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Original sin and clergy sex abuse


Original sin - bitten appleBeing a Catholic priest during public enquiries into sexual abuse within the Church is a bracing experience. Infinitely less hurtful than being the victim of abuse, of course. But it prompts musing about the ways in which evil actions work out in a group and affect the individual members of the group and its perception by others.

In many cultures these questions run so deep they can be caught only through symbol. In Greek myths and tragedies they are explored through what happens in a family, or house, in which monstrous deeds are fated. They taint the house and work their way destructively through later generations. In the stories connected with Oedipus, for example, the consequences are fated and individuals are passive before them. Their best efforts to escape only create the circumstances of the doom that awaits them and those associated with them.

The proper response to such events when embodied in drama is one of terror and pity. This is how we would respond to a natural disaster when allowed to enter the human experience of those caught in it.

The Christian teaching about original sin can helpfully be seen through the lens of this myth. It understands the whole of humanity to be affected by a taint which goes back to Adam's sin. Its consequences are death. The curse that in the Greek tragedies affected particular families or groups is now universal.

This view of the world also appears to be quite pessimistic in assuming that the disastrous human condition cannot be remedied by human activity. Indeed it is more pessimistic than the earlier myths, because the doom does not attach only to particular groups but to the whole human race. All human beings and the groups to which they belong are equally flawed.

But in its Christian context the universality of original sin is a cause for optimism because we are healed from it by Christ. Neither individuals nor groups are doomed by fate. We are never helpless victims or collaborators of groups tainted by the evil that has been done by them. The evil that's been done can be repented of, apologised for, its causes addressed and reconciliation sought by attending justly and compassionately to its victims.

Within the Christian framework those watching this drama can respond with outrage at what has been done, encouragement for what is being done to address it, and analysis of what needs to be done. They are not passive spectators. But neither can they separate themselves from the group. They are aware of their own shared flaw and their shared good fortune at being rescued from original sin.

As a Christian understanding of the human condition this account has its limitations. And in any case it no longer has a strong claim on the public imagination. What has replaced it in public attitudes to the ways in which wrongdoing and guilt affect groups is also unhelpful in many ways.

When the canopy of universal sin and forgiveness is taken down, wrongdoing is commonly seen as marking a person for life. The proper response is harsh punishment and subsequent ostracism. Similarly, groups in which wrongdoing has occurred, like the Catholic Church, are seen to be corrupt. Apologies are not heartfelt; tears shed for the victims of abuse are crocodile tears;  steps to ensure accountability of ministers or the protection of children are window dressing. Those associated with the Church are automatically and lastingly suspect. They can wash away their taint only by renouncing their membership.

At one level attitudes like this do not matter. Indeed at a personal level they can be salutary. In Christian tradition to be regarded as rubbish and to be beaten up are a privileged way of following Christ, not to mention a way of sharing some of what victims have suffered in the Catholic Church.

The real loss from such attitudes is incurred by society. The groups and individuals that are seen in this way will find it harder, not easier, to make up for what they have been part of and to contribute to healing in society. They risk being distracted from what really matters in all this - the welfare of the victims of abuse. Making boxers punch drunk in training is no way to prepare them for the big fight.  

Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street


Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, clergy sex abuse, parliamentary inquiry



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Existing comments

Excellent exposition of why the theory of original sin is codswallop ...

Tony | 25 October 2012  

Thank you Andrew for an insightful paper. For many years now I have read and reflected on this.

Paul Donnelly | 25 October 2012  

The Greek myth of Demeter, Hades and Persephone is one that offers us a deep understanding of "forgiveness". Because this act of love is the key to the whole sad saga of clergy sexual abuse. A clear understanding by the perpetrators of the impact of the abuse, an ability by 'victims' to step outside their pain and view it from a distance (only achieved slowly and painfully) and a society that reiterates again and again "this behaviour will not be tolerated"- these are the first steps. After each player has reached this point, then forgiveness is a possibility. Forgiveness never means forgetting and rightly so - the perpetrators, victims and society all need the same outcome though. A restoration of love.

Pam | 25 October 2012  

In the Gospel narratives of Christ, the innocent, being victimised by the sin of others, the centre of attention is God working through Christ, even at the Crucifixion, God is working, accomplishing the Mission through Christ, of saving all. Maybe, as Fr Andrew has so poignantly revealed in this narrative, through putting the attention onto victims - their dignity, their innocence, their vulnerability, their pain, will all of us be able to meet Christ in Resurrection, finding the salve to bathe the wounds we (society) all suffer from. I'm going to sit with a couple of questions for a while and see what happens - "What would I have done if, back in time, I met Jesus who had just been sexually assaulted? What if I was the disciple Jesus loved, standing with Mary as we encountered Jesus who had just been 'sexually crucified'? The forty hours Jesus spent in the grave, I think we could be in a similar time now with this present pain. In that time of course, tradition accounts most powerfully, the descent of Jesus into hell, to free those who were there. It's a big ask to put on victims to do the resurrecting!

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 25 October 2012  

Andrew I suspect from your writing that you still don't get it. The Clergy knew about the offences of child and other abuse for at least the last century and did nothing about it except pass the parcel around. It was a forgivable sin. Some in the laity knew about it and took precautions or at least some parents did including mine. There is a perception among the laity that the church still doesn't get it and is still in protective mode like any corporation under suspicion of wrongdoing. I think the problem is that we in the laity judge these abusing clergy as criminals while the church sees them primarily as sinners.

Ken FULLER | 25 October 2012  

You are right that this issue raises the question of the very origins of religion. It goes to the heart of belief. The question you have not addressed is one I ask myself every day. If a child is abused by a man of god and the prays to god for the abuse to stop, employing a god who has promised to answer prayers and who can do anything if asked in his name. Then the abuse continues, what use is that god ? How could a child believe in a god who does not care, men of god who abuse and scriptures that lie? Having been abused and abandoned if the child then turns from god and religion or worse commits suicide he has committed a mortal sin and we are told he will suffer in hell for eternity for turning away from god and salvation. the abuser is told no sin is to great not to be forgiven, if they do repent then they are given eternal paradise ! What kind of sick beliefs would inflict this kind of abuse on innocent children ? Not just the physical and mental abuse of the abuser but the institutional abuse of a church that condemns the abused and offers forgiveness tot he abuser. Your original sin is that your religion is fatally flawed from the very beginning.

doug Steley | 25 October 2012  

While Fr H finds the public enquiry "bracing", I, however am astonished that at said enquiry, Cardinal Pell was maligned as atrociously handling a victims abuse complaint in Victoria, when, in fact, his Eminence was studying at Oxford and not with the victim in Victoria!! Furthermore at the same enquiry a Prof Des Cahill[The Age 22/10] compared Melbourne clergy abuse stats[ of 1 priest abuser among 20 priests] as "closely matching" American abuse statistical analysis of 105000 catholic clergy [But, only 60000 priests are in America. According to a survey by the Washington Post, over the last four decades, less than 1.5 percent of the estimated 60,000 or more men who have served in the Catholic clergy have been accused of child sexual abuse. According to a survey by the New York Times, 1.8 percent of all priests ordained from 1950 to 2001 have been accused of child sexual abuse.. Thomas Kane, author of Priests are People Too, estimates that between 1 and 1.5 percent of priests have had charges made against them. Of contemporary priests, the Associated Press found that approximately two-thirds of 1 percent of priests have charges pending against them. Re your 'apple image',Genesis mentions "fruit" not apples!

father john george | 25 October 2012  

The tragedy of the Church and sexual abuse is not only the poor treatment by the Church of the victims, but the utter failure of leadership. The Bishops have failed their role as pastors to priests, which, had it been effective, would have nipped the problem in the bud. Priests deserve better! Victims deserve better.

joe remenyi | 25 October 2012  

The myth of an Original Sin committed by the first man, Adam, and first woman, Eve, is a distraction from attending to the real problems facing humanity. 1. Humans evolved over millenia, gradually acquiring the characteristics now regarded as essential for being 'human'. Thus there was no first man and woman, and so no 'original' sin. Other 'children of the Bible', Jews and Muslims, do not accept the concept of original sin. 2. If Jesus became man for the express purpose of redeeming us from the 'sin' of 'Adam', it is more than strange that there is no mention of Adam and his sin in any of the Gospels. 3. Mankind's waywardness is easily explained by our evolutionay past. We are 'animals' who have acquired the ability to reason. Each of us are conceived as a tiny speck of protoplasm, without any nerve or brain cells which are essential even for feelings. We gradually evolve to acquire firstly instincts and emotions, but even at birth our rational life is a 'tabula rasa'. We need to learn to govern our feelings, and learn from our mistakes, and become responsible for our beliefs and the expression we give to them.

Robert Liddy | 25 October 2012  

Hand-wringing won't cut it. Until the Church and its supporters stop using the language of 'sin and redemption' and start using the language of 'crime and punishment' they will have no credibility.

Frank Golding | 25 October 2012  

In the history of the Church there has always been an element of manichaeism that has underpinned belief. That there is a dualism between body and spirit and that the body is potentially evil in itself. In the 17th and 18th centuries there emerged a "Pietism" in both catholicism and protestantism that developed as an abstract spirituality that devalued the body. This combined with prudery produced a concept that as the body is worthless in itself any physical abuse would not effect the soul

john ozanne | 25 October 2012  

Mr Liddy the New testament makes references to Jesus as the 2ND aDAM thereby affirming a first Adam.!

father john george | 25 October 2012  

Andrew, I really don't 'get' what you're trying to say here. Something rigorous seems to be missing. Please tell me that what you mean is that the abuse that has been perpetrated against the most vulnerable and innocent by those with whom the victims should have been safest, is a dreadful thing. Please say that it has been going on, not for years, but for centuries, and please tell me that this is not about original sin, but a particular sin, a particular crime, that has been repeated and repeated and covered up and excused continually until, in our own lifetimes, our society has progressed to the point where victims can speak out. Please tell me that you are devastated and torn, and that every time you speak to your Archbishop or Cardinal you tell him that the Church must stop covering up immediately and that these pedophiles must be protected no longer, and their victims victimised no further. Time enough for forgiveness when the sin/crime has been openly confessed with the heartfelt intention never to allow this kind of thing to happen again - either the original crime or the cover-up. Please, no more smoke and mirrors about myths and original sin. Let's cut to the chase.

Kate Ahearne | 25 October 2012  

Andrew, a point or two if you don't mind. You have a good start, " In Greek myths and tragedies ..." but then miss the next myth, that seems to be central to your writing. "The Christian teaching about original sin can helpfully be seen through the lens of this myth." Now, I know you will not, cannot, agree, but this 'original sin' starting point for Christianity is also a myth, and should only be used with that knowledge in mind. It's not that ALL individual Vatican Warriors are evil and deserve to be shunned as corrupt shysters who prey on the vulnerable, but certainly the structure of the Church is, from top to bottom, and that has to include, en masse, the current leadership, within which, obviously, there would be many who would not fit that bill. It's a case of 'them's the breaks'. And to that extent, it will be impossible for them to turn the ship around. Your only hope is that this religious colonialism underway, with the filling of western churches by freshly minted African Christians, with their own madness towards gods, replaces the all-lieing, cheating, power corrupt leaders of today, and the whole edifice of the RC church changes. The future is already there to be seen, and it is not a pretty one.

janice wallace | 25 October 2012  

What is it about the term ‘paedophile ring’ that bishops and theologians don’t understand? Are they too busy brushing up on their old lecture notes about Augustine’s theory of Original Sin for next Sunday’s sermon? I respect Andrew’s attempts to explain the rupture in creation that exists between what we should do and what we actually do, but central to this issue is the hierarchy’s denial and suppression of the fact that the issue even really exists. It is plain as day from the bishops’ directive in August to their priests, not to talk about this matter in public or to the media, that their highest value is power, money, prestige, influence, and their own worldly success. The Gospel of Truth and Reconciliation is all but absent. This is what the faithful can see with their own eyes: the victims are not as important as the protection of the Catholic priesthood.But unless you become like this little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

FATHER YOU HAVE SINNED | 25 October 2012  

Thank you, Andrew, for helping me to put deep thoughts and feelings into words. Bill.

William Ousley | 25 October 2012  

1 in 20 is a challenging figure. 1 in 15, what do we make of it? It means that every Catholic priest knows a priest who is a paedophile priest, either knowingly or unknowingly, but most likely with some knowledge of the fact. They have lived with them, studied with them. This reality is colouring the way in which the whole issue is being handled and talked about inside the Church. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. One could hazard that the author of this article is in that boat as well, which may be why he is trying so hard to pin the issue down simply to sinfulness. After all, we are all sinful. The insularity of the priests as a society within the society of the Church is one of the serious blockages to free and open discussion of the reality of 1 in 20. There is an innate motive to protect the good honour of your own profession, whatever that profession is, because it goes to the very foundations of why you yourself chose that profession. It is about lifetime choice. But it creates a certain inability to see the issue the way everyone else does because you are on the inside of that society of priests, not outside looking in.

COMMON DECENCY | 25 October 2012  

The fact that something is a myth - whether pagan or Christian - doesn't mean that it's not true. The point is how we interpret this myth: Does original sin mean we are all guilty? Or does it mean we all have the capacity to sin. If we see the concept of original sin in the collective sense - then the process of redemption and resurrection is also a collective process - ie there will be no redemption for anyone (even the ones pointing the finger) until EVERYONE - from the Pope down, takes responsibility for the evils done through sexual abuse, and the evil continuing by not admitting fault.

AURELIUS | 25 October 2012  

An excellent foray into a difficult topic. The penultimate paragraph is illuminating and, I hope , a source of concolation for all those good priests and religious who have been true to their vows .I am sure that by their lives and their work for others , many in the community will recognise their goodness and positive value to society. For the faithful members of the Church there is the consolation that the Church will endure until time comes to and end - that is the promise of Our Lord .

Barry O'Keefe | 25 October 2012  

There is no doubt,Andrew,that the sexual abuse scandals in the Church have much to do with sin: not "original sin', I would suggest, just straight down the line personal gratification type sin without concern for whose life is buggered up in consequence. For me, the greatest enlightenment regarding this issue came from the report from Justice Murphy, made after several years of investigation into the problem as it existed in the Archdiocese of Dublin. A report of the findings has been summarised in the Catholic World Report which I am sure you have probably read. It is fascinating that of all instances of abuse known in the Archdiocese over a 70 year period that 2% of cases occurred in the 1940s, 4% in the 1950s,23% in the 1960s, 27% in the 1970s, 34% in the 1980s AND THE GREAT SURPRISE TO ME, the rates falling to 9% in the 1990s and only 1% in the 2000s. Clearly, in the aftermath of Vatican II with its liberalisations, false compassion, failure to recognise sin in case that upset people, etc (all personal interpretations not contained anywhere in the VatII documents),The Church failed to impose its own Canon Law (unchanged by VatII) in relation to sinning clergy. Equally clearly, it would seem that over the last 20years (1990s and 2000s) the measures taken by the Church have effectively stemmed the problem spawned by the self-intersted excesses of VatII in some quarters. This deserves to be recognised. The summary referred to above should be read by all Catholics -Ref. "Canon Law Was Not The Problem", Michael Kelly, The Catholic World Report,Tuesday July 10, 2012. www.catholicworldreport.com

John Frawley | 25 October 2012  

Totally agree with Tony, Ken and Frank. So much construct (original sin) and even more hiding behind the concept of church triumphant.

Helen Martin | 25 October 2012  

Father John George's statement that because jesus is called the second Adam in bible this affirms there was a first Adam. No it only means that whoever wrote of Jesus as second Adam believed there was a first Adam. The logic is incredible. i would suspect that in evolutionary terms there were a number who became homo sapiens. In any case it would seem that biologicaly the first was female.

Brian Poidevin | 25 October 2012  

"Being a Catholic priest during public enquiries into sexual abuse within the Church is a bracing experience".Imagine being a priest falsely accused of this crime, and although never charged with anything, having one's name published far and wide. Not a nice experience! I am not alone in having experienced this. As one of my friends consoled me: "A priest's worst nightmare."

Walter | 25 October 2012  

To John Frawley, there are those who would say that connecting the escalation of these crimes with the aftermath of Vatican II is a non sequitur. There is a connection there, if you want to see a connection. It doesn't mean there is a connection. There could be all sorts of other factors contributing to these figures. We also have to keep in mind all the crimes that are not being reported. The Victoria Police's report that the church has never reported one instance of a pedophile crime in the last 60 years speaks volumes about how this is an internal problem that has never been properly addressed, or even thought of as a criminal issue by the hierarchy. Blaming it all on Vatican II is hardly a comprehensive or provable explanation.

WHAT | 25 October 2012  

My take on original sin. With the coming of humans we gained the ability to ask Why? and try to find the answers. Animals reactions were mainly through instinct and with the development of our thoughts came the temptation to imagine that we could find all truth for ourselves. This to me is the temptation. We as human beings had to relearn the art of listening to that still small voice within that advises us what is really best for the future of our species. This gift of reasoning is a wonderful gift but like every step in evolution change has to be embraced, We just have to learn that we do not and cannot have all the answers,

Patricia Ryan | 25 October 2012  

I personally think that the theology of original sin, especially as it has been taught to small children, makes them very vulnerable to abuse and compounds the lasting damage done by abuse. No-one ever seems to address that aspect of it. The best interest of the child is not served by Catholic teaching and the best proof of that is the intellectual discussion of clergy abuse without having the needs of the child at the heart of the discussion. Until this is grappled with, children are still not safe I am sure Jesus would like that put right.

Pam | 25 October 2012  

Thanks for the energy and the variety of your responses to an issue raising questions I am still wrestling with. Perhaps that struggle made the place of original sin within my argument unclear. In this article I was only secondarily addressing Catholic attitudes to sexual abuse. My focus was on public attitudes to wrongdoing and group belonging exemplified in the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Nor was I concerned to commend the doctrine or language of original sin. It is no longer part of the public imagination with which I was concerned in my article. My argument was that, when relating to bodies like the Catholic Church (or to Muslims, asylum seekers or to prisoners), our public imagination lacks crucial elements which were previously part of teaching about original sin. These are a recognition of a moral frailty we share with wrongdoers in any group, and the sense of deliverance from guilt that makes us want to encourage other individuals and groups to live more justly. A double form of solidarity. In the absence of these qualities our imagining of offending individuals and groups is dominated by crime and punishment and guilt by association. Criminals and groups associated with crime are unlike us and inherently incorrigible. As anyone who speaks with prisoners would know, this lens isolates them, excludes them and takes away their fragile confidence in following the firefly desire to follow a better way. When that happens, society also loses. This alienation can also happen with groups, like the Catholic Church, and will also be to society's detriment. The untouched question is how a society without a strong mythical or religious imagination can engender the kinds of solidarity that a humane society needs. That, of course, leaves untouched the many other, far more immediately important, issues about sexual abuse that you raise. I am sure that they will be addressed in further Eureka Street articles, as they have been in the postings on this one.

Andy Hamilton | 25 October 2012  

Dear What, I do not believe that VatII was the cause of this problem. I believe that personal, flawed interpretations of the intent and spirit of VatII rather than an understanding of the Documents VatII produced was the cause. The report I referred to above blames the reluctance of the heirerarchy to impose the Canon Law which, apparently, remains unchanged since VatII and did form a significant deterrent to such behaviour. It is so much easier to misbehave if there is no sin and no consequences for such behaviours. I suppose some would say that Vat II produced a reluctance to be seen as judgemental and a need for touchy-feely compassion for the sinner. It did after all produce a culture that failed to concede that sin existed anymore! Others might say that the hiererarchy were simply gutless. This latter viewpoint has a certain earty appeal about it!

john frawley | 25 October 2012  

It seems the world - both secular and religious - is too cynical already for any healing or reconciliation to take place. Maybe we should call the church protocol "Beyond Healing" instead of "Towards Healing." As with everything else - it's become politically bipartisan (those seeking recompense VS those with resources) Just as returning soldiers suffering PTSD are viewed as potential resource plunders, victims of sexual abuse are seen in a similar light. In both scenario there's no hope of healing on either side because of the mistrust and cynicism, and unfortunately the victim's wounds/trauma is no longer just the original incident, but it's become compounded and embittered by the personal betrayal.

AURELIUS | 25 October 2012  

I know enough to know that this problem of sexual abuse did not start with Vatican 11. I know old men in there 80s and 90s talking about this for the first time. What did start with Vatican 11 though was that the way was opened for other voices..

I was born into a Catholic family part of the Church family. Famlies struggle with incest, the way was always silence protecting the family at all costs. once the secret is out though there is no going back. the modern world and the internet has taken secrecy away. And that's for the better. now is time to find a way through.

We have been betrayed and deeply hurt. Our families suffer. Meeting this pain takes vulnerability courage and compassion.

I'm ever grateful to Andy for providing as he does these opportunities to heal the wounds bit by painful bit

john | 25 October 2012  

@ Andy Hamilton. Thanks for the clarification - more discussion on this important topic can only lead to a deeper understanding.

Pam1 | 25 October 2012  

Archbishop Diarmud Martin presented another aspect albeit as a "confession"from his own diocese.
"Without maybe a few exceptions, abusive priests do not seem remorseful".
He included one psychologist's statement: the two most common attributes of an abuser, are narcissism and grandiosity.
I wonder if it's because they've been given a free ticket from a ecclesiatical point of view.
There would be many who would have been relieved to have the yoke around their neck removed. Unfortunately, the saving grace has to come from the sentencing of a judge in a court of law, not the shepherd taking care of his soul.

L Newington | 25 October 2012  

I am sure these times are bracing for priests and the perceptions of others, particularly those external to the Church, would/are heavily influenced. Canopies of forgiveness can remain whilst protecting others surely remains a priority. It is very bracing for all Catholics when confronted with such issues at work and all facets of everyday life.

Eugene | 25 October 2012  

Mr Poidevin is over-restrictive regarding the First Adam,and pari cum pari re first Eve. Scripture and church teaching do not exclude the possibility of first evolutionary parents being Adam and Eve,'mutatis mtandis'[both Pius Xii and JP2 envisaged such a possibility]. Regarding Mr Poidevin's scruple on first Eve,science itself borrows scriptural allusion in its 'Mitochondrial Eve terminology denoting the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of modern humans. In other words, she was the most recent woman from whom all living humans today descend, on their mother's side, and through the mothers of those mothers and so on, back until all lines converge on one person! Thus I have no difficulty reconciling [with necessary nuances re soul,original sin etc] Genesis Adam and Eve and evolution theory, and no difficulty in solidly sustaining a scriptural second Adam and Eve. Hence St Paul was absolutely correct in positing second Adam and Eve from first Adam and Eve[after all he was inspired by God who knows the authentic bio-genesis etiology of man[evolutionary or otherwise]. I underline I have some grave misgivings nonetheless re macro evolution; fewer, on micro evolution http://homepages.ius.edu/rvest/0055_12.gif

father john george | 25 October 2012  

I always enjoy you articles Andrew, but on this occasion I found myself reading what you said in disbelief. Of course we all share the frailities of our humanity and there is no doubt that societies can act to separate "them" from "us." But that is not the most important consideration in regard to the sexual abuse perpetrated by clerical members of the Catholic Church. The central issue is justice for victims, and it would seem that many victims here and across the world feel the Church has let them down in this regard. Unfortunately, the impression is that the secular world has a better understanding of what is central to the issue of sexual abuse than does the Church, and it is no wonder that lay members of the Church like me feel let down and disheartened by how badly the Church has responded so far. To me your article bordered on the esoteric and irrelevant, because what is currently needed is more honest and straight talking than we have had up until now about what really matters in this area.

Terry O'Brien | 25 October 2012  

I feel I have to protest at John Frawley’s attempt to cast the problems of both the abuse of the innocent and the scandal of the institutional cover-up as problems of the modern era. The modern era, with its preparedness to take off the kid gloves against the Catholic church, is precisely what is exposing the problem. The idea that it is modern libertarianism that has somehow mysteriously caused the taking advantage of minors by some priests and religious is blown to smithereens by the realisation that the scandal of hiding it in the cause of protecting the good name of the church that is being revealed in this same modern era is a behaviour that one would hardly associate with a church that gets away with less than it did in former times. In other words if it is this bad today, how bad must it have been when bishops and priests were literally and culturally untouchable? This is the problem, John: people have to stop “protecting” and defending “the Church” in this tribal way. If the Church in its historical form has to die to get rid of systemic hypocrisy, so be it: the innocent and the struggling will survive in hopefully a better form.

smk | 25 October 2012  

@ Andrew Hamilton: I understood the purpose of your article, Andrew but was simply musing on how the "taint" of the theory of original sin fouls so much discussion of such important issues ...

Tony | 26 October 2012  

Mr Poidevin,dont dumb down the scriptures after all evolutionary science supplements Adam and Eve even plagiarising the names: Y-chromosomal Adam (Y-MRCA) is the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) from whom all living people are descended patrilineally (tracing back only along the paternal lines of their family tree). All living humans are also descended matrilineally from Mitochondrial Eve

father john george | 26 October 2012  

I got the impression that in this article, Andrew, you were regretting the death of the effectiveness of the Christian myth of sin, salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation to assist both society and the Catholic Church to overcome several serious problems facing them, not just the paedophilia scandals of recent time. It is a fairly large theme and I think some people, reading the article, possibly could not see the wood for the trees. I personally found it an excellent article. The theme has occurred in the writings of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. Your article neither ignored nor overstated (if the latter is possible) the paedophilia crisis nor the steps necessary to overcome it. But, as you wrote, unless society has an overarching myth which enables it to see issues such as paedophilia as more than single issues which need to be dealt with just administratively and penally (although these are necessary) it may not be able to heal itself. Paedophilia (which exists both inside and outside discrete Churches) is one of many serious problems threatening the cohesiveness and longevity of our society. As a public servant I spent much of my working life attempting to assist people out of poverty into employment and some sort of worthwhile life. I am now convinced that our approach, however worthy, because it was based on purely economic assumptions, was not as effective as it could have been. Spirituality, genuine spirituality, is something this society desperately needs. I cannot think of any society in human history which has survived for very long without genuine spirituality. This has generally been exemplified by and in religion: Christianity; Buddhism; Islam etc. I commend your article. It was meant to make people think. I think some of its readers and commentators need to reread it and possibly reconsider their reaction.

Edward F | 26 October 2012  

"The untouched question is how a society without a strong mythical or religious imagination can engender the kinds of solidarity that a humane society needs." Come along, please! Andrew, you seem to be wistfully suggesting that we once enjoyed such a solidarity due to the presence of the Church. Perhaps you can identify this Golden Age?

janice wallace | 26 October 2012  

Maybe the reason there are so few sexual abuse cases in the 1990s to date is that it can take many many years before people speak up about something so personal and painful. For children often the memory is buried until many years later when it finally starts to surface and the now adult is better able to cope with the devastation. There are documented cases of women in their 60s - 80s who are finally at last able to speak about being abused as a child. May we please focus on the children and their welfare. May we please leave criminals and their behaviour to the courts. The only real forgiveness for a paedophile is from their victim anything else is a platitude. Maybe the church needs to study aberrant sexuality and how to help these criminals understand the lifelong burden and damage they inflict. Like all crime it is supreme selfishness. We all need true self reflection. As a society and a church, we need to put the needs of children first and quite clearly we aren't. To put all this into context, I think of my own children and my grandchildren - how would I feel were they abused?

mother hen | 26 October 2012  

So FATHER GEORGE, how can you explain the continuation of the lineage with only Cane and Abel?

AURELIUS | 26 October 2012  

May I further add for Mr Poidevin, re science's supplement to First Adam and Eve, a further clarification that science does not posit Eve as the first human but locates a necessary duality for reproduction and progeny. Thus in purely biogenetic terms: Y-chromosomal Adam (Y-MRCA) is the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) from whom all living people are descended patrilineally (tracing back only along the paternal lines of their family tree). I had already noted to Mr Poidevin, the notion that also, all living humans are descended matrilineally from Mitochondrial Eve.[Thus scientifically First Adam and Eve are well posited as prime analogates of Second Adam and Eve,other 'doctrinal elements' sustained nonetheless]

father john george | 26 October 2012  

Father John George. 25 Oct 2012 Mr Liddy the New testament makes references to Jesus as the 2ND ADAM thereby affirming a first Adam.!**************** When you say "The New Testament" I presume you mean Paul. Nowhere in the GOSPELS is Adam and his sin mentioned, as would be expcted if this was the reason Jesus came. Paul affirmed many things that were not true, such as an angel would arrive with a trumpet blast within the lifetime of some of his hearers, whereupon the dead would arise to be told their fate.

Robert Liddy | 26 October 2012  

Let's be clear, clergy sexual abuse is a disgrace in every possible way, but let's also be clear that the media's reporting of child sexual abuse is not honest and balanced. How often do they report about sexual abuse incidents perpetrated by defacto partners (statistically the highest offending group)... why aren't there devastating exposes about the terrible child abuse happening in suburban lounge rooms and bedrooms in our own streets. My point is not to lessen the seriousness of the clergy abuse issue, but to question the motives driving the ferocity of the investigation into Catholic cases. I would believe the media (and certain lobby groups) were genuinely about bringing justice to victims, if they were also highlighting the broader problem in our society.

Michael T. | 26 October 2012  

And yes Walter you are not alone: In 2005, four men in their late 40s and early 50s came forward to accuse Msgr. Ray Hebert, a highly respected Louisiana cleric, of raping and molesting them decades earlier at a Catholic home for troubled teens. One man claimed that the priest had brutally raped him more than 20 times. Up until the accusations, the priest’s 53-year ministry was without blemish. It was not until nearly five years after the original charges—and a tsunami of media coverage—that the accusers’ lawyers finally acknowledged in court that “Msgr. Ray Hebert did not molest their clients.” In truth, the veteran priest had barely spent any time in the group home with the boys. As the head of Associated Catholic Charities, his occasional visits to the home were merely administrative. Defenders of the accusers now claim that the charges were a case of “mistaken identity.”

father john george | 26 October 2012  

Michael, it's the capacity of the power behind the scenes to manipulate the status quo.
If it wasn't for the media, much of the goings on would never have come to light.
I recall Fr Michael Shadbolt some time ago had similiar sentiments, well recorded in an article by defender of the faith Margaret Joughin in 1995.
He has a different attitude today and to my knowledge, a better appreciation for the need of open discussion and the value of the media.

L Newington | 26 October 2012  

Aurelius asks me, whence descendants from Cain and Abel? One commentator suggests:
"Genesis 5:4 tells us that Adam and Eve 'begat sons and daughters.' Josephus, the Jewish historian, states that 'The number of Adam's children, as says the old tradition, was thirty-three sons and twenty-three daughters.' The point, of course, is that Adam and Eve did have many children.

Therefore, brothers must have married sisters at the beginning. Remember that the law against close intermarriage was not given until the time of Moses - e.g., 'none of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him' (Leviticus 18:6). There was nothing wrong with brother and sister marriages, originally. Notice that Abraham married his half sister with no condemnation from God, even though this was later forbidden."

father john george | 26 October 2012  

My interpretation of the original sin has very little to do with sex, and all to do with a lust for power on Adam and Eve's behalf. Lust ( for power ) and pride are one and the same, as far as I'm concerned.

Myra | 26 October 2012  

When I read Michael's comment I thought yes true sexual abuse happens is not confined to priests. There is another level that happens when its a priest, its deeply spiritual abuse as well. In my child's mind the priest was acting as Jesus, when he,said mass in some way his hands were Jesus hands, Gods hands. I thought that meant he's was sort of God. When I follow that through from my child's mind a priests rape is God raping the child and that makes it so much worse. The message
the child is you are worthless in Gods eyes too.

This is a tragedy for us all including the good priests who struggle to deal with the mess

john | 26 October 2012  

Perhaps it is time to reconsider Augustine's doctrine of Original Sin. We know now how deeply he had been influenced by the despair inherent in Manichaean dualism & most probably suffering from deep-seated sexual guilt complex all stemming from an over-attachment to his mother, (a mummy's boy?), good woman that she appears to have been.
Pelagius, the British theologian, seems to have had a far better understanding of how we are actually constructed, but was done over by some well-placed bribes to local mafiosi. Humanity's inherent gracefulness was too much to bear for the castrati.
Further, I cannot accept the idea of our church's general guilt as insinuated by writers at "The Age". Each transgression is individual and particular, not collective. One stands alone in judgement.
Further, such concentration on carnal peccadilloes seems to be the product of a materialist & highly sexualised society, but then what of the gravity of gross intellectual sin, the betrayal of our civilisation?
This is the core issue: what we are witnessing in the Anglosphere is a concerted attempt to destroy the institutions that our families, from the 1800s onwards, have laboured to erect as a safeguard against a rapacious state & malign ideologues.

Edward Reilly | 27 October 2012  

Andrew my energy is overwhelmed by this article and the responses of readers. Your concern about ‘guilt by association’ means you still do not understand the situation. Is it possible (as suggested by Frank Golding) that the Church culture is the fundamental cause behind this inability to understand how we (the innocent children of God) are affected? In your culture of sin, redemption and forgiveness that priests and bishops live by; is this a reason why they evade responsibility for the wrongdoing?

When you say that ‘criminals and associated groups are unlike us’ I think you need to take a second look! You say criminal activity happens in isolation which in turn incurs a culture of exclusion. Don’t you think that the Vatican culture is such that priests and bishops are exclusive and isolated from mainstream society? Until the Church officials can step outside their own culture and see the real problem with renewed vision and perception then they are doing the Catholics of the world an injustice that literally (to use your words) ‘takes away our fragile confidence.’

Trish Martin | 27 October 2012  

I am unsure if Andrew, as a consulting editor, sets his own headlines. If he did, he surely rues this one for the number of spin-off comments addressing the myth of original sin. 'Spin-off' because they are peripheral to the central point of Andrew's article.

Andrew's article primarily addresses the tendency of society to see the Church as corrupt and guilty because of the crimes of some of its priests. This is a valid matter to address, even though it is not the central concern arising from clerical abuse of children.

However, the thrust of Andrew's article, emphasising the need for a religious or mythical perception of humanity as inherently prone to crime/sin distracts the reader from the Church's own responsibility for society seeing it as corrupt.

The Church is responsible for this negative perspective in society, including many of the Church laity, because it has sought to cover up the crimes of its clerics, and protect them from facing prosecution in civil courts.

If abusing priests were defrocked and handed over to police for prosecution, society would not see the Church as corrupt and vicariously guilty of the crimes committed by some of its priests.

Ian Fraser | 28 October 2012  

Mr Frazer Archbishop Hart in no way opposes the mandatory reporting to police of alleged child abusers but recognises the right of victims to privacy.

father john george | 28 October 2012  

Thank you for your comments. I confess I am still struggling for understanding, and hence my writing on different aspects of a very complex reality. Public attitudes to wrongdoing in individuals and groups, as you insist, are not as immediately significant or central as are such issues as the harm done to victims and the need for accountability. But these attitudes will affect church responses to abuse.

Like you I believe the clericalist culture to be a contributing cause of abuse and its cover up. But a culture is a way of relating within a group, and it survives not only because of authoritarian and loveless behaviour among clergy but also because of obsequious attitudes, silence or avoidance among laity. That is not to say that lay people are responsible for clerical abuse. They aren't. But it does support my view that when looking from outside at any wrongdoers and groups to which they have thrived, it is neither accurate nor helpful to see ourselves as innocents. Whether we best account for this quality of ourselves through a theology of sin and redemption or in some other way does not concern me here.

I think you misunderstood my line about criminals etc being unlike us. I was not endorsing that judgment, but saying that it is a very common attitude in society, and reflects a weakness of the public imagination in our society.

Andy Hamilton | 28 October 2012  

Fr J.G, Denis Hart is subject to Canon Law: Ian Waters is the Judicial Vicar. Ex-army chaplain and past Vicar General Gerry Cudmore who stepped down from the position is subject to same. Tell me about it and I don't need the Confessional to back me up!

L Newington | 29 October 2012  

Lust and pride, one and the same or hubris , from ancient Greek , which means extreme pride or arrogance? Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power. In ancient Greek, hubris referred to actions that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser. The term had a strong sexual connotation, and the shame reflected on the perpetrator as well.Examples of hubris are often found in fiction, most famously in Paradise Lost, John Milton's depiction of the biblical Lucifer. Victor in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein manifests hubris in his attempt to become a great scientist by causing life through technological means, but eventually regrets this previous desire. Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus portrays the eponymous character as a scholar whose arrogance and pride compel him to sign a deal with the devil, and retain his haughtiness until his death and damnation, despite the fact that he could have easily repented had he chosen to do so.The downfall of the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has, among other things, been attributed to his hubris by the international media. The mix of over confidence, condescension and pride might have skewed his perception of the Italian economic predicament in 2011, which ultimately led to his ousting...

Bernstein | 29 October 2012  

Bernstein, your mention of the attributes of Mr Berlusconi, referred to as the "million dollar buffoon" brought to mind the fiasco of Italian politics whereby the Vatican was accused of plotting to bring down the government preferring Mr Berlusconi rather than Prodi, who dared to challenge ecclesiastical hierarchy. Let it be a warning to us, that the separation of church and state is imperative.

L Newington | 29 October 2012  

Mr Newingtom I have no idea what you are insinuating re people mentioned or confessional praxis allusion! At my age hard core gossip is beyond me

father john george | 29 October 2012  

Be it noted Mr Newington that US lay canonist and consultant to the Apostolic Signatura, Edward Peters, stated re Canon Law and mandatory reporting: "A bishop could always suspend a canonical proceeding if he felt there was any conflict with reporting a crime to the police."

father john george | 29 October 2012  

Thank you for your response Fr J.G. I agree, a bishop could always suspend canonical proceeding if he felt there was any conflict with reporting a crime to the police. The matter I referred to was already reported to the police, and was withdrawn due to fear of repurcussions. I was sworn to secrecy by the Juducial Vicar, but in conscience, released myself when I became party to a deception.

L Newington | 30 October 2012  

Mr Newington thanks for your comments, but having no access to all parties involved [let alone the painful details] I withhold judgement. These issues as you appreciate are an involved process beyond ES piecemeal posts-me being a simple priest and no notary or canonical judge.

father john george | 31 October 2012  

The claim that repentance is always possible (which I do not disagree with in theory) is at odds with the commonly experienced reality that child abusers are often serial offenders who show little remorse, empathy, or awareness of the shattering impact of their behaviour, which they do not see as criminal or evil. We assume that free will means that individuals make choices to commit such evil acts with full knowledge and full consent. Perhaps we need to reconsider this approach to understanding human behaviour even if we find the consequences of doing so seriously threatening.

John | 05 November 2012  

John! Just as you are calling for a more contemporary look at ethics and the vagaries of human behaviour[eg recidivists and worse the subclinical sociopath, while smooth, who leaves a trail of broken hearts and empty wallets with ensuing suicides. [The expert on socios= Dr Robert Hare of Colombia university-his book "Without Conscience"]
At the same time USA secular,Ethics Faculties are revisiting old confessional manuals of yore,impressed with their practical astuteness, in conscience conflicts,
thus:"The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning"[1990] (Paperback) with blurb:
"This is a thorough and challenging intellectual history of a form of ethical reasoning excoriated since the 17th century, only to emerge in the 20th as a principal method of analyzing contemporary ethical problems."
John old manuals demanded, ,full knowledge and full consent, etc but the old probabilist school of casuistry, could withhold absolution from recidivists till practical moral certitude of repentance.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, are incapable of perfect contrition[except by special grace],not essential in confession, but in confession,socios can be saved by SINCERE imperfect contrition eg fear of eternal hellfire!!
Re paedophilia recidivism[moral responsibility begins primarily in avoiding proximate occasions eg playgrounds well before it is too late[some recidivists, like alcoholics, can elicit perfect contrition and can be greatly assisted by therapy].

father john george | 05 November 2012  

Thank you, Tony. Throughout my long life, I've never managed to understand why God would intend that people can be born tainted by original sin. It's a cruel contrivance by church hierarchs that, in my experience, has ruined lives.

Dominic Nagle | 13 November 2012  

Dominic Nagle, not sure which Bible Version you read ['H.Lector Rev. Vers'?], let alone magisterium douments, but God never intended Original sin and its collateral, anymore than He planned Ivan Milat's serial murders[ and ensuing multiple graves at Belangelo Forest NSW]-such horrors are the result of man's decision, not God!!

father john george | 14 November 2012  

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