Saturday, January 11, 2020

"Sacrilege" by Leon Podles

These are some of the 30 or so problems that led to the priestly and episcopal sexual crimes of the last several decades.  I have tried to provide at least one excerpt from the book that helps illustrate the point somewhat.

YOU NEED TO BUY AND READ THE BOOK for several reasons

1) One of the issues I didn’t list – homosexuality.  His discussion of homosexuality’s role in all this is MUST READ, very accurate, nuanced and important

2) In order to give a true understanding of the issue, he intentionally describes what actually happened in order to not try to gloss over the damage done to the victims.  Those sections are obviously hard to read, and if you have a hard time reading what happened, imagine having it happen TO you.  I believe, as does Podles, that knowing exactly what happened to victims is part of actually taking this crisis seriously.

Anyway, here are the problems that Podles identifies:

Problem 1: Faulty view of the priesthood by the laity
One victim explained: “I received my religious training in the Catholic school and I was trained that the priest was the equivalent of God or Christ on earth and that they should be obeyed.” (49)

Problem 2: lack of Episcopal courage
“The abusers knew that bishops, even if not themselves corrupt, hated confrontation and bad publicity even more than they disliked child abuse.” (69)

Problem 3: Priests and repressed anger

“Twice the number of priests scoring in the clinically significant range of the overcontrolled hostility measure were found in the hospitalized sexual abusive group…these priests had repressed their anger to a far greater degree than the general population does.” (466)

“Gilbert Kilman, a child psychiatrist, commented, “What amazes me is the lack of outrage the Church feels when its good work is being harmed.  So, if there is anything the Church needs to know, it needs to know how to be outraged.” (467)

“A little reflection will make it clear that there is a big difference between the person who knows solely that something is evil and ought to be opposed, and the one who in addition also feels hate for that evil, is angry that it is corrupting or harming his fellow-men, and feels aroused to combat it courageously and vigorously.” (468)

“Josef Pieper concludes his analysis of the place of anger in the virtuous life, “Only the combination of the intemporateness of lustfulness with the lazy inertia incapable of generating anger is the sign of complete and virtually hopeless degeneration.  It appears whenever a caste, a people, or a whole civilization is ripe for its decline and fall.” (507)

Problem 4: no uniform code of punishment
“We feel that the protection of our glorious priesthood will demand, in time, the establishment of a uniform code of discipline and penalties” [Fr. Fitzgerald in 1957].  In 1957 there was no such code; in 2007 there is still none…”If the discipline were more uniform and certain, priests before ordination could be instructed and duly warned, and this would be a deterrent to the initiation of these vicious habits.” (91)

“Abusers form a network of unknown size, and the only way to disrupt it is to remove any priest who even once is discovered to have abused a minor, however distant it may be.” (495)

Problem 5: priests and seminarians psychologically immature
“Dr. Baars stated [in 1971 to the USCCB] “Everyone agrees that there exists a crisis in the priesthood…20-25% have serious psychiatric difficulties…60-70% suffer from a degree of emotional immaturity”   Baar gave 10 recommendations.  None was implemented.” (95)

Problem 6: confusing pedophilia and sex with those who are past puberty
“In December, 1985, Peterson wrote an executive summary and sent it to every bishop in the United States, who mostly ignored it.  Peterson’s summary pointed out that the problem of abuse among priests was not really pedophilia, which is sexual attraction to children who have not reached the age of puberty, but sexual activity with teenagers.” (96)

“Most of the abusers were sexually involved with teenage boys.  It is difficult to classify a male’s sexual attraction to sexually mature teenage boys as a mental illness or disorder without also classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder.” (285)

“…despite this, priests who were sexually involved with teenage boys were sent for treatment as if they were pedophiles” (286)

Problem 7: thinking of pedophilia as a mental illness
“Pedophilia is not in the same category as schizophrenia. Pedohiles are not delusional and they can control their actions.  They do not abuse children on the street, but rationally and calculatedly get access to children…Pedophiles are almost excused by those who call them “sick”, as if they cannot help themselves…They are not so much sick men in need of a cure as criminals who should be punished.” (289)

“Something far worse than disorderly sexual desire leads men to corrupt and torture children, and this evil has not been identified by the Church and therefore cannot be purged from the Church.” (503)

Problem 8: priests who witnessed abuse said nothing
“Rev. Edward Booth, Porter’s superior and the pastor there, walked in. “Father Porter jump right up,” Merry said. “First Father Booth looked at Father Porter, and then back at me, and then back at Father Porter, who was zipping up his fly.  Then Father Booth shook his head and walked out the door.  He didn’t say a word.” (114)

Problem 9: in lots of cases, abusive priests reported being cured but were still abusing
“Porter wrote Bishop Connolly, “I am feeling much better and doing very well.  There have been many temptations, as you can imagine, but thank God, with His grace, I have handled them well.  The next day he molested two children.” (117)

Problem 10: the laity did not want to hear that their priest was a criminal
“They made life miserable for her until she left the parish.  Kathryn D’Agostino heard Gauvreau’s warnings and explained that “I didn’t believe her.  I didn’t think she was lying, but I thought she was deluded.  From what I knew of this guy, I thought it was impossible.” (164)

“The Rev. John Leonard of the Richmond diocese was sentenced to jail in 2004 for assaulting two teenage boys.  This was the reaction of the laity: “Church members have supported him for the entire time and no support was seen more than when he left court and his congregation cheered him.” (425)

“During the 1991 trial, the atmosphere was hostile, said Laura Recker, a former Maricopa County, Arizona deputy attorney…the priest’s supporters taunted the victims’ families and swore at her.” (425)

Problem 11: Priesthood is a helping profession – priests need to set up proper boundaries
“Several surveys have shown that one out of ten physicians has had sexual contact with a patient” (291)

“One study of members of the LA County Psychological association showed that “17% of the men in private practice indicated that they had engaged in therapist-client sexual intimacies” (293)

Problem 12: the priesthood attracts and can foster narcissism
“Because of the public and performing aspects of the position and the opportunity to foster a dependant group of admirers.  Engaging in sexual liasons is part of the larger and continuous pursuit of fulfilling their need for admiration, devotion and unquestioned love (Arelene Brewster).  The new Catholic liturgy places far more emphasis on the personality of the priest-presider than the old liturgy did.” (300)

Problem 13: Treating the problem without punishment and only treatment
“Punishment and treatment are not mutually exclusive.  An abuser should be punished for his actions, but he may also (in rare cases) sincerely want to get rid of the desire for children or lean how he can lessen the chances of his acting on it – after he gets out of jail” (305)

“Severe spiritual disciplines: fasting, vigils, silence, ceaseless prayer – do not seem to have been prescribed.” (306)

Problem 14: The history of places offering treatment for priests is a complete dumpster fire
Most of the places were run by abusers themselves, abuse took place, crazy techniques have been tried…pages 305-320

Problem 15: gay subcultures in seminaries and presbyterates
“Howard P. Bleichner, a Sulpician who worked in seminaries in Baltimore, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., observed that after the Second Vatican Council, “seminaries suddenly began to develop gay subcultures that encompassed faculty and students…Rev. Donald Cozzens wrote that “the need gay priests have for friendship with other gay men…had created a gay subculture in most of the U.S. dioceses.  A similar subculture has occurred in many of our seminaries.”” (322)

“Some of us found refuge in a campy, secret subculture poor in genuine emotional intimacy but rich in the bitchy humor for which we gay men are ‘Will and Grace’ infamous.  We had women’s names for one another, and for some of our teachers.  We trashed each other’s style of dress and gossiped among ourselves about who was ‘going out’ with whom.” (324)

Problem 16: heterosexual unfaithfulness leads to a culture of secrecy
Wendle Tuley: “the underground nature of un-celibate behavior, both homosexual and heterosexual…has made possible a brand of adult dishonesty and manipulativeness in which pedophiles find convenient shelter” (329)

Problem 17: Media and culture subtly supportive of man-boy sex
“A stream of gay fiction, praised by the mainstream press such as the Washington Post, sympathetically portrays man-boy sex…Others make heroes of Oscard Wilde, Roman Polanski…the media horror at the exposure of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests has not been entirely convincing.  Both advertisements and entertainment sexualize teenagers and critics continue to praise Polanski, who cannot enter the United States because of an outstanding charge of child molestation…Judith Levine won an award from the Los Angeles Times in 2003 for her book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex” (340)

Problem 18: the centralization of ecclesial power in Rome
“By centralizing so much power in itself, the papacy has made it impossible for groups of bishops to discipline erring fellow bishops, made it impossible for bishops to discipline priests who are members of religious orders, and made it very difficult for bishops to discipline their own diocesan priests.” (407)

Problem 19: The law protected Churches
“Legislators in Massachusetts in 1983 exempted the Church from requirements to report sexual abuse.” (433)

Problem 20: Police often did not arrest
“Police in 1977 spotted the Rev. Edward T. Kelley apparently engaged in a sex act with a teenage boy in a parked car.  One officer knew the priest, but instead of arresting him, the police contacted Bishop Thomas Daily.  Bishop Daily explained that the “archdiocese of Boston had a long understanding with local law enforcement officers that  church officials rather than the police would ‘take care of’ priests implicated in sex abuse cases.” (434)

Problem 21: prosecutors did not want to prosecute priests because of votes
“Prosecuting priests was not a good career move.  It was hard to get a conviction, and the laity would be mad at the prosecutor, as would the bishop.  The only people who would be grateful were the victim and his family.  Prosecutors can count potential votes.” (434)

Problem 22: Judges behaviors often protected the Church
“Judges soften pre-trial discovery requirements for churches, and in court decisions that order church documents produced in discovery to be sealed and kept secret.  The courts created a “law-free” zone for sexual abuse, and the abusers took advantage of this to commit abuse with impunity.” (437)

Problem 23: Dissenting theologians
“Dissenting theologians should look at their own responsibility when offenders like Paul Shanley start applying [their] theological speculations.” (441)

“No adequate diagnosis of the contributory causes of the Catholic priest scandals can overlook the role of dissent among theologians…how many of the priests and bishops who have brought such suffering to minors and scandal to the public were encouraged by teachers and theologians to cut corners and dissent from the truth of the Catholic Faith and moral teaching?...a climate of dissent was promoted by wholesale dissent from Catholic sexual ethics” – Fr. Matt Lamb (454)

Father Andre Guindon, who taught moral theology at St. Paul’s University in Canada until his death in 1993…taught that an adult having sex with prepubescent children did little or no harm.” (457)

The National Catholic Reporter published an account by a priest who was sexually involved with a teenage boy.  The priest wrote “I read a book on situation ethics.  The basic theme was that no act is objectively evil; its morality or immorality depends on the situation.  I reasoned from this that all sex acts are basically good since God had created us sexual beings…There is nothing good or evil in itself; only the consequences make it so.” … he was ordained and had sex with teenagers. (461)

On nominalism (that the only thing that makes something right or wrong is the authority of God, that right and wrong don’t correspond to anything out in the real world nor in a person’s nature): “If things are wrong only because God forbids them, not because they harm the good of the human person, the only action necessary to make repentance complete is to seek the pardon of God.  The sin has caused no harm to anyone except the sinner…if, however, actions are forbidden because they harm the human good…the harm that the sin has done in creation remains…the sexual abuse victim of a priest is still suffering from severe distortions of his sexual identity and feelings of being betrayed by the God-ordained messenger of salvation.” (477)

“He is not guided to a moral maturity in which he sees, loves and pursues the good through the exercise of all the virtues, but instead follows arbitrary commands, the logic of which he cannot see.  This infantilization prepares the ground for sexual abuse.” (479)

Problem 24: Psychology replaces theology in certain places after the council
“Rogers and Coulson set up a massive group therapy program for the IHM nuns…under these facilitators direction, the nuns got in touch with their inner selves.  What they discovered there was that they did not want to be nuns and they did want (at least some did) to be lesbians.  The order disintegrated within a matter of months…Rogers and Coulson gave the same program at St. Anthony’s Seminary.  When the friars there looked into their inner selves and affirmed their deepest desires, a good proportion of them (about one quarter) discovered that what they really wanted most of all was to have sex with 14 year old boys, which they proceeded to do for the next twenty years.” (449)


  1. “Most of the abusers were sexually involved with teenage boys. It is difficult to classify a male’s sexual attraction to sexually mature teenage boys as a mental illness or disorder without also classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder.” (285)
    If a priest were sexually abusing a teenaged female hopefully you would you classify hetrosexuality as a mental disorder?

  2. I jumbled two thought above into one comment, unfortunately. I meant to ask if you would also classify hetrosexuality as a mental disorder, when a priest sexually abuses teenaged girls?

    1. I'd like to know Fr. John's thoughts on the above too.
      If "“Most of the abusers were sexually involved with teenage boys. It is difficult to classify a male’s sexual attraction to sexually mature teenage boys as a mental illness or disorder without also classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder.” is true, shouldn't "“....were sexually involved with teenage girls. It is difficult to classify a male’s sexual attraction to sexually mature teenage girls as a mental illness or disorder without also classifying hetrosexuality as a mental disorder.” also be true?

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  4. I still don't understand why the dominating preponderance of cases involves Priests/Boys sex abuse. Are there an equal.number of teenage girls sexually abused by Priests and se haven't heard yet? Is this the next crisis Oriest/girl sex? Are is it just that homosexuals join the Priesthood b/c they know it offers them a fresh/unending supply of new victims?