The Sexual Abuse Crisis: Who is to Blame?

The scourge of sexual abuse has convulsed the Catholic Church over the last decade. Victims of abuse have come forward in Britain, Ireland, the United States, Germany, Holland and Belgium to describe their ordeals at the hands of priests and others in authority.

Their suffering is real and it has led to a lot of soul-searching in the Church and, thankfully, the arrival of a new approach to tackling the problem. Many Catholics, however, remain confused about the nature of the crisis and its extent.

The Catholic Church and the Sexual Abuse Crisis, a forthcoming publication by the Catholic Truth Society, a publisher to the Holy See, offers Catholics and others a reliable guide to help them make sense of what is really happening.

Written by Dr Pravin Thevathasan, a UK consultant psychiatrist with experience of working with sex offenders and their victims, it acknowledges the failures of the Church and the real suffering of victims before it locates the genesis of the crisis in the trendy but destructive and false theories of such practitioners as Alfred Kinsey. The author uses statistics to demonstrate how levels of abuse peaked during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. He uses facts to illustrate the nature of the abuse and to draw profiles of the offenders. He also uses evidence to show that:

•    The crisis was not one of “paedophile priests” but largely of homosexual priests, with the vast majority of cases involving adolescent and pubescent boys rather than pre-pubescent children;
•    Celibacy is not to blame as abuse figures of Catholic clergy compare similarly with clergy in other religions and denominations in which clerics can marry;
•    There may be an anti-Catholic agenda, given the repeated and unjust attempts to implicate Pope Benedict XVI in the crisis, suggesting that the Church may be a target because of its moral teachings.

There are also sections on Church teaching on child sex abuse, what precisely is happening in some of the worst affected countries in the world and how the Church is responding to what has become one of its most severe problems of this age.

Fergal Martin, General Secretary of the Catholic Truth Society, said:

“This matter on so many levels can only be considered a tragedy. Pope Benedict has taken a lead on identifying underlying causes and insisting on full and complete repentance and prevention of these wrongs ever happening again. What this text achieves is to shed a penetrating light on a range of demanding and inter-linked questions concerning clerical abuse. The author, with all the skill of an experienced clinician, provides reasoned, tough and honest responses to each of them – which is of immense service to anyone who desires to understand what has happened, why, and what steps can and are being taken to resolve and heal, hopefully once and for all, this harrowing reality.”

Dr Thevathasan said:

“The sex abuse crisis has had terrible consequences. First and foremost we think of the innocent victims and their families. We also think of the very real damage this has done to the reputation of the Catholic Church.

“I show that the abuse crisis needs to be put in its context. The vast majority of priests are entirely innocent of this crime. The abuse of children is far from uncommon in society and, ultimately, abusive priests come from this society. That is why candidates for the priesthood must be selected with care. The fact that the crisis has occurred within the Church suggests that the Church has assimilated a certain spirit of worldliness.

“As a consultant psychiatrist of 15 years, I have looked after both sex offenders and victims. As a Catholic, I have seen the effects that the crisis has had on the Church. I have no doubt that the abuse of children leads to very significant psychological consequences. As part of my research, I examined Psychiatry books written in the 1970s and was surprised by some of the views then expressed. It would appear that many, but not all, clinicians then had opinions that have been discredited.

“I also show that it is unjust and wrong to claim that this crisis is largely a problem afflicting the Church. Indeed the research suggests that child abuse has a far higher incidence in other institutions.

“I discuss the safeguarding procedures now in place in the Church. It goes without saying that such instruments are only as good as the people who make use of them. The Catholic Church in the United Kingdom has been commended in implementing such procedures and is regarded as an example of good practice. However, there can be no grounds for complacency.

“When I asked a cardinal for his opinion of the crisis, he suggested that the problem is ultimately a spiritual one. We need to pray for good, solid, holy vocations to the priesthood.”


“I feel that it is outstanding. It is a lucid and complete review of a difficult issue for the Church. He summarises the history and suggests that following Vatican II there was a breakdown in ascetical discipline. Finally the article ends with the optimism of Pope Benedict. The Catholic Truth Society and Dr. Thevathasan are to be commended.”

Dr Patrick Guinan, University of Illinois, who has written extensively on the psychology behind the sex abuse crisis.

“I think this is an absolutely brilliant piece of work and richly deserves publication. While … the criticism [made of the Church by certain people] is out of proportion and unreasonable in many aspects, the reality is that we must be terribly humble and penitent too. This is a very shameful thing that has happened in our Church and we cannot be proud.”

Dr Adrian Treloar, consultant psychiatrist and a Catholic.

The Catholic Church and the Sexual Abuse Crisis is available priced £2.50

Of related interest:

Norms Concerning the Most Serious Crimes – The Norms of Canon Law dealing with crimes of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy have been published here in a comprehensive and updated form, in a document.
A Priest Forever – This meditation on the priesthood speaks of the being of the priest, what he becomes forever, through the indelible character of Holy Orders. It is a thoughtful reflection on the sanctity of the priest, what he is called to become by responding to the specific grace of this sacrament. The truth is faced head on: holy priesthood is given and priestly holiness is attainable, but it requires an heroic struggle.
Priesthood Today – Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue takes the opportunity of this ‘Year for Priests’ to re-examine the role of the priesthood today.

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One comment on “The Sexual Abuse Crisis: Who is to Blame?

  1. Who is to blame? This is the question posed in the heading. Well, first of all: the priests themselves who committed these crimes and, second of all: the several bishops across numerous dioceses who knew (or strongly suspected) that such criminal sexual activity was taking place and yet chose to turn a blind eye or chose not to report these activities to the civil authorities.

    It is worthwhile now to mention that some, although not all, of these bishops did report these criminal sexual activities to their ecclesiastical superiors i.e. archbishops and cardinals who, in turn, ignored the reports of abuse and, as we now know, even lobbied the Holy Father John Paul II to consider these reports of sexual abuse as gossip and malicious rumour.

    Who is to blame? Let’s be clear: NOT the victims (male and female); NOT ‘society’; and NOT the conciliar teachings of Vatican II either (of whom the current Pope Benedict XVI was overwhelmingly, although not uncritically, a supporter).

    The abusers and those who were prepared to cover up these crimes (in whatever way and however directly or indirectly) are the ones to blame. It saddens me greatly to read that this new book by CTS is yet another attempt to ‘spin’ the multiple failings of the church hierarchy by proffering half-truths and, in some cases, outright inaccuracies to the flock. For example:

    Ask any independent (i.e. not paid by the Catholic church) reputable psychiatric professional and they will inform you that paedophilia and homosexual orientation are NOT the same thing. It is disingenuous for this book (and for other Catholic commentators) to attempt to conflate them and, in so doing, lay all the blame at the door of ‘homosexual priests’. The problem has been pedophile priests, not homosexual priests.

    A final remark: it is noticeable that the church is keen to pump money into publishing books that wish to whitewash those responsible and at the same time to delude us into adopting a groupthink that suggests that sexual abuse never really took place inside the church until Vatican II. Such self-serving ideological hogwash is dishonest. I wonder how much money it is keen to invest in setting up support groups, therapy sessions and after-care for the tens of thousands victims of clergy sexual abuse?

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