New Zealand has put together a Royal Commission into Abuse in Care in order to investigate why young people (and vulnerable adults) are subject to abuse in schools and churches. Like we saw in Australia, the goal is create a tangible path forward so that victims of abuse get the help they need and other people are never put in that situation.
This week, a witness said something about the Catholic Church that’s obvious yet surprising.
On Tuesday, Dr. Tom Doyle, an ordained priest who has long been critical of the Catholic Church’s handling of the child sex abuse scandal, told the Commission that the blame for the abuse lay not with the priests themselves but with the Church’s structure.
It wasn’t Satan who took control of the priests, or a few bad eggs, or the celibacy rule, or anything like that. Instead, Doyle argued, the biggest problem is how the Church elevates priests to give them unearned authority.
He said the reputation of the priesthood allowed clerics to become trusted and immersed with families, which led to the grooming process of young people.
“The seduction process of the youthful victims, who often don’t even know what is happening. They have been raised to believe priests don’t sin.”
He said in every case he knew of over the past 35 years, the victims had been stunned by what had happened, and it was then the priest played on his power.
“[They] say to a child ‘do not tell anyone because that would be a sin. You don’t want to hurt the church, you don’t want to hurt me. And if you do tell anyone, God will be very unhappy‘.”
In other words, it’s the power dynamic. That exists in the secular world, too, as we know all too well with the #MeToo movement, but in the Church, there’s a supernatural element added to it. Priests are given a kind of “mystic aura,” Doyle said, that makes people trust them even when they shouldn’t. If the Church wants to stop the abuse, they should stop treating priests like they’re special and making sure members of their congregations are aware of that.
Doyle also claimed the celibacy requirement for priests played a role in the abuse, but not as much as you would think, because a lot of priests just broke that rule anyway. He estimated that roughly half of priests engaged in some sort of physical sexual relationship — one-night stands, private relationships, etc. That itself isn’t news; we’ve known for years that many priests have secret families.
Still, this is damning testimony. If one of the main goals of the Commission is to make recommendations to prevent abuse in the future, it would be a big deal for them to say the Catholic Church itself is broken. I mean, we all know it is, but for them to say it out loud would be huge. Thanks to Doyle, that could happen.
(Thanks to Bob for the link)