Knowing the unknowns of clerical sexual misconduct


In 'The Agony in the Garden' by William Blake a majestic angel breaks through the surrounding darkness and descends from a cloud to aid and physically support Jesus in his hour of agony.Is there an agony in the garden of Catholicism which has yet to be faced — the 'dark figure'* of clerical sexual misconduct involving adults? From initial readings as part of my research into this issue, two aspects have become quickly apparent: that it is a 'known unknown' within Catholic life, and that it is a very complex issue.

That it occurs is not in doubt. This was one of the tangential findings of the John Jay Report: the board was 'repeatedly faced with the problem of sexual relationships of priests with adults' and stated that this issue 'could bring about further trouble in the future'. From my own preliminary readings, discussions and experience within the Catholic Church and connections with religious life, I now suspect that there is not one cleric who does not know of an incident of this form of clerical sexual misconduct.

However, as to the actual statistics, forms and effects of such misconduct, much more academic research is needed. When the unknowns become more known, the issue can be contextualised in psycho-social and/or criminological frameworks and dealt with accordingly. But the research has yet to be done, especially in Australia.

So, what is known? Based on accounts found in literature dealing more generally with clerical sexual misconduct and such sites as Broken Rites and SNAP, clerical sexual misconduct involving adults may include heterosexual and homosexual rapes and assaults against lay adults/older teenagers; priests fathering children; clerical sex holidays overseas; older priests molesting seminarians; male and female religious taking advantage of disabled women and men; sexual harassment, blackmail and bullying, and attempted seductions of unsuspecting and vulnerable people.

What also becomes clear is that sexual misconduct involving clerics results in serious and usually lifelong harm, because the person is a cleric.

One of the issues that invariably arises, when investigating the little research that there is to date on this particular form of clerical sexual misconduct, is that of consent and blame. According to researchers such as Kathryn Byrne and Diana Garland and Christen Argueta, it appears that, more often than not, when clerical sexual misconduct involving adults occurs, it is the victim who is suspected by almost all. This is mainly for reasons of their age, sex and a traditional perception of superiority-in-holiness of the cleric.

A common response can be summarised as follows: 'Surely as an adult they could have stopped the abuse. They must have consented in some way.' Or, the victim is also made out to be the temptress (or tempter) of a godly cleric. (Does this perhaps reflect an embedded 'evil-Eve' mentality?)

These perceptions initially leave victims erroneously believing they must have 'sort of' consented, or tempted the cleric 'in some way'. As such, victims are condemned to years of guilt and shame and held back from disclosing or reporting the misconduct. Who would believe them above a cleric anyway? Meanwhile, the cleric's life progresses, sometimes to high levels within the church, with no one the wiser. And the 'dark figure' lives on.

Furthermore, academics such as Indiana University's professor of sociology Anson Shupe and Loyola Marymount University's professor of law Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaeffer point out that, as in all other 'professional' situations, the responsibility to stop any misconduct from happening lies with the 'professional', the cleric. This is true even in cases where a cleric may be presented with the possibility of a sexual encounter. Because of the enormous power imbalance inherent in cleric/lay-person encounters, as well as an unconscious, psychological transference often accompanying such encounters, authentically free consent cannot be present.

Does this power imbalance always exist in the many varied activities of church life? Does a fiduciary (in good faith) responsibility, expected of other professionals, apply to clerics as well? Does a priest not also have an even greater and permanent positional authority? After all, the church teaches that a man, upon ordination, is ontologically changed. He is given 'sacred' powers via the sacraments, bestowed on him from above through apostolic succession, by Jesus/God Himself. And the laity are dependent upon these priestly 'powers'.

Authors such as Tom Doyle, Richard Sipe and Patrick Wall have no doubt that with this level of personal and institutionalised sacred power, abuse of that power is prone to occur. Also, accompanying the abuses of sacred powers, a collective 'cover-up' culture often results. And for many lay people, at least on a psychological level, these sacred powers of the priesthood permeate, by association, all forms of the consecrated life.

There are many developing theories as to why clerical sexual misconduct involving adults occurs. Stereotypically, liberals tend to blame narcissistic clericalism. This, they believe, is inevitable given the extraordinary level of 'sacred power'. In turn it has given rise to an historical elitism and a monarchical (male) clerical culture, sustained by mandatory, unhealthy, lifelong celibacy. As such, things are bound to and do go terribly wrong.

On the other hand, conservatives suggest it has more to do with an unchecked 1960s 'sexual revolution' approach to celibacy where the 'sexual celibate' progressed to the sexually active celibate. Many also blame an associated back-door permeation of homosexual culture into clerical life.

It is not easy for Catholics with different interpretations of 'church' to see the possibilities within another's theory of anything let alone the causes of clerical sexual misconduct involving adults. But perhaps the answer as to 'why' is a case of 'both/and' or somewhere in between. Again, more objective research is needed.

*The term 'dark figure' is employed by criminologists and sociologists to describe the known unknowns of crime, the events that go unreported or undetected.

Stephen de Weger headshotStephen de Weger is a Masters (research) student in the Faculty of Law's School of Justice at Queensland University of Technology. As a young man he briefly joined a religious order. After leaving, he completed a BA at University of Queensland majoring in studies in religion, history and english, then a diploma in teaching at Australian Catholic University. He was a teacher in the Catholic system for 13 years. He hopes to complete a PhD dealing with vicarious trauma and secondary victims of clerical sexual misconduct.

Stephen is conducting an anonymous survey of victims of clerical sexual misconduct involving adults. It can be found online here.

Topic tags: Stephen de Weger, clergy sex abuse



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In any church community, there's an emphasis on 'family' - we are 'family'. There's an emphasis on qualities overwhelmingly valued in secular families - love, trust, fidelity, dependence. In healthy families, there should be no power imbalance. That this power imbalance exists in the church suggests subtle manipulation and unhealthy concepts of allegiance. To expect another human being, with all the frailties and weaknesses of humanity, to step into a 'sacred' role in the life of a church family is perhaps asking for trouble. Little wonder people fail in this sort of context. Surely it is a shared journey in a church family - just as it is in a secular family. The church needs, I think, to start valuing some aspects of secular society more.

Pam | 22 November 2013  

Mr de Weger,# your article rests heavily, on sparse. scientific, solid research. Indeed you assert: "However, as to the actual statistics, forms and effects of such misconduct, much more academic research is needed"#

Fr John George | 22 November 2013  

Yes Fr John George, you hit the nail on the head. Hence my research.

Stephen de Weger | 23 November 2013  

George, I'm sure Mr de Weger will have his hands full with his research, you seem to forget the survey is anonymous, therefore those who were paid off one way or another will have no qualms in assisting him. There's a lot of damaged women out there don't worry about that. Maybe one day someone will run with the men's side of it, those who were deprived of their wives affections, and there' many of them out there too.

L Newington | 23 November 2013  

My advice Mr de Weger: never mention Richard Sipe in your PhD research's 'Review of Literature',Bibliography.Footnotes or elsewhere:
“According to Sipe, only 10 percent of priests are celibate. How did he arrive at this figure? Sipe, who calls his work ‘guerrilla research’ (meaning he uses anecdotes given to him in his role as shrink), defines violations of celibacy to include ‘sexual thoughts and desires.’ The wonder is why there are as many as 10 percent of priests who have never experienced such desires. And what is going to happen to the 90 percent who are guilty? They’re going straight to Hell: ‘You see,’ Sipe says, ‘one thing about the Catholic teaching is that every sexual thought, or desire, or action, is mortally sinful. Every action, no matter how small, no matter how nuanced, will send a person directly to Hell.’ This suggests either profound ignorance of Catholicism or calculated malice".[CLRF]

FatherJohn George | 23 November 2013  

Perhaps Fr John George can tell us whether he has ever been aware of any examples of the sort of misconduct that Stephen is researching.

Ginger Meggs | 23 November 2013  

Mr de Weger. Differentiating authentic abused 'anonymous', from 'frauds', is problematical without proof of abuse,forensic /medical or other witness corroboration, thereby tainting data. [prelim.Royal Commission rigour is the benchmark, not 'blackening circles'.]

Fr J George | 24 November 2013  

Again Newington your gratuitous wishful thinking is no substitute for solid research corroboration. Also methinks above article moves at points from hypothesis to unwarranted assertion.

Father John George | 24 November 2013  

Mr Meggs knowledge I have gained in 38 years of pastoral experience here and o/s re any sin mortal or venial is none of your business. I am not into gossip.

fr john george | 25 November 2013  

I'm not into gossip either Fr John George, just wondering whether, in your long career in the church, you had seen any evidence of the behaviour that Stephen is researching. I take it that your answer means that whatever you've seen, you're not saying. Keeping it all under covers again, eh? That might seem expedient in the short term, but when it is eventually disclosed by people like Stephen, the damage to the Church and the notion of the priesthood will be all the greater. Why do you keep pretending that you and your colleagues are any better than the rest of us?

Ginger Meggs | 25 November 2013  

Why do we intellectualize and research things away into deep and meaningful nothingness when it comes to church evils, when the garden variety local pedophile like the man chased in the street after serving his prison sentence is harangued by neighbours as being evil - and eventually driven to suicide? There is nothing dark and mysterious about church sexual abuse and nothing warranting this research.

AURELIUS | 26 November 2013  

Even the mere attempt to conduct the research you are and to publicise the findings appears to precipitate strong hostility and the attempt to discredit the enterprise, Stephen. What you are doing is a bit too much for some people. Their objections would seem to me to denote an inability on their part to acknowledge the possibility of adult clerical abuse because it, like the well and truly proven clerical child sex abuse before it, threatens their ideal of a Church which they expect to display some sort of Platonic ideal of clerical conduct at all times. That is, of course, the Church of Cloud Cuckoo Land. Sexuality and the way it is expressed seems to be one of the barometers with which we measure what is happening in modern life and thereby judge it. There was a stage where clerics, as well as nuns and brothers, were supposed to be above sexual temptation. They are not. That frailty should always be recognised and taken into account in the way they are allowed to conduct their business. I think you are attempting to do something valuable.

Edward F | 27 November 2013  

A compassionate Church has nothing to do with data, science or any persuasive fact finding that opines that judgements have to be made. That type of church is not born of Christianity as given to the first Apostles. For those that are predisposed to be into Law, that is their most difficult obstacle in being Christ-like, for that is the call of Christianity and of all who profess to belong. Jesus of Nazareth provided a new paradigm, and it's still new. It's so counter intuitive to a law of the jungle survival, which is our modern and present modus operandi to the largest extent, that it tends to be subsumed even by the best intentioned people, that are merely doing their best to find a better world. This dichotomy between the Law of humans and the law born of the nature of God has always existed, and always will.

MichCook | 27 November 2013  

So, how to give unto Caesar, Caesars'? Is it true? All people are broken in some way, that power imbalances are inherent in the human condition, that justice "being served" can never know all the "facts". I accept all the foregoing as givens, so the only scientific thing to do (because the evidence is most overwhelming), is to believe in somebody like Jesus of Nazareth and all that He taught. Then, and only then, can humans sustainably manage their day to day interrelationships so that we prosper in all spheres. Anybody done any research on the "overwhelming evidence" that I subscribe to? And before anyone mentions Crusades or similar, forget about powerbrokers, mercenaries, disillusioned looking for a cause, the "enlightened" hoping to save humanity, and themselves, by wielding godlike power. Real men of God (not just a Christian God) don't need to brandish arms, or find guilt and take action on it. Enough already, of all that. History has shown that sustainable good can exist. It's found by not ignoring evil and by being a proponent of a certain type of good. It's found by recognising evil and turning towards good. Rather than throw a stone, lend a hand, a word, a heart.

MichCook | 27 November 2013  

Heterosexual behaviour outside imposed societal or religious 'norms" does not necessarily imply abuse or misconduct. There are too many arguments and controversies today where the basic premise of the debate is not defined and thus result in wasted time and energy that might be better used productively. In the matter of the clergy and sex let's stick to the frankly abnormal, abusive, criminal misconduct first and leave the judgement of the human priest to God if he has not indulged in abusive criminal sexual behaviour but rather consensual normal and perhaps even loving sexual activity. It may well be the case that "experts' making flamboyant claims without corroborating factual evidence and research are simply doing unnecessarry damage. There is a great need for definition, argument and evidence before damaging inuendo is proclaimed.

john frawley | 27 November 2013  

Stephen, Try your Ma focus in a much more promising area, for example, the prolonged, systemic culture of secrecy in almost everything by the leadership of the Catholic Church. If you look closely especially at Ch 23 of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry Report you will might detect the influence of the submission made by Catholics for Renewal, It was a turning point in the way that Inquiry proceeded because the Inquiry members changed direction in their investigations away from the deeply tragic singular cases of abuse to the profound and deeply and cultually embedded systemic failure of leadership of the Catholic Community, ++ Hart of Melbourne and ++Card Pell of Sydney were eventually cornered and caught in their own hubris and institutional smoke screening by Inquiry MPs Frank Maguire and David O'Brien The damage control apparatus continues to come into play as the smoke screen the distinction between 'the Church' and its catastrophically incompetent episcopal Leadership blast out of the official organ pipes. People like John George who has himself, no independent analytical opinion, continues to represent the prep-scripted views of self appointed self-interest groups of American Catholic lay political figures such as Bill Donohue and his Catholic League. Blindness!

David Timbs | 27 November 2013  

To MichCook. "Rather than throw a stone, lend a hand, a word, a heart." This is what I am trying in one of the only ways I know possible at this point in time, to do, to those who have suffered. At whom were the stones being targeted, why, and who wanted to throw them? Just tell me, what do we do with all those who have been damaged by those who are in persona Christi? And, then, what do we do with those 'damagers', not to mention the institutional system that may have enabled so much of that damage or at least tried to hide it? Ignore them all, ignore the issues that surround them, all for the sake of Christian love? This just doesn't make sense. Jesus may as well have ignored all the poor, wounded, children, women - those that had no say in what went on. Yes, the message of Jesus was simple, is simple, and it IS what we should be following, but we now have a institution to deal with.

Stephen de Weger | 27 November 2013  

While my article may seem like it is about throwing stones at offending clerics, it was meant to be seen as reaching out and giving a voice to those who are and have been silent about events in their lives that should never have happened to them. There is more than one way to stone someone as many a victim has experienced. However, as my original article was edited much of the emphasis on victims/survivors was not present which is a shame but I never the less OKed it..So, my fault. I just wish everyone would band together for victims/survivors and not put up so many arguments against people trying to heal the wounded. There's a great Christmas song I know about giving to the poor, but I guess you'll make the connection. And perhaps we give a little to the poor If the generosity should seize us But if any one of us should interfere In the business of why they are poor They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Stephen de Weger | 27 November 2013  

Interesting point, John Frawley: "It may well be the case that "experts' making flamboyant claims without corroborating factual evidence and research are simply doing unnecessarry damage. There is a great need for definition, argument and evidence before damaging inuendo is proclaimed." From the way I read Stephen I think he is trying to ascertain what is actually happening. I found nothing sententious or prejudgemental about his piece. The problem with this issue is that it is, by its very nature, controversial and many would prefer it to remain out of public consciousness. That, to my mind, would be counterproductive. If I may use the analogy of the Augean Stables, it is not the stables which were the problem, but the accumulated filth in them. The Catholic Church (as well as many other Churches, where I am sure this sort of thing occurs) is faced with a real problem here which it needs to face and deal with properly so that it can move on and really live in the spirit and mores of its founder. To not so do would be an opportunity lost. Ecclesia semper reformanda.

Edward F | 27 November 2013  

Thanks Edward (and others). It is good to have some people understand a little more deeply what I am trying to achieve here. Yes, there will always be many issues that arise in any research. But what arises more it seems is that many people are triggered by the nature of the topic. As I said this is a complex issue and a very sensitive one. Many clerics and their supporters may feel 'accused' and as such, react. These feelings will determined by the level of defensiveness or outrage and pain those involved may carry. This survey is about those who view their experiences as having damaged them in some way. Many will feel guilt and shame and be embarrassed to even complete an anonymous survey. I get that. But I do hope they go ahead anyway. It is both a painful and healing experience for most. May I suggest that anyone concerned read Sr Kathryn Byrne's book, especially the victims'/survivors' stories. Doing so will show the reality of what we are dealing with. The whole disclosing of this issue is so similar in process as that which occurred with child sexual abuse in the church 20 years ago.

Name | 27 November 2013  

On, differentiating authentic abused 'anonymous', from 'frauds', Fr John George, yes, this is always an issue with surveys, but it is also an issue with courts, commissions, and councils. I choose to believe those who respond, just like you choose to believe your fellow clerics when the winds are against them. The reality is that 'frauds', especially in such painful issues, are very rare, if present at all, especially when having to complete a rather involved survey. You know, you'd make a great devil's advocate, and trust me, I am also one, one who takes great care now in 'believing' everything I hear and see in regards to those who are the moral guardians of truth, but, also, in general. Just tell me; why are you so suspicious of sexual abuse victims/survivors and the laity in general? And you are - your posts constantly express this, both here and elsewhere. I do hope your comments will make people think more deeply. Thank you.

Stephen de Weger | 27 November 2013  

AURELIUS, I fully appreciate your comment; it is echoed by almost everyone who deals with sexual abuse in any form. But, one cannot take on abuse in every form, especially me. I feel deeply for the majority of abuse victims within families and it is a very deep hope of mine that once society has dealt with institutional abuse, then that same society will have a much deeper knowledge of how abuse destroys people and communities and then start to tackle it where ever it is. As for, I have chosen to tackle it within the church, for both practical and belief reasons and that is complex enough. We must be careful that we do not try to deflect from cleaning up our own backyard before dealing with the 'backyards' of others. Well, that's how I see, and, indeed, it appears how so many now see it: ow could the church be involved in dealing with sexual abuse ANY way if it has not dealt with its own first. No one will listen. As for me, I just care about those who have suffered within the institution I have been part of all my life.

Name | 27 November 2013  

To John Frawley: Could you please elaborate on what you mean here: It may well be the case that "experts' making flamboyant claims without corroborating factual evidence and research are simply doing unnecessary damage. There is a great need for definition, argument and evidence before damaging innuendo is proclaimed. Not sure as to whom you are referring. As to a clear definition you might want to open up the survey - a definition is given there, one based on a conglomeration of researchers and experts including psychiatrists and those dealing with victims/survivors. There has also already been much argument and evidence gathering but it is only just starting. So, as I said to Fr John George, hence my study.

Name | 27 November 2013  

Stephen's article is very insistent that 'sexual misconduct' of vowed celibates doesn't necessarily involve a victim. (Given the power imbalance between priest and layperson, there is more likely to be a victim, however). Nevertheless,a widespread and apparently accepted level of deviation from the celibate life must be investigated further, certainly with better methodology than Mr Sipe used. If a majority of priests and religious have an unconventional/unorthodox interpretation of the vow of celibacy, and are willing to sacrifice another person's future to their desire to have parishioners with benefits, this is surely an issue that must be addressed. It's not illegal - but are we satisfied that it's moral?

Joan Seymour | 27 November 2013  

There are unfortunately women who deliberately chase after priests too so it's not all one sided but it must be cleaned up and not left to fester

Irena | 27 November 2013  

Stephen, you left out an obvious cause of sexual depradations by all predators - namely, organic sexual needs which exist in spite of moral/theological efforts to reroute them. Keep up the work.

Torrey | 27 November 2013  

The Friends of Susanna group formed in Sydney at the end of 1992. I was a member of that group. The group went on to advocate changes in the Christian Churches in Australia in relation to sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by those ministering in a Church setting (including schools, hospitals, welfare centres and so on). The group worked co-operatively with a number of denominations, but particularly the Catholic Church. It ran until the end of 1995. Two members, Thea and Neal Ormerod, wrote When Ministers Sin (the publisher's choice of title), and the group contributed purposefully to change. Its emphasis was not solely on child sexual abuse; rather the group directed comparable attention to the widespread practice of ministers sexualising pastoral relationships. Mr de Weger will find numerous statistical studies to support his concerns.

Rodney Stinson | 27 November 2013  

Irena, you raise a very important aspect which so many others also raise. In response to that aspect, I simply ask why? Is there something in people's backgrounds, childhoods that perhaps even unconsciously has them 'deliberately chas(ing) after priests'. As such, what is then the responsibility of the cleric to NOT take advantage of this? More research needed. By the way, sorry all: All the 'name' responses above are mine - just forgot to fill in the space.

Stephen de Weger | 27 November 2013  

Dr Sipe has been accepted by Courts in the USA as an expert witness. He may even be deemed an authority on the subject of sexual abuse in Christian Churches and generally, as his books are mainstream references on their respective topics. I suggest Fr George go to there he'll see more than a dozen titles, including Celibacy : A Way of Loving, Living, and Serving. The attacks on Dr Sipe demean not him but his attackers. They are, in my view, defamatory in an Australian context. The long quotation offered by Fr George is from Pat Robertson's US-based Catholic League website.

Rodney Stinson | 27 November 2013  

At last this subject has been given serious consideration. Stephen, you have just lifted some of the load off my shoulders by bringing this out into the public arena in a measured sense. Thank you. You are right that there is woefully inadequate research on this. Part of the reason for this would be the time it takes for victims to come forward, as with the children. Part of it is also that most never come forward publically, or even to say Towards Healing. But organisations such as Broken Rites do hear from many many such people who fail to come forward to anyone else. One research turned book I found helpful is that by Kathryn A. Flynn called "The Sexual Abuse of Women by Members of the Clergy". 2003. The one fault in this book is that she combines some females abused as children into the study which muddies the waters. The hierarchical response when such people do come forward, namely that "they were both adults" demonstrating no recognition of the power imbalance involved which, as you point out, negates proper informed consent, is still being used right now, as a means of minimisation by those who ought to take responsibility in full, not part, for the conduct of the priest in their purview. Lay congregants continue to me misled by this tactic. The other tactic of claiming that priests are not employees also is designed to avoid full responsibility for the long term, permanent effect on those so damaged by clerical "misconduct". Personally I find that word an understatement, it too minimizes the behaviour and the effect. Thank you Stephen, again for raising the issue publicly and for your ongoing research. I wish you well with it. It is sorely needed.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 27 November 2013  

Rodney Stinson, thanks for the tip. I have heard of The Friends of Susanna (the name says a lot about the age of this issue) and will follow up your advice. And Joan Seymour, thanks for your comments, too. In regards to "It's not illegal - but are we satisfied that it's moral?" According to CURRENT canon law at least, it is 'illegal'. Perhaps the amount of outrage that many feel when exposed to clerical sexual misconduct, comes from a sense of having been deceived: Most Catholics have grown up, rightly, not expecting celibate/chaste clerics to become sexual with anyone. If they need to or choose to, then they simply left the clerical life. And that is most often seen as the most moral way to respond to as Torrey explains, the "organic sexual needs which exist in spite of moral/theological efforts to reroute them". So, is misconduct also about clerics who have 'gone slowly crazy' trying to maintain chastity, and becoming somewhat obsessed with sex? Does this then lead to adult (and child) sexual abuse? Or does it lead more to, as Jane Anderson's book discusses, Priests (falling) in Love? My study, though is about victims of abusive misconduct.

Stephen de Weger | 27 November 2013  

I just want to take this opportunity to thank Eureka Street for publishing my article; doing so has meant a lot to me personally. I'd like to thank all the posters here for their input. Most of all, I'd like to thank, sincerely, those people who are responding to my survey. Already I have partcipants who experienced clerical sexual misconduct ranging from elderly women, to young seminarians and sisters at the time of the event. I don't know what to say except I feel deeply honoured by your sharing and will treat you, even as anonymous participants, with the utmost respect. You are doing a brave thing which I hope will also, as one person said, find it quite cathartic. And I/we do need your stories and, as much as many distrust 'academics' unfortunately, it is the way of the world that governments (and sometimes church institutions) prefer to or are forced to listen to 'academic' research more so than the cries of their own people before things start to improve. Without the research they will say there is no problem or that the problem is not of their making. As many here even have said, we need more than hearsay and anecdotal evidence to 'prove' anything. So, thank you. And Jennifer, I know Kathryn Flynn's writing and yes, it is very good. Take care, all. And I hope we all keep talking.

Stephen de Weger | 27 November 2013  

"is misconduct also about clerics who have 'gone slowly crazy' trying to maintain chastity, and becoming somewhat obsessed with sex?Does this then lead to adult (and child) sexual abuse? Or does it lead more to, as Jane Anderson's book discusses, Priests (falling) in Love? My study, though is about victims of abusive misconduct." Stephen that question worries me. Is it valid? If we accept that the power imbalance is what makes consent invalid then such a question is not valid. Sexual behaviour by those living by vows of celibacy or chastity must be "misconduct", because of the power imbalance. If the priest chooses to become laicised then that is a whole different matter. But otherwise your question, I believe, cannot be a valid one. I think if we change the term misconduct (which reminds me of a child in a classroom throwing a paper aeroplane) to abuse of power resulting in exploitation of the lay person, then we can see that this question you posed cannot be valid. I hope we can anyway!

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 27 November 2013  

I believe there is a serious problem within the Catholic Seminaries; the systemic way of training priests. Have you ever read Dancing with the Devil: A journey from the Pulpit to the Bench by Christopher Geraghty? This book is full of evidence to support the sentiments given in Stephen de Weger’s article. I am grateful that there are people who want to get to the bottom of the systemic evil in the church because the prevalence of evil will always prevail when good people say and do nothing. To instil in the minds of young men the notion that they are ‘ontologically’ different or superior to everyone else is wrong. To ask them to deny their sexuality (a natural human trait) is wrong. To empower young men in this way without educating them about personal responsibility and integrity and without continuous supervision is wrong. There is something about the way priests are trained that keeps grown men from being mature adults in society and particularly when in the company of women.

Trish Martin | 27 November 2013  

I believe there are very few natural celibates. The ideal for most people would be chaste matrimony. In these oversexualised times that is hard enough. The Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics have recognised matrimony as the normal state for priests. I think it is high time the Latin Rite Catholics did so. The Church has to live in the 21st Century not the 5th when I think priestly celibacy became mandatory in the West.

Edward F | 27 November 2013  

Jennifer A. Herrick, the employer-employee issue is no superficial tactic: An unnamed plaintiff in an Oregon case was seeking to establish that, as a result of the control exercised over an accused priest, the Church was, in effect, his employer and therefore liable for the harm he inflicted. "However, having studied at length a mass of internal documents relating to the affair supplied by the Church, Judge Michael Mosman ruled that nothing in the paperwork could lead to an employer-employee conclusion and struck out the case. That ruling last Monday, ended a question that has been debated for at least six years in various courts around cases of clerical abuse in the United States. In delivering his ruling, Judge Mosman pointed out that, much like the Holy See, the legal bar in the state of Oregon had many of the powers over lawyers as the Holy See has over its priests, having the ability to disbar from practice, or to hand down sanctions. Such acts did not, he explained, automatically mean a lawyer was in the employ of the bar. Similarly, the judge stated that the power of the Holy See over its priests in many ways extended to faithful Catholics, yet they could in no way be considered employees." - See more at:

Father John George | 27 November 2013  

I have just competed the survey, challenging in part but well worth doing. Power should never be abused and church authorises should chuck out abusers and report them to police. Also strong training should be undertaken so clerics don't abuse it.

paul | 27 November 2013  

Mr de Wager Sir your reduction of solid corroborated research to meresubjective "suspicion' augurs bleakly for good solid corroborative scientific though your research topic is valuable Pity re methodological clicking circles versus solid documentation your "winds against them" allusion again is irrelevant 'hot air'[the issue is methodology 101 not Beaufort or Saffir–Simpson wind scales!]

Father John George | 27 November 2013  

OK Fr John George, from where do you suggest I get the "solid documentation" you so frequently require of anyone wanting to investigate the church?

Name | 28 November 2013  

I would in turn point you, Fr John George, to the address reported in the article in Eureka St by Fr Frank Brennan, on such Church State Issues This issue, of employment, is profoundly important for victims and survivors and is seen to be most certainly a tactic used to avoid full responsibility by Church Authorities. It is no use responding with American cases for an Australian civil context. This issue is not simply about whether a priest is an employee or not but us about who, if anyone, is responsible for a priest's abberrant behaviour whilst he is conducting his duties and exercising his faculties. Who would you suggest, Fr John George, is responsible for a priest's behaviour? Who would you suggest is accountable for a priest's behaviour? and why?

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 28 November 2013  

Fr John George, it is not your place to critique, in this forum, the methodology used for research. That is the place of the examiners.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 28 November 2013  

Jennifer, I understand your concern, truly I do. I perhaps didn't make it clear enough but my reference to priests who fall in love comes with a caveat: they should do the honourable thing by both the church (their congregation) but mostly to the person they have engaged in a secret relationship or similar. From accounts I have read so far, it is the deception as much as any other aspect that causes so much damage to all involved. I suppose the other thing that is quickly becoming apparent is that, as with any human issue, there are many grey areas between the black and white poles. I am only voicing some of the findings that others have expressed but they are mostly outside the parameters of what I am trying to deal with. But, I do agree with you and the other authors mentioned in the article that when that power imbalance exists, along with the often lesser emphasised aspect of transference, there can be no truly free consent. I would, however, like to hear what those who have been caught up in the many levels of misconduct with clerics, as to what they think about this vital issue.

Stephen de Weger | 28 November 2013  

This will be my final post: I just want to explain that when beginning a research project, one does NOT have the answers but is LOOKING for them. This project is about the experiences of adults who have been involved in some form of clerical sexual misconduct as adults: It is about what lead up to that experience, what occurred during it and what have been the effects. It also will be asking about what, if anything has been their experience of how the misconduct was dealt with, if dealt with. The most important overarching question is: What happened, and has since happened to those who have experienced clerical sexual misconduct as an adult? How have they been treated? How are they coping? Thank you Jennifer for explaining that, indeed, yes, not only has this project been thoroughly assessed by the National Ethics Committee but it will be assessed by the university when finished. And in regards to the mere clicking of circles, the survey actually also allows for many times where the respondent can write freely and at any length. Perhaps when it is all completed, I may be able to write about my findings here, again. I will leave it at that. Thank you one and all. Stephen

Stephen de Weger | 28 November 2013  

and thank you so much Stephen, you are a breath of fresh air. All the very best with your quantitative and qualitative research! I look very forward to the finished product.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 28 November 2013  

Jennifer Herrick, # I see no ES rules that abrogate my right to evaluate research.. [or others commenting on research] #At Jesuit Ateneo de Manila Uni, our Research and Materials course involved practicum in critique of Researchers methods and content.[Viva ES freedom of expression] . # Furthermore re clergy abuse: Hierarchy have canonico-moral responsibility re priests,.[not primarily civil-industrial relationship] # the proximate formal responsibility for criminal clergy abuse is the priest himself not the bishop let alone Vatican.

Father John George | 28 November 2013  

really Fr John George?, well that is fascinating. So there is no real accountability according to yourself other than the priest who abuses. Wonder what the rest of the world thinks about that interpretation? It might have something to do with why there are State and Federal Commissions on the matter? Just a thought.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 28 November 2013  

Despite global media hype:"On October 14, 2011, a county grand jury indicted both the Diocese and Finn personally for failure to report suspected child abuse, a criminal misdemeanor.[2] While other bishops have been charged with directly perpetrating abuse,[3] Finn is the first U.S. bishop to be criminally charged for his role as a supervisor of priests. The case is also the first criminal case against a sitting bishop in the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church"[WIKIPEDIA] No bishop in Australia

Father John George | 28 November 2013  

Congratulations Stephen on your article and the lively response. I trust all will go well with your work. Of course, as you know well, it is not simply academic but deals with the complex inner workings of the soul where it meets the body. No doubt you will encounter much pain. May you be a healer as well as a researcher. Blessings!

Greg Burke | 28 November 2013  

Furthermore re psychiatric industry eg in USA: The USA psychiatric profile of notorious Fr Geoghan,who abused hundreds of children: "Psychiatrist Dr Swords complied with a placating letter whose tone was markedly more positive than that of his initial report: "Let me first say that we judge Father Geoghan to be clinically quite safe to resume his pastoral ministry after observation, evaluation and treatment here for three months. The probability that he would sexually act out again is quite low. However, we cannot guarantee that it could not re-occur. It is both reasonable and therapeutic for him to be reassigned back to his parish." He added, "The clinical decision to have him resume his pastoral ministry was ours, but the final administrative decision had to be yours." This apparently satisfied BISHOP Banks, who, in a reply to Swords, called the clarification "very helpful."[CF BISHOP ACCOUNTABILITY] A year later, Swords had a followup meeting with Geoghan at the institute, after which he wrote to Banks, "From what I could gather he continues to do well and remains psychologically fit for pastoral work in general, including children. He monitors himself well and from what he tells me has his sex drive under firm control."

Father John George | 29 November 2013  

All these letters are so illuminating. Each of us has a part to play, and thank you Stephen for thanking us for participating. And thank you Stephen for being involved in this discussion and including so much of yourself that could not be included in the original article. I hope and pray that your heart remains strong and can withstand the powerful forces that will/are trying to deflect it, from your True North, and that the final examination and publishing will be a milestone in research of the heart. Finally, power imbalances exist and are what our human hearts labour with from the time of our first cognitions. They cannot be eliminated. In any hierarchical structure they are used, and abused. I wonder - what if we were a Movement rather than a Church?

MichCook | 29 November 2013  

A number of times recently in these pages and elsewhere, mention has been made of 'laicism'. When one looks at both where this terms originates and the contexts in which it is used, it is a not so oblique attack on the legitimate right of all the non-ordained baptized to have a legitimate say in how Catholic life is governed. The real culprits of 'laicism' are characters like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League who do not serve the best interests of the laity. Bill and crew are denialist defenders of the very worst of clericalism. An obvious example is the failure in good governance by leaders entrusted with the highest levels of pastoral care of their people. The more extreme representatives of the clerical elite and their lay apologists continue to demonstrate little in the way of collective insight into the enormity of the situation of Clerical sexual pathology. Their lack of transparency and humility before fact is largely due to their adherence to the idolatrous hyperbole of John Vianney that, 'after God, the priest is everything!'

David Timbs | 29 November 2013  

David Timbs, I think you're saying that Vianney's hyperbole serves to confer extraordinary power upon the priest. And indeed, that is what he claimed, and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in canonising him would appear to have lined up behind that appearance of "idolatrous hyperbole". I'm no student in this matter, but does priestly in the administration of the Sacraments mean incorruptible? If it does, then I can see where Vianney is coming from, but if not, then the Roman Catholic Church is or has reached a time when an overhaul of it's hierarchical nature is due. Perhaps our present Pope has something to say on this. Perhaps a contrast between John Vianney's writings and John, the Apostle Of Love, 13:34-35, might bear contemplation. Again, what if we were a Movement, rather than a Church?

MichCook | 30 November 2013  

Jennifer Herrick ought understand that eg: # in International Criminal Law there is also a continuum of cooperation and responsibility in evil. # In post WW2 Nazi Trials,the devoted personal secretary of Hitler, Christa Schroeder, was convicted as a grade 1 War Criminal[reversed in 1948 to grade 4 collaborator.] # Christa Schroeder (born Emilie Christine Schroeder; March 19, 1908 – June 18, 1984) was one of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s personal secretaries before and during World War II

Father John George | 02 December 2013  

Not again, Fr J. G : Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies[1][2]) is an assertion made by Mike Godwin in 1990[2] that has become an Internet adage. It states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."[2][3] In other words, Godwin said that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.WIKI

no comment | 03 December 2013  

oh I understand alright Fr JG, I understand perfectly well.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 04 December 2013  

Moreover, Godwin's law is sometimes invoked, as a rule, to mark the end of a discussion when a Nazi analogy is made, with the writer who made the analogy being considered to have LOST the argument.

no comment | 04 December 2013  

Surely the answer does lie in between: the conservative response that says that this was an issue of the sexual revolution shifting an understanding of celibacy certainly has some merit, and it explains the facts - that some clerics broke their vows, and the higher up hierarchy that had always opposed the sexual revolution sought to present the Church as still sticking to its values, even if some did not. I don't see an enormous tendency towards homosexual culture in the Church though, yet perhaps I am wrong. The liberal view that there is an sacred power in the hands of clerics which is attributed to clerics surely has a place also, and as you say, the relationships are made very unique when clerics and lays interact. Still, that celibacy is unhealthy seems very unchristian, even if our post-sexual revolution culture would nod their head at the idea that not having lots of sex, and even willingly committing oneself to not have sex, is insane and unhealthy.

Lobi | 04 December 2013  

Thank you Lobi for getting the comments back on track about the content of the article.

Stephen | 04 December 2013  

Furthermore JAH re abuse responsibility: "THE Vatican has told a UN investigating committee that it cannot be held legally competent over the abuses of children carried out by Catholic churchmen because they are subject to national laws, a spokesman said on Wednesday. "When individual institutions of national churches are implicated, that does not regard the competence of the Holy See but rather the laws of the countries concerned," Father Federico Lombardi said. Fr Lombardi said Vatican officials would explain their position at a meeting in Geneva on January 16 with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child," []

Father John George | 05 December 2013  

The responses of John George continue to represent the kind of smokescreen put up to camouflage the entrenched cultural duplicity of many at the top of Church governance. While tipping the Roman hat to civil law they, in effect, have almost always put canon law and bureaucratic self interest ahead of the Gospel. Kieran Tapsell spells this out very clearly in two recent articles published by John Menadue on his blog. It will be a litmus test to see if Pope Francis latches onto this kind of institutional distortion of the image of Christ and the power of his message.

David Timbs | 05 December 2013  

See, good people, what victims/survivors of all ages are up against. Legalism, deflections of responsibility, mental reservations, arguments ad nauseum, ANYTHING EXCEPT towards the healing of the people who have been damaged within this institution that proclaims to the world the care of the poor, voiceless, damaged IE those Jesus cared about. Is there any hope of finding compassion, wisdom and the Spirit of Christ in the church institution? I seriously am doubting it more and more. The fact remains that clergy, while living, breathing, being financially and spiritually completely in the bosom of Mother Church, did these things to people.These clerics have all the protections, legal and financial of the church and yet the church, according to JG says they are not responsible for individual acts. What protections to the victims have? Again, I say, see what we are up against. And JG, thank you for so clearly stating the true spirit of your church.

Stephen | 05 December 2013  

Mr Timbs your grave allegations re vague, top church governance, is hardly supported by bar, bench, jury, solid forensic evidence versus 'off the cuff' Tapsell articles

Father John Georg | 05 December 2013  

well said David and Stephen. JG wants to have a global church when it suits and national jurisdictions when it doesn't. A perfect setup. Guess there is no universal Church after all. My mistake.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 06 December 2013  

#JAH There are 1.4 Billion catholics globally, and most parts of world are divided into dioceses, including former titular diocese. #A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions, sometimes called a "dead diocese". The ordinary or hierarch of such a see may be styled a "titular bishop", "titular metropolitan", or "titular archbishop".

Father John George | 06 December 2013  

seems we might be a universal church after all with universal responsibilities, looking that way anyway according to this papal announcement yesterday...

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 06 December 2013  

this is the latest on papal call for global accountability for vicitms,

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 06 December 2013  

thank you Father for you kind instruction. Now if you could just assist with an explanation as to the point you are making about dead dioceses in relation to abuse of adults by clerics belonging to living dioceses?

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 06 December 2013  

My response was to your scruple re national/local dioceses plus extra info: eg Titular sees are also used to avoid causing offense or confusion when a bishop of one denomination serves a place which is also the see of a bishop of a different denomination.

Father John George | 07 December 2013  

Forgive me but I still fail to see any connection between clerical misconduct and titular sees.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 08 December 2013  

Watching Compass last week and bearing in mind Divine Word missionary Pat Brennan, it certainly brings home the loniless of some of these men who with the best of intentions, still have the inner yearnings of the intimacy that only a woman can give and love and joy of a family of their own in their twilight years. Forget about the priest chasers, we all know one or two of them, married too most of them, and consider the woman who out of compassion could never show them the door when they reach out, even when logic tells them otherwise. Their superiors well aware of their needs continue to put them to the test instead of releasing them from their vows when out of good conscience, whether through a rescript [1139] or laisization, both valid processes at Canon Law. Then when the consequences arrive due to their lack of action, the priest is left with either a child he has brought into the world, out of Obedience-[the certitude of doing Gods will] forced to relinquish it, or live a life of subterfuge as a part time priest and a father, taking into account the church's mentality the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. My heart goes out to Fr Pat Brennan absolutely.

L Newington | 11 December 2013  

All priests have occasion to serve others and in so doing be reminded of how God works through them. This truth hit me profoundly in the second year of my own priesthood. I received a call late at night to come to a hospital in a distant town to help a family deal with a death. When I arrived, I was met by two doctors who filled me in on the situation. Earlier that evening a 13-year-old girl had died quite suddenly from a tumor. The family was so distraught they refused to allow the hospital staff or funeral director to do anything else until a priest came. With the local pastor out of town, it took four hours to locate a priest, so they were glad when I arrived. These doctors introduced me to the family. We talked for a while and then went into the room where their daughter lay. We prayed together and silently. I blessed and anointed the body of this 13-year-old, and we prayed some more. Eventually, we went back out into the family area. They talked about their daughter’s life and all she had meant to them. After a couple of hours, they felt comfortable enough to allow the hospital to move forward. I said goodnight and prepared to leave. The two doctors were still there and walked me out to my car. Once in the parking lot I turned to them and said, “I must tell you something. On behalf of the family and the church I want to thank you for being there with this family in their time of grief. I know you could have been home with your own families hours ago, and I appreciate your going above and beyond the call of duty. It was such a comfort to them." The physicians nodded, and one of them took my forearm and said, “Your words are very kind, but let me say something to you. As doctors we get to do some amazing things. We help people overcome diseases and ailments and return to full health. Sometimes we even resuscitate people and bring them back from death. But no matter what we do, eventually all of our bodies are going to wear out. What we do—however good—is only temporary. But what you do as a priest is about tending to the soul. And that’s eternal. So we thank you for what you do." Chills ran down my spine at his words. And I understood quite clearly and distinctly what this doctor had said—and not said. He did not say that I, Father Jim, had all the right things to say to this family and did all the right things. Not at all. What he was saying was that what I represent in the person of Jesus Christ speaks much more powerfully than anything I can say or do. It reminded me of the awesome honor and responsibility of what it means to be a priest. To be of service to others is to be a conduit of God’s grace, and that is the heart of this special vocation.

Fr. Jim Kent | 12 December 2013  

Celibacy should be optional and wthout discrimination. Let the church make honest men of those who aren't.

L Newington | 12 December 2013  

Fr Kent your post well resonates with my 38 years of hidden 'conduit experiences' in hospitals/operation theatres/roadsides/death beds/nursing homes/dying hardened criminals/in ambulances/suicides etc etc: "To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures; To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none; To share all suffering; to penetrate all secrets; To heal all wounds; to go from men to God and offer Him their prayers; To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope; To have a heart of fire for Charity, and a heart of bronze for Chastity To teach and to pardon, console and bless always. My God, what a life; and it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ." —Lacordaire

Father John George | 12 December 2013  

Thank God for the good priests, now, what about the not so good ones AND THEIR VICTIMS. That is what needs to be brought out in the open.

Stephen | 12 December 2013  

and being brought out into the open it surely now is Stephen, right now in Farrer Place, in the heart of Sydney.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 13 December 2013  

JAH! Indigent tricoteuse, Madame Defarge feverishly knitted her needles sans wool at place de la concorde ["HEART" or major square of Paris, awaiting eagerly M. Le Guillotine. [Pace Charles Dickens! 'A Tale of Two Cities']

Father John George | 14 December 2013  

I guess Fathers George and Kent, it's a matter of what turns you on. But when you claim so high a vocation don't be surprised at the reaction you generate when your feet of clay inevitably fail you. I think that Ada Cambridge, who knew the situation well, got it right when she wrote -

One hour ago, like us, he trod/?Along these cloisters dim —?/Now we are bid to reverence God/?Made manifest in him;/?To mock at our enlightened sense/?And dearly won experience,/?So far beyond his own;/?To take him for our heaven-sent guide/?Upon these seas, so wild and wide,/?To him as yet unknown.??

Unconscious of the coming strife,/?Unformed in mind and thought,/?Without one ripe idea of life/?Save what his school books taught,/?An ignorant boy, he vows a vow/?To think and feel as he does now/?Till his gold locks are grey;/?Pledges his word to learn no more —/?To add no wisdom to the store/?His young mind holds to-day.

How shall he keep this senseless oath/?When once a full-grown man?/?How shall he check his upward growth/?To fit this meagre plan?/?Only by ruthless pinching out/?Of all the fairest shoots that sprout,/?As on a healthy tree,/?From his expanding brain and heart —/?Defrauding his diviner part/?Of its virility.

Ginger Meggs | 16 December 2013  

Ginger Meggs, love the poem. I just love how good poetry can cut to the heart with an economy of words, through all the fat we build up with mere volume of words which so often mean nothing.

I know I said I wouldn't post again but I really wanted to come back and thank all the many wonderful and brave people who have come forward to complete my survey. I have been truly moved by your stories, truly. And as I read them, I so want to respond to each of you to give some words of comfort or support or understanding, but I can't. Hence this post. Thank you to all of you. Your words will really help me in so, so many ways and hopefully thereby, you will be helping yourself and others who have experienced what you have.

And anyone else reading, if you haven't done the survey but need to tell someone, find someone; don't let misplaced shame stop you. Tell Broken Rites, SNAP, someone you can trust and if you feel the strength, do fill out the survey - we need the real stories to make changes. Above all, I hope you find the healing and peace you deserve amidst the sounding gongs who seek to distract you/us from the type of justice and compassion that the church stands for, or should.

Peace and a blessed Christmas.

Stephen de Weger

Stephen de Weger | 16 December 2013  

Thanks Stephen, you're welcome.

I quoted only four verses, there are ten in all in that Poem 'Ordained', and all are worth reading. So too is the book, 'Unspoken Thoughts', from which that poem came. Cambridge wrote from her own wide experience.

Ginger Meggs | 16 December 2013  

JG, neither analogies of Hitler, Titular Sees, Dead Dioceses, nor Knitting Needles nor Gallows will sway victims/survivors from achieving their end. THEY have justice and truth on their side.

Jennifer Herrick | 20 December 2013  

My doctoral thesis 'the well from which we drink is poisoned - clergy sexual abuse of adult women' UK and Ireland had over100 women in sample 65 cases of adult clergy sexual exploitation of women - all Christian denominations. The abuse by clergy is a huge hidden, secret, known about fact! The suffering was and is equal to domestic violence, child sexual abuse and degradation. Clergy use very subtle entrapment techniques. It is a very serious issue.

Dr margaret kennedy | 04 July 2015  

This comment may not be found by many people, this being an old article now. However, in the hope that some of those wonderful people who participated in my research project may read this, I have completed my thesis and it can now be found here - A huge thank you again for your contribution. Stephen

Stephen de Weger | 12 August 2016  

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