When did it begin?
April 5, 2010 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Before recent times (say, mid-20th century to the present), have there been other accusations, admissions, or convictions of Roman Catholic priests committing sexual abuse, molestation, and rape?

Are there other past or historical stories of sexual abuse by pedophile clergy, that are similar to the kinds of cases that are being uncovered today? What is the earliest known case of such abuses?
posted by raztaj to Religion & Philosophy (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Granted, this is not the most clinically detached source in the world, (site dedicated to the memory of two men allegedly murdered by a Catholic priest after they discovered evidence of his abuse of children) but: a short history of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
posted by Naberius at 5:32 PM on April 5, 2010


Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog has been posting examples and discussion of this very topic for the last several days.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:33 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


A widely studied Spanish 16-century classic work of literature, Lazarillo de Tormes, was published anonymously in the 1550s and features as protagonist an errand boy who is taken in by various masters, priests and father figures. A short episode that was later censored by the Inquisition in 1573 features Lazarillo with a Mercedarian priest/friar.

St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church assisted the 11th-century Popes with moral reform, which included work toward eradicating [what was then termed] the vice of homosexuality.

The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism by Mark D. Jordan (University of Chicago Press, 2000) explores the history of homosexuality in the church. It's full of historical details.
posted by netbros at 5:33 PM on April 5, 2010


A former "fixer" for sex scandals in the church, Patrick Wall, wrote this book, purporting to be a 2,000 year history of sexual abuse and coverups.
posted by Beardman at 5:36 PM on April 5, 2010


If you have access to a library that subscribes to SpringerLink, you might be able to gets this article in Pastoral Psychology"Child sexual abuse and the Catholic church: An historical and contemporary review."

From the abstract: Although the recent revelations of clergy sexual abuse suggests an unusual and recent epidemic among the Catholic church, the historical record suggests this difficulty has plagued the church over the centuries.
posted by cirripede at 5:37 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh sure. There are tons of stories, going back to the early days. Just pop open your handy copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and on almost any page you'll find all sorts of innuendos about illicit sexual behavior by 14th-century clergy. Chaucer isn't a legal transcript, but he's not just making things up out of thin air, either.

The thing is, this happens whenever you have men in positions of power, and subordinates of either gender who have some claim to sexual attractiveness -- in the church, in politics, in the corporate world, wherever. Nihil novum sub sole.
posted by philokalia at 5:37 PM on April 5, 2010


Oh, and a note of caution about Mark D. Jordan (linked by netbros, above): Jordan's a great theological historian, but he has an ax to grind, and sometimes this distorts his work.

Further, any discussion of homosexual/pedophilic behavior in the premodern world had better take into account the differing sexual mores of various times and places. What seems shocking to us might have been normal and expected in 4th-century Rome or 11th-century Paris.
posted by philokalia at 5:52 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Before recent times (say, mid-20th century to the present), have there been other accusations, admissions, or convictions of Roman Catholic priests committing sexual abuse, molestation, and rape?
Are you only looking for credible accusations? If not, then there are a bunch of books that were published in the U.S. in the nineteenth century that purported to tell about the sexual abuse of nuns in convents. They were a staple of anti-Catholic literature. The best known one is The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk.
posted by craichead at 6:05 PM on April 5, 2010


These are all fantastic starting points, all nearly unbeknownst to me. Though, saddened to see how systemic the abuse has been. Thank you all for the answers, I'll definitely read up on all of these.

Craichead, I'm interested in reading up on all kinds of accusations, not just "credible" ones (I think that "credible" is often telling about who has the power to name it so...)
posted by raztaj at 6:35 PM on April 5, 2010


For a false accusation (and dealing with two adults), St. Gerard Majella was accused by a pregnant woman of fathering her unborn child; he refused to repudiate her. She later recanted. He's a patron saint of children born and unborn and of pregnancy and mothers, as a result.

Joseph Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago was (apparently) falsely accused.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 PM on April 5, 2010


(Whoops, sorry, Bernadin is 20th century; I got distracted by the false accusation question.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:44 PM on April 5, 2010


Craichead, I'm interested in reading up on all kinds of accusations, not just "credible" ones (I think that "credible" is often telling about who has the power to name it so...)

I'm no defender of the Catholic church's record in covering up systemic sexual abuse (which I very much believe they have done), but I think that the vintage explicitly anti-Catholic writings should be viewed in a different context.
posted by desuetude at 7:28 PM on April 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Desuetude, thank you--that is definitely a very good reminder. I do want to avow that I certainly do not intend this question to be anti-Catholic in the slightest, but that I'm willing to give various accusations at least a consideration, for my own understanding of these issues (in their contexts).
posted by raztaj at 7:52 PM on April 5, 2010


Craichead, I'm interested in reading up on all kinds of accusations, not just "credible" ones (I think that "credible" is often telling about who has the power to name it so...)
Woah. No. Absolutely not. At the time that anti-Catholic convent exposes were published they were widely considered credible, because anti-Catholicism was a very potent force in American culture and Catholics were a small and increasingly-despised minority. I think it would be a tad bizarre to take them as evidence of real Catholic crimes, rather than of Protestant fears.
posted by craichead at 7:55 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


See Stephen Haliczer's Sexuality in the Confessional: A Sacrament Profaned for the early modern solicitation scandal in Spain. (Despite the hot n' heavy title, this is serious archival scholarship.)

I could go on all day about non-credible anti-Catholic literature, but I'll refrain :) As craichead rightly points out, most of this literature is useless for historical purposes, and a lot of it (Maria Monk and Rebecca Reed, for example) was thoroughly refuted on the spot. Louise Jackson's Child Sexual Abuse in Victorian England lays out the problems involved in trying to reconstruct the history of abuse.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:01 PM on April 5, 2010


Keep in mind that it's likely that the long history of anti-Catholic literature making those accusations was one of the reasons for the church hierarchy to be in denial about the problem for as long as they have been: it got to be like the boy who cried wolf.
posted by Jeanne at 8:14 PM on April 5, 2010


Though, saddened to see how systemic the abuse has been.
raztaj, these aren't stories of systemic abuse. They're stories of sexual abuse by those in power.

Catholicism doesn't make men sex abusers, nor does papal authority.

The problem with the Catholic church is its systemic attitudes towards coverups, whitewashing, victim-blaming, and enabling the offenders by reposting them in new parishes. Sexual abuse, however, is hardly unique to the religion.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:25 PM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]




Craichead, I'm interested in reading up on all kinds of accusations, not just "credible" ones (I think that "credible" is often telling about who has the power to name it so...)


Gosh, do you keep a research copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, too? Anti Catholic sentiment was often conflated with anti-immigrant discrimination in Protestant-majority nations like the US, so I wouldn't assume these texts were discredited because they "dared to speak truth to power!!1!"

This scholarly book details incidents and accusations back to the Council of Trent.
posted by availablelight at 8:39 PM on April 5, 2010


Keep in mind that it's likely that the long history of anti-Catholic literature making those accusations was one of the reasons for the church hierarchy to be in denial about the problem for as long as they have been: it got to be like the boy who cried wolf.

Really, Jeanne? Anti-Catholic literature is dwarfed by anti-Semitic literature, but you don't hear news stories about synagogues routinely covering up child-molesting rabbis.

I don't think reactions to anti-Catholic sentiments have as much to do with the denials as simple ass-covering.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:40 PM on April 5, 2010


Here are two good articles in defense of the Church...one by an atheist and another by an ex-Catholic:
Why humanists shouldn’t join in this Catholic-bashing, by Brendan O’Neill
The Myth of the Pedophile Priest, by Philip Jenkins
posted by keith0718 at 9:01 PM on April 5, 2010


Really, Jeanne? Anti-Catholic literature is dwarfed by anti-Semitic literature, but you don't hear news stories about synagogues routinely covering up child-molesting rabbis.

Of course not. The Jews are too busy hiding their horns and controlling the banks, amirite. Hey, c'mon, it's not a competition for how fucked up cultural hatred and paranoia can get. Just because anti-Semitism has had longer staying-power doesn't mean that the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon. And just because the Catholic Church isn't the Whore of Babylon doesn't mean that the Church isn't complicit in cover-ups. But I'm still not taking Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk as any more truthy than any other dime-store fiction.
posted by desuetude at 9:22 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


For an informed historical perspective, read Eamon Duffy's article Scandal in the church: some bearings from history. I linked to this the other day, but it's worth linking to again.

As Duffy points out, you can't understand the present situation unless you put it in the context of the Council of Trent and the revolution in clerical behaviour that this brought about. Trent set much higher standards for the Catholic clergy and enforced the rules on clerical celibacy much more strictly. It succeeded in producing a better trained, better educated, better behaved priesthood. But this came at a cost: it required the clergy to live up to standards which some of them were unable to meet, resulting in a culture of denial and repression for which the Church is now paying the price.

The Church is now faced with a choice. It can turn back to the Council of Trent and basically rinse and repeat: enforce the rules more strictly, take a hard line on delinquent priests, and hope that solves the problem. Or it can take the much more difficult step of accepting that this sixteenth-century model of (celibate, male) priesthood may have had its day, and that it's time to rethink the rules.
posted by verstegan at 2:03 AM on April 6, 2010


Incidentally, and somewhat in response to verstegan -- I work with religious-leadership-type people, have for several years in various capacities, and what I've been told by leadership of various denominations, usually grimly and with jaws set, is that the Catholics are just the first out of the gate on their clergy sex scandals, and that there's a similar recent history of abuse and coverups within many Protestant denominations in the U.S. as well. (One assumes throughout the world, but I'm in the US and talking to US folks.) I've been told on a few occasions, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

Sexual abuse of a minor is a crime, and it's a crime of power. It's not a crime of celibacy, nor a crime of passion; it's a crime of power. Abusers were frequently abused themselves, and victims of abuse who feel powerless often seek ways to feel powerful; that may include seeking professions, such as teaching or preaching, where they have power over others. And that may lead, particularly if they never received therapy or had a chance to heal, to using that power to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. It's part of why there are so many stories of abuse coming out of schools as well as churches.

Clerical abuse is not a result of celibacy, and that is a dangerous line, one that suggests that abuse of children is an act of thwarted passion. It is not. It is a crime, and a crime of abuse and power. The suggestion that celibacy is at fault is also USUALLY the first step down the road to claiming that homosexuals are pedophiles (the "reasoning" usually being, if they were normal they'd want to have sex with women, you don't let them have sex with women, so they have to become gay and have sex with young boys); I'm not claiming verstegan was going in that direction at all, but you need substantial evidence before claiming celibacy is the problem, particularly given the typical anti-gay context of most claims that celibacy is the problem. ABUSERS ABUSE. They do not abuse because they're sexually thwarted by celibacy; a young man who hasn't had sex in six years and rapes his date is not excused because the celibacy was too much for him -- he is a rapist and a criminal. Priests are not molesting children because they're not "getting any;" they're molesting children because they are child molesters. Certainly if they were married and HAD children of their own, they'd have easier access to children to molest and there'd probably be less scandal if they molested their own kids, since it'd be much easier to hide, but there is nothing to suggest that letting men put their penises in women stops child molestation, and it's disingenuous to suggest celibacy is the problem.

Regardless of celibacy, one sincerely hopes that the Church "enforces the rules more strictly" with respect to the crime of molesting children and takes an extremely hard line on "delinquent" (I would say CRIMINAL) priests; I can't imagine you're suggesting letting priests get married and at the same time relaxing the "rules" on child molestation!

At any rate, the place I started with this was, every researcher and church leader I've spoken to has said that the rate of child sexual molestation is likely very similar across denominations in the U.S., regardless of what rules their clergy face. (If you're anywhere near Amish country, you may be aware that several scandals have broken out in various Amish communities that bear a lot of resemblance to the Catholic scandals.) Despite the appalling ass-covering of the Catholic Church, it may actually be easier to hide in other, less-centralized denominations, where moving among regions may basically move you to an entirely different power structure with no centralized national authority (not to speak of international authority), and where even moving among denominations or founding your own church may be perfectly normal ... and have no oversight once you leave behind the denomination where you were last "caught." Which is one reason we have mandatory reporters.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:53 AM on April 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Continued thanks for the contributions to this AskMe!

Eyebrows McGee, I think your answer brings up a lot of very important points. I have no doubt that such crimes are rampant in other denominations and religions, but that's another question for another day. When I said that it's systemic, I should have clarified that it's not merely the abuse, but the cycle of, the covering up of, and the virtual lack of acknowledgment by the RCC of the scope and horror of these crimes, that have carried on for quite some time - i.e., not a Catholic problem, but a power problem, as Eyebrows McGee mentions. Not necessarily in the roots of the theology, but the ill handling of people within the organization. I'm interested in how men in this particular organization have allowed such violent crimes to happen again and again and again, how many have historically used their position of power and trust with this particular organization, to criminally act on others.

This is what I was getting at, availablelight. Your "elders of zion" comment was way uncalled for. Powerful people decide what is called what, and what stories become more cemented in history. Not all of the time, but a lot of the time.

In any case, I'll be reading up on a lot of these suggestions today. Thanks, all.
posted by raztaj at 6:32 AM on April 6, 2010


I think the problem, raztaj, is that you've defined the Catholic church as "powerful people," when across history things have been a lot more complex than that. There are actually multiple histories of power and oppression here: in some times and places the Catholic Church has been powerful and oppressive, but in others it has been weak and persecuted. And one of the complicating factors is that powerful people who have oppressed Catholics have often justified doing so by claiming that the Catholic church is all-powerful and sexually perverse. If you miss that fact, and the history of power and oppression behind it, then you do run the risk of basically validating hate literature.
posted by craichead at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2010


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