Behind the abuse

  (18 November 12)
  by Greg Spearritt

Hopefully one of things to come out of a royal commission into child sexual abuse will be an examination of the why as well as the what.

The inquiry will no doubt help us determine whether the Catholic Church is any more culpable than other religious and secular organisations, but there have been strong indications for quite some time that that is likely.

What factors could be at play? A few possibilities:

  • One obvious element is the requirement for Catholic priests to be celibate. An end to mandatory celibacy amongst clergy has been called for in the current Victorian state inquiry as an interim protective measure against child abuse. The case has been argued recently using a comparison between Eastern Orthodox and western Catholic clergy.
  • Catholic priestly formation (involving strict segregation from the opposite sex) began for many current priests when they were still just children themselves. It’s not so common these days, thank goodness.
  • Don Cupitt in The Meaning of the West speaks of “the repressive boarding-school culture of the Church”. Absolute authority rules – at least where George Pell and the influence of the Vatican reign – and discipline is king. Anyone deviating the tiniest bit from prescribed belief or practice is demoted or shown the boot: Brisbane’s Peter Kennedy, Toowoomba’s Bill Morris and Melbourne’s Michael Morwood and Bob Maguire, for example. It’s the opposite of openness, and a culture in which secrets can easily fester. The Church is no democracy.
  • An unwarranted respect in our society for authority – be it of the Bible, the Church or of tradition – has clearly contributed to abuse. Many victims have suffered through a misplaced trust that someone or something represents God to us and must therefore be believed and followed without question.
  • A naïve attitude towards religious people, especially clergy, has also allowed many parents to put their children in harm’s way. The fact that someone is ordained or is particularly religious is (as we have seen) absolutely no guarantee that they won’t harm children.  

There may be many other possible explanations for abuse and a lack of proper safeguards against it. Many of the factors here may apply just as much to bodies other than the Catholic Church, but all are particularly evident with respect to religion in general. Let’s hope the royal commission can shed some light and become a catalyst for change.



Your list of clergy who have spoken out against aspects of church practice of which you disapprove includes people you claim have been 'demoted or shown the boot'.You include Fr. R.J. Maguire aka media celebrity "Fr. Bob". He was certainly not 'demoted'- whatever you meant by that, and neither was he 'shown the boot'. He applied for and was granted a two year extension after the normal retirement age of 75, and then went back on his own agreement to retire at the end of that period. His defiant stand was conducted in a blaze of media publicity which not only harmed the Church - possibly intentionally - but sadly, tarnished his own reputation in the eyes of many of his former supporters. By all means promote an argument but get your facts straight.

Posted by fred

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