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ADDRESSING SEXUAL ABUSE
Few can discuss with much objectivity the pros and the cons of priests getting involved in any kind of sex. (Some of us try to avoid the issue by falling back on a form of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”) But we recently ran across a sincerely searching essay by a priest in Canada, Peter Timmins, and an even more thoughtful response by a young health professional, Samara Wark. Committed as we are to providing a forum, even for the most sensitive questions that face the Church and the world in the 21st century, we present Timmins’ essay and Wark’s response, both of which deal with the putative connection between homosexually-oriented priests and ephebophilia.
Peter Timmins was ordained for Montreal in 1961. He spent the next 40 years there in parish work and is now living in partial retirement in Kingston, Ontario, where, he says, he has “a sister and her progeny to keep me in line.” For 16 years, Samara L. Wark has been a psychotherapist in the area of sexual abuse and domestic violence, working with both victims and perpetrators in a restorative justice model. For the past four years, she has also been a chaplain/pastoral counselor in the Catholic health care system in Canada.
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Addressing Sexual Abuse
When it comes to the sexual abuse issue in the church, I admit to having considerable difficulty in identifying, analysing and assembling all of the building blocks.
I was ordained in the spring of 1961. Long before that, I was aware that some priests had been rumoured to have "fooled around" with boys. I do not recall having considered the kids involved as being victims as much as having done nasty or dirty things with a priest. The priest was generally transferred to another parish or diocese and that was the end of it. It was very much like stealing or getting drunk. No big deal and soon, so I thought, forgotten.
I remember when in grade 6 or 7 in a private, non-denominational boys school, one of my teachers, who was as strange as they make them, was involved with one of the boys in my class. The boy who shared his experiences with us was, at least in our view, something of an entrepreneur!
Years later, as a young priest, I was shocked by the amount of incest that I encountered. That a father would impregnate his own little girl revolted me but that the occasional weird priest got his "Jollies" from fondling some kid seemed to be, though sick and unacceptable, without long term consequences. I recall one priest who arrived on the scene from England. I now know that he brought with him a long, long record of abusing boys. In Montreal he was to be given another chance! He sure took full advantage of it! Before being sent scurrying back to England with the R.C.M.P on his tail he had increased his score significantly.
That was in the late /60s or early /70s and that was the first time that I remember having heard of children being seen by psychologists in an effort to minimize the long-term effects of this kind of abuse. From that time on, I heard more and more about individuals and groups surfacing with stories blaming their dysfunctionality on traumatic experiences at the hands of clergy. The acceptable solution for this was and remains money, lots and lots of money. Some money has been used to buy silence and some to compensate for the damage done.
Within the Catholic clerical culture, the primary focus has been to protect the church from scandal no matter what the cost. In time this policy has become, in itself, the greatest cause of scandal. Those involved have been told by the church officials that they must make any sacrifice required to protect the honor and reputation of Holy Mother Church. For offenders, that meant: "Go somewhere else and straighten up!" For victims and their families it meant: "Forget it!" In the name of loyalty to the church they were to forget it and if it took a few dollars to cement the bargain, so be it!
We have now reached the stage where sexual abuse by a priest is a collectable. People are scouring the depths of their closets to come up with a real or perhaps not so real moneymaker. At the same time, society recognizes that there is nothing trivial or short lived about sexual abuse and we all agree that where possible, it must be stopped. I agree with those who say that men with such urges ought not to be ordained into the happy hunting ground of pastoral ministry and I would add that those who have offended and are ordained should be denied the credentials and the opportunities which would seriously over-challenge their best intentions. But, I also believe that some, if willing, could function in very limited non-public ministries.
I share the opinion that any substantive complaints should be referred to civil authorities as we are dealing here with crime and not just sinfulness.
The habitual abuse of power by a number of those who have risen to the upper echelons of the clerical culture must be thoroughly and frankly addressed, as must those values and priorities of that culture, which have proven to be inimical to Christianity.
In my quest for truth and understanding I have combined the actions of the sexual offenders, those of some bishops and the victims of both and to this mix I have added the naivete and ignorance common to a bygone era which formed such a large part of my own past. But this has not been enough to leave me with an unclouded picture of the reality with which we are faced.
There remains the thorny issue of homosexuality.
I have been carting around several questions and I am earnestly in search of answers. Those who know me well know that I reject the premise that God intends some men to copulate with women and some with other men. I do not believe in the creation of Adam and Steve. They also know that I believe that those who are inclined to homosexual activity are suffering from a disorder which in no way limits their fundamental value and their consequent right to respect.
My own pastoral experience indicates that homosexual men are far more preoccupied with genital activity than is the average heterosexual and that their friendships and their social and professional networks form the essence of a sexual orientation based culture -- a culture which has a lot in common with the clerical culture which continues to dominate the Church today. In some cases they appear to overlap.
Is there any truth in these observations? Is it indeed harder for a homosexual to live a celibate life? Are the demands made upon a homosexual celibate in an all male environment such as a seminary anything short of cruel? Does the fact that the majority of sexual abuse cases involving a male priest also involve a male youth indicate that these men are by definition homosexuals? By this I am not suggesting that ALL homosexuals are potential abusers. Authoritative, objective replies to these questions would greatly help to inform me and I suspect, a number of others.
One way or another I think that this question and reported trends in seminary enrolment require careful analysis.
To those of you who have come this far with me and are angered by the tone and content of my questions and observations, I assure you that I seek clarity of vision and depth of understanding but above all, I seek a truly compassionate attitude. I am one priest who is trying to put aside the anger once associated with perceived betrayal and I have embraced, within my very real limitations, a compassionate and hopeful vision of the future. A future blessed with a gathering of the church's many gifts and the harnessing of its collective wisdom.
A Response to Peter Timmins
An interesting presentation of observations, questions, your own truths and heartfelt seeking. My own opinions are "one person's opinion only." I don't speak for anyone else but myself -- an important disclaimer to make on such topics. I am teachable.
I get very nervous of the topic of homosexuality and sexual abuse being linked in anyway in the same way that I would get nervous if heard the question, "I wonder if the person is heterosexual" when referring to almost anything. But if one starts with the presumption that homosexuality is a disorder, then, of course, the discussion is over. So this is where I enter into the conversation, NOT because I view homosexuality as a "disorder" in the same way I don't view other journeys along life's path as "disorder." I see others’ journeys as trips they must take as long as they need to, until they "get it."
This might take days, months, years or even lifetimes -- ascribing oneself to a particular way of life, a mantra, or a commitment that brings a soul to its rightful "owner" (which I call G-D). I think that many individuals are in or have been in or will be in same sex relationships because their soul insists on "correcting itself and healing itself" in any way possible. Many find same sex relationships the only intimate place they can find to heal their experiences of sexual abuse. Many in same sex relationships experience a "mirroring effect" that they do not find in other sex relationships. And it is in this place where they can -- consciously or unconsciously -- repair the holes in the soul caused by a pattern of usually repeated sexual abuse.
Not all those involved in same sex relationships will identify with this scenario. Some homosexuals believe they “have known all their life." In my view, perhaps those souls are taking a few times round the mulberry bush to "get it right" and this is where they believe they can find their "lost pieces." I do not stand "suspicious"
of homosexuality perhaps only because my trust of the soul is far greater than my preoccupation with homosexuality as a "disorder." I don’t try to figure it out but rather to observe the dynamics of its functioning, what the people who identify themselves as such are saying, what they are manifesting on this earth within the full spectrum and full continuum of personality commitment to community or to the mental/physical/emotional/spiritual health components in their make-up.
Community making looking like the Church culture? I don't know what that means other than to know community of anything that is not mainstream is a notable energy force. One only needs to look at the well researched phenomena of “ghetto” living (by culture, age, race, denomination etc) to see a communal mentality IN ACTION. I don't see "the gay community" being different. YES, IT IS a powerful force. MANY gay individuals make gay rights into an all-encompassing cause. Other gay individuals shy away from being part of a gay community or participation in any of its advocacy or events. the notable energy force of homosexuals today is not different to me than that of any group fighting for inclusion.
Priests that are homosexual? Are they the abusers? I say NOT! Abuse has too large a component of power and control, abuse of authority and subordination of another to be simply aligned to "being homosexual.” This is too easy. The dynamics of the abuser would be impossibly akin to the continuum of personality and functioning of the spectrum of homosexual men. ABUSE IS ABOUT POWER. Beginning and End. Homosexuality and its urges, so to speak, would find itself in consensual relationship, in mutuality, or in the dominant/submissive dynamic which is also often found in heterosexual relationships. When one teases out the component factors in sexual abuse, POWER and CONTROl are at its root, in the middle and in the completion (of which there is completion for no one)...
These are two separate questions and two separate identities. I think we need to ask this question: “Are homosexuals also deviant sexually...more so than the heterosexual population?” Again, the question seems too easy...and smacks of statements from the Holocaust era. Sure, we must look at the numbers of homosexual priests and at the numbers of sexually abusing priests. But to link them...I believe is too easy and will miss the essence of the problem. I think it is the red herring that one is led to...especially the literalist. Too easy.
I cannot help thinking about the movie A Beautiful Mind and the relentless search for that one piece that is missing. The solution, I think, is to take the lid off the subject of abuse, give the victims a voice, let them speak about its poisonous impact on them, - and then I believe we will have some new answers.
But they would be answers that would probably not be welcomed by the powers-that-be inside the Vatican. Until the focus shifts to really listen to victims, to what they know, to the Voice of the Angels who know a world, a darkness, a long night of the soul that can not possibly be known UNLESS you have lived there, I don't believe the equation will be solved regarding abuse in the Church, or anywhere else for that matter. When talking about homosexuality and sexual abuse, you cannot possibly know what is at the bottom of the barrel until you start listening to those who have been abused, and to their abusers. Perhaps the temptation will continue to "Not Hear These People" because - “they are weak, should have said no, invited it” or whatever else is irresponsibly and sadly asscribed to abuse victims..However, until they are brought up out of the basement society puts them in...there will, in my opinion, be no answers to the solution that will in even the most remote way, fill the holes in the soul...whether it be in priests or in lay people.
Bottom Line, Priests who sexually abuse are Criminals...just like the rest of the population who sexually abuse A collar does not protect them from the ramifications of entering into this Evil breeding ground. Some are asking whether the priesthood embraces an uncontrollable number of homosexuals. Perhaps we should ask a different question: "Does the priesthood invite or nurture or protect an uncontrollable number of criminals?"
Then, in my view, we'd be having a discussion that would lead somewhere ...toward the topic of POWER AND CONTROL and how it is linked to those who are attracted to the priesthood.
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