What Happens Behind The Scenes In The Catholic Hierarchy When Dealing With Troublesome Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse by clergy is a complex issue with no simple answers for the Catholic hierarchy due to the internal conflicts between canon law and civil and criminal law. For the Catholic hierarchy the conflict is intense precipitating the use of a multidisciplinary panel that comprise subject experts such as journalists, theologians, canon lawyers, ethicists, victim advocates and mental health professionals to help construct comprehensive solutions.
Some conclusions that resulted from this model represented by the United States, Canada and England were some priests began sexual abuse as early as four years after ordination. Findings also showed priests who abused young children were similar to the non clergy population of sexual abusers. In other panels represented by other countries Nuns reported being sexually abused by priests especially on the African continent. Priests used nuns as opposed to women from the general population to avoid the rampant HIV epidemic.
So what happens behind the scenes to prevent or to delay the mitigation of and the effective responses to sexual abuse as it pertains to the Catholic Church.What is the role of the Catholic Church hierarchy when there is sexual abuse? Following are the not so obvious workings and reasoning within the Catholic Church that go into motion when there is reported sexual abuse.
1. The Seal of the Confessional - Priests often confess their transgression of sexual abuse under the Sacrament of Penance treated very seriously under canon law. A priest hearing such a confession cannot disclose that the confession was made nor the content of the confession. The sacrament of confession has posed conflict with local criminal statutes for decades. Cases only come to light when victims break rank, a victim or relatives of a victim decide to come forward to file criminal charges or to file a civil law suit for psychological damages.
2. Seminary Selection and Training - The National Review Board and the John Jay Report shed light on deficiencies regarding Seminarians.
3. Failure to adequately screen seminarians for psychological propensities such as for pedophilia, and compulsive sexual behaviors.
4. Failure to screen candidates for the gift of celibacy. Many times candidates will presume they can commit to celibacy during their zeal for ordination. Most individuals do not have the gift of celibacy.
5. Failure to shape and to support seminarians for a life of celibacy. Lack of close follow-up and emotional support. Zeal for the priesthood is conflated with ability to remain celibate. Emphasis placed on academia and spiritual growth and not enough on the emotions of seminarians.
6. Not enough follow-up with priests to detect when priests need help.
7. Internal debate within the Catholic Church concerning sexual addiction and compulsive sexual behaviors. Many psychologists are of the opinion these pathology identified in seminarians and priests can be cured.
8. Absolute Obedience of Priests is a central portion of the vows a priest takes at ordination. These attitudes take precedent over any civil and criminal law. At ordination, a holy sacrament of the Catholic Church, all priests solemnly take the following vows of:
C. Obedience to superiors
9. From the Rite of Ordination a Catholic document used in every ordination, there is a section entitled The Priest and The Bishop. The Pope as the successor of Peter asks all priests the following: "Do you promise me and my successors respect and obedience?" Each priests vows “Yes.” The priest also vows “I promise my Bishop respect and obedience.” You see each priest receives sacramental power or spiritual ability to minister the sacraments through their Bishop's laying on of hands. Also each priest vows to remain in daily intimacy and cooperation with his Bishop. These powerful attitudes govern how sexual abuse is handled behind the scenes.
10. All priests are under the immediate authority of their local Bishop and diocese. A priest vowed to be obedient to his Bishop during holy ordination that cannot be broken. In the 21st century especially religious organizations are mandated to report sexual abuse to local authorities and this requirement forces many priests and Bishops to turn the other way, handling the abuses internally, often denying the situation, many times opting to seek a cure for the priest or giving a priest time to heal by transferring to another diocese. The ordination vows and canon laws are very strong and play a primary role in all aspects of Catholic Church Life. Behind the curtain priests and Bishops look to the Kingdom of God as their primary model for redemption.
11. There are reporting challenges as well. Bishops and superiors who are sexual offenders according to canon law are granted Absolute Obedience. Absolute Obedience has been abused and twisted as it relates to the abuse of young priests by their superiors. Bishops are also granted a high status of integrity which requires a very high threshold to begin an internal investigation and making it difficult to believe any Bishop could commit or cover up any terrible sin.
12. The ecclesiastical, governmental, and hierarchical fabric of the Catholic Church is wound tightly into the governing fabric of Catholicism and makes it almost impossible to discipline a priest unless certain priests break ranks.The structure of the Catholic Church is taken very seriously starting with the Pope the successor of the Apostle Peter. Next in rank are the Bishops. There are Cardinals who are Bishops with special appointment by the Pope who have a higher rank and all Cardinals are Bishops but not all Bishops are Cardinals. The hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church represents the military structure of the ancient Roman empire during the time of Constantine. It is important to underscore, the Catholic hierarchical structure is viewed as sacred by God.
Behind the scenes all of the above attitudes and covenants function vigorously lessening any probability of change and protection for parishioners.
Will sexual abuse reporting ever reach 100% reporting and will the behavior ever be handled effectively to protect the Catholic community? The answer is only if the Catholic Church acknowledges the defiling devastating and destructive effects of sexual abuse, amends canon law to classify sexual abuse as completely unacceptable and grants sexual abuse a zero tolerance status.