I have a few thoughts rumbling about re the manner in which the Church deals, or fails to deal, with clerical sexual molesters.
I really got thinking about this when, a few days ago, I posted the following:
06 June 2013: Why these two men are still part of the problem
At that time I also posted a comment and referred readers to an interpretation of Canon 1395.2 (Code of Canon law) which I had posted three years ago. Here it is again:
Commentary on Canon 1395.2 of the 1983 Roman Catholic Church Code of Canon Law
I had wanted to elaborate a little further as soon as I had opportunity. This is my opportunity:) Three points I want to cover:
(1) Canonical excuses?
It seems to me that we have too many clergy in the Church, -particularly canon lawyers? – who are all too ready to excuse, minimize and/or rationalize the behaviour of clerical sexual predators. As a consequence there is an on-going battle to keep these wolves in sheep’s clothing in the priesthood, rather than a concerted effort to ensure that every priest convicted of a sex crime, or against whom there are credible allegations is laicized/defrocked as soon as possible.
Let me explain what I see.
In the commentary on Canon 1395.2 (link above) we read the following:
“Those who have studied [paedophilia] in detail have concluded that proven paedophiles are often subject to urges and impulses which are in effect beyond their control.”
Paedophilia is described in accord with the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (ed 3) as “‘the act or fantasy of engaging in sexual activity with pre-pubertal children as a repeatedly preferred or exclusive method of achieving sexual excitement’
We also read that even if it is known that the priest did indeed molest a minor once, or even a number of times, and that the priest may be punished criminally, when it comes to Church sanctions “because of the influence of paedophilia” the priest may not be, “by reason of at least diminished imputability,” liable to a canonical penalty, and that if perchance there is a penalty it might perhaps be “mild.”
“Imputability” is essentially being morally responsible our actions.
While I understand the role imputability might play in confession and before the eyes of God, I fail to understand where it fits in in when dealing with a Roman Catholic priest who betrays not only the trust and innocence of his victims, but also his vows, his Church, his fellow priests and his God. It seems to me it is irrelevant whether or not “Father” knew what he did was wrong, and equally irrelevant is the degree to which we can blame “Father” for the damage he has wreaked by his actions, -and will probably continue to wreak if he is not laicized/defrocked and is left to sully the priesthood by his presence. With or without faculties, and whether serving in a parish, or as a chaplain, a teacher, a professor, in the diocesan centre, on a marriage tribunal, or wherever, as long as he has not been defrocked he is still, sad to say, a molester who is a priest.
It seems to me that dealing with clerical sexual predators in such manner is akin to a judge finding a father guilty of sexual abusing his young children, but then concluding that, well, after all, while Dad did ‘touch’ the children, Dad isn’t really at fault because, you see, Dad was molested as a child himself, and he’s an alcoholic and so it’s not really his fault that he raped one of his daughters and sodomized one of his sons, and therefore well, we’ll just forgive and move on and overlook his little indiscretions, ‘human’ failings, and mistakes and we’ll just send him off for a little round of treatment and then get him right back home because his wife forgives him and still loves him, and his wife doesn’t really think the children were harmed too much by the ‘touches’ and after all the children will get over it, and the wife is ready and willing to take the molester back into her home because, after all, all the children really need their father.
What’s the difference? Is there a difference? If there is, I fail to see it.
The bottom line is that the molester priest, “Father,” has proven himself a danger to the naïve and unquestioning trust of the innocent, and a danger to the faith of the faithful. He has proven himself unfit to serve in the priesthood.
It may sound like a silly question, but in these strange times it must be asked: Is it not better that the predatory priest be defrocked so that he can spend the rest of his days working on the salvation of his own soul and praying for his victims?
Is defrocking not a healthier and more charitable approach than allowing the molester to remain in the priesthood as both a hypocrite and a wolf in sheep’s clothing, not to mention a risk to every child who comes his way?
Is defrocking not a healthier approach than allowing a clerical molester to present himself as a man of God and thereby sully the ranks of the priesthood by his very presence?
Is it not healthier to defrock the clerical molester than to tolerate his presence in the priesthood where he can yet again use and abuse his position of trust and make an absolute mockery of the faith?
Is retaining such a man as a priest with a plethora of excuses not an affront to God Himself?
I have said before and will say again that when it comes to millstones Our Lord made no exceptions or excuses for those who should be thrown into the depths of sea.
That’s part of what’s been on my mind.
Now on to part 2.
(2) Is it a “crime,” or an “offence”?
A number of years ago I put together another page regarding canon 1395. This one was posted well before the commentary with which I dealt above on section 2 of c 1395
I titled the other page, which can be accessed her, “Defending the Indefensible”
Much of what is there has already been covered, but I haven’t of late made mention of the quirks when it comes to translations of the Code from Latin to English.
The Code is written in Latin. It must be translated into English. There are various English translations.
The 1983 translation published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is The Code of Canon Law in English Translation. It was prepared by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland in association with the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand and The Canadian Canon Law Society.
That particular 1983 translation of Canon 1395.2 reads as follows:
Can. 1395 §2 A cleric who has offended in other ways against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the crime was committed by force, or by threats, or in public, or with a minor under the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants. (emphasis added)
Note the word “crime.” “…if the crime was committed by force…” (Also, for the information of those who may not know, the age of majority has since been changed to 18)
Now look at the translation which is used in Commentary on Canon 1395.2. This is from the 1995 The Canon Law: Letter & Spirit: A Practical Guide to the Code of Canon Law: The Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the one I quoted from at the start of this blog:
Can. 1395 §2 A cleric who has offended in other ways against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the offence was committed by force, or by threats, or in public, or with a minor under the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.
Note that in this translation the word “offence “ is used – “…if the offence was committed by force…”
Strangely enough, this commentary was published by much the same group who published the 1983 annotated version of the code, but in this particular translation, as in some others, “crime” became “offence.”
Why “crime” in some translations and “offence” in others? I wish I knew. I would say using “offence” suits the purpose of minimizing and excusing the abhorrent clerical acts, but the truth is that some translations use crime and others “offence,” and, without resorting to an abundance of speculation I can see no rhyme nor reason to the decision to use one or the other.
Still, the question surely arises: If, as is apparent, the word “crime” is an acceptable and appropriate translation, and, if, as is the case in the English Western speaking world, these acts are criminal, why would any clerical translator, canon lawyer or not, choose to use the word “offence” rather than “crime”? Can anyone enlighten me/us on this?
So, yes, that’s been on my mind too. And one more thing…
In a 20 March 2010 article entitled “Too little, too late” Mgr Scicluna, then the Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (now Bishop), was quick to point out to an interviewer that it is “incorrect” to refer to many of the 3,000 cases of clerical molesters dealt with by the congregation of the preceding 10 years as paedophiles.
According to Scicluna, the majority of these “cases” are ephebophiles, a few are heterosexuals, and a very meager 10% of clerical molesters are paedophiles. (None it seems are homosexual?)
I raise this now because I am now wondering where exactly ephebophiles fit into the grand scheme of things in canon law? If, for example, a clerical molester stands to avoid penalty by being labeled a paedophile, and if, indeed paedophiles are only a teeny percentage of the clerical molesters (10%), what about the bulk of clerical molesters who are presumably ephebophiles?
Well, okay, a few more statistics from Monsignor Scicluna:
– , between 2001 and 2012 the congregation dealt with 3,000 cases of sexual abuse by priests.
– of the above 3,000 cases, 60% were ephebophiles.
– only 20% (600) of those 3,000 cases went to a full canonical trial
– 60% of the cases (1,200) did NOT go to trial “above all because of advanced age of the accused.” In regard to this comment, Scicluna adds that
“administrative and disciplinary provisions have been issued against [those priests], such as bans on celebrating Mass with the faithful and hearing confession, and an obligation to live a secluded life of prayer. … It’s true that there has not been a formal condemnation, but if a person is obliged to a life of silence and prayer, there must be a reason.“
Does the above mean that Church officials can keep the truth secret and avoid “formal condemnation”? and does it in turn mean that we should be able to sort it out because “there must be a reason” that “Father” has been committed to a life of silence and prayer?
Why? Why should it not be up to Church officials to tell the truth? Why should we be left to speculate?
What of the mother who has wondered for years what happened to her little Johnny? why did he change overnight when he was 11-years-old? why does he refuse to set foot inside the door of a Church? What did she do wrong? Where did she let Johnny down? What about all of the Johnny’s mothers out there who torture themselves trying to understand where they went wrong? Do they not warrant the truth so perhaps they can finally start to understand what happened to Johnny? And so they can perhaps finally reach out and help Johnny?
What about them. Do they count? In the grand scheme of things is truly important thing here that “Father” gets shuttled off to a life of silence with his ‘good’ reputation firmly intact?
Is that the object of the exercise? And, if it is, what about Johhny? And what about Johnny’s mother? In the canonically grand scheme of things, do they count? Is it the lack of “formal condemnation” which matters most? To heck with Johnny, and to heck with Johnny’s mother, let’s not condemn poor dear “Father.”e
Remember now that those molesters who got off without a canonical trial are, according to Msgr. Scicluna, the ephebophiles. Their cases did not go to trial because, presumably, of their “advanced age.”
In light of the above, would it be redundant of me to ask if these ephebophiles also somehow enjoy the tolerance of charitable canon lawyers who excuse the despicable behavior of predatory priests, and keep them in the priesthood because of their presumed “diminished immutability”?
I think it is – redundant that is.
In fact, I think perhaps this is why the Church is inundated with priests in the ranks of the priesthood who are known molesters. I also think it is why there is a concerted effort to battle the defrocking of clerical molesters.
Have you noticed it? I certainly have. For all the chatter of tightening things up there is rarely serious mention of purging and purifying the priesthood. When it comes to really serious talk of getting them out, well – there’s excuses, or talk of how long it takes or might take or will take, and a sort of tolerant comfort in letting these clerical molesters sashay around hither and yon
Why anyone in their right mind would want the priesthood to be seen or even thought of as inundated with sexual predators is totally beyond me. It is an insult to us all – to God, the victims, the faithful and the decent priests who wind up tarnished with the same brush because we Catholics can no longer trust Church authorities to protect the innocent by weeding out the predatory priests. In short, thanks to all the canonical dithering, tolerance and excusing and rationalizing and defending the indefensible, we no longer know the ‘good’ priests from the ‘bad.’
I have said before and say again, if these priests are being retained because of a genuine concern for their well-being and/or fear for the safety of children if they are defrocked, then by all means get a house, or manor or whatever is necessary on the outskirts to hose defrocked clergy. Pick a spot well out of town. Appoint someone to monitor the group and ensure they are not around children or vulnerable adults 24/7 : By all means provide food for meals and some minimal monthly stipend. Let those who wish to do so cook and clean for them. But, get them out of the priesthood. Out!
For that matter, let those who defend these men take them into their homes and provide for them after they are defrocked (as long of course as there are no children around). If the concern is that they are nor out on the streets, there are ways and means of ensuring that does not happen. Where there is a will there is generally a way.
But, back to statistics,
As mentioned previously:
– of the 3,000 cases referenced by Monsignor Scicluna, 60% (1,200) were ephebophiles.
– of the 3,000 cases 60% of the cases (1,200) did NOT go to trial “above all because of advanced age of the accused.”
of the 3,000 cases, only 20% (600) went to a full canonical trial
Now, look at this. According to Scicluna,
The remaining 20% (600) of the 3,000 are those who ended up out of the priesthood.
20 %. A paltry 20%
And look at the breakdown of the 20%who ended up out of the priesthood:
10% of the 3,000 (300) were those cases in which the priest himself asked to be laicized and those “requests were promptly accepted.”
a measly 10% of the cases (300) were “those that are particularly serious ones and with overwhelming proof”
Do you see that? Only 300 of 3,000 cases which landed in the Vatican were considered “particularly serious” and with “overwhelming” proof? 10%!
Those, of all 3,00 cases which landed in the Vatican offices, were the only ones who were defrocked.
And another 10% asked to get out. (Imagine that. Only 10% have the decency to ask to get out!) And Msgr. Scicluna gives perhaps himself and his fellow canon lawyers a little bit of a pat on the canonical back for that one that (those requests “were promptly accepted.”)
But back to the 10% who were defrocked. Those 300 cases which “are particularly serious ones and with overwhelming proof.”
When it comes to clerical sexual abuse, what I wonder, in the mind of a canon lawyer, constitutes offenses which are “particularly serious” ? Not just serious cases, but “particularly” serious cases.
I can tell you in all honesty that there is not a single case with which I personally am familiar which I do not consider to be serious – ‘really’ serious, ‘particularly’ serious, ‘terribly’ serious. Is there a single case of priest molesting a child which is not serious? Really? Is there?
Anyway, there it is: thanks to the experts 300 of 3,000 predatory clergy were defrocked.
(A reminder that, as I understand it, these figures are only for those cases which landed in the Vatican . These do not include the cases which were tossed out by diocesan officials because someone or other determined that the allegations were lacking in credibility. Need I remind all that that we’ve seen more than a few cases deemed credible which officials once ruled were lacking in credibility)
What does this all say? It seems to me that it matters not what the label is: ephebophiles, or paedophiles, it matters not. The truth is that clerical molesters have many a canon lawyer ready willing and able to champion their cause and dance on the head of a canonical pin to keep them in the priesthood.
Why any priest would want to keep a predator in the priesthood is beyond me. I think my mind just can not wrap itself around something which I truly see as an oxymoron..
Nor for that matter can I fathom why a presumably contrite clerical predator would want to stay in the priesthood and bring heartache to his fellow priests and scandal to the Church is beyond me. What of sackcloth and ashes? Is there room for that in the minds of these men who have damaged so many?
All that said, I think common sense says that we shouldn’t rely on what these predatory priest want or do to determine what should be done with them.
Certainly, forgive them. But let’s not for a moment forget the children, the faith, justice and a good dose of common sense. For the good of all, the predator has to be defrocked. If he won’t leave on his own, then defrock him.
At the end of the day I believe that we need a huge overhaul of the Code of Canon Law, and a massive purge of those who interpret it.
If we can’t get these priests defrocked because of the Code, then for goodness sake start the battle to amend the code. I urge all you good priests who are saddled with these predators in your midst to start the battle to get the code cleaned up. And, perhaps in the process it is time to purge the ranks of canon lawyers? Perhaps in regard to the latter the first step is to get rid of those predators who were recycled into the field of canon law after they were ‘caught” ? and those who are known to Church officials, but not the faithful, as predators? I include here thosese who are in the priesthood, and those who left the priesthood voluntarily, and those who were defrocked. It should go without saying, should it not, that we don’t need predators dictating how we should deal with their kind, do we?
In closing, I have said it before and will say yet again, when it comes to clerical sexual predators, if our bishops spent half as much time listening to God as they do listening to lawyers we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now, and I dare say the innocence and faith of countless trusting children would have been spared. And, yes, canon lawyers are lawyers too!
Enough for now,