living chastity, “this makes no sense at all” and also exposes the faithful to potential harm.
De Weger said his research strongly found that because Catholic faithful expect the clergy they turn to for spiritual help and guidance will not sexualize their spiritual relationships, they are vulnerable to that abuse of power and breach of trust.
Father Sullins said he’s encountered those elastic rationalizations in the older generations of priests and religious. One factor behind why incidents of sexual abuse are lower in younger priests, he said, may be due to how celibacy is taught now in seminary by priests who are now fully molded in St. John Paul II’s theology.
He said celibacy in the theology of the younger clergy is not simply about not having physical sex or being unmarried, but rather is a “conscious relinquishment of marriage and the prerogatives of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”
Mary Hasson, president of the Catholic Women’s Forum, told the Register that the Ruth Institute’s report helps the Church to “better understand what went wrong” and the critical importance of “sound human formation” for the priesthood.
While it is “good news” that the number of abuse cases has dropped, it is a vital reminder that Catholics cannot be any less vigilant or urgent about dealing with the abuse crisis, and there are both adults and children who have been victimized by clergy.
Hasson said she’d like to see the U.S. bishops at their assembly next week in Baltimore give a “demonstration of their resolve” to face the crisis and recommended they implement lay-involved “accountability and transparency” mechanisms, such with the lay review board, so the Church can move forward.
“There’s a wide range of victims,” she said. “We can’t rest until there are none.”
Posted on: Saturday, November 09, 2019
by Jennifer Roback Morse
This article was first published Jun. 25, 2019, at NCRegister.com.
The clergy sexual abuse and cover-up scandal evokes powerful emotions. Some people become protective of their views of interecclesial politics. Others become defensive of the Church in general. And the subject of clergy sex abuse itself is intrinsically revolting. Precisely because of these varied and visceral emotions, we must examine the facts with as much sobriety and objectivity as we can muster.
In “Receding Waves: Child Sexual Abuse and Homosexual Priests Since 2000,” Father Paul Sullins finds surprising changes in both the victims and the perpetrators of clerical sexual abuse — and also, more generally, from the more general standpoint of today’s Catholic priesthood. Every one of these changes is sure to upset someone’s preconceived notions about what is going on and what we ought to do.
Recent Abuse Is Different
First, let’s take a look at the victims of clergy sexual abuse since 2000.
Fewer males are being abused: The most striking finding in this new report is the decline in proportion of male victims. The percent of abuse victims who were male plummeted from 74% in 2000 to only 34% by 2016. In 1985, males comprised 92% of victims and averaged 82% from 1950 to 1999 (Figures 3 and 4). This finding may disturb those who think that getting the active homosexuals out of the priesthood will solve all the problems. We will still have to be vigilant to protect girls from abuse. The data clearly show a steady number of female victims, year in and year out.
On the other hand, reducing the number of homosexually active clergy will solve a big chunk of the problems. The data show pronounced changes in the numbers of male victims over time. In fact, the changes in male victims pretty much account for the changes in total victims (Figure 14).
And, as Father Sullins showed in the Ruth Institute’s earlier report from 2018, the numbers and percentages of male victims track almost perfectly with the numbers of priests who describe themselves as homosexual (Figure 10 from the 2018 report).
The combination of these facts makes “clericalism” highly unlikely as a causal factor. What sort of undue deference to the clergy could account for a steady stream of female victims and, at the same time, wild swings in male victims? Clericalism is not a good thing, to be sure. But as a causal explanation, it is looking thinner all the time.
Victims being abused today are older: Recent abuse has involved older victims past puberty. Since 2000 half (50%) of abuse victims were teenagers aged 14-17; before 2000, only a third (33%) were this old (Figures 3 and 4). This means that true pedophilia, meaning sexual activity with pre-pubescent children, has been declining. Separating out pedophilia distinctly from sexual orientation as a causal factor is becoming a greater stretch.
Recent Perpetrators Are Different
Mostly not newly ordained priests: Since 2000 only a small fraction (11%) of abuse has been perpetrated by newly ordained priests (that is, those who have been ordained for less than 10 years), while over half (52%) of abuse has been perpetrated by priests ordained 30 years or more. This reverses the pattern before 2000, when a third (31%) of abuse was due to newly ordained priests and only 10% by priests ordained 30 years or more. (See Figure 7.) This suggests that we cannot blame young, testosterone-fueled men for clergy sex abuse.
In fact, since the 1960s, priests engaged in child sex abuse have been relatively concentrated in two age groups: one ordained in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the other ordained in the early 1980s (Figure 8). Tracking these men over the years, one can see that men ordained in these time periods account for an outsized number of abuse incidents.
For instance, Father Michael Guidry was in his 70s when he molested the 16-year-old son of one of his parish’s deacons. Father Guidry was ordained in 1971. Father Robert DeLand, the Saginaw, Michigan, priest who was finally caught when a detective “wired” the 17-year-old potential victim, was ordained in 1973. Men in their 70s usually do not normally groom teenagers for sex.
Few are homosexual: We do not have data on homosexual ordinations after 2000. Based on the sharp decline in the numbers of male victims of clergy sexual abuse, we surmise that fewer men of homosexual inclination are being ordained. In the 1980s as many as half of new ordinations were of homosexual men.
This is a good time to emphasize one of the Ruth Institute’s recommendations: “The Church or interested scholars and lay organizations should conduct further research on clergy self-description of their patterns of sexual attraction and behavior.” Father Sullins’ analysis of self-described sexual orientation of the clergy is based entirely on a 2002 Los Angeles Times survey. No systematic survey has been conducted since that time. It would be beneficial to have direct information, rather than having to draw inferences.
Recently Ordained Priests Appear to Be Different
Orthodox, faithful, younger priests: The drop in homosexual ordinations is congruent with the rise of a newer generation of young, orthodox candidates for the priesthood. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the current generation of seminary directors is more likely to exclude men with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies from the path to priesthood. This policy, if indeed it is a conscious policy, conforms to long-standing papal instruction as well as a theology of priestly celibacy as a calling reserved for heterosexual men, capable of marriage and fatherhood.
Aging homosexual priests: Today, half of all Catholic priests are between the ages of 60 and 84. Father Sullins estimates that about one in five of these priests self-describes as homosexual compared with less than one in 30 priests under age 50 who describe themselves as homosexual. As the wave of older homosexual priests passes on in coming years, the share of homosexual men in the Catholic priesthood will drop rapidly.
What does all this mean to the average Catholic? It means that the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage, family and sexuality has not been undone by the recent scandals. We have reason to be hopeful that the younger generation of priests, the “John Paul II generation,” are less inclined to sexual misbehavior.
At the same time, as I indicated in my previous column, not all is well in the Church just yet — and we must continue to be vigilant to protect girls and boys alike. It means that people who are tempted to “jump ship” and abandon the Church have every reason to be hopeful and stay. We need the most sensitive and morally serious souls to stay!
We know that God writes straight with crooked lines. With God’s grace, and our fidelity, our Church and our country may yet become the holiest ever known.
Let this be our finest hour.
Posted on: Saturday, November 09, 2019
by Jennifer Roback Morse
This article was first published Jun. 14, 2019, at NCRegister.com.
The Ruth Institute recently released a new report by Father Paul Sullins, Ph.D., on clergy sexual abuse since 2000, showing that clergy sexual abuse has been rising in the years since the “Dallas Charter.” Around the same time, the Catholic League released a statement saying the clergy sexual abuse today is negligible.
Oddly enough, both the Catholic League statement and the Ruth Institute report referred to the “2018 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
What accounts for our very different conclusions?
Let’s start with the point on which we agree. The Catholic League states: “During this period (July 1, 2017- June 30, 2018) there were 26 new allegations involving current minors. But only three were substantiated (all three men were removed from ministry). Seven were unsubstantiated; three were unable to be proven; two were referred to a religious order; two were reported as unknown; and three were boundary violations, not instances of sexual abuse” (Page 25 of the audit report.) Don’t those low numbers sound encouraging?
Here is the problem with taking these figures at face value: These are the reports received in 2018 about incidents that took place during 2018. In that same period of time, 1,385 survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy came forward making 1,455 allegations. Obviously, the bulk of these incidents did NOT take place during the most recent year, but from earlier years. Most survivors do not report their abuse until much later. In fact, in the 2018 Ruth Institute study using the Pennsylvania grand jury reports, Father Sullins found that the average reporting lag was more than 28 years!
This means that trying to get a reliable handle on the trend in sexual abuse requires us to be careful with the conclusions we draw from our data. We could easily (and wrongly) conclude that all is well and that clergy sexual abuse is declining. We must make some correction for this very substantial reporting lag.
Father Sullins addressed that issue by comparing year-to-year allegations of current abuse. In other words, he went back to the historic data and asked this question, “In 1950-1954, how many people came forward to say they were abused in 1950-1954? How does that compare with the number of people coming forward between 1955-1959 to say they were abused between 1955-1959?” And so on. Bringing those numbers up to the present does not paint such a rosy picture of rapidly declining clergy sexual abuse.
In fact, this is precisely where Father Sullins found a disturbing increase in sexual abuse of minors since 2002. The priest sexual abuse of children dropped to an all-time low just after 2002, but it has since risen. True, clergy sexual abuse of minors remains well below its peak in the 1980s. Reports of current abuse averaged 7.0 per year from 2005 to 2009, rising to 8.2 per year from 2010 to 2014, a 17% increase. In the 1980s, there were an average 26.2 reports of current abuse per year. (See Figures 2 and 6 in the report.)
This suggests that the 2002 Dallas Charter, for all its improvements, did not solve all the problems. We still need to be vigilant. As a matter of fact, the “Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” made this very point. “The current allegations point to the reality that sexual abuse of minors by the clergy should not be considered by bishops as a thing of the past or a distant memory. Any allegation involving a current minor should remind the bishops that they must rededicate themselves each day to maintaining a level of vigilance that will not permit complacency to set in” (page vii).
Catholics must remain vigilant in protecting minors against clerical sexual abuse. In fact, the audit report clearly states,
“The National Review Board calls for a more in-depth audit, as well as ensuring the complete independence of the audit if the bishops hope to regain the trust of the laity in assuring that children and young people are indeed safe within our institutions.”
We as Catholics must also step up our efforts to proclaim authentic Catholic doctrine about marriage, family and human sexuality. At the Ruth Institute, we agree wholeheartedly with Pope Emeritus Benedict’s analysis. Poor theological formation of clergy and seminarians and rampant dissent on sexual teaching are significant factors in the current crisis.
In fact, that is one of the main recommendations we make in our report:
“The Church or interested lay organizations should increase educational programs on authentic Church teaching on human sexuality. Such educational efforts should include all levels of education, such as seminaries, universities, high schools, elementary schools and parish catechism classes. The topics covered should include Pope St. John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body’ and how traditional Christian sexual ethics promotes and protects the interests of children, women, men and society.”
The answer to poor formation, is quite simply, more and better formation.
Most serious Catholics are fed up with clergy sexual abuse: One case is too many. We want it to go away and stay away. In fact, we want it all gone — yesterday! But, as rational adults, we realize that this deep problem will not disappear overnight, no matter what we do.
It behooves us all to figure out what is really going on, to the best of our ability. Sugarcoating the truth does not serve the Church. This is no time for self-congratulation or complacency. This is the time to take our lumps when necessary. And above all, this is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Posted on: Saturday, November 09, 2019
by Jennifer Roback Morse
This article was first published Oct. 27, 2019, at NCRegister.com.
A recent study reported, “only 6% of seminarians report sexual harassment.” The McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame produced this path-breaking survey. One optimistic conclusion people might draw from this report is “Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is no worse than in any other institution of society. People who keep talking about sexual abuse are just bashing the Church.” In my opinion, comparing sex abuse in the Catholic Church with that in other institutions can serve a valid purpose. But I think we need to be careful. Some such comparisons can be actively harmful.
Let me take as an example, The Catholic League’s response to the Notre Dame survey. I choose them because they make a fair statement of a sentiment many people share:
In 2013, Hollaback! commissioned a College Harassment Survey and found that 67 percent of students experienced harassment on campus. In 2006, the American Association of University Women reported that nearly two-thirds of college students experienced sexual harassment at some point during college. In 2018, an online survey by Stop Street Harassment found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men said they experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime.
Definitions of sexual harassment vary widely, and incidents range from a sexual joke to rape, thus making comparisons difficult. No matter, compared to life outside the seminaries, the condition in most seminaries today is far better than on college campuses or in the workplace. And they are a vast improvement over what existed in many seminaries not long ago.
The Catholic League’s mission is to defend the Church from slander. Our highly secularized world is filled with people who hate the Catholic Church and miss no opportunity to criticize her. The truly committed sexual revolutionaries honestly believe the Catholic Church is not only bad, but the worst institution ever. I don’t think we should even dignify that statement with a response, should anyone be blunt enough to just blurt it out. The Catholic League, and anyone who loves the Church, is not wrong to defend the Church against scurrilous attacks.
So far, so good.
We might also console ourselves with comparisons with the average state university or our own institutions in years past. Many faithful Catholics are discouraged by the sex scandals. They are looking for good news and solace wherever they can find it. Let’s breathe a sigh of relief, avert our eyes and “move on.”
I understand. I don’t blame people a bit for feeling this way. But we should only take comfort in news that is true. There is plenty of reason for continued suspicion that things are not A-Okay in our seminaries. As Janet Smith recently observed, less than half the seminaries and houses of formation even participated in the Notre Dame study. “Moving on” would be premature and even negligent.
To see why, let me offer an analogy that many readers will recognize. Let’s suppose you have a loved one who has a serious addiction or mental illness. The various family members have complex and contradictory feelings: worry, shame, embarrassment, fear, inadequacy and many others. We are afraid our drug addicted son is going to permanently ruin his life. We feel helpless to aid our anorexic daughter. We are ashamed that our family’s problems reflect poorly on us as parents.
In that circumstance, we might look around at our next-door neighbors. On the plus side, maybe we want to emulate someone who dealt with a similar situation successfully. Maybe we’re trying to avoid something that didn’t work out so well for someone else. That kind of comparison is potentially beneficial.
Alas, we are not always so high-minded. We’re tempted to use the comparison to console ourselves. “At least we aren’t as bad as that family over there.”
But what would be the point? We still have to deal with our own situation. Whatever momentary comfort we might take in keeping one step ahead of the Jones’s, we still have to get on with our business of taking care of our own hurting family members.
To be sure, our neighbors are watching us, but not necessarily the way we think they are. They are not only judging us for the problem itself. They are judging us for how we conduct ourselves. “His daughter is on life-support with anorexia and he’s worried what the neighbors will think. What an idiot.”
The secular world criticizes us for our doctrine, which they find too difficult to live by. But living up to our doctrine is the only lasting and authentic solution to the problem of sexual abuse of the weak and vulnerable. We must show by our actions that we truly believe that Jesus is the “way, the truth and the life.” Deflection or averting our eyes or changing the subject won’t lead anyone closer to Christ and His Church.
And that really is the bottom line for faithful Catholics who love the Church. How we compare to the Boy Scouts or the Baptists doesn’t matter. Catholic clergy sex abuse is our mess. We have an obligation to clean it up. We owe it as a duty of justice to those who have been harmed, directly and indirectly. The world is watching how we handle ourselves.
Our Church really is metaphorically on life support. (Yes, I know about the gates of hell not prevailing and all that. Don’t change the subject.) We must face this issue squarely and honestly. If we do, we could win many souls. If we don’t, well, let’s just say, Our Lord will have pointed questions for us on our own judgment day.
I can speak for myself when I say, I intend to see this through to the end.
Posted on: Monday, October 21, 2019
by Jennifer Roback Morse Nov. 26, 2018 at NCRegister.com.
One curious feature of the current clergy sex-abuse scandal is the reticence of the non-Catholic media to go after the predators.
Many journalists in the “Legacy Media” seem to have an “anti-Catholic default” setting. One might think such journalists would leap at the chance to pile on with negative reports about the behavior of the Catholic hierarchy. Yet most secular newsrooms have been quite subdued on this issue.
This situation cries out for an explanation.
I propose that many people in our culture, including the media, subscribe to what I call “Cherished Beliefs of the Sexual Revolution.”
Some of these ideas have specifically to do with homosexual activity and identity. Others are part of the more general ideological structure of the sexual revolution. Dissecting these ideas and correcting or even discarding them is a crucial step in getting to the bottom of the clergy sex-abuse scandal.
Allow me to assist.
Let me state for the record: Gross generalizations are unfair and unhelpful. I will never say “All gay men are … .” In fact, I once wrote an article called “Fifty Shades of Gay” — so I’m not about to draw rash conclusions about “gay men” from the behavior of a few.
However, the over-representation of homosexual predation certainly casts doubt on what I will call the “Grand Gay Narrative.” The marketing machine for “LGBT” activism and its allies in the sexual revolution have gone to a lot of trouble to create the following impressions in the public mind:
People who hold these ideas might very well object, “That isn’t exactly what we mean.” I will be glad to accept a moderation of their position if they care to walk back these extreme versions.
Let’s see where that would leave us:
In response to each of these points:
In short, it should be appropriate to say, “Men of homosexual inclination used the priesthood as a base of operation for preying on teenaged boys.”
Behind these specific beliefs about homosexual practices are also some general cherished beliefs of the sexual revolution. They include:
This ideological aegis is providing cover for clergy sexual abuse. Journalists, judges, lawmakers and opinion-leaders who subscribe to these ideas are going to squirm when they try to face the evidence. Like the “#MeToo” movement, they are trying to condemn sexual abuse while still embracing the ideologies that made it possible.
Some of my readers no doubt have already figured out from experience that the sexual revolutionaries have been lying to them.
I urge you to examine your conscience in search of lingering traces of these beliefs. Go to confession. You will feel better, I promise you. And you will be a more credible witness in the Church’s current hour of need.
If you are still hanging on to any of these beliefs about same-sex attraction, I beg you to re-examine them. If you have friends who are hanging on to them, share this article with them. You can feel good about yourself without subscribing to superstitions.
In fact, you’ll feel better about yourself and about life in general if you know the truth. Just follow the One who described himself as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” In this case, as in so many others, the Truth really will set you free.
Posted on: Thursday, September 19, 2019
Today, September 19, Judge Alonzo Harris reconsidered the sentence of confessed sex offender, Fr. Michael Guidry of Lafayette, LA.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, was present in the courtroom when the sentence was announced. She stated, “Justice was done today. I am sincerely grateful that Judge Alonzo did not reduce the sentence, as Fr. Guidry requested.”
In April, Guidry pleaded guilty in Opelousas, Louisiana, to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, out of the ten-year maximum sentence. Guidry requested, and was granted, a hearing to reconsider his sentence. The hearing took place on September 19 at the St. Landry Parish Courthouse in Opelousas.
Morse is an outspoken critic of clergy sexual abuse and cover up. She is also a passionate advocate for the victims of the sexual revolution, including victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Morse said she applauds today’s ruling and believes the sentence should not have been reconsidered in the first place. “The family and other victims had achieved some degree of closure and relief from the April 30th sentencing of Fr. Guidry. Going back into court undoes the sense of finality, and revictimizes those who have already been through so much,” Morse said.
She explained further: “When I say ‘victims’ -- plural -- I include Oliver Peyton, the immediate victim, who woke up to find Fr. Guidry performing a sex act on him. I also include Oliver’s family and the members of the community who were shocked and disheartened by the revelation that the abuser, a priest in his 70s, had betrayed their trust.
“Lastly, I’m talking about the victims of child sex abuse everywhere who have been watching this case. Every new case, such as Fr. Guidry’s, can be a traumatic and ‘triggering’ event, especially for those who suffer PTSD symptoms. Every slap-on-the-wrist sentence revictimizes the victims. No new facts have emerged. Fr Guidry is still as guilty as he was in April when Judge Harris originally sentenced him. I drove from Lake Charles, LA, where I live, to support Oliver Peyton and his family. I am relieved that justice was done.”
Morse concluded with a promise, “I am not of Acadian heritage. But I am privileged to live among the Cajun people. I have heard it said that ‘The Bayou Teche will run dry before the Cajun people lose their Catholic faith.’ Civil and ecclesial authorities should be aware: we are not leaving the Church. Nor will we avert our eyes from clergy sex abuse. The scandal first broke here in Lafayette in the 1980s with the case of then-Father Gilbert Gauthe. We mean to see this crisis in the Church through to the end. Let it end here.”
The Ruth Institute works to empower victims and survivors of the sexual revolution – including victims of divorce, abuse and the LGBT culture. In April, the Institute held the first-ever Summit for Survivors of the Sexual Revolution in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where the Ruth Institute has its international headquarters.
Posted on: Monday, August 19, 2019
COMMENTARY: Healing the crippling wounds abused people suffer.
Yet for all our intimacy, Walter contained within his heart a dark secret he didn’t share even with me. As a little boy growing up on a farm in Missouri, he’d been sexually abused by his sadistic older brother Bob, who frequently threatened to kill him. Only after we converted to Catholicism did this unspeakable secret from his tortured past at last come to light.
Seeing Walter’s sober face, Father Bruce took him immediately into the rectory. I stood alone in the church parking lot and waited, as Walter revealed secrets to Father Bruce that even I had never heard.
After 45 minutes, the two finally emerged from the rectory, and Father Bruce said to me: “Sue, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to ask Walter to tell you what happened when he was 7 years old. He may not want to talk about it. If he doesn’t volunteer to talk about it every two or three days, I want you to ask him about it. Just listen. Get all the details. But don’t get all emotional. Remember Joe Friday on Dragnet? I want you to be like that: ‘Just the facts, Ma’am.’”
For the next month, as we sat side by side sipping our morning coffee, we talked daily about what happened when Walter was 7. Bob held loaded guns to Walter’s head and giggled as he toyed with the trigger. He sat on the bank of a pond laughing as little Walt, who couldn’t swim, almost drowned. But the worst was that he repeatedly raped Walter in the barn and in the root cellar and threatened to kill him if he told anyone. Walter had every reason to believe Bob would carry through on this threat. The abuse was so severe that for most of Walter’s life, unknown to me, he had been suffering five or six flashbacks a day.
After 38 years of marriage, I was at last able to understand the strange anxieties and explosive anger attacks I’d witnessed, which seemed to come out of nowhere and which I’d found inexplicable in a man who was otherwise so deeply loving and sweet.
Father Bruce counseled Walter to forgive Bob (who had died years earlier) and even to pray for his immortal soul. Many non-Catholics might find such advice an outrage, as if forgiveness somehow means letting an evildoer off the hook. But trusting God, Walter listened. And in the process of praying for Bob, Walter himself was transformed: No longer a helpless victim, he became an ennobled intercessor.
On Jan. 13, 2006, Walter wrote in his personal journal:
“Sue and I had a lovely talk this morning. We talked about the problems I had with Bob. But this time we didn’t talk about just what happened. We talked about how it has affected me now. I said I was still angry with God, because Bob may have had the free will to do all that to me, but God should have stopped him somehow. No matter what, that should not have been allowed to happen. God is able to bring good things out of bad, but the bad still happened. I began thinking about that, and I decided I was still angry with God, angry enough that I would not become creative. That’s what I was doing. I was sabotaging my creativity. Every time I would get creative with my writing or my art, I would ruin it. That’s how mad I was at God. What can I do to get rid of this permanently? I don’t know. But this realization, coupled with the understanding Father Bruce gave me that I was still obeying Bob by not wanting to talk about what he did to me, has been a big relief. I now feel like I’ve had a harness taken off of me.”
After this entry in his journal, I don’t know exactly when it happened, but Walter was no longer angry at God — nor at Bob. Christ had healed him. Brimming with gratitude and joy, he announced to me the violent flashbacks that had tormented him for nearly 60 years were suddenly gone.
When Christ, the timeless One, enters into time, he makes “all things new.” It is to the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit that we receive the peace that passes all understanding.
It is certainly necessary to expose sex scandals in the Church. Evil flourishes in darkness and must be exposed to the light. But the continual mainstream media emphasis only on sex-abuse problems within the Church tends to obscure the reality that, within her sacred walls, the Church simultaneously contains the power of God to solve those problems and to heal the crippling wounds sexually abused people like Walter suffer.
Faced with horrifying sex-abuse scandals, many Catholics understandably ask, “Where is our Lord Jesus Christ in all this?” The answer is this: He’s hidden at the center of it all, taking our suffering into himself on the cross, recreating the world, and transfiguring all our pain into joy.
Posted on: Monday, August 19, 2019
A review by Jennifer Roback Morse of the book, ABUSE OF TRUST: Healing from Clerical Sex Abuse by Allen A. Hebert
This review was first published at NCRegister.com on August 19, 2019.
Allen Hebert is a devout practicing Catholic. He and his wife Denae have nine children. They are active in numerous Catholic apostolates, including the Your Holy Family Ministries, which they founded. Allen is also a survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse.
Scott Peyton is a deacon in the Catholic Church. He and his wife Letitia have six children whom they homeschool. Letitia leads women’s Bible studies. One of their sons was sexually abused by a priest — a friend of their family with whom Deacon Scott had served at the altar.
Jessica McGuire is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and teaches religious education. She is a trauma and rape hotline volunteer. She was abused by clergy starting from age 4. When she became pregnant at age 13, a powerful prelate participated in arranging for an early induced labor, which, she was assured, did not count as an abortion. She gave birth in a sacristy in a church near the medical district. Priests buried the remains of her child in a church courtyard, near a statue of the Blessed Mother.
These men and women are some of the contributors to Abuse of Trust: Healing from Clerical Sexual Abuse, recently published under the Heberts’ imprint, Your Holy Family Publishing. This collection of essays marks a new beginning in the public discussion of clergy sexual abuse. As these examples indicate, the authors continue to be devoted members of the Catholic Church, in spite of the evil and injustice they experienced at the hands of some Church representatives. Unlike the assortment of lapsed and dissenting Catholics who so often dominated earlier discussions of clerical sexual abuse, these authors do not want the Church to change her teaching or be destroyed. Instead, Allen Hebert has assembled a group of authors who want the Church to become more of who she ought to be — what she should have been from the beginning.
In today’s climate, that message is more likely to get a hearing than it might have in 2002. Back then, Pope John Paul II reigned. Catholics who embrace Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body loved and revered him and wanted to shield his reputation along with his teaching. I know. I was one who just wanted the whole clergy sex abuse issue to go away. Like a lot of people, I was relieved when the bishops enacted the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. I told myself that the problem was handled and we could move on.
I speak for myself when I say: I was wrong then to avert my eyes so quickly. I plan not to make that mistake again.
By contrast, some of those, inside and outside the Church, who disagree with the Church’s magisterial teaching on human sexuality despised Pope John Paul. Such people saw the sex abuse scandals as an opportunity to lobby for a more “relaxed” approach toward sexual matters. They argued, “If only the Church would allow married priests, if only the Church would lighten up on homosexuality, the clergy would be better behaved.”
There are still those inside the Church trying to make those arguments. But the cascading scandals, the revelations of widespread cover-up, the knowledge that our entire society is rife with sexual abuse — all these factors make the “just lighten up” position far less plausible than it was in 2002.
At the same time, the pontificate of Pope Francis has shuffled the ecclesial-political deck. Defending the Church’s ancient teachings on marriage, family and human sexuality no longer means defending the pope and his appointees. The very sort of person who might have once minimized clergy sexual abuse is less inclined to do so today. Defending the Church’s teaching may well mean that the reputations of certain clerics, including ones we love and revere, may suffer. We are more inclined to say, “so be it.”
That is why the testimonies and perspective of Abuse of Trust are so important. This book allows the reader a window into the impact of clergy sexual abuse on people’s lives. The survivors and the family members tell their stories. The impact of childhood sexual abuse is profound and long-lasting, sometimes spanning generations. People don’t just “get over it.”
These are real people. They are more than ideological objects that can be moved into place to score points in some political or ecclesial debate. The only point that all these stories make is an authentically Catholic point: Healing is possible with the love of Jesus Christ.
Pediatrician Deborah Rodriguez contributes chapters on recognizing signs and symptoms of abuse, and on creating ministries that are appropriately sensitive to trauma survivors. Herself a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, Dr. Rodriguez is a shining example of how a person can be transformed by the love of Jesus. The worst things that have happened to her have become the basis for a lifetime’s work of help and healing for others.
I have no doubt that God has big plans for all of us in the Church today. But for God’s plans to be realized, we must allow him to work through us, and surrender our petty agendas. This is not about us and how embarrassed we are. This is not about losing our buildings and our contributions. Yes, I know it is awful to watch loved ones walk away from the Church in disgust. Yes, I know it is horrible to recall the generations of immigrant Catholics whose blood and sweat built our beautiful churches and schools. I don’t deny this. But I am persuaded that the more we stay focused on the victims who are right here, right now, the more likely we are to succeed in keeping our children in the Church and preserving what is left of the Catholic heritage in America.
Both healing and justice are possible with the love of Jesus Christ and the people He enlists to do his work. That would be you and me. We have been chosen to live in this time and place. We have been chosen to speak for the victims, to support the victims, to treat them with the respect and love they deserve.
That is why Abuse of Trust is a great contribution to the most important Catholic issue of our time.
Posted on: Monday, August 12, 2019
The clergy sex-abuse scandal has irrevocably changed Catholic culture. Ordinary Catholics are comfortable today doing and saying things that would have been unthinkable to them just a few short years ago. And this is a good thing.
More than changes to Church governance, the policies and procedures, changes in what ordinary Catholics expect of themselves have the potential to improve the health of the Church. We have the potential to help the victims find healing and justice. And our new sense of what is acceptable behavior has the potential to pressure the clergy themselves into better behavior.
The ongoing drama in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, illustrates these points. Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone has come under fire for covering up clergy sexual abuse. The diocese released a list of 42 credibly accused priests. However, the local TV station found more than 100 names. The FBI is investigating the diocese. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed two retired judges who are overseeing a diocesan program to compensate abuse victims. The usual mess.
In a slightly new and different twist, the diocese recently placed several priests on administrative leave for issues not directly related to sexual abuse of minors.
A local news source reports:
“According to the diocese, ‘unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations’ took place during a social gathering of seminarians and priests on April 11 that some seminarians found to be offensive.”
Five priests and 14 seminarians were present at this pizza party at a local rectory. Three priests were placed on administrative leave. The other two priests were reprimanded for not doing enough to stop the inappropriate conversation.
Of the 14 seminarians present, five have been interviewed as of this writing. They tell a mutually consistent story of (very) crude conversation that most Catholics would regard as (really) inappropriate for clergy.
To say that the diocese has “trust issues” would be an understatement. Many local Catholics don’t trust anything that comes out of the chancery or Christ the King Seminary. This cloud of suspicion is a basic fact of our current Catholic culture, and it affects how people respond.
When the pizza-party story broke, I saw people defending one of the priests on Facebook. They were sure Bishop Malone was trying to get rid of this priest, whom they regarded as good and orthodox. Eventually, more evidence came out confirming the seminarians’ story that the priest in fact made the inappropriate comments. But the original reaction shows how little trust people have in the Catholic establishment in Buffalo.
I also saw people connecting the dots between priests’ sexually explicit talk in the presence of seminarians, a priest having a “romantic interest” in a seminarian and clergy sexual abuse of minors. In the public mind, tolerance of one issue leads to tolerance of the other issues and to an environment of clergy covering for each other.
Do we, as members of the general public, have all the facts? No, of course not.
In the nature of things, we cannot have all the facts about a private gathering. This is obviously not the healthiest environment for getting to the truth of important matters. But the diocese has only itself to blame. Its pattern of nontransparency induces people to project the worst possible interpretation onto uncertain situations.
This a noteworthy change in Catholic culture. Once upon a time in post-World War II America, Catholics revered their priests. Bing Crosby’s Father Charles O’Malley would never harm anyone or tell a lie. Catholics and non-Catholics alike trusted Bishop Fulton Sheen. Even in the post-Vatican II theological free-for-all, dissenting and faithful Catholics alike would have been uneasy with the assumption that a bishop was lying to them.
Those days are long gone. Questioning clergy and their motives is no longer a marker for disrespect, dissent or anti-Catholicism. We are light-years away even from the scandals of 2002. Back then, some of the best investigative reporting was done by news outlets that also pushed for heterodox changes in Church teaching. Back then, people who loved the Church’s magisterium tried to minimize the scandals. But now, in the post-McCarrick era, Catholic laity across the theological board believe it is socially acceptable, and even praiseworthy, to blow the whistle.
Bishop Malone’s personal secretary, Siobhan O’Connor, was fond of him. Yet she was the person who released incriminating documents. Why? She listened to the victims. She was never the same afterward. She concluded that standing with the victims was serving Christ and his bride, the Church.
A local news reporter, Charlie Specht, has conducted extensive, relentless investigations of the diocese. (Type his name into the search bar of WKBW News along with “clergy sex abuse” and you’ll see what I mean.) Unlike the crew of lapsed Catholics and atheists at The Boston Globe who revealed Cardinal Bernard Law’s malfeasance, Specht is a devout practicing Catholic. He loves and respects the Church. He wants her to be what she ought to be.
One more, unambiguously good sign: The seminarians did not cower. They spoke out. They may get kicked around by their formators. We don’t really know what is going on internally. But these men knew that they would have support from the Catholic community and the general public.
I don’t know if the Pope or the U.S. bishops are going to come up with changes to canon law or new policies and procedures. Personally, I think the old policy was good. Obey the Ten Commandments, especially Nos. 6 (Do not commit adultery) and 8 (Do not bear false witness.) As Buffalo whistleblower O’Connor said, “There’s nothing wrong with the code of conduct. It needs to be enforced.”
Catholic culture is changing. Clergy, priests and bishops, you’re on notice: We are watching. We aren’t leaving the Church. Neither are we staying and going back to “business as usual.” Deal with it, gentlemen. This is the new reality of Catholic culture.
And ordinary practicing Catholics, take heart. Your vigilance is making a difference.