Vatican II, the sexual revolution and clergy sexual misconduct



In light of the proposed Catholic Synod in 2020, there is an issue that, if not included, may prove to be a fatal flaw for the current church hierarchy.

Vatican IIAs distasteful as it may be, having now been dragged through the public square of the royal commission, unless the Synod faces up to another plank in the Church's own eye, that of clergy sexual activity and misconduct involving adults, its hopes may well be dashed before they are even discussed.

Such sexual activity may be perceived in many ways. While it may be seen as a deeply human and spiritual expression of love between a celibate and an understanding other, it has also been described and experienced as 'mistakes' or 'experiments' on the journey to celibacy; the repercussions of mandatory celibacy; professional sexual misconduct; sexual/indecent assault; or simply spiritual and power abuse.

Regardless of how it is perceived, sexual activity between clergy and adults happens, and must be addressed. Not only does it happen, but research has shown 'clerics are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct with adults than minors'.

One reason Catholics found the reality of child sexual abuse a difficult pill to swallow was that for decades its reality was kept secret to avoid scandal. Canonical prohibitions, cover-ups, media boycott threats, and even inter-cleric blackmail ensured the public never heard of clergy sexual activity in any form.

Even if there were suspicions, few had the language with which to name and discuss, as Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea describes in her 2004 paper Psychosocial Anatomy of the Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal, 'priests raping nuns, priests living with paramours, priests masturbating regularly, priests dying of AIDS, priests sodomising children, priests soothing their loneliness in the arms of beloved women or men'.

Furthermore, such discussion was taboo. But then came the sexual revolution and Vatican II, not to mention a less 'frightened' media.

In 1992, psychologist to clergy, Sheila Murphy, wrote a little known book titled A Delicate Dance: Sexuality, Celibacy and Relationships Among Catholic Clergy and Religious. The introduction was written by Donald Goergen of The Sexual Celibate fame.


"The sexual revolution and Vatican II was a release from 'parental control' resulting, for many, in the sudden emergence of full-blown psychological adolescence with all its risk taking, uninhibited experimentation and lack of a fully developed sense of responsibility."


One of the conclusions Murphy reached from the stories of her 236 female and 97 male clergy/religious participants was that the sexual revolution of the 60s, along with the 'window opening' of Vatican II, played a part in an increase of clergy sexual activity with adults, resulting in spikes of such activity in the 70s and 80s.

The sexual revolution and Vatican II was a release from 'parental control' resulting, for many, in the sudden emergence of full-blown psychological adolescence with all its risk taking, uninhibited experimentation and lack of a fully developed sense of responsibility. As a result, of those who did not leave the clerical life, many without developed internalised scaffolding either slid into such adolescent liberalism or, collapsing under new adult demands of freedom, retreated into reactionary conservatism. Others grew up and adopted new ways of being 'celibate'. Clergy sexual misconduct is found in all three groups. Furthermore, most victims of this misconduct are still living today, but remain unacknowledged; and most have never spoken up about their experiences.

Every graph portraying clergy sexual abuse of children shows a spike in the 70s and 80s. This spike is to be expected given time spans of research, the age of victims, and the new openness towards reporting. My own study of clergy adult abuse, however, showed the same spiking.

While much more research is needed, and while acknowledging the reality of severe under-reporting, I suspect that the spike in my study is related to the sexual revolution and Vatican II reforms, as Murphy suggests. To simply dismiss this possibility out of fear of being perceived as conservative or lacking in compassion militates against a possible fuller understanding of this whole issue.

One cannot simply ignore the reality that in this period, society, including the Church, underwent a sexual 'diaspora' from centuries of centralist control and policing. A severe pendulum-swing away from previous restrictions could only be expected and many clergy fully participated in that swing. But what did we swing into?

According to the gospel of sexual revolutionaries, writes Murphy, 'freedom from sexual hang-ups was the answer to all society's ills ... good sex would lead to instant intimacy; good sex would alleviate loneliness; good sex would eliminate interpersonal tensions'. How could this new social psychology, supported by such secular saints of sexual liberty as Kinsey, Masters and Johnston, and Hite, not be attractive to many clergy who had lived under the repressions of Victorian and Vatican sexuality?

The issue is that even though the revolution was needed, many forever-adolescent clergy at the time fell also into the outstretched arms of the emotional promises of sexual promiscuity, laced strongly with sexualised spirituality, or spiritualised sexuality, propelled by a 'love and then do as you please' mantra, because, after all, 'God is love'. Sadly, according to victims/survivors of clergy sexual misconduct, this new unintegrated liberal mantra too often also became the major 'pickup' line that many a misconducting cleric used for grooming, or as a way of justifying their experimenting.

What the Church and almost everyone has up to this point ignored is that for every sexually active cleric there was and is another person involved. These real women and men have been, too often, cast aside as collateral damage; as 'mistakes' or 'experiments' of clergy on their journey to, or indeed, rejection of celibacy; their versions of what occurred rarely, if ever, validated or included in the discussion.

Now that the bishops have been forced by royal commissions and media exposure to deal with the reality of clergy child abuse, they can not ignore that of adult abuse. Unless the Church — its hierarchy, clergy and religious, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, and what's left of the laity — spends some effort now to remove the plank from its own collective eye, any attempt of the 2020 synod 'to stop the drift, revive hope and set a vision' is going to be ignored.


Stephen de Weger headshotStephen de Weger is a PhD candidate at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane Australia. His research will be an exploration of the underlying beliefs that influence, the lack of reporting, and, the responses of the Church to victims who do report. He is hoping to include the insights of both victims/survivors, and of the broader clergy.

Topic tags: Stephen de Weger, clergy sex abuse



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This is an excellent contribution to the fight for the protection of minors. The Royal Commission is a world leader in this combat. Would that the Vatican and USA listen and learn. de Weger is a reliable voice to deliver the message.

A.W. RICHARD SIPE | 08 June 2017  

We should be grateful that humanity has to face that today its conduct is always discoverable which was not possible in the past. Whatever profession or activity man/woman chooses, we must summon enough love to understand how to deal with any adversity arising from it. This from a repentant sinner!

Tony Knight | 08 June 2017  

The thesis of the sexual revolution contributing significantly to clerical sexual experimenting may well be seen in the future to have been a contributing factor towards the spike evident in the seventies and eighties -however only time will truly tell since the lag time for victims to come foward of twenty or thirty years may well be the main contributor to this spike -since those adults abused in the nineties and naughties are mostly yet to come forward. As for thousands of lay adults being collateral damage to the permanently harmful sexual experimenting of those clerics absorbed in themselves, as indeed the article intimates in its adolescent analogy (and this may be being unkind to many adolescents!), I can only say yes, collateral damage that needs to be recognised, given full weight and recognition by church heirarchy (who are probably often in the least position to do so) and recompense made for lifetime negative consequences, without further ongoing legal battles. A timely article of the utmost importance.

Jennifer Herrick | 08 June 2017  

I suppose, before the Second Vatican Council, which, to some extent, coincided with the Sexual Revolution, priests were supposed to be 'eunuchs for Christ's sake', at least in the Latin (Western) Rite. The far wiser Eastern Rite - with some 'Romanised' exceptions as in South India - allows secular (non-monastic) clergy to marry. It is high time this was allowed in the Latin Rite. Seminaries previously often tried to keep their students in a state of perpetual pre-adolescence. Despite this, some priests, like the thoroughly admirable Bob Maguire, managed to mature psychologically, remain celibate and live and work effectively in the real world. Many others, sadly, did not. Brothers and nuns ('religious') suffered just as badly. Much more is known in the Church about psychology today than was in the 1960s. Many clergy - not just in the Catholic Church - are immature in one way or other and unable to live up to their (realistic) responsibilities. Besides priests having relations with adults, there is also a real (also unmentioned) problem of parishioners becoming obsessed with and hitting on clergy. Many Anglican clerical wives despair of women who do this. There is much need for psychological spring cleaning in regard to priest/parishioner sexuality in all Churches.

Edward Fido | 08 June 2017  

Thank you Stephen for these wise words.

Lorraine Murphy | 08 June 2017  

The basis of Stephen's thesis on priestly celibacy seems to lie in a socio-cultural determinism. It does not account for the many priests who remain celibate, the numerous instances of abuse committed by those who are not vowed celibates, and the free choices exercised by individuals. This said, the psycho-sexual maturity of candidates for the priesthood is a very important matter.

John | 08 June 2017  

I loved Pope John XXIII. I rejoiced when he called Vatican 2. I embraced the breadth, the depth and the sublimeness of the Council documents, none more than the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. (Approved on 7 December 1965 by a vote of 2309 t0 75). In 2007 I read Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church with a mixture of trepidation and hope. Trepidation because I couldn't envisage most of his careerist fellow Australian Bishops approving of it, much less the Curia. Hope because an Australian bishop had the courage in the spirit of Vatican to expose clerical sex in the catholic church. Within a year (May 2008) the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference sweepingly condemned the book. In the light of Bishop Robinson's experience I'm not so sure the planks in the eyes of the Australian hierarchy can be removed by the evidence of a Royal Commission before the 2020 Synod. One can but pray "Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth and your pilgrim church.",

Uncle Pat | 08 June 2017  

Vatican II almost certainly contributed to the problem of sexual profligacy when it did not promulgate any changes, expected and hoped for by many, in the position on celibacy. Many priests flew away through the widely opened doors intended to "let in the light". It would be interesting, Stephen, to know the incidence of marriage (sacramental or de facto) in those priests who left in the "great exodus". I suspect the figure would be high. Perhaps some of those who stayed on did so because they could not see a way for themselves outside the clerical life and were seduced by the all-pervading sexual revolution. The spikes in adult abuse by clergy you mention coincide precisely with the peak incidence of child abuse revealed by Justice Murphy's Irish Inquiry into child sexual abuse which suggests that the problem was almost certainly a general one in keeping with society at large. Perhaps the Church is but another victim of a societal change that pervades modern humanity and also of some aspects of Vatican II. Western Society and its philosophical underwriter, Christianity, have both been damaged by the "liberation" offered by both events.

john frawley | 08 June 2017  

Edward, your coment on "parishioners .... hitting on clergy" not only is inadvertently offensive to the thousands targeted by clergy, but even then, given the supposed "reality" of your suggestion, one must encourage a proper consideration of the psychological dynamics involved here according to relevant literature on power structures whereby power encites adorations, supposedly read as to use your words "obsessed". Just what is the source of the obsession? May it not, if it occurs, be the self promoted self aggrandisement of male clerics overagainst the diminution of female lay parishioners. As to the dismay of male anglican cleric wives, one needs to ask first in which dioceses this supposedly occurs and thus whether these dioceses permit female ordination? Anglican Wives of male clerics in dioceses that do not recognise female ordination are necessarily embroiled in their own, by default, power dynamics, by choice or otherwise. But this article is not about such matters so why bring it in? A red herring perhaps?

Jennifer Herrick | 08 June 2017  

Stephen your article challenges the bishops to take action, but I'm not sure they know how. To change the way things are in the Church they need to teach personal responsibility rather than corporate conformity. Hans Zollner is working on the psycho/sexual development for seminarians, which is much needed. Celibacy should be chosen, not imposed because emotional needs are more powerful than the rational brain, if they are ignored they become sticky feelings that eventually bully a person into action. And then there are those who just want it all like the cardinal in Colleen McColough's book and movie The Thorn Birds.

Trish Martin | 08 June 2017  

Ah yes. Many of us lived through the "sex is good" age, and learned that sex, like fire, when out of control can result in much damage. A married priesthood with optional celibacy, if we get it, will be the start of real maturing, with the equal sexual relations which are at present impossible while priests keep partners out of sight in the small spaces that remain after they meet other priorities. My heart sank when the Archbishop of Brisbane explained that he never asked whether priests were sexually active; such a duplication of the situation we saw with abused children. An excellent article Stephen. Thankyou.

Anna Summerfield | 08 June 2017  

I regret to say I cannot join the applause for Stephen's contribution. There is a fatal conflation what is considered normal sexual behavior - falling in love and developing a relationship - with something that is criminal and pathological - the sexual abuse of minors. They are different matters. For reasons Stephen gives, the reporting of the latter only really started to be done relatively recently. But I know for sure and certain it happened and was acted on 70 and 80 years ago. I know that from victims who've told me their stories and from what I know of the actions of Jesuit superiors in the 1930s, '40s, '50s and '60s. The assertions about adult misbehavior also neglects a basic fact which I have known for 50 years, 47 of them in the Jesuits. Many of those who ambitiously committed to a chaste and celibate life should never have and did so for unsustainable reasons like parental or peer pressure for example. That falling in love helped them to grow up should be seen as something positive. Something more about cultural and ecclesial context would enhance your argument, Stephen.

NMichael Kellyame | 08 June 2017  

A brief comment. Firstly, I think there is merit in the linking of Vat II and the sexual revolution with adult (and child) sexual abuse. However, I think it is only part of the problem. As someone abused in the 1990s by a cleric of another denomination it is important to realise adult abuse occurs in all denominations. During my "journey" of recovery I met many other adults abused in the 90s. Also, if the recent US research which claims that nearly half of Catholic priests are in relationship at any given time is also true in Australia (and Mark Coleridge ducked that one), then there is a major problem which goes way beyond Vatican II and the sexual revolution. I can attest to the extremity of the damage and the frustration of knowing that few take it seriously, and people like Edward find it easier to blame the women (note he only mentions women). Some basic reading on clerical power would open eyes to the main cause.

Vivien | 08 June 2017  

Edward Fido makes an interesting remark on physical maturity of Catholic would anyone know the full extent of the extra-curricular habits with parishioners turning a blind eye on "poor father" and they're only human mentality having the benefit of both worlds as Bishop Robinson stated some years ago.

Lynne Newington | 08 June 2017  

Celibacy is a charism, a gift from God. Making it "mandatory" is a contradiction of this. Removing the celibacy rule for priests would reduce instances of abuse of adults, many instances of which would likely be affairs with parishioners. (It would have been useful if Stephen had named the types of adult abuse). Not only that, but if celibacy was to be no longer mandatory, many more would be attracted to the priesthood if they knew that marriage was still an option after ordination. In what other profession are applicants asked very personal questions about their sex life, as candidates for the seminaries are? If law, medical, Social Work, Physiotherapy or nursing students were to be asked at entry interviews about their sex life, there would be real trouble. The whole celibacy thing really distorts and warps the whole process of training for the priesthood. And why should seminarians live in seminaries anyway? Why not live in the community and attend theological college, as protestant trainee ministers do? After all, Pope Pius XII lived at home during his training. Celibacy should be only for those entering monastic life.

Bruce Stafford | 08 June 2017  

Having lived in a religious order during this time when policies and practices were being updated, previously sexless religious, particularly in co-Ed schools experienced exciting encounters on the periphery of mainstream society. "Grooming" is a word that does not come to mind from those days because it suggests manipulation and while this might have true of paedophiles (even back in the 19th century) it does not describe the mixing with female staff and students which provided a wide range of new feelings and experiences; there was freedom to love or not to love as in normal adult relationships. As for Stephen's writings, evidence rather than conjecture will be needed as to the state of mind of priests and religious back nearly 50 years. There might have been a spike of abuse from that period but, looking at the ages of offenders on Broken Rites suggests an analysis of causes would be very difficult too determine; the spike would statistically be greater because of the greater numbers of priests and religious at that time following the high point of the church militant in western countries. In the 1980s, the numbers started to decline.

Graeme | 08 June 2017  

Good points, Tony. I believe true repentance, like proper and real love, begins with the desire to ‘remove the plank from our own eye’, and then actually doing it. Vat II certainly had an element of ‘removing the plank’ to it. And Uncle Pat, I also still believe that what John XIII started was a desire to shift the emphasis from “thou shalt not”, to Jesus new commandment, “love the Lord you God….and your neighbour as yourself”. The thing is, I don’t think most people know what this ‘love’ means. As one of my favourite thinkers, Erich Fromm, said, love is an art that needs to be learned (see ). But for most, ‘love is a feeling we look for and try to keep alive. And this basically adolescent perception of ‘love’ is what I believe lies at the heart of not just the church’s problems, especially when it comes to clergy sexual activity, but of society’s as well. See, I do believe that if God is anything, God is Love, and as mature adult love dies or remains an enigma for most, then so does God. Fromm begins his book “The Art of Loving” (1956) with the following: “IS LOVE an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Or is love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one "falls into" if one is lucky? This little book is based on the former premise, while undoubtedly the majority of people today believe in the latter”. And Fromm wrote this before the sexual revolution which gave rise to a furthering of the latter but with the added opiate of sex. Did Vatican II understand this? Its teaching certainly called for Catholics to grow up, and centre their living, like Christ, on ‘love’. How well have we done, do you think? Who have we listened to more? Is our understanding of love based on Kinsey or Fromm? Are we and our clerics, Bishops included, experimenting adolescents or integrated adults? (and yes, apologies to adolescents, many today are more adults than their elders).

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

Thank you, Richard, for your vote of confidence and while my study is about adults, the reference to ‘minors’ is not inaccurate as a metaphor, given the way that victims/survivors of adult abuse are perceived, ignored and treated. It’s interesting that the Royal Commission, like the John Jay Report, (2004: 258), which were both concerned about child abuse, were constantly reminded of incidences of clergy sexual misconduct with adults, one of your own studies included in that summary.

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

Spot on Trish – you get it. And yes, a great deal of clergy sexual activity with adults is about clergy having their cake, and what a cake it is – every need catered for, no personal responsibility for partner and children, not mortgage to pay, almost unlimited legal and financial support if you want to/need to fight allegations of abuse and/or cover up - having that cake and eating it, too.

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

@John 08 June 2017. You’re right John, my thesis isn’t about these other things, because, it ISN’T about these other things. As well, and here is where Erich Fromm would be of great help, all of life, religion and Catholicism included, (including your own), is socio-culturally determined and will continue to be so until we become aware and conscious adults, women and men who become conscious of and conversant with this socio-culturally determined reality in their/our lives. This requires and is, indeed very deep, and constant plank removal, before discussing what ‘the Jones’ are up to. How does one achieve this? Willingness to do so is the start, as is the acknowledgment that, yes, we are products of our upbringing, but also that we do not have to be adolescent conservative/liberal reactors to it, only. We need, through existential angst, to be made (by God or life) to realise that the merely pleasurable and ethical modes of being (see Kierkegaard) are not end modes of humanity, but that we are capable of even further leaps into more aware, honest existence, the kind that I suspect Tony Knight above knows about, and that, perhaps, we are collectively being made to do in this day and age. My article here, is a calling to the bishops of the church, those organising the 2020 synod, to be this, to be adults in regard to how they treat the reality of sexually abused adults and children, and what these women and men have had to and continue to endure because of these bishops’/leaders’, inability, or disinclination to be ADULT ‘Lovers’, like Christ, and not just wordsmith ones. Or is it all just basic fear?

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

@ john frawley 08 June 2017. I was worried when I chose to discuss the ‘spike’. I just want to make it clear that I do not think that this spike was ONLY because of the sexual revolution and Vatican II, but that these contributed, perhaps greatly, to that spike, and that this is just a common-sense appraisal of this part of history. When it comes to reporting of clergy sexual misconduct involving adults, the general sense is that most victims/survivors/other adults deeply fear being targeted by others who hold similar beliefs that Edward mentions, but not just these: In general, the Church (as in those who deal with such matters) still believe (if you scratch the surface) that it was the other adult who instigated the sexual activity. As such, these adults (thanks in no small part to some of John’s socio-cultural determinism), believe that they are bad, sinners and to blame for everything that happened, not even consciously considering the reality that the cleric had the responsibility to never let the sexual activity occur. So, when we have as many victims/survivors as possible reporting clergy sexual misconduct, then we may not at all have a spike but a plateau for some time, and until, a plateau that will continue until the Church does something about its celibates who aren’t. Secondly, I completely acknowledge that all clergy sexual abuse is not a recent phenomenon at all – the Church has it’s its own centuries of records that confirm this. However, did that activity increase as a result of the unfettering of sex and sexuality in the 60s and the loosening of blind obedience of Vatican II? Seriously, doesn’t common sense say this is a possibility. I suppose my mind even changed on this when I read Richard Wagner’s Master thesis, (Wagner 1981), entitled “Gay Catholic Priests; A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance” which revealed very high levels of sexual activity. Also, I had a priest friend say to me once that he felt he was missing out on something because every priest he knew had a ‘special’ relationship so he was going to have one as well. Now, if there are also clergy among these sexually active priests that are attracted to children/adolescents, why would they not want to ‘have their cake and eat it too’ as well. Result – a spike.

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

@ Graeme 08 June 2017 "the spike would statistically be greater because of the greater numbers of priests and religious at that time". Good point, and this would also then account for the greater numbers in victims. My 'conjecture' is based on what has been revealed through research into the experiences of adults who were targeted by abusive clergy. As for evidence, here is a little ‘evidence’ albeit American-based: One very early study (Bier, 1948), 924 Catholic, unmarried students, including seminarians, were divided into five groups based on areas or modes of study: medical, law, dental, seminary and college students. Bier concluded that “seminarians varied greatly from the average male in that they answered questions on a personality test the way women answer them” (Podles, 2008, 93). Indeed, he commented that "The seminary group proved to be the most deviant portion of an already deviant population" (Bier 1948, ). However, in his summary, he qualifies his findings by stating: This divergence may not be bad; seminarians may be showing up high on empathy, a feminine characteristic; but seminarians will still feel themselves (and be felt to be) different from most men and will therefore have an insecure sense of masculine identity (from Podles 2008, 534). Podles then discusses another psychological personality test administered two decades later (1965) by psychologist Charles A. Weisgerber. Weisgerber’s conclusion was disturbing in that he found that “a sizeable proportion of the seminarians have at least a tendency in common with the psychopathic deviate” Podles 2008, 297, 93). At around the same time another study (Coville, D’Arcy, McCarthy, & Rooney, 1968, p. 28) came to parallel conclusions: Around 70% of seminarians were considered “psychosexually immature exhibiting traits of heterosexual retardation, confusion concerning sexual role, fear of sexuality, effeminacy and potentially homosexual dispositions”, while 8% were classified as “sexually deviant” (see Podles 2008, 93, 534). It needs to be remembered here that seminary training lasting seven years, at this time in history and involved men whose average age was around twenty. Also, perceptions of deviance and gendered behaviours have obviously changed significantly from these earlier studies. Even though these studies were of U.S. seminarians, the Australian church culture would have been similar given the general centrality of seminary training emanating from the Vatican. However, what especially needs to be remembered is that those joining religious life at this time, (1940s to 1990s), were/are the historical group of clergy involved in the clergy sexual misconduct against adults that this study is investigating, assuming not all were asked to leave the seminary as a result of the psychology tests.

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

STEPHEN, I greatly enjoy your writings on this matter. I am also a bugger for courting controversy, the tool through which I hope to learn. Could I respectfully suggest that the studies you quote in reply to Graeme are all flawed in that they do not appear to have had a control group measured against the study cohort. Also the endpoints are immeasurable and are simply those impressions formed in the mind of a particular psychologist/researcher and cannot be easily separated from bias. Unmeasurables can always be used to "prove" an already formed opinion. The separation of seminarians from medical legal, dental and general students (all young and immature) may reflect nothing other than the ideal they follow (all young people are idealists, as yet unsophisticated by adult experiences). For a Catholic seminarian the ideal is clearly very different from all the other student groups in that sexuality and celibacy are a major part of their professional ideal vision. The correct study might be the comparison between Catholic and non-Catholic seminarians for whom the issue of sexuality does not have the same implications for future ministry. Psychology is perhaps but another man-created abstraction and as such has no genuinely measurable parameters to validate its research.

john frawley | 09 June 2017  

I still fail to see the difference between clerical sexual misconduct and that of any other consenting adult engaging in what I see as "playing games" or "behaving badly". I'm not convinced lay people see clerics holding power and influence over them as may have been the case 10 or more years ago. And I'm guessing if clergy do succumb to their sexual impulses and break their vows, social media allows them to do this "NSA" (social media jargon for "no strings attached") or "anon". I think to the phenomenon of being burned and scarred by sexual/emotional "players" is universal and not unique to those pretending to be celibate.

AURELIUS | 09 June 2017  

And furthermore, I think this concentration on changing celibacy actually increases CLERICALISM - because it's not an issue for 99% of God's people, and I doubt abolishing celibacy for priests/religious will result in a rush of vocations, or stop infidelity. (Married people face the same temptations to stray)

AURELIUS | 09 June 2017  

@ john frawley 09 June 2017 . You might be right John but I am assuming that Leon Podles from where I first found these references, would maybe not use them unless he thought they were 'accurate', given his own background. I could not finds Bier's original report but I found the other two and they looked alright. hat you have picked up on is that these weren't so much research studies but psychological reports.Thing is there are still many more recent studies which seem to confirm the general consensus from these earlier studies. I did find their wording very harsh and even cruel but that was the language and thinking of the time. Perhaps a look at Gerardine Robinson's and Richard Sipe's work might have been better but I wanted to use material closer to the time., and there is very little.

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

Aurelius, and everyone, please understand that the thrust of my research is not an attack on any individual clergy: It is research which seeks to give a voice to those who are almost always ignored and greatly misunderstood, those women and men who are targeted by unscrupulous and even 'nice' clergy. And the fact that they are clergy does make a very big difference. If you can't see that yet, that's fine. Hopefully some of the adults who have been targeted could explain. In short, people go to clergy for help ad some of those clergy sexually assault them. However, the Church will not openly acknowledge this, and, victims/survivors are still too afraid to report, just like their abused-as-children counterparts not too long ago, and for all the same reasons. We believe them, now, don't we, or is all just lip service? This combination of topics is the focus of my study and the challenge of this article. Do we simply not care about these adults? Always, the talk seems to go back to the clergy WHY?

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

I just realised that I, too have succumbed to talking about clergy, and their issues. So, here are a few sections from my participants: Let's focus about them instead. Tanya, who was 19 at the time the CSMIA began, had more reason than most to feel utterly confused by the cleric’s sexual and definitional intervention. She had experienced frequent and serious sexual abuse in her childhood and youth. Understandably then she explains: "I was extremely confused. The priest was telling me this was “love” and said I was “beautiful”. I felt wonderful while he was there, because his definition of what was happening was dominant. But afterwards I felt awful, sinful, depressed, seriously bad and often suicidal" In this young woman's case, previous sexual abuse as a child and the confusion resulting, allowed for an easier manipulation by the cleric. According to French et al. (2014, 1124-1125), this relationship between childhood sexual abuse and the possibility of being “less likely to ward off unwanted advances”, and, being “easier targets for manipulation” into sexual assault, is all too real. "He didn’t tell me God wanted us to have sex. He made out that it was between God and me and that I was to detach from him and just look at God [during the sex]. He spiritualized the whole thing. He even said that when he offered Mass he would have me on the paton as he celebrated". This is what I am talking about. And there is (sadly), a great deal more from where that came.

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

Aurelius, it is the professional spiritual authority held over against those who traditionally have been taught to defer to this authority that allows the wielding of such inherent power and thus invalidates consent. This is known as positional abuse and as such is far graver than "playing games" or "behaving badly". It causes longterm harm and is an issue only just coming to light largely through the work of articles such as this and the victim/survivors now gradually speaking out or who have come forward to reveal the personal damage wrought. If priests no longer are seen to be authoritative in any way, as you suggest may be occurring, then this will by default remove their power. But is this really the case? Time will tell.

Jennifer Herrick | 09 June 2017  

As for church about this one from a man sexually assaulted by a priest found in the study by Kathryn Byrne. "When I reported my abuse to the Archdiocese of [city], they told me I should have known better…I was an adult. When I asked the official of the Archdiocese if it were possible for an adult to be abused, he answered, not in your case…our priest told us that it was consensual. When I asked him if the police report from the [city] police department would convince him, he said, probably not. When I asked him if the former brother, now a priest, would be removed, he answered, no…we’re getting him help, we don’t remove priests when the sex is consensual. When I reminded him that I was asleep when the priest climbed into the bed with me, he told me it was his opinion that I gave him some indication that I wanted it (see Byrne 2010, 44)". These men and women are what this article and my study are about.

Stephen de Weger | 09 June 2017  

After four years of intense involvement in following the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse and having attended more days than not, of evidence, I feel very qualified as to what NEEDS to be done and it isn't regurgitating episodes of testimonies, or people with an interest in psychology writing about WHY this happened. The future is about charging all those responsible for having committed the crime of paedophilia and those in charge of the Institution's who covered it up. LET'S GET TO WORK

pat Garnet | 09 June 2017  

With respect, Stephen, I don't see how the factors i have identified can be disregarded in any thorough, constructive and comprehensive investigation of priestly celibacy.

John | 09 June 2017  

Thanks Stephen for those studies which,while not randomised studies or perhaps validated because of the early nature of psychometrics, rings true to me from lived experience in 10 communities. In the 1960s, fellow novices had entered the juniorate as 12 year olds and received (along with ordinary boarders) only a rudimentary sexual education, particularly in preparation for a life of chastity (celibacy): not to have any "commotion" of the ... The imperative was to secure numbers as new schools and new parishes were opened. Screening of religious and seminarians in the archdiocese was reported to be perfunctory (if you are interested, feel free to email me re some of the history of the testers) until several personnel completed the Rulla course in Rome in the late 1970s and applicants were systematically tested. It would be interested to know whether relevant data has survived in the archdiocesan archives. A point of comparison with earlier centuries is. "Montaillou" an investigation of a 14th Cathar Village by French historians based on the records of the Inquisition. Good luck for further research.

Graeme | 09 June 2017  

In Christian theology, the world, the flesh, and the devil are often traditionally described as the three Enemy of the soul. As the sources of temptation, they are sometimes opposed to the Trinity. The roots of this triad are possibly to be found in Jesus' parable of the Sower: the three scenes of unproductive soil represent "Satan" (birds eating the seed), shallow and unreceptive believers (corresponding to weak "flesh"?), and "the cares of the world and the lure of wealth" (Gospel of Mark 4:15–17). These three are also present as a triad in the Letter to the Ephesians chapter 2, verses 1–3: "You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses..."

AO | 10 June 2017  

...How to rise above and move on? To plead for God's Grace is a very good start. A simple reminder : Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall, and, with fear and trembling work out their salvation, in labours, in watchings, in almsdeeds, in prayers and oblations, in fastings and chastity: for, knowing that they are born again unto a hope of glory, but not as yet unto glory, they ought to fear for the combat which yet remains with the flesh, with the world, with the devil, wherein they cannot be victorious, unless they be with God's grace, obedient to the Apostle, who says; We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die; but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. Source: The Council of Trent sixth session, degree on justification.

AO | 10 June 2017  

@NMichael Kellyame08 June 2017. Don’t regret it, Michael…I applaud your challenging. You say “There is a fatal conflation of what is considered normal sexual behaviour - falling in love and developing a relationship - with something that is criminal and pathological - the sexual abuse of minors.” Michael, I would have no argument with this comment had you been talking about anyone other than supposedly celibate clergy, professional men whose job it is to be examples of and promoters of the standards of fidelity that their church that ordains and sustains them, teaches all must follow or aspire to. Secondly, my research isn’t just about men falling in love with women (or other men), it is about men in powerful professional positions, abusing their power. This, to me, is criminal and should be seen as such and is starting to be officially seen as such with laws slowly coming into place (in the USA at least). Am I conflating ‘normal sexual behaviour with sexual abuse of minors’, no, but I am conflating clergy sexual misconduct with adults as abusive, both, that which begins with grooming, but also, the opportunistic forms, as well as the ‘experimenting’ and ‘mistakes’ on the journey to celibacy which, as you rightly point out, often stem from deep immaturity on behalf of the cleric. However, such behaviour can also stem from sexual pathology, including often a clergy’s own sexual abuse, childhood-parent issues, misogyny and even internalised self-focussed homophobia and there have been enough studies on this to support me, which I am happy to provide. But to say that such men have some sort of right to use unsuspecting women and men in order explore their sexuality on their journey to celibacy, is a little repulsive to me, even if such relationships were ones of ‘love’. I suspect you do not mean it this way, yourself, but this is indeed what many of my participants tell of - see, I am seeing it from their side, not the cleric’s, as much as I would love to include these, but they won’t talk to me and as for statistics, the Church won’t give them, or don’t have them. Getting back to your central point, are you suggesting then, that it is OK for clergy to have “normal sexual behaviour” and remain ‘celibate’ clergy? I see your point about “falling in love help(ing) them to grow up (and that this) should be seen as something positive”, I really do, but again, what I am trying so much to get across in this article, based on my and others’ studies, is, what becomes of the ‘other adult’, and, sometimes, the children from such ‘relationships’? Do we ever hear their side of these ‘fallings in love’? This is not just about clergy, or their/your “cultural and ecclesial context” and sadly, ‘clergy’ just don’t seem to be able to get this. My own small study had 23 women and 6 men who WERE victimised by clergy. That’s what this is about. My study is another form of ‘cultural and ecclesial context’. Thing is, my cultural and ecclesial context starts with these other adults, lay people, seminarians, nuns, not the priesthood as is always the case.

Stephen de Weger | 10 June 2017  

@ pat Garnet 09 June 2017 . Too right, Pat. Now what about the abuse of adults which is what this article and my study is about.? How do you suggest that be dealt with? First, the issue has to be revealed to show that it actually exists, and, like the Royal Commission did, this is best done by first providing the actual stories of what people have gone through. Then, like the Royal Commission, a great deal more can be achieved through research relating to these real flesh and blood stories. Then we can perhaps work out what to do. Hence this article and my study (Not sue if you were say I was just "regurgitating episodes of testimonies, or as being someone with an interest in psychology writing about WHY this happened).

Stephen de Weger | 10 June 2017  

Statistics can be misleading. With the sexual revolution came the freedom for people to begin to talk about their experiences. Burdens of shame made it very difficult for people of earlier generations to report what had happened to them. For example, pregnancy outside ( or inside) of marriage precipitated responses of secrecy. Vatican II perhaps participated in the process of illumination of what was already happening in the church and society.

Kerry Holland | 10 June 2017  

@ Vivien 08 June 2017 . Thank you for telling us a little about your 'journey to recovery'. I've now heard/read around 100 stories from victims/survivors of clergy sexual misconduct against adults. It's only when you hear the often very disturbing details of these events that you can fully appreciate what it is I am, and no doubt, people such as yourself are trying to get others to understand. Yes, some of my participants also revealed sexual assaults by clergy from other denominations but it’s usually the same MO happening - women and men targeted, groomed, trapped and bamboozled and confused by proclamations of love, explanations of spirituality and divine approval of their sexual relationship, sometimes promises (or more accurately, hints, of the possibility of marriage “when the time is right” (it never is), and then they finish and go back to their religious life, never having to live in full responsibility for their actions or those with whom they become involved. Such a perfect lifestyle. Look, I'm not condemning these men, indeed I know many of them and I understand their struggles, I'm just trying to highlight the realities of the OTHER adults, those who are never given a voice. Always, the problems of the clergy seem to be more important than the problems of the ‘other person’ – such elitism!

Stephen de Weger | 10 June 2017  

Stephen and Jennifer, are we talking about assault? If so, is this a matter than should be reported to police? Surely even is a religious person is in a position of power and influence, the lay "victim" can still simply refuse to participate,,,, ie say "No", and report it. Wouldn't this now put the lay person in a position of power? And surely they'd be believed.

AURELIUS | 10 June 2017  

At the end of the day it does not matter how much we discuss this. A priest who takes advantage of a vulnerable adult should be charged with abuse. If I went to my doctor or psychologist and tried to seduce him it would make no difference. The onus is on the person who is in the position of power. (Sex in the forbidden zone, Rutter, 1989). The priest is the one who has taken on the position and with it comes the responsibility like any profession to practice ethically. If we think priests, who in my eyes are even more accountable, precisely because they are dealing with people’s souls, then this church needs a big wake up. The Royal Commission has told the public of the irreparable damage that this kind of abuse causes. It is no different for adults except that they continue to bear the terrible effects that we saw not so long ago in others who are under 18years old. This is a sad shame. Women who experience domestic violence have had to suffer the same fate. Thankfully we are now recognizing that as a crime. Any priest who has sexually interfered with a person whether they are child on adult needs to be made accountable NOW.

Sheila Sansom | 11 June 2017  

In my previous submission I meant to suggest that priests who in my eyes have an even greater responsibility, to not cross that LINE. Thanks Stephen. I am so glad that there are some people who are prepared to have the courage to speak out. And by the way there are many vulnerable adults who have come forward and are being dealt with. Perhaps it would be interesting to ask places like ‘Toward Healing’ in Sydney just how many vulnerable adults have come forward. It’s just that we are not talking about it. Just like before. People are just quietly being dealt with and being compensated. INTERESTING !!!!!

Sheila Sansom | 11 June 2017  

Thanks Stephen again for your insightful approach to these matters and firm stance that recognition of those for whom it was abuse and not consensual is necessary. The issue of consent seems particularly fraught with misunderstanding and should not be assumed simply because people involved are over 20 this is so even beyond the parameters mentioned to non clerical encounters of seemingly equally capable individuals (eg Australian university scandals, NSA via social media culture etc). Your words "...resulting, for many, in the sudden emergence of full-blown psychological adolescence with all its risk taking, uninhibited experimentation and lack of a fully developed sense of responsibility." is a grand summary of the psychological minefield of physical/emotional relations since sexual revolution supposedly freed us all from enslavement - what a joke! I may not always agree with all your conclusions but I see your work as necessary to building a right understanding and clarifying matters toward truth. I keep it all in prayer.

Gordana Martinovich | 11 June 2017  

This thesis focuses only on Catholic priest abuse of adults and proposes that loosening of sexual mores and new sexual freedoms are a result of Vatican ll. What then do you attribute the cause of Anglican, Baptist, Uniting and other ministries for their sexual abuse of adults, where, from my experience and knowledge, the cleric employs grooming techniques similar to those used on child victims.

CHRIS WILDING | 12 June 2017  

A revealing question: “By referring to criminal child sexual molestation as ‘paedophilia’, are we accessories after the felony and facilitating future felonies?” This is not just a legal question; we are taught throughout the New Testament (poignantly at Luke 17:2) that such sins are deeply serious. Using cosy terms for millstone sins offends as much as referring to terrorist murderers as ‘martyrs’. True: some individuals have genetic predispositions; but, an informed, concerned, and capable culture always has the resources to modulate and redirect such energies. Many Church leaders & seminary professors are in thrall to pop-psychology. It’s time for them to accept that culture is manufactured by our collective attitudes & behaviours. One example shows the current situation could easily be improved. Failure of key figures to speak against (nay, CAMPAIGN AGAINST) the avid consumption of pornography by a high percent of clergy is a culture-distorting dereliction of duty. A categorical ban on clergy pornography consumption, linked to a clergy-wide return to the Divine Office; that is daily praying the hours of the Breviary (hopefully in 21st Century translation, with topical illustrations & prayers – e.g. those of Pope Francis) could massively reduce clergy abuse of minors & vulnerable adults.

Dr Marty Rice | 12 June 2017  

And the priests are being moved from one Parish to another.!!!! Does this ring a bell?. How about this time the church come forward and not wait till they are forced through a third party to take responsibility.

Sheila Sansom | 13 June 2017  

@ AURELIUS 10 June 2017 . All I can say to every statement you just made here is "if only". I know that's not much to go on but perhaps you need to read more on this. You can start with my Masters thesis but there are other sources very worth reading starting with the shortest and simplest, Kathryn Byrne's 2010 book - Understanding the Abuse of Adults by Catholic Clergy and Religious. Loganville, GA: Open Heart Life Coaching, L.L.C. but the one I believe provides the deepest insights is the PhD thesis by Margaret Kennedy titled The well from which we drink is poisoned. You can access it here after registering: A third excellent explanation by Garland and Argueta titled "How Clergy Sexual Misconduct Happens" can be found here This is, as everyone keeps telling me, not a black and white phenomenon, fraught with complexities and as such, simple one paragraph answers can never do the topic justice. So, if anyone is truly serious about understanding clergy sexual misconduct against adults, then some serious reading is needed, especially before offering mere opinions. Aurelius, I'm glad you've started asking the right questions.

Stephen de Weger | 13 June 2017  

@ Kerry Holland 10 June 2017. You are right, Kerry and the points you raise are some of the positive aspects of the sexual revolution and Vatican II which, as I mention, were both needed. No one phenomenon is all bad or all good. What we have to do is look back into these phenomena and analyse them and judge what was good and not good about them. I believe that this is what our generation especially is going through - both the unconscious repercussions of the negatives of these phenomena as well as a conscious re-appraisal of them as well as such isms as post-modernism, feminism and all the other major ones that have so impacted our current generations. That impact is very difficult for so many to accept, especially if their lives, histories and personalities are intricately embedded in their chosen isms, rather than in some personally integrated adulthood that sees these isms as tools for understanding rather than props or substitutes for thinking and choosing. We, today, are witnessing the pendulum that has swung as high as it could and has now started to fall again, in all areas of life.

Stephen de Weger | 13 June 2017  

@ NMichael Kellyame 08 June 2017. Thank you Eureka Street for now putting my response to Michael up. There is one more thing I'd like to add in response to this statement: "Something more about cultural and ecclesial context would enhance your argument, Stephen". Isn't this what I have tried to do - the sexual revolution (cultural) and Vatican II (ecclesial)? But, yes, you're also correct that this phenomenon does need to be encapsulated in these two elements and that is indeed what the bulk of my PhD will be doing. Early days yet. And to this end, I would be very happy (seriously) to hear from clergy (priests, brothers, nuns) about their honest beliefs about this area, about clergy sexual misconduct against adults, their beliefs about the clergy involved and their beliefs about the other adults involved. I would love to know how many clergy of all walks have become sexually involved with other adults and how this involvement turned out for BOTH. I'd love to survey every priest and religious (in Australia) about their experiences and beliefs about this phenomenon. I need to hear from clergy and the official church about how they see my topic. So, anyone, please email me. Just look me up. The comments here have been a good start.

Stephen de Weger | 13 June 2017  

@ CHRIS WILDING 12 June 2017. Thanks Chris. You've slightly misinterpreted what I said in that I have tried to open the discussion to a re-thinking of something that many have tried to deny - the impact of not just Vatican II but the sexual revolution. Yes, my study is only about sexual misconduct against adults by Catholic clergy but after having my Masters thesis available I did hear from a few women from other denominations who had experienced sexual misconduct, and was able to help them or steer them in the direction where they could be heard, and they were, and much more quickly and easily I might add that most of my Catholic participants. Vatican II may not have directly influenced the sexual 'liberation of clergy from other denominations but I would feel comfortable in stating that the sexual 'liberation' movement did impact everyone, especially in the west, including clergy from all denominations and indeed all religions - it was a very all-encompassing movement, and we are still seeing the results. Funny how the parents and grandparents of the younger generation today are bemoaning the fact that their children are less sexually active because they have woken up to the deceptive and destructive aspects of sexual 'liberation'. Anyway, yes, all clergy/people in power are in excellent positions to use grooming techniques similar to those used against children and there are other studies which have focused on these other denominations, studies which have theoretically underpinned my own such as Garland's and Argueta’s recent research (see ).

Stephen de Weger | 13 June 2017  

An interesting probe. But what a cynical quote of St. John's "God is Love". "After all"? Yes, indeed, after all! Because "God IS loving relationship" is the extended metaphor. Rather than negatively "stop the drift" I hope the synod will look at a more psychologically sound way of discerning the path to maturity for its clergy and the ordination of people who have (or will) discover the God-like experience of a loving relationship. How joyfully will (and do) congregations welcome and enjoy the ministry of clergy who live (as the Trinity does) a life of devoted love shared with a loving other. This is God's normal way for humans. Celibacy is an exceptional gift, not guaranteed by Church law. This is the change we need. It should not be seen as just a stop-gap measure.

John O'Donnell | 13 June 2017  

Hello again, Micahel Kelly. I just found this quote in Margaret Kennedy's thesis (available after registration, here: ) where she is discussing the very argument you are putting forward. Richard (and Margaret) have said it better, and definitely more succinctly than me: "Whilst Sipe suggests that relationships can help the priest grow up sexually and personally he cautions: 'No matter how loving or how useful they eventually prove to be in the maturation of priests and their pastoral instincts, women get used. By their sinfulness women can save priests. But priests can remain within the system and retain their power - now purified - while women retain their identity in the system as evil unless they are virgins, martyrs, or mothers'" (Kennedy, 2009: 10 citing Sipe, 1990: 102). Where gay and straight men who are sexually 'used' by clergy, end up situated 'in the system' is another element worthy of exploration: One day.

Stephen de Weger | 13 June 2017  

And then there's this on the following Page 12 (Kennedy 2009). "Some men would say if the relationship makes them better priests, more understanding of the complexities of human emotions, more sympathetic to confusion and suffering, they are not prepared to give it up. It sounds compassionate to talk of men 'rediscovering their vocations' after having an affair. What thanks do the women (and men) receive for helping their partners to a renewal which can only benefit an entire Church? What sympathy when the cleric deserts them? He may return strengthened by his vows, his training, his sense of vocation. She by definition has none of this... The clergy have a rescue structure built into their vocation. The women (and men) do not (citing Jenkins, 1995: 274, 276)".

Stephen de Weger | 13 June 2017  

I would like to support Stephen's response to @MichaelKellyame08. Stephen mentions about obtaining Church statistics on these "matters". Such stats were mentioned by Damien Casey, Cardinal Pell's then Finance executive for the Archdiocese of Sydney, under cross examination in the Royal Commission by Gail Furness SC, when he gave a figure of compensation for what he termed "boundary violations". That the Church has given considerable compensation to such "boundary violations" indicates a recognition of harm done to the other person. That these other persons are mentioned simply as recipients of "boundary violations" indicates how far there is to go for open and frank admission of what is known if not fully understood, behind the scenes. Stephen mentions the issue of children born of these "boundary violations" too. Here the gravity finds full force, either women are left with secret children and these children grow up having to deal with the circumstances surrounding their own clerical father, secret and paid off, or the women are left with no proper relationship in their lives and no children, denied a natural and important aspect of normal adulthood, while the cleric continues, in both instances, their religious and/or parish life. Stephen has given some good resources that explain in depth why and how this occurs and the resultant massive damage caused.

Jennifer Herrick | 14 June 2017  

thank you Aurelius for asking the question about assault. First one needs to define assault. What would be your definition? Do we go by that on the, for example NSW Police website? Do we consult a QC well versed in these matters? Perhaps both. These sources however are currently inadequate in obtaining the justice required because the law works on precedent. It is the case that new laws are required. Contemporary court cases, civil and criminal, point to the current difficulties vcitims have in this regard. Even the police, who rely on current law, are not equipped to adequately cater for these circumstances where physical violence may not be obvious but rather mental and emotional coercion wrought through spiritual misuse of authority.

Jennifer Herrick | 14 June 2017  

@ John O'Donnell 13 June 2017. Yes, it was cynical and meant to be even though it is probably what I believe to be one of the most central messages of Jesus. It was meant to be cynical because it is the line, the pickup line that many a cleric has used to 'groom' or as someone else prefers it be called, 'court' the unsuspecting adult (it's only 'grooming' if it illegal sexual activity). My concept of God has changed from a noun/being, to a verb/living action or more specifically - Love. But how many people really understand what love is. Yes, love is patient and kind etc.... but we need a knowledge of love that goes beyond these lovely words. For this, may I again suggest Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving" (free here ) or if you feel safer with a 'Christian' version, C S Lewis followed up on Fromm's writing in his "The Four Loves" . Now, could all clergy, and laity for that matter fully absorb the words on these pages, and act on them, live them, then maybe God would be able to exist again, rather than a mere Kinseyan or 60s sexual revolution version of 'love' which indeed really wasn't, but which was the type that most of my participants were 'promised' or told was happening. This was not Love, in all its fullness, and therefore, not God. Read Fromm's book and then say/believe that ‘God is Love' – means SO much more, and makes SO much more sense – that is a truly ‘living’ God.

Stephen de Weger | 14 June 2017  

Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) ss 61 H1(a)-(d) relating to the nature of rape offences and other acts of sexual assault regarding persons in positions of authority or trust as is clearly the case of clergy And in my case I was over 18yrs and the police informed me that the person who abused me had committed a crime and I was compensated. Unfortunately the person is deceased. And also because I am so affected by the lack of understanding and judgement that I wish to remain unidentified at the moment except to the people who will know who I am.

Anne | 14 June 2017  

Thanks, Stephen. I see you have studied much about the meaning of love and its Christian meaning and implications. I'll look at your suggestions. For the moment, under the influence of Richard Rohr's wonderful study of the Trinity in "The Divine Dance" 2016, and my involvement with contemplative spirituality, It is clear to me that love in the Joannine and Paulian sense (i.e. agape, not just eros) has to be experienced to be known and understood. Many clergy (and I was once one) have not been able to have such knowledge and understanding - not even within the spirituality in which they have been "formed'. Few are the contemplatives which Karl Rahner longed for in his future church and "pedistalism" has kept them isolated from people. What I long to see is a presbyterate (can't stand the 'priest' terminology) which is made up of ordinariness, communality, family responsibility and humility - whose members are "called" or discerned by the communities they serve. The Church seems to be considering the possibility of leaders in a true, human love relationship only as a second-choice way of alleviating the clergy shortage without considering the immense spiritual and human advantages that such a move would bring. A celibate heirarchy, of course, cannot hope to know the deep understanding of agape that a sacramental union of two persons sharing their lives can bring. Paul, of course, saw it as a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Still, I do not denigrate the charisma of celibacy. Where it is genuine, it has much to offer also.

John O'Donnell | 14 June 2017  

This article's life seems to be coming to the end of the typically short-life expectancy found in the media universe. However, I, and others I have teamed up with now, pledge to keep this issue alive for as long as it takes to see some responses from those who stand in the place of Jesus, the personification of Love who is God. Thank you Anne for your statement - it includes many of the issues I will be continuing to pursue in my PhD and to that end I am happy for anyone, victims/survivors, laity or clergy, to contact me with their stories or comments at I will also be very soon setting up a website dedicated to educating the Church and anyone interested about clergy/professional sexual misconduct against adults, as well as my and other's research. Finally, in a world of so much bad news, of which the Church is certainly getting its full share, and to which, sadly, I have had to contribute, I hope that we can realise that whether God exists, or is dead, is up to us: "Where there is no Love, put Love and you will find Love" (John of the Cross).

Stephen de Weger | 14 June 2017  

John O’Donnell: “A celibate hierarchy, of course, cannot hope to know the deep understanding of agape that a sacramental union of two persons sharing their lives can bring.” If you’re saying that a priest who does not have the charism of celibacy, upon laicisation and subsequent ‘sacramental union’, can attain a deep understanding of agape, while a priest with the charism of celibacy who stays celibate cannot have this deep understanding (leaving aside the fact that everyone is called to agape because that is the type of love exemplified by Christ), then having the charism of celibacy must make no difference. But you say it does. If so, that must mean that all of the priests who don’t impress you as bearing much agape must be impostors pretending to have a charism of celibacy. Anyway, if everyone is called to agape, why is ‘sacramental union’ treated as some kind of royal road? Why can’t agape come from hearing confessions and lifting spiritual burdens?

Roy Chen Yee | 15 June 2017  

Incredibly valuable work Stephen. Our prayers for you and supporters to continue efficiently and effectively to shine Light on dark and dastardly acts and blow fresh, Life-giving air into the haunted and foetid rooms of the derelict establishment. Then the unjustly used will be justified; abusers called to repentance; and false leaders persuaded to turn again to Jesus Christ. Saint Peter Damian and a great holy host are cheering you on Stephen! I and very many others have been SO encouraged by your excellent research and calm & balanced critique. Your work is close to the heart of St Mary of the Cross McKillop - our much loved Australian saint.

Dr Marty Rice | 15 June 2017  

Thanks for the great discussion everyone and I do hope that if you get a chance to, please do read some of the material I have referred to. I know this is a difficult topic, a complex one and a troubling one. This was never meant to be about an all-out attack on clergy or the Church but an exposing of certain erroneous beliefs and perceptions about clergy sexual misconduct against adults, the clergy involved in such misconduct and the other adults who are targeted in such misconduct. Thank you to all those who contributed to this discussion and to Eureka Street for allowing it. Thank you also to the people who have contacted me even though my email address was incorrect – it is So, if you’ve tried but couldn’t get through, maybe that’s why. For all those who believe that they have not been heard please speak up, even anonymously, if you can. I know it is very difficult to do so but doing so will make a big difference in the long run. May we somehow discover God/Love in the midst of it all and “may good be the final goal of ill”.

Stephen de Weger | 16 June 2017  

As a seminarian of the early 80's there was no doubt a period of confusion and change as a result of Vatican 2 and the sexual revolution that accompanied and continued on after. The Royal Commission figures highlight that Catholic celibate priests and religious had most likely a higher percentage of paeodophile recalcitrants than that in the general community against the often quoted mantra that celibacy caused no difference. The Church is now obliged in its response inter alia in my view to reconsider the question of celibacy which never has been of itself essential to the concept of priesthood or religious life. St Paul only referred to celibacy for those who can live it and are called to it. It should now be reviewed as an optional commitment. Indeed I know this may well have resulted in many more priests in my time. Secondly, the Church must in my view ensure there are more women in positions of influence in the Church including the Vatican and as an initial step having married clergy in Rome or wherever the head office of the Church will be in the future will be a start because it is hard to conceive wife's of clergy allowing any such cover up on "sovereignty"or self protection grounds. The Church must seize the moment and internally reflect deeply on these issues and show maturity by reforming itself as Christ would demand.

Hayden Legro | 21 June 2017  

Perhaps this researcher clearly so interested and even enjoying studying the sexual sins/failures of celibates might also begin another project with an indeprh analysis of the sexual misbehavior of lay baptized Catholics? Will Eureka street please sponsor?

Jesse Pruzak | 30 June 2017  

If, Jesse, by 'enjoying' you mean 'delighting in the downfall of another' in this case, clergy, it is very distressing to see such behaviour and its impact on adults. Perhpas what our reading into my work is the fact that I, like those I am researching, have had their trust and faith in their birth and life institution completely shattered by further and further revelations of clergy sexual misconduct of all kinds. I, too was one of the naive ones who was very much sucked into believing in the 'angelic' form of clergy taught by the Catechism of Trent, and, that somehow we were always the lesser beings, the sinners who needed them. In my life, as I look back now, there has not been one place or group of Catholics with which I belonged, that did not have one or two sexually abusive clergy, ones who were actually abusing both children and adults at the time I was involved with them. Do I enjoy finding out or exposing this? I wish to God, I never knew.

Stephen de Weger | 02 July 2017  

Dear Jesse Pruzak. Re: "enjoying studying the sexual sins/failures of celibates". Surely that's an undeserved knock-down? Stephen's excellent doctoral studies are essential for the future well-being of the Church and therefore of our Australian society. The high percentage of flagrant sexual iniquity by our clergy has given Aussies an international reputation as "a nation of orcs". Who wants that? Jesse, please bring to mind an old adage: "A fish rots from the head down." When Church leaders cultivate and defend a lying, deceiving, corrupt and even criminal culture, it spreads through the whole body; all of us suffer. The Holy Spirit is grieved & quenched. We're scarcely Church at all anymore. It's surely past-time to flush-out the what-ever-it-takes, clericalist, managerialist monsters. I hope you can see, we need a new set of Catholic leaders, like Fr Ken Barker. Men and women whose devotion and obedience to Christ attracts Holy Spirit anointing to the Church and to all of us in her. Jesse, you are right that lay iniquities must also be addressed. Only I'm thinking that'll be FAR easier once they've appointed some Christ-faithful new leaders, to reform our confused clergy and us. All the best Jesse & take care.

Dr Marty Rice | 03 July 2017  

Well what does the latest sex scandal from Rome tell us? Surely it means that a more realistic appraisal of sex, sexuality and clergy must be undertaken by the Vatican. Have we reached the point where enough is enough?!

Ted Smith | 06 July 2017  

Hi Ted. ...and that's just one story that got through to the public. There are so many seminary scandals now, ones that still few people only know about. Then there are the as yet unknown levels of sexual activity with and abuse against adults which have left a trail of destruction for so many women and men. Clergy sexual misconduct like this is such a huge slap in the face to ordinary Catholics, not unlike it would be if we'd discovered that our politicians were using our tax money to buy drugs, prostitutes and living it up, while presenting to the world the face of dedicated and caring representatives. You're right - the time has come for a complete investigation and exposure of the sexual activities of the clergy as well as a reappraisal of Catholic sexuality, if I can call it that. One reason many clergy behave this way is that they know that they will get away with it. Why? Well there's blackmail, of course, and then there's a 'liberal' attitude to clergy sexual activity, and they know that if found out within the Church, their activity will be covered up so as to prevent scandal. Not good enough, especially for those who have been victimised and harmed, while the offending clergy live a fully catered for lifestyle, (with sex on the side) along with a naive adoring Catholic public.

Stephen de Weger | 07 July 2017  

Jesse Pruzak, your presumption of Stephen's character is unfortunate given the outstanding academic work officially recognised of him. Marty Rice, we equally need to perhaps not presume to name any particular person in the Catholic Church, one way or the other, in such unfolding and uncertain times as Stephen's research clearly demonstrates.

Jennifer Herrick | 27 July 2017  


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