Sex Abuse in the Catholic ChurchOne of the most disturbing modern manifestations of the practical consequences religious irrationalism is the current scandal of widespread sexual abuse [a] of children within the Roman Catholic Church.
Geoghan predation lasted throughout his whole career in the priesthood; from his first parish assignment at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Saugus, north of Boston, in 1962 until his last assignment in 1995. (He was not defrocked then, and remained a priest until 1998) At the Blessed Sacrament Church, Church records show that Geoghan was accused of, and admitted to, molesting four children. He would have the children sit on his lap while he fondle them through their clothes.
Through his early experiences, Geoghan would develop his simple but effective modus operandi. He would hone in on children from poor families and broken homes. These children are normally more vulnerable emotionally. The single parent (usually the mother) would think it heaven sent to have a "man of god" around the house, providing a role model and company for the children. 
One such single parent is Joanne Mueller. When Geoghan was transferred to St. Paul's Church in Hingham, south of Boston, in 1967, she befriended him. As a devout Catholic, she gladly allowed Geoghan access to her home and her four boys. Geoghan would take the boys out for ice cream and had free access to the boys' bedroom. He even "helped" the boys getting in and out of the bathtub. The truth suddenly came out in 1973 when Joanne's third son, then around eight, told her he did not want the priest in their home. When she pressed him for the reason, the boy finally blurted out that Father Georghan was "touching my wee wee". She summoned her three other boys, only to be told the same story. The priest had abused them all, the youngest boy was only five. 
In 1974 Georghan was posted to St. Andrew's Church in the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain. Again he befriended a single mother with four children of her own; this time three boys and a girl. The woman, Maryetta Dussourd, was also taking care of four of her niece's boys. For two whole years, from 1978 to early 1980, he would visit the family home almost every night. He would take the boys out for ice cream and put them to bed at night. It was while he was in the bedroom with the boys that Geoghan would commit the abuse. He would perform oral sex on them, fondled their genitals or forced them to fondle his. Some times he would pray while committing these acts. When Maryetta finally found out about this (the children had told her sister), she complained to a pastor in a nearby parish. 
Geoghan would spend the next year on "sick leave". In early 1981 he was sent to St. Brendan's Church, another church in Boston. Here too, his predation continued unabated. In 1982, after hearing of complaints again, the Church shipped Geoghan to Rome on a scholarly renewal program; a much sought-after perk by priests. 
The trip to Rome did not help. In 1984, perhaps learning of Geoghan's penchant for befriending single parent blue collar families, the Church assigned him to St. Julia's Church in Weston, an affluent suburb. This unfortunately did not stop his predation. He preyed on the altar boys. However altar boys were not enough. To satisfy his appetite, he visited the blue collar neighborhoods closeby. One of his victims there was Patrick McSorley. Having learnt of Patrick's father's suicide, Geoghan went to the McSorley's home ostensibly to offer his condolences. He offered to take Patrick, who was twelve then, out for some ice cream. The boy accepted. In the ride home, the priest patted the boy's thigh and then started to slide his hand further up to his groin. The old priestly pervert than started the masturbate the boy. McSorley today (the incident happendd in 1986) remembered Geoghan then started to gratify himself and moaned like he had ejaculated. The little boy, holding an ice cream, simply froze up. 
In 1994 law enforcement officers were beginning to hone in on Georghan. The church then moved Geoghan into Regina Cleri, a clergy retirement home, as an associate director. Yet, even here, Geoghan was still able to hunt for victims. He was accused of molesing boys in nearby Waltham. Geoghan was finally removed from active duty in January 1996. In 1996 the first civil lawsuit against Geoghan was filed. To date the Church have settled a dozen of these, to the tune of $10 million.
In February 2002, 40 years after his criminal predation began, Father John Geoghan, was sentenced to ten years in prison for one of his acts of sexual predation. 
John Geoghan, of course was not the only one, as the next section shows. Even more amazing, this scandal is not new, in fact reading through it gives one a sense of deja vu. For ten years ago, in 1992, a similar scandal had broken out and had received as much press attention. Then the "star" predator, was one Father James Porter.
Like Geoghan, Porter's victims were legion; at least 125 boys and girls in at least four states. Like Geoghan, Porter's crime spree went on for a long time, from 1960, until 1974. And finally, again like Geoghan, he was shuffled from parish to parish until he was finally defrocked in 1974.
Porter's predation started in 1960 straight out of the seminary. His first assignment as a priest was at St. Mary's Church in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. While there he would molest both boys and girls of St. Mary's Grammar School. Within a week of his arrival, he had claimed his first victim, fifth grader Paul Merry. The boy was molested for three years. At least once a week, Father Porter would grab and fondle the boy. Within a month of his arrival, he had molested Patty Poirier, another fifth grader, and his first female victim. Porter's predation went beyond molestations. He actually raped many of his victims. In 1963, a mother complained to two priests at St. Mary's about Porter's abuse of her twleve year old son. Porter was the transferred to another parish. At St. Mary's, Porter's victims numbered around forty children.
Porter's pattern of abuse continued from parish to parish. In 1965, while working as chaplain at a hospital in New Bedford, he started abusing altar boys he was training. When he was sent home to recover due to complaints regarding his behavior, he molested children at a nearby parish. When he was sent for treatment in 1967 at Jemez Springs in New Mexico, he would fill up for a priest on leave in a church nearby. There he claimed at least six more victims. He was shuttled to Houston and molested still more children. When he was shipped back to New Mexico, he molested some more. Finally, after more complaints, Porter was advised to petition to leave the priesthood. He was granted his petition by the pope in January 1974.
Porter's victims essentially kept their dark secret until 1992 when one of them, Frank Fitzpatrick, by then a private detective, located Porter and started the process of filing criminal charges against him. Porter was finally arrested in September 1992 and sentenced to twenty years in prison. In that year, more than 100 people charged Porter with molesting them. The Fall River diocese paid out more than $7 million to his victims.
Back to the top
Some men of the cloth could not take the shame of the revelations and chose to take their own lives instead:
Even this admittedly cursory look should convince that the scale of the problem in the US is immense. The most authoritative research on priesthood and sexuality is that done by psychiatrist, Richard Sipe, a former monk himself. He estimated that, out of 45,000 priests in the US, up to seven percent, or more than three thousand are child molestors. Of these, about one third are true pedophiles, while the rest are ephebophiles (showing more interest in post pubescent children).  In the past 15 years some 1,500 American priests have faced allegations of sexual abuse. 
Some apologists have tried to argue that Catholic priests are no more prone to child sexual abuse than those of other denominations or in secular caring professions. This defense is not convincing. The best estimates for abuse among Protestant clergy is 2 to 3 percent, which is only one third that of their Catholic counterparts. [c]  We will take a closer look at why the Catholic Church seems more susceptible to this culture of abuse in the section below.
This problem is not merely confined to the US. It seems that sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests on children is a worldwide phenomenon:
The most common reaction by the Church hierarchy to individual cases when they are reported to it is to remove the offending priest from his parish or current posting, only to move him somewhere else! This was how it handled the cases John Geoghan, James Porter, Paul Shanley, Rudolph Kos, James Paquin and many others. Always the results remain the same.The method and its result is aptly summarised by the reporters of the Boston Globe:
To exarcebate the problem, the Church never told the parishioners at the former church the reason why the priest was leaving and, more importantly, the parishioners in the new congregation were never told about their new priest's past. All this was to avoid causing an embarrassment to the Church. As the reporters of the Boston Globe wrote, the Catholic bishops "sacrificed the safety of children to the Church's desperate desire to avert scandal." 
Indeed, the offending priests access to children were hardly ever restricted. The archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, has come under much criticism for his handling of the crisis in the Boston archdiocese. In 1984, when he took over the office of archbishop, Law received a letter dated December 7th from Bishop John D'Arcy, the Auxiliary Bishop of Boston about Geoghan. In that letter he explain to the new archbishop that Geoghan's assignment to St. Julia's may be unwise due to his previous "homosexual involvement with young boys" and urged that Geoghan's work should be restricted to saying weekend Masses. Yet Geoghan was permitted to remain at St. Julia's with no restriction to his movement. As we have seen above, he molested altar boys there and went prowling around the surrounding blue collar neighborhoods looking for more victims. From that date until the year Geoghan was finally removed from active duty, Geoghan molested at least another thirty children-children which could have been saved the trauma had Law heeded the warning in that fateful letter in 1984. [Postscript: Facing tremendous pressure from the laity and general public, Cardinal Law resigned his position as Archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese on December 13th 2002] 
Cardinal Law handling of this case was not at all unusual. The Bishop of Fall River Diocese, James Connolly, handled Porter the same way Law handled Geoghan. Porter was shuffled from parish to parish (with some brief period of "treatment" thrown in between some of these transfers) whenever complaints about his sexual abuse arose. All in all, Porter was transferred at least eight times to different parishes and at no time was his access to children restricted. 
Another bishop that came under fire was Archbishop Robert Sanchez, of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in New Mexico. The allegations involved how the treatment center for priests, Servants of the Paraclete, which was located within his archdiocese were handled. Among other things priests were sent there for treatment of child abuse. Yet these very same priests were allowed to serve Mass around the treatment center in the weekends-allowing them free access to children. Sanchez himself was eventually forced to step down in 1993 when it was revealed that he had had sexual relations with five women.
Examples of how Catholic bishops worldwide handled these could be added ad nauseum but the three examples above should suffice. Marian Walsh, a state senator from Boston, summarized best the feelings of most people when she said (specifically referring to Cardinal Law's handling of the situation):
In between moving the priests from parish to parish, the church would send some of problem priests for treatment. Two of the centers most frequently used by the Catholic church for sex abusers within their clergy are the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico and the St. Luke Institute in Suitland, Maryland.
There are a few problems with these treatment centers. Firstly, these institutes see the Catholic Church as their boss. The whole treatment is premised upon getting the priests, "fixing them" and getting them back to work. Secondly, the mixing of religious concepts, like prayers and forgiveness, with science tends to make for an inadequately unbiased evaluation of the patients. Father William Peri, one of the directors of the Servants of the Paraclete said this in an interview in 1987 that the center's main approach is "forgiveness" and that "forgiveness leads to healing". As to how they know the priests no longer need treatement, Father William Foley, head of Paraclete order, said that they "just get an intuition that they're going to work out". Thirdly, the centers, according to psychologist Gary Schoner, who have himself treated many victims of molests by priests, trust the priests too much and depend on them wanting to be cured. Victims were not interviewed, there were no attempts to get access to independent background data on the incidents and the victim. 
Of course we have direct evidence that the treatment and final evaluation were far from adequate. "Graduates" from both centers continued their pattern of abuse. From Jemez Springs we have James Porter, Jason Sigler, Rudolph Kos and David Holley; all of which continued to abuse children after treatment there. Indeed they were molesting children while in treatment when they were allowed to celebrate Mass in local parishes surrounding the center. From St. Luke there were John Geoghan, Rudolph Kos and Gilbert Gauthe, who also continued their abuse after (sometimes multiple) treatment. 
One of the few hard won truths about child sexual abusers is that once they molest, they tend to do so again and again. This is something the Catholic Church (with its naive believe in "prayer" and "forgiveness") have difficulty accepting. As early as 1967, a consulting pyschologist for the Servants of the Paraclete, met with the archbishop of Santa Fe and the head of the Paraclete order and explained to them that long term treatment was required and advised against returning the priests to working with children. His contract was terminated after that meeting. 
Back to the top
Yet this is exactly what Father Canice Connor of St. Luke Institute wrote in America Magazine in May 1992! That a Church-recogized expert on child sexual abuse could make such a statement shows how out of touch it is with the victims.
Indeed the Church, in general, showed very little concern for the victims. When Patricia Dolan, a victim of child abuse (see above), got her archdiocese to pay for her therapy sessions, they tried to get access to her personal files from these sessions. When these were denied them, the payment for the therapy stopped. Furthermore a nun specializing in abuse victims actually chided her for claiming she was abused - as the priest was way past middle age. "He couldn't have done that much to you." was what the nun said-adding insult to the psychological injury. 
Another example is Tom Blanchette. A victim of abuse in his childhood in the 1960's, he approached Cardinal Law during the funeral, in 1989, of the priest (Father Joseph Birmingham) who had abused him. [d] He told Cardinal Law he was one of those molested by Birmingham. According to Blanchette, Cardinal Law reacted defensively and then laid his hands on Tom's head while saying "I bind you by the power of the confessional never to speak about this to anyone else." Faced with victims, all Cardinal Law could think of was to make him not say anything to anyone! 
Indeed there is a tendency in the Church hierarchy to blame the victims for the crime commited on them. This statement regarding Rudolph Kos and his victims by Monsignor Robert Rehkemper was made in an interview with a reported from The Dallas Morning News in August 1997:
So the monsignor is telling us that a child of seven years old is in a perfect position to resist the advances of a Roman Catholic priest; a man who would probably be seen by the child as the pinnacle of morality and authority! If that is not enough, Monsignor Rehkemper, lashed out at the parents of the victims as well:
In other words, he is saying, why were the parents, devout Catholics probably, so dumb as to trust their children with priests? I do not think moronic rhetorical questions like this deserve an answer!
Monsignor Rehkemper is not the only Catholic ecclesiastic holding such views. In 1992 a midwestern bishop called a woman, who was abused as a fourteen year old girl by a priest, a "little lolita" out to milk as much money from the church as possible.  Cardinal Law, in his recent defense to the charges that Father Shanley molested a six year old boy, asserted that both the six year old boy and his parents were negligent and contributed to the abuse.  This is how Kevin Burke, the district attorney in Essex Country, summarized his experience dealing with the church in Boston when he bought charges against a church worker accused of molesting more than twenty children:
Back to the top
 Indeed recent estimates put the number of homosexual priests around 20%.  For the conservative, the solution is neat, for it suggests that somehow it is not the Church that is at fault but abberant priests who probably have no right to be in the priesthood anyway!
Inviting as the solution seems to be, it seems mistaken. There is no credible research that links the sexual abuse of children with homosexuality. As we can see from the examples above, girls and well as boys were molested. Indeed men who molest little boys are more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual in their adult involvements. Richard Sipe, a psychiatrist, summarized it succinctly, "Child sexual abuse has as much to do with homosexuality as rape has to do with heterosexuality." 
Two of the main causes of this widespread systemic problem of child sexual abuse are the Church culture of celibacy and the monolithic authoritarian structure of the church.
Celibacy was originally introduced in the Church during the end of the third century (or the beginning of the fourth). It did not become widely enforced until Pope Callistus II called the First Lateran Council in 1123 where he declared all clerical marriages invalid. However continued reiteration of this rule through later councils showed that the enforcements were by no means fully successful. It was only during the Council of Trent in 1563 that celibacy became an absolute rule. 
Note that is is not celibacy per se that causes the sexual abuse of children. It is the celibate culture, one in which sex is renounced, that forms an attraction to people already struggling with sexual issues. True pedophiles tend to develop their inclination early and contrary to what many may believe, many of them feel ashamed of such feelings and fight to contain and, in many cases, to repress it completely. If the person happens to be a Catholic male and religious, the celibacy of the priesthood with its promise of grace from God and the provision of the "gift" of celibacy seems just the antedote for his predeliction. Dr. John Morney, a reknowned authority on human sexuality wrote: "These future priests become seminarians partly in the belief that they will, through religion, gain control over the very sexual desire that they resist or fight against". 
This is view is shared by another prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Glen Gabbard, who, in an interview with the authors of The Gospel of Shame said:
To that is added the fact that priests are normally given a high level of prestige among Catholic communities. Most Catholic parents would be proud to have a priest they know take their sons to the ball game or for some ice cream. The priest function both as chaperone and companion. Thus this twin aspect, respect/trust coupled with easy access to children, would prove too much for priests already inclined to child molestation.  Another important cause of the prevalence of child sexual abuse within Roman Catholicism is the structure of the Church itself. As Bruni and Burkett wrote:
The Roman Catholic Church has always been authoritarian. As Pope John Paul II said in 1987 "The Catholic Church is a theocratic institution, not a democratic one."  Furthermore the Catholic bishops view their Church as a divine institution, descended from the apostles of Jesus. It was their responsibility to protect and make sure people respect the Church. Somehow they would be failing their tasks as bishops if the church reputation is damaged in any way.  Thus bishops all over the world did (do?) their utmost to hide the molestors and somehow look upon the victims reporting the crimes as enemies out to destroy their beloved church.
Having identified the causes, some Catholic liberals had tried to suggest some solutions. On celibacy, it has been suggested that ending mandatory celibacy in the priesthood could help. However even a cursory thought shows that this may not work. For there will still be a group of priests that would be celibate. In fact if church history is any guide, celibate priests in a non-mandatory celibate culture will probably be held in higher esteem than married ones. Thus it would not prevent men already predisposed to pedophilia to join and be celibate for reasons cited above. 
Attempting to democratise the structure of the Catholic Church is also a non-starter. For the church is committed to maintain the fiction that it is an unchanging, divinely sanctioned, institution. This is part of what Garry Wills called the structure of deceit within the Catholic Church. The statement below made in 1965 by the Catholic theologian, John Ford, on the reason why the Church could not change its teachings on contraception is equally applicable to its structure:
The structure of the Church is governed by the sixth canon of the Council of Trent (1545-63) which states:
The hierarchical structure precludes democratization. And using the logic outlined by Father Ford above, the church could not have condemned so many people in the past ("anathema" means "to condemn" or "accursed") if the Church was not actually a hierarchy!
In the final analysis two of the major causes of the problem lie at the very core of Roman Catholicism. When the structure of a building is damaged beyond repair, there is only one solution-pull the whole structure down.
Back to the top
Back to the top