I was talking last night to my friend who is a member of SNAP. She herself is a survivor, and she has been studying the history and canon laws associated with this issue for decades.
She was not surprised, but frustrated nonetheless, about Pope Emeritus Benedict’s “notes” on the sex abuse crisis which were released yesterday.
Ok, this is how it really went. Up until the early 20th century, Canon Law did not provide for the church to handled sexual assault internally. Cases were turned over to law enforcement.
In 1910, Pius X promulgated Quam Singulari, and the age for first communion was lowered. Confession was too. So younger children began to interact more and more with priests in private situations. It became clear that sexual assaults were increasing.
In the US and other countries, waves of immigrants looked to improve their status. One way to do this was to give some sons and daughters to the church. For some, this was a real vocation. For others , it was simply expediency. Those ill suited to chastity became secular, aka diocesan, priests. No vow of chastity was required, only a promise of celibacy. Celibacy simply means “unmarried.”
The 1917 code of Canon Law attempted to handle newly developing problems by handling them internally. As the years passed, this became tightened more and more.
Crimen Sollicitationis attempted to deal with the issue in the 1920s and it was updated by John XXIii in the 1960s.
In the 1980s a study on the topic was done by Fr. Tom Doyle at the request of the Church.
I have known hundreds and hundreds of victims who were assaulted by criminal priests before the 1960s.
That was why I stopped reading what he wrote.
I would like him to stand in the presence of dissolving 80 and 90 year olds who were abused way before the 1960s. God knows, we all have done so. It is heartbreaking to see them pushed aside by yet more lies.
One can easily understand my friend’s anger.
The fact is, sexual abuse has always existed, in the world and in the Church– as a particularly horrendous subset of all the different ways an authority figure can hurt the people under him. Catherine of Sienna spoke against abusive priests in her own day. You can find plenty of examples of rules on the books to deal with a sexually abusive monk at the dawn of Christian monasticism. The fact that it’s always existed in secular cultures too is no excuse for us. We’re not supposed to conform ourselves to the way of the world. We ought to be a refuge and instead we’re a minefield. This is an unspeakably terrible shame. Every Catholic on Earth should be good and angry about it, as I know I am. Every cleric should be ashamed.
The important thing, once we’ve recognized this anger and shame, is to try to understand why sexual abuse is so rampant in the Catholic Church today. Then we can strive to stop as many instances as we can, to shut down and punish the abusers as quickly as possible, and to bring justice and healing to victims.
In my opinion, based on everything that I know and everything people better versed on this topic than I am have shared with me, Pope Emeritus Benedict failed to give an accurate or helpful remark in his “notes” yesterday. I don’t think even he honestly thinks that the sexual abuse epidemic of the present day really began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s, unless he’s getting extremely forgetful in his old age. And whether he thinks it or not, it isn’t true.
In fact, as has been pointed out to me by another friend, the “sexual revolution” in the 1960s may have helped us in this: it became socially acceptable to talk about sex in public. Certainly that’s not to everybody’s taste, but in itself it’s not wrong, and in this sense it’s helpful: victims now have a better chance of being heard and believed, rather than blamed and told to shut up for decency’s sake. There’s still an enormous deal of progress that needs to be made in that regard, obviously. Victims still face enormous consequences for speaking out. But being able to admit that it happens is a huge step.
We do not need to go back to some mythical time when people behaved themselves and abuse didn’t happen, because that time doesn’t exist.
We need to go forward, with all the information we have, and try to establish a better way of handling things. And we cannot do that if we’re dishonest.
(image via Pixabay)