Brian Edwards Media

Satan Takes Rap for Paedophile Priests

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 I was moved to write this post by two things: an article in The Times, reproduced in last week’s Sunday Star Times and headed ‘Satan to blame for church’s sex woes’, and a video clip, sent to me by my friend Ivan Strahan, of Stephen Fry taking part in a 2009 debate in the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, London.

The motion was that, ‘The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.’ Fry and Christopher Hitchens spoke against the motion. Conservative  MP Ann Widdecombe and a Nigerian archbishop spoke in favour. The debate was originally broadcast on BBC4 and you can see the whole thing at http://www.intelligencesquared.com/iq2-video/2009/catholic-church.

The vote at the end of the debate was 268 for and  1876 against.

Fry’s contribution is one of the most passionate and brilliant addresses I have ever seen. Regardless of your views of the Catholic Church, it is simply a delight to watch.  This post begins now. 

Why have thousands of Catholic priests taken to abusing young boys in their charge? According to Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, as reported in The Times, Satan is to blame: ‘All evil is due to the intervention of the Devil, including paedophilia.’

It must be nice to have such a simple answer to such a difficult question. And comforting to at last know the identity of the real villain in the piece – not the men who raped the bodies and minds of those children, not the bishops and cardinals and popes who sheltered and protected them, but the Devil who placed such irresistible temptation in their path. Good men at heart, tested beyond endurance. One could almost feel for them.

I have a more complex answer.  It is that the sexual dysfunction of the paedophile, often a result of early abuse in his own life, may make the Catholic priesthood an attractive career choice. Not because it is a job which offers opportunity for contact with and power over children – though that is also a reality – but for the very opposite reason, that the Church’s requirement to live a life of celibacy may seem to offer a degree of enforced protection against the powerful sexual impulses which drive such men. Lust and guilt cohabit in the mind of the paedophile; a celibate life, spent in the service of God, may seem to offer relief from both.  

But the reality is that, for any normal man, celibacy is itself a dysfunctional state. Freudian psychology tells us that the suppression of our instincts and desires almost never succeeds. On the contrary, suppression merely makes things worse, as those suppressed instincts and desires fester within us, often later reappearing in more distorted and unwelcome form. Misguided attempts to change the sexual orientation of gay men provide an excellent example of the total failure of such ‘re-educative’ programmes. The vast majority of these men return to their former practices; many are left depressed and suicidal.

However good his intentions, the imposed self-denial of a celibate life within the church therefore offers the paedophile not redemption but opportunity. The evidence of that is now all around us.

Worse than the paedophile priests are those who, to avoid damage to the Church, protected them from exposure and, in so doing, exposed more and more children to risk. Satan again? Well, if we simply want to use ‘Satan’ as a convenient synonym for evil, Satan it can be, for this is certainly a great evil that stains the reputations of the highest officers of the Catholic Church. Indeed, it seems to me more unforgivable than the abuse itself, since it is not the product of compulsion, but the coldly calculated perversion of justice and the truth.

In his contribution to the debate, Stephen Fry notes that in 2003 the current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, in his role as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was charged with looking into the burgeoning cases of child abuse among priests. His first act was to write a letter to the bishops ordering them ‘on pain of excommunication’ not to talk to the police or anyone else. Investigations into cases of abuse ‘should be handled in the most secretive way, restricted by perpetual silence’.  Ratzinger’s solution to the problem, according to Fry, himself a gay man, was to stop homosexuals being allowed into the Church, a futile gesture since homosexuality and paedophilia are entirely different and unrelated phenomena.

A partial, but much better solution, it seems to me, would be to allow priests to marry.

As for Satan, I’m inclined to adopt my wife’s position on crime, that being tempted by the Devil may be a reason for doing bad things, but it isn’t an excuse. And I’m almost tempted to agree with Nigel Latta that when it comes to the crunch, each of us has a choice between good and evil. Almost.

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31 Comments:

  1. The problem is that allowing teachers, doctors, Salvation Army officers, Anglican ministers, Baptist ministers, politicians, fathers, step fathers, uncles, etc. to marry hasn’t stopped sexual abuse outside the Catholic Church.

    The reason homosexuality gets brought up is because within the Church the majority of the abuse was of pubescent and post-pubescent boys and the priests sometimes had sex with other men as well. It wasn’t teenage girls that were getting raped, it was teenage boys.

    • The problem is that allowing teachers, doctors, Salvation Army officers, Anglican ministers, Baptist ministers, politicians, fathers, step fathers, uncles, etc. to marry hasn’t stopped sexual abuse outside the Catholic Church.

      No, but the sexual abuse of boys has been of epidemic proportions in the Catholic Church. It should perhaps be remembered that male priests would have much more contact with young boys in their charge than they would with young girls. Paedophiliacs abuse both sexes of course, but a paedophiliac whose sexual orientation was towards young girls would be less likely to join the Catholic priesthood. So you may have a point. It remains true that most male homosexuals have no interest in children.

      As to ‘stopping paedophilia’, that isn’t the issue here, except in so far as the Catholic church is finally trying to identify and root out the paedophiliacs in its midst. Paedophilia is one of the most difficulty conditions to ‘cure’, as the recidivism rate for those convicted shows.

  2. The reporting of sexual abuse of boys by Catholic priests has been of epidemic proportions… Which is not to say that even one child abused is acceptable, it is not. But other denominations and faiths suffer the same problems with sexual abuse of minors, even though they can marry and the press doesn’t focus on them in the same way as Catholic abuse.

    According to Thomas Plante (who is professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine) “the available research suggests that approximately 2 to 5% of priests have had a sexual experience with a minor (i.e., anyone under the age of 18).”

    He says that in the general adult male population the best estimate for sexual experience with a minor is closer to 8%. He also agrees with you that “Sexual orientation does not predict illegal sexual abuse of children and minors in general.”

    http://www.psychwww.com/psyrelig/plante.html

    I don’t think the problem is with celibacy. I think the problem is that a certain percentage of people are sexually disordered towards children. I personally don’t know anyone abused be a priest, but I have plenty of female friends abused by fathers, uncles and family friends – many of whom were married.

    Graham Capill was married. Dr Morgan Fahey was married. John Francis Gainsford, a Salvation Army captain when he sexually abused minors was married.

    As a Catholic I’m not even angry at the abusive priests, who I dare say were acting under impulse and obviously psychologically broken. No, I’m angry at the psychologists who “treated” priests sexually attracted to teenage boys and then pronounced them rehabilitated.

    I’m absolutely livid at the Bishops who naively agreed and who moved priests around trying to avoid “a nasty scene”. Those who tried to speak up about the problem were often ignored, sometimes harassed and seen as troublemakers. Parents concerns were waved away and tried to be shut up. I know that this was pretty much how sexual abuse was dealt with in other faiths, denominations and educational institutions but the Bishops should have done better.

    You can see sin through all of this though, lust obviously, but pride and sloth by the Bishops. Satan is at work, but only because he was allowed to be by weak men.

    • The reporting of sexual abuse of boys by Catholic priests has been of epidemic proportions… Which is not to say that even one child abused is acceptable, it is not.

      I think we have some point of agreement: that sexual abuse of children is anathema under any circumstances; that the Catholic Church’s attempts to conceal the problem, thus subjecting other children to abuse, was almost the greater crime; that the sexual abuse of children is not limited to the Catholic Church but exists in other churches and organisations. However, I really don’t think you can dismiss the significance of celibacy, both as an attractant to the clerical life in the sense outlined in my post, and a factor in child abuse through the creation of sexual frustration and the ready availability of young, primarily male victims.

  3. “The reason homosexuality gets brought up is because within the Church the majority of the abuse was of pubescent and post-pubescent boys and the priests sometimes had sex with other men as well. It wasn’t teenage girls that were getting raped, it was teenage boys.”

    That really is foolish.

    On that basis, adult males who abuse young girls should lead us to be fearful of heterosexuality.

    The reason homosexuality is often linked with paedophilia is simply, homophobia.

  4. At first I thought it was ludicrous to blame Satan for the paedophilia. Satan is, to be blunt, a popular bit character in a well-known work, sort of the Bible’s version of Star Wars’ bounty hunter Boba Fett. Not actually a central character, but everyone remembers him as being kind of cool.

    However, it is possible that psychologically the Catholic Church needs to blame a mythical figure for the paedophile activities of its priests. It makes the process of getting the actual criminals to accept their actions easier, by providing an external reason that they can state for their despicable actions. A tissue of an emotional self-defence: the devil made me do it.

    • The devil made me do it.

      Nicely put, Sean. Laying the blame on Satan removes the responsibility one step from both the offender and the church.

  5. But Brian, if celibacy is an issue then why is clerical sexual abuse of minors less than the general male population? Surely if celibacy was significant then clerical sexual abuse would be higher than the population of men who have adult sex available?

    “On that basis, adult males who abuse young girls should lead us to be fearful of heterosexuality.”

    Not fearful, but concerned, and yes. For example Roman Polanski was clearly sexually interested in females, even young teenage girls. His behaviour is that of a heterosexual predator.

    • But Brian, if celibacy is an issue then why is clerical sexual abuse of minors less than the general male population? Surely if celibacy was significant then clerical sexual abuse would be higher than the population of men who have adult sex available?

      I’d say celibacy is an issue. There seem to me to be two problems with your argument. The first is that we don’t really know the extent of paedophile activity in the Church, which for generations has been at pains to conceal it. Second, the high rate of sexual abuse of children in the community at large, as I understand it, relates primarily to girls rather than boys, and is most commonly experienced in the home, often at the hands of relatives or near relatives. The world of pornography may give us a clue to the nature of paedophilia. I have never seen and have no wish to see child pornography, but I’m told by those who have that girls rather than boys are the primary victims in this vile trade.

  6. The church with its structure allows something paedophiles are always looking for ,opportunity.The church is not alone in this Scouts ,boys clubs etc all fall into this category.The church is not alone in its undereporting of these crimes.Our society seems to turn a blind eye to this until it is no longer viable to do so.In my lifetime so far I have witnessed three paedophiles grooming their victims.One a scout master who must have been actively involved in this for at least 20 yrs.I knew him from a distance(I was in a different scout group)when I was 12. He was finally arrested when I was about 30.By the time I was 30 I had realised his true motives from when I was 12. No parents ever openly challenged him until he was caught with a group of boys in his articulated caravan and charged.Another had a flat where he enticed young (and not so young boys) round with beer and cannibis.He targeted the surfing scene and sucessfully ruined many lives my brothers amongst them.Parents must have been aware of something unusual
    In both these cases(they may both be still in jail)someone old enough to realise the abuse that was going on should have done something.Just like wife beating etc etc their is a secret society of abuse and the sooner it becomes fully outed the better.I dont care who made them do it they must be stopped.I have children and while they are in my charge I have no intention of allowing anyone the opportunity.If I see someone who ticks the wrong boxes I will take it further.

  7. “Satan is, to be blunt, a popular bit character in a well-known work…”

    As a Catholic I disagree. In the New Testament Satan is a very real major player, think of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. But Satan can not compel anyone, we have to fall in to temptation through our own weakness, pride, anger, vanity etc.

    The personification of evil is just as real as the source of all goodness – God. But he is not as powerful since Satan can never be creative in the way that Love can be. Satan destroys and twists the truth, which is a dead end eventually.

    Satan may be a reason, but he is never an excuse.

    • As a Catholic I disagree. In the New Testament Satan is a very real major player, think of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. But Satan can not compel anyone, we have to fall in to temptation through our own weakness, pride, anger, vanity etc.

      This is what you believe, Tess. In my book, of course, there is neither God nor Satan.

  8. Brian, I concede your first point. There may be more sexual abuse we aren’t aware of, although I hope to God there is not. But I’m unsure of how your second point connect to celibacy in particular. Where is the causal relationship between celibacy and the sexual abuse of young teenage boys?

    • Where is the causal relationship between celibacy and the sexual abuse of young teenage boys?

      Celibacy – Sexual Frustration – Opportunity – Abuse

  9. Male sexual fantasies … inappropriate focusing … got an itch? gotta scratch it … and to quote Nigel Latta’s One Message to ALL NZ’ers: ” NEVER EVER leave your children in the care of a teenage boy – no matter how nice he is.” Or perhaps as Hannibal Lecter said: “We lust after that which we see every day” (or summat to that effect).

  10. This debate on whether sexual abuse is a “catholic” problem or not is one that infuriates me, to some degree. Many catholics will, naturally, rally to the defence of their beleaguered clergy and point out that abuse is prevalent in other denominations and social strata as well. However, what they do not address is the fact that the church is getting a hammering (including from among its own adherents) because the hierarchy has consistently refused to admit there is a problem. In Ireland (and I presume elsewhere) complainants were bullied or bribed into silence while offenders were simply reallocated to another parish. The major issue for the church is that the hierarchy believed that shaming the church by handing its clergy over to the police was a greater offence than covering up the rape of children.

    There is no great witch hunt inspired by anti-catholicism as many catholic apologists would like to believe. There is simply a demand for answers from a church that has systematically been responsible – right up the line – for the perpetuation of abuse against children.

  11. As a Catholic I disagree. In the New Testament Satan is a very real major player, think of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

    I, like Brian, don’t buy into either God or Satan, so I find it natural to look on the devil as a character. So let me put the point to you like this, the New Testament is a big book, how many actual lines does Satan get?

    The other thing about the devil is that in a monotheistic belief system such as Christianity, there isn’t any space for the devil. He has no power when compared to God right. But the mythology, which has built around the concept of the devil, is that he is a formidable power, this produces the idea that you need the power of God to fight the influence of the devil.

    There is a term for this sort of belief; it’s Dualism. It makes for more interesting storytelling, but I don’t see how it fits into a monotheistic religion.

  12. “So let me put the point to you like this, the New Testament is a big book, how many actual lines does Satan get?”

    It’s not about lines, it’s about themes. The Satan theme is about the self-destructive nature of pride and selfishness. When we reject love (as an action, not as a feeling) then we embrace what Satan represents. When Christ was in the desert his humanity was genuinely tempted by the offers of Satan – power and wealth at the expense of love and self-abnegation.

    The narrative of the Gospel’s highpoint is the Cross – where Jesus gives his own life for others as the living embodiment of the previously symbolic Paschal Lamb whose blood on the door lintels warned away the Angel of Death in Egypt. This is the direct counter-point to the message of Satan where self-preservation would always win out over selflessness.

    Every moral choice we make reminds us of the essential dualism of human consequence. Do we help or harm? Is it love of self or love of other?

    Clerics who sexually abused minors and Bishops who tried to hide the situation were acting out of love of self rather than love of other. Their actions harmed others, when they faced their own personal Cross and desert temptation they did not behave in a Christ-like manner.

    Part of religion is and always has been storytelling. Narratives live far beyond their own cultural context if they are real and true. I don’t literally believe in Adam and Eve, but I believe in the truth of the narrative. Much of the Bible’s truth is theological and psychological rather than literal and scientific. Although I do think Jesus of Nazareth historically existed and I do believe in the metaphysical.

  13. It’s not about lines, it’s about themes.

    True Tess, but I would have seen the main theme of the New Testament is that a virtuous life is independent of social expectation: a Samaritan can be more virtuous than the highest priest, Lepers are to be aided not avoided, worship and invested monetary interests don’t work together, the least will be first. As such, the crucifixion story is one of a message transcending the material world.

    It is interesting that in the theme of selflessness against self-love within oneself is so important, yet why is Lucifer so definitively an external force with a physical presence? This matches to God, who is also portrayed as an external force?

    And I still can’t get past how underwritten the Devil is, so much potential, he’s almost Othelloian (is that a word?) in his emotional scope.

    Clerics who sexually abused minors and Bishops who tried to hide the situation were acting out of love of self rather than love of other.

    I don’t disagree, and the blaming it on the Devil is a continuation of the self-love problem, they are siting an external reason for their own actions. Hardly the level of ownership of the crimes either of us would like the culprits to take, but it isn’t surprising that people will try and avoid the ownership of such actions to their last gasp.

  14. …why is Lucifer so definitively an external force with a physical presence?

    Well as a Catholic I say because he exists :) But then we’re hitting the circular reasoning wall at some force then aren’t we.

  15. BE seems to have his stats confused. Of the hundreds of thousands or even millions of Catholic Priests in over so many years, he has taught that several hundreds is epdidemic proportions. What is his baseline? This is without saying that it does not happen. Has he bothered to note the stats for say Pastors?

    • BE seems to have his stats confused. Of the hundreds of thousands or even millions of Catholic Priests in over so many years, he has taught that several hundreds is epdidemic proportions. What is his baseline? This is without saying that it does not happen. Has he bothered to note the stats for say Pastors?

      See my reply to Mark F on the statistical approach. “Hey, it’s not so bad, only 0.97% of the world’s Catholic priests were raping children! Oh, and lots of other clerics were doing it as well.”

  16. As a lapsed Catholic – and one who was never abused despite plenty of time spent in the vestry as a boy – I have to say that your statement about abuse in the church being of epidemic proportions requires some qualification. There are some 1.6 billion catholics in the world. Like Watergate, the bigger problem is the cover-up.

    I agree that the sacrifices that these archaic rules ask of normal, healthy people mean that there is probably a higher proportion of deviants in the church than in wider society. I don’t, however, subscribe to your hypothesis that a lack of rumpy pumpy necessarily turns priests into raving kiddie fiddlers. There are other ways around the rule anyway – lots of priests have ‘housekeepers’!

    The main problem with the Catholic Church’s celibacy rule – not to mention its relagation of women to second class status – is that they are missing out on the services of so many good people.

    The traditions of the church are essential to its power (meant both in a positive and negative sense). These institutions can only change slowly. In saying that, if they let priests marry they’d go a long way towards re-orienting the church where it should be, which is in legitimately bringing the basic teachings of JC to the community. I fear that we will have to wait for the next Pope for any movement in this direction…

    • As a lapsed Catholic – and one who was never abused despite plenty of time spent in the vestry as a boy – I have to say that your statement about abuse in the church being of epidemic proportions requires some qualification. There are some 1.6 billion catholics in the world. Like Watergate, the bigger problem is the cover-up.

      I’m afraid this sort of accounting doesn’t really work. The issue is not the percentage of Catholics – though it should really be of priests – who have/are abusing children, but the number of those priests. That number almost certainly runs into the thousands world wide and possibly more. I’m prepared to call that an epidemic, especially given the long term harm it will have done to those victims.

  17. “Bishops who tried to hide the situation were acting out of love of self rather than love of other. Their actions harmed others, when they faced their own personal Cross and desert temptation they did not behave in a Christ-like manner.’

    You make it sound like some trifling dilemma of etiquette like whether to take the bigger slice of cake than what it was – when presented with clear evidence that some of their colleagues had raped children they thought first of preserving the “good name” of their organisation.

    How dare they dismiss the sufferings of the most vulnerable to protest the most powerful?

  18. Well as a Catholic I say because he exists :) But then we’re hitting the circular reasoning wall at some force then aren’t we.

    Absolutely. Still, it’s been fun. All the best Tess.

  19. I’m prepared to call that an epidemic, especially given the long term harm it will have done to those victims.

    To be fair you are more likely to be raped by a family member than a priest. The epidemic of sexual abuse runs through humanity and not a specific religious denomination.

    For me as a Catholic, the issue is not the abuser – there will always be people who abuse children and teenagers sexually. No, the horror is the way that abusers were sent for lame rehabilitation treatments and then sent back into active ministry, or just moved about and those who spoke out were ignored.

    There has been a failure of leadership and that’s the problem. It’s not specific to Catholicism, but that doesn’t matter.

    The bright spot for me in this whole affair is that with such intense media attention Bishops can never again be lax about abuse. Parents are more aware about being trusting and priests are careful not to place themselves into unsafe situations. This makes things safer for children overall and for that I’m glad. These lessons have been hard learned at a terrible expense though.

  20. “Hey, it’s not so bad, only 0.97% of the world’s Catholic priests were raping children! Oh, and lots of other clerics were doing it as well.”

    I’m definitely not saying ‘it’s not too bad…’ I just don’t think that the hysteria on this issue is helpful.

    In case you haven’t seen it, there is a piece in the Grauniad which I think gets the balance about right:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/mar/19/catholic-church-child-abuse

    • I’m definitely not saying ‘it’s not too bad…’ I just don’t think that the hysteria on this issue is helpful.

      What you call ‘hysteria’, I call justifiable outrage. What we are discussing here is the worst imaginable abuse of trust and on a scale that justifies the use of the word ‘epidemic’. The attached article from this morning’s Herald includes the following:

      “Evidence over the past decade has shown church leadership has covered up, ignored or simply underestimated the problem of paedophilia.

      “Before becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told Catholic News Service in December 2002, that “less than 1 per cent of priests are guilty of acts of this type”.

      “The most extensive study of the abuse crisis in the American church, commissioned by the US bishops in 2004, found about 4 per cent of all American clerics who served during the time studied were accused of abuse.”

      Extrapolate this to the rest of the world over a generation. How many destroyed lives do you think this represents?

  21. 0.97% is still 0.97% too much

  22. The “hysteria” is perfectly understandable. Catholic apologists seem to gloss over the scope of the abuse and trot out the “few bad apples” excuse. It won’t wash. The abuse has deeply hurt many devout catholics who are appalled at the church’s handling of what was and is a vile crime. The other defence employed is to say that we shouldn’t judge the behaviour of bishops in the 60s and 70s according to today’s standards, which seems to indicate that – for apologists at least – raping children was somehow not as wrong then as it is now.