A- A A+

Abuse cover-ups perpetuated priestly mystique

Ray Cassin |  28 May 2013

Sydney Morning Herald article with title 'Celibacy a factor in some cases, says Pell'As usual, a cartoonist captured the reaction best. Tandberg, in the Fairfax press yesterday, sketched a child cowering as an arm clad in clerical black lunged from a church doorway.

The image was captioned with the euphemistic phrases that Catholic bishops have too often employed when conceding that church authorities concealed the sexual abuse of children: 'a past mistake ... an error of judgment ... a misdemeanour'. The admissions seem reluctant, and so lacking in compassion as to demean the suffering of victims and their families.

And it was in that vein that the world heard Cardinal George Pell respond to committee members' questions on the last day of public hearings by the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse. 'Do you agree that the Catholic Church placed paedophile priests above the law?' asked Labor MP Frank McGuire. 'In some cases, unfortunately,' was the understated, and underwhelming, reply.

As the man who, when archbishop of Melbourne, laid down the contentious 'Melbourne Response' protocols for dealing with complaints of abuse, Pell got a roasting from inquiry members. McGuire's Liberal colleague Andrea Coote asked how he could justify compensation for victims being capped at $75,000 when $30 million had been spent on a hostel for Australian pilgrims in Rome, in which an apartment is permanently set aside for him.

Pell's bureaucratically cautious reply — 'that the church has never claimed it would be unable to pay appropriate compensation' — seemed oblivious to the rhetorical force of Coote's question, as did his bizarre historical excursus on the tradition of building pilgrims' hostels in Rome, which he traced back to the ninth century Saxons.

It was McGuire's questioning, however, that went beyond the issues of concealment, compassion for victims and compensation to the causes of the abuse. He asked whether priestly celibacy might have had something to do with it. Pell conceded that 'in some cases' it may have, but insisted 'marriage is no deterrent to paedophiles'.

Even that very limited concession, which did not take issue with the 1000-year-old discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy among Latin-rite Catholics, is interesting. Such an admission has rarely been made by a senior cleric commenting on the abuse crisis. But Pell's reply, and perhaps McGuire's question too, ignored the real reason for suspecting that the origins of clerical sexual abuse lie in obligatory celibacy.

Of course marriage is no deterrent to paedophiles. It is well attested that most child victims of sexual abuse are molested by family members, not clerics, teachers or scoutmasters. Acknowledging that the problem is not caused by sexual frustration, however, only raises again the question of why bishops and major superiors put so much effort, for so long, into concealing the abuse that did take place, and into protecting perpetrators.

One consequence of mandatory celibacy has been the creation of a priestly mystique: a notion that the priest, because of his heroic renunciation, is someone special, a man set apart. The lived experience of the past 1000 years has hardly vindicated the mystique, but that hasn't prevented the church's clerical leadership from continuing to invoke it anyway.

Celibacy has become an instrument of power, the badge of an elite clerical caste, rather than what its defenders claim it to be: a total dedication of one's life to building the Kingdom of God. It might have been that had it remained voluntary, as it was in the first 1000 years of Christianity, as it still is in the Eastern churches and has always been in the Protestant churches.

In Latin Christianity, however, the obligation and the mystique have got in the way of freely chosen dedication.

When Pell and other bishops appearing before inquiries into sexual abuse admit that the cover-ups were attempts to avoid 'scandal', they are really talking about the mystique — about their fear of what might happen if priests were no longer thought to be special. The mystique has well and truly been exploded now, yet we still live with its baleful consequences.

One of them is that the priesthood has sometimes attracted those who hoped that a celibate life would allow them to avoid accepting their own sexuality. That belief usually caught up with them, blighting their own lives and often the lives of others, too. Even worse, the obsession with this particular form of renunciation has skewed the entire ascetical tradition, as a glance at the list of canonised saints will confirm.

The great majority of those whose names the church from time to time adds to that list are either clerics or vowed 'religious'. Lay people who get the gong have usually had to go a step further by losing their lives: Thomas More, for example, or Joan of Arc, whom the church, under political pressure, burned as a sorceress because she had committed terribly transgressive acts such as wearing blokes' clothes and leading men in battle.

In its ordinary teaching the Church routinely proclaims the spirituality of ordinary life, yet we do not have a model of sanctity that is not based on heroic renunciation. That is very strange for a church that makes marriage a sacrament. Source of grace it may officially be, but in practice it's still treated as the second-class option.

In the meantime, the failure of too many priests to live up to the supposed first-class option has landed us in a situation where bishops front up to inquiries to make rehearsed, lawyer-like admissions and apologies that, even when sincere, seem to be too little, too late. If that is ever to change, bishops will have to rethink much more than how they compensate victims of abuse, and which of their predecessors they blame for 'past mistakes'. 

Ray Cassin headshotRay Cassin is a contributing editor. 



Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Submitted comments

Mr Cassin I too regret the grievous crimes and sins against children, the related psychopathology and arrogant clericalism in the lives of some priests and religious But in my experience the majority of them (like most of us laity) are ordinary people trying to live the Gospel with compassion in hostile times. In the tsunami of anti Catholicism in our culture (deserved or not) - can anyone at Eureka Street also say something also about them?

jesse pruzak 28 May 2013

I have problems with mandatory across-the-board celibacy for all clerics, secular as well as members of religious orders. Obviously, if you are a member of one of the latter, celibacy is one of the three vows you take. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic approach, where a parish priest is expected to be married, have a family and thus be an exemplar of family life a la St Joseph seems to me to be a much more normal practice. The Latin Rite practice of mandatory celibacy for all is not something I am comfortable with. Being a secular priest in charge of a parish without the support of an order would be hard and lonely. In 21st Century practice it may be a bridge too far.

Edward F 28 May 2013

Sadly the priests who are the centre of the Church have created this environment - either by committing the crimes or failing to acknowledge or act. For those priests who have the utmost integrity and ethics, they have been tarred with the sins of the others. These inquiries have been called because of failures to appropriately act and the Federal Inquiry will continue to damage the reputation of the Church. Now is the time for the Bishop's Conference to stand up and lead a Church in a time of crisis.

Liam Willson 28 May 2013

The notion of priestly mystique is alive and well among orthodox married clergy. It is found dramatically firstly in the high powered liturgical role of the priest in the liturgy that infinitely surpasses latin liturgy in terms of reverence and priestly mystique[hand kissings,incensations,clouds of incense covering the priest,with secret priest business behind the extended iconostasis. Beyond the hieratic liturgy is the ever present reverence of hand kissing priests and black cassocks The mystique of latin or oriental priesthood derives not from celibacy or marriage but from the essential nature of the priest 'in persona christi capitis'[that is a non negotable-his status enhanced by Vatican 2 high hierology re the excellent state of priest etc

fr john george 28 May 2013

Captured the flavour of Pell's and Hart's evidence, Ray. That's a good article. Thank you. I think that something that gets conflated to the detriment of understanding this issue better is that forensic psychologists make a distinction between occasional pedophiles, people who might abuse a child when drunk or stressed or on drugs, and serial offenders, the systematic abusers who attack scores of children over many years, and generally have much more serious an effect on those children. The Church seems to have an inside running on the much more serious type. I doubt marriage would do much for that type and indeed they may rarely marry anyway. But Church spokesmen seem to lump them together, and that again is a minimisation strategy that needs to be exposed. I am sure they understand the difference.

Brian Lennon 28 May 2013

If Andrea had not been so concerned about the building in Rome she might have asked better questions about who checks up that priests are complying with the current rules eg recording meetings etc. She let Pell not answer by being vague. Answers here would've saved more kids than talking about expenditure on a building

rose drake 29 May 2013

Thanks Ray for getting behind the smoke screen of clerical celibacy. Let the community select one of its members to preside at the Eucharistic meal be it once or for a week or a year or ... be it male or female. Our communities are full of wonderful such leaders. Ivan Illich has already exploded the myth that such leaders need 8 years training, celibacy; and Graham Green in Power without Glory has exploded the myth that priests must be of impeccable virtue. And let communities choose and lay hands on their Bishop.

Michael Parer 29 May 2013

I'm persuaded by your sincere attempts to bring light to this darkness in your article - "why bishops and major superiors put so much effort, for so long, into concealing the abuse that did take place, and into protecting perpetrators," but I am unable to agree with most of the generalisations you give. I'm not expert enough to sift through each one but I think you are wrong on two points, firstly, you only offer circumstantial evidence to make your case and secondly, you have never mentioned the power of Satan and the existence of evil as the root cause. I am not trying to make out a case of "the Devil made me do it" but one of forgetting about Satan and evil at our peril. Daily life means daily worship of God - in all areas of our life and renunciation of the Devil and evil - in all areas of our life. That translated into a good, healthy psychology of life - all areas of life, an integrated prayer life, physical, nutritional common sense and relating well with others, attune to what's going on in the world etc makes good past/present Christians, priests and lay.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew 29 May 2013

What Mystique???!!! I have been in the "force" for several decades and have never felt any mystique, either received and much less expected, from anyone. So...

Tony 29 May 2013

George Pell behaved with extraordinary restraint under undignified and hostile questioning by some members who forgot their role was to uncover truth and instead sought to prosecute a case and pursue irrelevancies such as the cost of the hostel in Rome. When Cardinal Pell attempted to explain the history he was cut off by the member who said she didn't want to hear about the Saxons, to which the Cardinal replied, "But I want to tell you and I would appreciate the courtesy." The Age 28 May. Ray Cassin calls this part of the cardinal's response 'bizarre'. A talkback radio caller yesterday said she was reminded of the Lindy Chamberlain case. Some people will never be believed by the general public or the media because of their demeanour. George Pell like Lindy should have broken down.

Peter 29 May 2013

I am reminded of the old French saying."the more things change-the more they remain the same". The question should be asked..why did Bishops all over the world..conceal and relocate priests and religious..was there a "directive" from a higher authority ?.?????.

John M Costigan 29 May 2013

"Let the community select one of its members to preside at the Eucharistic meal be it once or for a week or a year or ... be it male or female." Thank you for those words Michael Parer. Soon come the day . . .

Janet 29 May 2013

Peter's comment in comparing Lindy Chamberlain to Pell is bizarre in itself. Pell has admitted in a non contrite way and with the legal advise of his well heeled barristers that there were shortcomings in the system that he in fact helps control. But he goes no further. Hanging out dead men like Little and Mulkerns is the easy way out. Dead men cannot respond. Watching Pell and the squirmy way he responded to questions helps explain that Catholicism as it is is fast becoming a thing of the past.

john hill 29 May 2013

This is one subject that pushes a particular button in me. As a child of 7 or 8 I remember my mother asking a priest a very close family friend about being a priest and not getting married and if he could ever imagine leaving the priesthood. The bit that really stuck in my mind is "once a priest always a priest" I remember my mother's smile of approval at his answer. Years later she tells me of being in the back of the car and the same priest and his saying to my father they want to take my priesthood away. They are not going to. That same priest I now know abused many boys. His bishop wanted to defrock him. Instead he moved from the country to Perth and remained a priest for many years to the end. I hate to think how many he abused after that. I experienced his predation only missing out on rape by luck. My friends were not so lucky. The whole way his case was handled by many bishops over many years took away any sense of mystique. The cardinals grand palace in Rome which seems so far from the work of the Jesus I know just adds to the loss. I'm just grateful to the Jesuits I know who are good priests. They are left to pick up the pieces as they follow in the steps of Jesus. They do so with a simple human presence that shows compassion and genuine understanding for our worldly and spiritual needs.

john dallimore 29 May 2013

As an Anglican woman priest with five children I have had my hand kissed twice: once by a man who apparently had something other than celibacy on his mind, and the second time by an elderly Orthodox woman I met on the street... I think it is up to individual priests to foster an attitude of earthy humanity and so refute any tendencies for others to idealise them: children are a great help in dispelling any notions of a false 'mystique', too.

Mother Pirrial 29 May 2013

John Costigan - is a 'directive' from a higher authority really needed to explain the situation? You accept that there are and were priests who are pedophiles, but you don't accept that there were and are incompetent, inadequate, inappropriate and seemingly criminally negligent bishops? Isn't the road to hell 'paved with the skulls of bishops'? You might as well ask: since priests all over the world committed abuse, was there a directive from a higher authority there as well? Perhaps we can take a directive from another clergyman, William of Ockham, and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, accept that "Plurality must never be posited without necessity". If human evil is sufficient to explain both the abuse and the cover-ups, then we needn't speculate on further possiblities or conspiracies.

Zac 29 May 2013

Ray, thankyou for putting the rational screws on that little bit more so we Catholics my reasonably and deliberately put paid to a 'farce of the ages' and dump with it many of the presumptive perspectives brought into play by it.

Paul Goodland 29 May 2013

Well written, right on point!

Rob Colquhoun 29 May 2013

It is disingenuous to claim that 'we did not know what is going on because priests and bishops are not gossips'. There is a broad range of behaviours between silence and gossip. If you are responsible for management and therefore of communication and culture, it is not good enough to say "I didn't know".

Malcolm McPherson 29 May 2013

Ray Cassin has hit on a point in all this that is often overlooked. Why? Because it is so close to us that we cannot see it, and therefore, cannot even critique it. Victims are as much part of the church as are the priests and bishops. All are meant to be brothers and sisters in Christ. What clericalism has done is make a two-tiered church, that of the clergy and that of the laity and, it seems one is definitely more privileged and important than the other, the cleric. Which group gets all the lawyers and moneyto pay for legal representation when a case is before the court? The playing field is just so, so unlevel. The fact that there are two 'ends' to this see-saw is in itself a contradiction of Christ. It is all so obviously antithetical to the example and teachings of Jesus. However, somehow it has become as much the fabric of church power as the clerical dresses that the privileged class of the church wears. Why, otherwise does so much of this come down to a battle between ‘us’ and ‘them’, 'us' being the cleric and hierarchy and 'them' being the victims, especially for those who were victimised while members of the church. Aren’t all meant to be equal and onebody? And even more, aren’t clerics, according to Jesus' own teaching, actually the servant of the other, the laity, all the people of God, and not just to those within the church but even further, the least of 'my brothers and sisters' as Jesus called them. Why can't the hierarchy see this upside-downing of the gospels? Why can't everyone, including the laity?

Stephen 29 May 2013

My wife and I have seven children and sixteen grandchildren. We thus find the abuse of children no matter by whom, man or woman, married or unmarried, priest or pagan, abhorrent in the extreme and deserving of the full imposition of the law. However, to accept the premise of this article that celibacy defines what sets the Catholic priest apart from other men and that the sacrament of marriage represents the "second class option" below the priesthood reveals the paucity of understanding of what both marriage and priesthood mean in Christian/Catholic teaching

john frawley 29 May 2013

"One consequence of mandatory celibacy has been the creation of a priestly mystique: a notion that the priest, because of his heroic renunciation, is someone special, a man set apart". Spot on Ray. Its called clericalism. And when someone (anyone - child or adult, male or female) without asking or being asked, unwittingly becomes a person "picked out", "chosen", by the priest who is intending in his own hidden mind to renounce his renunication, then that person (victim) immediately becomes part of that world of perceived mystique, part of that perceived specialness, part of being felt (by the victim) to be set apart. Suddenly the victim takes on all these qualities in false perception, so strong is the power of this mystique. Therein lies the betrayal, therein lies the falsehood, therein lies the hypocrisy, and therein lies the permanent damage to the "one chosen" to share that mystique. The psychology behind this is so insidious that it explains the length of time it takes victims to recognise and throw off this falsehood, about themselves, about their perpetrator, about the priesthood. I know I've been there and I'm still here.

Jennifer Herrick 29 May 2013

John Costigan and Zac, we need not speculate about direction from "higher authority'. We indeed know that such direction has been the case. Please check this link to a NY Times article on a letter to "Irish bishops who had drawn up a new policy that included “mandatory reporting” of suspected abusers to civil authorities. The letter, signed by Archbishop Luciano Storero, then the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio — or chief representative — in Ireland, told the Irish bishops that the Vatican had reservations about mandatory reporting for both “moral and canonical” reasons." It would be naive in the extreme to think that such direction as this letter, which the Vatican has acknowledged as genuine, has not been active in other ways, in conversations, meetings, documents, throughout the history of the exposure of the rape and violence committed by clergy on children for so many years. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/world/europe/19vatican.html?_r=0

Brian Lennon 29 May 2013

If priestly mystique is such an important factor, why couldn't a randy priest just pay a prostitute and do it anonymously? That would be a WIN-WIN-WIN situation - the priest's mystique is maintained; no child is abused/the prostitute gets their day's keep); and the church hierarchy has no legal case to answer 10, 20 or 30 years down the track.

AURELIUS 29 May 2013

Notions of priesthood based on power and mystique contain the seeds of organisational dysfunction characterised by the systemic presence of sexual criminality and a hierarchical failure to deal with the problem justly. While assigning causal factors to celibacy is difficult, the unwillingness of the church to address the legitimacy of linking holiness and clerical status to celibacy impedes its ability to administer pastoral care especially in sexual relations. The church's capacity to deal with the spiritual needs of both clergy and laity is compromised by a hierarchical concern for process and ritual at the expense of its pastoral mission, entrenching the church's internal power relations. This is the context of the culture of protection of pedophiles at the expense of the laity and children. Thus it did not occur to Archbishop Pell that it might have been a good strategy to involve all the clergy in identifying the problem and developing reforms. Nor did it occur to involve the laity honestly in identifying the extent of the problem. Instead, the church took a legalistic approach when organisational action to change the culture and eschewed open dialogue. The primary objective was to protect the church's reputation. Legal advice supplanted pastoral imperatives.

Jim McDonald 29 May 2013

It offended me as a Catholic to hear Cardinal Pell give his testimony. One would expect more from "our" religious leader. He is selling us all short.

Clem Schaper 29 May 2013

Ray, I think the clerical 'mystique" you talk about is the perception inculcated into young Catholics as part of their religious education that priests were somehow on a higher spiritual plain - God's reps. on earth - somehow better than and removed from the rest of us. Going to catholic primary school in the mid '60's we were indoctrinated to believe this and celibacy was only part of the perception. With that conditioning I can only imagine with horror how that would mess with the heads of and traumatize young victims of clerical pedophilia. Watching Pell's inquisition I was struck again by how he and his ilk do not get this - that this is what makes clerical pedophilia so particularly abhorrent - the horrific betrayal by men who were supposed to personify the love of God for the children who were violated and manipulated into hiding it, compounded by Church authorities failure to properly deal with it. Having grown up in a town in the Ballarat diocese where some of the worst perpetrators were among our parish priests, school chaplains and r/e teachers I feel a very strong sense of betrayal too and my heart bleeds for the victims.

Jane O'Callaghan 29 May 2013

Aurelias, you are missing the point I believe. This issue is not about sex as a stand alone issue. It is about power that lies beneath the sexual advance. It is about the perceived power by both priest and victim, power that resides in the mystique of clericalism, whereby the priest who offends perceives himself as living in "a world set apart", a world where the norms of both society and indeed of Christianity do not pertain to him. It is this power that enables him to enter other's lives and take them over. He is not interested in prostitutes. Prostitutes have equal power to the priest, or perhaps even more power. They receive payment. The priest has to surrender something precious of himself (limited money and a sense of need) to a prostitute. He can avoid both these things by choosing a lay person in his parish who requires no monetary payment and who does not perceive himself or herself as equal to the priest. It is this perceived sense of inequality that allows the victim to fall prey to this perceived mystique of power.

Jennifer Herrick 29 May 2013

As a (now retired) Catholic teacher of over thirty years experience I can tell you, there is no way that, if a teacher or member of a parish went to a bishop with concerns about a suspect priest that their concerns would be taken seriously OR that the priest would be dealt with - the teacher would be looking for a new job!

Marianne 29 May 2013

"The mystique of latin or oriental priesthood derives not from celibacy or marriage but from the essential nature of the priest 'in persona christi capitis'[that is a non negotable-his status enhanced by Vatican 2 high hierology re the excellent state of priest etc" I think "negotiable" was intended. Rather than hierarchical "mystique" -- perhaps clericalism under another banner - I think the priest should embody the mystery of Christ. The original did this with enormous humility. Hand kissing etc. are social hangovers from the vanished world of Byzantium. Some of the more intelligent voices in Orthodoxy - Meletios Webber for one - are asking for an end to all these exalted titles & fawning. The current Pope is actually living the sort of Christlike humility I was talking about. The only "salvation" in the modern world I can see for Christianity, including its Catholic embodiment, is in following the Master's humility - a la Francis of Assisi & current papal namesake.

Edward F 29 May 2013

I too was astounded to hear Cardinal Pell say "we were not gossips", in relation to the full extent of the now known worldwide clerical sexual abuse scandals.Surely good stewardship would cause Bishops to discuss/ confide these terrible crimes, to each other in a confidential forum for the good of the victims the Gospel and the church. If this had been done in a confidential manner, then they the bishops may have realised there was a huge problem even here in Australia.Also it leaves me cold to realise a number of our bishops did not act to protect children, and had the audacity to move these offending priests around to new pastures. Child molestation is considered even by the most hardened criminals to be a most horrendous crime, it does not say much about seminary education and moral judgement, if bishops did not understand the terrible consequences of these clerical crimes.

Margaret M.Coffey 29 May 2013

Thanks Ray for highlighting the desire to preserve the mystique surrounding celibacy as a reason for the hierarchy to cover-up cases of child sexual abuse by clergy and religious. Avoiding scandals, which brought this mystic into question, seeped down and influenced the laity also. I well remember arguments we were fed and accepted when cases became public in the nineties such as ‘the majority of priests and religious are not abusers’ and ‘more child sexual abuse takes place in families than in the church’. Both are true. Both are irrelevant as excuses; how sad that some people still think they are. Then there was the imperative to protect the good name of the church, a hangover from the days of sectarianism and the defensive attitudes that developed. One result was that organisations such as ‘Broken Rites’ were considered the enemy, as whistle-blowers usually are. For one reason or another we all became part of a conspiracy of silence. Now, as the truth is revealed, is it any wonder we feel shame along with anger at being fooled?

Maureen 29 May 2013

Thank you for your attempt to help the Church - all of us - to find a way to proceed once suitable action has been taken to provide care for and compensate those who have been abused, prosecute abusers and those who have colluded and require them to participate in processes of self-reflection, therapy and spiritual direction. Clericalism is not a safe or suitable container for the gift of priesthood that the Church -all of us - has received. Time for a new mind and a new heart, that lead to relationship not based on hierarchy and privilege. All of us can play a leadership role in building together this way to integrity.

alex nelson 29 May 2013

Well argued, Ray and I believe that Aurelius makes a good point !

Noel Will 29 May 2013

Yes. Thank you for these words, Ray.

Alan Wedd 29 May 2013

"One consequence of mandatory celibacy has been the creation of a priestly mystique". A more basic mystique that has been created is that of Christianity itself. The Fundamentals of our relationship with God are laid down in the 2 Great Commendments, "Love God above all, and love one's neighbour as oneself." They are not unique to Christianity, and did not originate with Jesus. Both are found, though in a racial contexts, in the "Old Testament." The early church embraced them, combined with a false expectations of an immanent end of the world, to be followed by a judgement and consignment to heaven or hell. And so the Church evolved as a community thinking itself uniquely selected and favoured by God. Priests and religious are the 'bones' of this structure and shared in the 'mystique'. Recent scholarship and insights have undermined the veracity of the Gosples and also of many of the traditional assumptions of the Church and left many of the priests disoriented and floundering, a prey to their natural instincts. The Hierarchy, in trying to protect the mystique of the Church mistakenly thought it could be done by covering up the abuses.

Robert Liddy 29 May 2013

Brian, thanks for the link. I think the letter shows that the Congregation for Clergy failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation, and the measures necessary to remedy it. But reservations about mandatory reporting are not the same as John's implication regarding 'directives' on the concealment and relocation of pedophiles. I think mandatory reporting is necessary, given the seriousness of the offences in question. I can understand that some people have reservations about it, though I don't agree with the reservations. It is very disappointing to see these reservations expressed as recently as 1997, and from such a high level. I think it suggests more of a widespread attitude than a consistent directive.

Zac 29 May 2013

well said Alex Nelson, you get it.

Jennifer Herrick 29 May 2013

In response to John Frawley, who wrote: "However, to accept the premise of this article that celibacy defines what sets the Catholic priest apart from other men and that the sacrament of marriage represents the "second class option" below the priesthood reveals the paucity of understanding of what both marriage and priesthood mean". Count up the number of religious sanctified and the number of couples sanctified AS A COUPLE, not as two saints. I believe the latter is ZERO. Clearly, the Sacrament of Matrimony is the lesser.

Peter Horan 29 May 2013

Aurelius: You seem to forget that most clerical pedophiles seek out children or other vulnerable victims who can be coerced into silence. It's about power (or the abuse of it) as much, if not more than, sex.

Jane O'Callaghan 29 May 2013

Peter Horan, I like to think that behind most saints are 2 parental saints even if uncanonised. Check the nest!

fr john george 29 May 2013

Ray is a critic of priestly mystique so it is no surprise that he asserts that this contributed to the church's failure to act. He produces no evidence to support his claim beyond his own prejudice. Clearly it is no explanation for the failures in other denominations and organisations. Nor does Ray's assertion explain why religious brothers were also protected.

Peter 29 May 2013

Fr John George wrote: "Peter Horan, I like to think that behind most saints are 2 parental saints even if uncanonised. Check the nest!" I like to think that too, but the point was about the distinction between the sacraments on Holy Orders and Matrimony and how they are viewed by the formal church. People are canonised as singles - never as a couple.

Peter Horan 29 May 2013

Peter raised an important point. However awful the paedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church was it was more than matched in sheer awfulness by some of the ghastly stuff which happened in the Anglican Church in Australia. The resignation of Peter Hollingworth as Governor-General, a position he is said to have actively canvassed for, due to media reportage of his seeming inability to either fully comprehend or deal with that issue. Hollingworth's successor up here as Anglican Archbishop, Philip Aspinall, has moved mountains to make amends for the previous failure to deal with victims and their families with the proper compassion and consideration a Father in Christ should. Some of the very worst instances of paedophilia and nonsexual child cruelty were perpetrated not by priests but by Christian and other Brothers or nuns who have no ecclesiastical standing whatever. Often these vile deeds were perpetrated on the most disadvantaged: child deportees and similar in ghastly, remote, effectively prison like institutions like the one in Western Australia portrayed in the (based on fact) film "Oranges for Breakfast". This is part of our common Australian heritage (like the convict system; historical treatment of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders; mistreatment and victimisation of single mothers etc.) which we need to collectively exorcise whether or not we were directly affected. As John Donne said: "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..."

Edward F 30 May 2013

The reasons for the Hierarchial cover-up of abuse are quite complicated. But a saying of Richard Dawkins, that "Everywhere good people do good things, and bad people do bad things. but to get good people to do bad things, you need religion" has sufficient weight behind it to make us look more closely at the nature of religion. We can get a clue from the common saying, "What religion do you BELONG to?" Our relationship with God is on a personal basis. We tend to be subordinated to the religion into which we were 'born'. Such religions are structures of very human cultures and stages of development, and if we place them above our relationship with God, we are in danger of worshipping false gods.

Robert Liddy 30 May 2013

Fr John George, like Peter Horan, expresses some very strange views about what makes a saint. We are all capable of being saints, in fact it’s something that saints choose to do (live a holy life) but that anyone can choose to do. It is about relationship with God and Creation, which of course includes us ragged humans. While it is nice to think that behind most saints are two parental saints, experience and reading spoils this cosy view of saints. Parents of saints are often unknown because they left the poor bastard on the step of the foundling hospital. Parents of saints frequently behave abominably, which is why saints see they could do better than that, with God’s help. Lives of Saints are a mixed bag too, with all manner of mess on the domestic scene. Following our Lord’s injunction, the teenage saint breaks away from the dysfunctional nincompoops as soon as possible and goes on a long journey of discovery. Even those us who do not have nincompoops for parents need to do that. A psychologist once called it individuation, and that’s certainly a useful word. This vision of a holy happy family needs to be rebuked, it is often a dangerous delusion that causes much harm. Learning how to be holy is in fact everyone’s challenge, not the special preserve of so-called saints. We have a lot to learn from our parents, but it’s not enough, we must break free. Many of us spend our lives unlearning what our parents taught us.

SAINTS 30 May 2013

"Everywhere good people do good things, and bad people do bad things. but to get good people to do bad things, you need religion".I have never heard such rubbish.

What Rabbish 30 May 2013

Jane, you can't separate sex and power - they go hand in hand (even in consensual sex)

AURELIUS 30 May 2013

Jesus was a celibate and so was the virgin Mary. The sexual revolution of the 1960's finally got into the church.This is no surprise. It is with great sadness that the Church must suffer for those who let the team down, but it is not fair that so many good men be tarred with the same brush. The vicious secular media is taking on the appearance of a witch hunt. The celibate priesthood will continue and be refined for a new generation who will better understand how important it is to be holy.

Dale Moore 30 May 2013

"Everywhere good people do good things, and bad people do bad things. but to get good people to do bad things, you need religion". I have never heard such rubbish. How else do you explain the genocide of the Crusades when Crusaders shouting "God wills it", they killed men, women and children so that the streets of Jerusalem ran with blood. Or the Albigensian Crusade in France, where the crusaders were ordered to slaughter everyone. When some crusaders protested that not all the people there were heretics, there were true believers among them, they were told, "Kill them all. God will sort them out" Or even why otherwise good and holy members of the Hierarchy would simply move serial abusers to other parishes where they would carry on their abuse?

Robert Liddy 30 May 2013

Preoccupation with past clericalism needs to be balanced with scrutiny of contemporary priestly formation: the passion of fearfully conservative young men for Latin, lace and lavender augurs ominously for the future.

timotheus 31 May 2013

I agree that the Richard Dawkins quote is rubbish - like most things he says outside his field of scientific expertise.

Jim Jones 31 May 2013

Robert Liddy, evil is not a created thing, but spoiled goodness made possible by the free moral agency of rational creatures. Evil is not something present, but something missing, a privation. The challenge that God could have created a world of free-will creatures immutable in their goodness is answered by the notion of plenitude, the greatest good. The possibility of evil also makes a greater good possible. God made a world in which true moral decision-making and development of virtues is possible in humans, manifest by persons whose character is formed through growth and struggle. There's a sound reason why God has allowed evil. It doesn't conflict with His goodness. God is neither the author of evil, nor its helpless victim. Rather, precisely because of His goodness He chooses to co-exist with evil for a time.

Bernstein 31 May 2013

In reply to "SAINTS": I did not express any view about what makes a saint. I was expressing an opinion about the Church's ranking of two Sacraments based on evidence. There are no cases, to my knowledge, to which the Church can point and say here is a couple sanctified by Matrimony.

Peter Horan 31 May 2013

Put not your trust in auguries, Timotheus.

Zac 31 May 2013

Very insightful Ray! Where has Eureka been hiding you?

Claude Rigney 31 May 2013

Dale Moore, fortunately Cardinal Pell has blown away the assertion of conservatives that it were post Vatican 2 priests that have been the abusers. He said that entry procedures for candidates in the middle of the last century was much too loose. In other words he's talking about the late 40's to early 60s - pre-Vatican 2. Peter Horan - there has been a married couple beatified: Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. But note that they are very much the exception that proves the rule. Marianne - you wrote: " there is no way that, if a teacher or member of a parish went to a bishop with concerns about a suspect priest that their concerns would be taken seriously..." Ditto also for children who might tell their parents that father x was doing something bad with them. After all, Father was God's deputy - he wouldn't do such a thing! This failure to be believed no doubt undermined the child's self-worth even more.

Bruce S 01 June 2013

Timotheus, I fervently agree. The enthusiasm of the hierarchy for their 'Latin, lace and lavender' brigade is more than a little worrying. It's another symptom of our leadership's inability to truly examine itself and its practices, including seminary formation. Every bishop I've heard speak on the abuse question has blamed individual bad apples and their own 'mistakes' in dealing with them. Do they never notice their own lack of true compassion, shown in their dealings with their own seminarians and priests as well as the victims and their families? We're all limited and messy human beings, and until our leaders acknowledge that about themselves, we're doomed to a terrible and deadly division, that of clericalism.

Joan Seymour 01 June 2013

What I just don't get about the RC Church is it's notion of Christianity! Yes, Christianity itself. How is it that in a Christian organisation, when men (ONLY men of course) are priested, they get this idea that they are above the rest of us; that they are special; of some mystique group, that no one can equal. For God's sake, Christanity is about humility, and service to others, and caring and sharing. In my opinion the RC Church is not Christian at all! As for celibacy: heroic renunciation? What the hell is that? To me it's a load of rubbish. As an abused child, the RC Church in particular angers me more each day. George Pell is a man with no compassion, no empathy, no understanding of the suffering his so-called Christian Church has caused to thousands, millions probably, of the "faithful".

Louw 02 June 2013

Struggle as I do, I cannot find words to describe the conduct of Pell, Hart and others. In Luke's Gospel, he stated "Suffer the little Children and send them to me etc" We did send them to your representatives and they raped, buggered their bodies and minds, and many committed sucicide. To all this, Hart says "Better late than never" and Pell passes all off as if what has happened a respectable. For mine, both of these disgraceful persons needs to be forced into retirement and the church start again afreshed.

GAVAN R DUKE 02 June 2013

To Bruce S, re couple beatified as a couple, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. Thanks for pointing them out. But, as you say, it is the ONE exception that probes the rule.

Peter Horan 04 June 2013

I was abused as a child, although not by a priest.As a victim I have tried to come to terms with the pain and because of what is happening now I have been forced to think about how I feel and why I feel that way. When I read these articles what I see is anger, contempt and a loathing of priests and the Catholic church.To a certain extent this as it should be, however, what I feel is pain. you are holding the victim up for all to see and proclaiming that this person is the consquence of the evil actions of these evil people and that evil Catholic church. In other words the victim becomes the personification of the evil. I don't think this is the way to help victims in their attempts to see themselves as normal well adjusted members of society.

Brian Leeming 04 June 2013

To paraphrase Forest Gump: "Evil is as evil does"

AURELIUS 05 June 2013

'The celibate priesthood will continue and be refined for a new generation who will better understand how important it is to be holy.' Come off it Dale! Are you trying to tell me that the 'celibate priesthood', as distinct from the hierarchy, had no idea of what was happening around them, or of what some of their colleagues were up to? If that's what you are saying, it beggars belief. The truth surely is that some priests and religious abused, most, if not all, the hierarchy covered it up, and the vast majority, if not all, priests and religious remained silent. and thereby let their colleagues and their hierarchy get away with it, not once, not for a period, but on many occasions and for decades, if not centuries. Need I remind you that silence implies consent.

Ginger Meggs 07 June 2013

Thank you Ray Does anyone know anyone who doesn't believe Priests should have the option of the sacrament of marriage?

leo kane 20 June 2013

Oh, yes, there is a mystique - a pedestal - which I felt while in, but see now in its full light now that I have been kicked out for getting married and sit in the pews. Lay holiness and spirituality is seen by all, including the laity of the RCC, as very dependent on the celibate clerics activities. However, there's very little nourishment for us laics, and mostly we are happily allowed to stay at very early stages of spiritual growth, and we should be grateful for such small mercies, it seems.Let's not call them 'priests', sacerdotes, because they really need to be elders, presbyters, with wisdom of life in the world to share - not just functionaries.

John O'D 24 June 2013

Similar articles

McGuire ape gaffe exposes Australian tolerance as myth

Ruby Hamad | 31 May 2013

Adam Goodes in actionThose who object to Indigenous people being called 'apes' and to white men painting themselves black are dismissed as being politically correct and denying free speech. But how can Adam Goodes choose not to be offended by comments conceived for the very purpose of justifying crimes against the racial group to which he belongs?

Reconciliation balances guilt and hope

Andrew Hamilton | 30 May 2013

Feet walking a tightropeTo lead to reconciliation, each group must make space in their imagination for a realistic view of the terrible events that divided them and of who was responsible. They must also make space for a realistic view of the enduring consequences of these actions, and share a hopeful vision of what reconciliation might mean for their society.

Bumpy road trip to a remote community

John Adams | 29 May 2013

Aboriginal man Tjungarryi sits in camping chair against desert backdropPatrick tells me where the road is bad and where the water holes and outstations are. If I miss one of his subtle finger movements and we hit a hole in the road too hard he grumbles. I feel Patrick and I have the start of a relationship. Sixteen hours in a Hilux will do that to two grumpy old buggers.

Wage inequality leaving workers in poverty

Brian Lawrence | 28 May 2013

Man with empty pocketsThe rivers of gold into Treasury have dried up and programs that have provided some relief to struggling families are being wound back. Whether or not large cohorts of workers and their families continue to live in poverty depends on the decisions of the Fair Work Commission in the current Annual Wage Review.

When it comes to work and welfare, market rules Labor's roost

Luke Williams | 27 May 2013

Centrelink logoIf I was a long-term unemployed person, how would I answer the question, 'What has the ALP done for me?' 'Lots, and not much.' The Gillard Government's commitment to developing workforce skills suggests it values decent work, not just jobs, but in positing productivity as the path to prosperity it seems more Reagan than Keynes.