Hope springs eternal in the priestly breast – A research study on procedural justice for Priests – Diocesan and Religious. Reviewed by Fr Anthony Paganoni CS
This book is an attempt to unravel the subtle, even if hushed-up, consequences of the delirium surrounding the often-reported appalling behavior of clergy, both diocesan and religious, whether or not that behavior has been correctly identified and substantiated by public enquiries, and the strained relationships between some priests and their bishops that have sadly developed in the wake of mostly civil court proceedings.
The author ‘s landscape remains anchored to the US scene, but it is obvious that similar situations may indeed be applicable in Australia.
And what is even more significant, as the author argues, is that all priests are somehow tarnished in the public view.
This has forced priests to shy away from human interactions, especially expressions of pastoral warmth and concern, which were the hallmarks of Jesus’ public ministry.
Now a fatherly touch may be interpreted as a sexual advance or an act of kindness toward a young person or misconstrued as “grooming”.
As one priest so poignantly stated, “If I meet a woman, I ‘m having an affair; If I meet a man, I’m gay; and, God forbid, if I’m with a child I am an abuser” (Introduction by Michael P. Orsi, p. xiv).
And Fr Valladares goes on to state that, aside from the great financial losses incurred and the public image of Church people cast into doubt, the human damage to all ordained ministers (bishops included) is incalculable.
The issue of sexual abuse of minors has become, over the course of the last three decades, a media-driven, factional and frenetic undertaking, not infrequently arguing that the Church is a corrupt institution, collapsing from within because of moral laxity, permissiveness and homosexual clergy.
According to Philip Jenkins, quoted in the Valladares’ book, of all churches, the Catholic Church is the easier to sue, because of its centralised, hierarchical structure, and because of its extensive record keeping (pg. 89).
Pyschological scholarship (T.W. Campbell,E. Loftus, K. Ketcham and D. Rabinowitz, R. Mc Nally…) has exposed the unreliability of recovered memories of sexual abuse.
When people have experienced a trauma like sexual abuse, they have trouble forgetting it, not trouble remembering it.
Studies have shown that people who are emotionally unstable are susceptible to developing” false” memories of sexual abuse.
This doesn’t mean that they are making up stories. They may truly believe that they were abused, but it may never have happened.
This is especially true in times when there is public hysteria over alleged sexual abuse (pg. 87).
The many cases mentioned in the Valladares’ book regard mostly priests who were wrongfully accused, and, in some cases, left in something of a ‘limbo’ after civil proceedings declared them not guilty of the crime of they had been accused.
Notwithstanding their “civil” innocence, several were not reintegrated into the ministry of the Church, raising doubts and suspicions in the people they had served previously or were intending to continue serving.
These are cases which have mostly occurred between the 1960s and the 1980s.
A report prepared for the US Bishops earlier this year documented that in 2009, there were 21 allegations of the sexual abuse of minors against Catholic priests in America: 8 of these were acknowledged as truthful by the offending clergy, four were determined to be without foundation, one accusation was recanted, and eight are still under investigation.
Right now, according to the organisation Justice for Priests and Deacons, there are 300 American priests insisting on their innocence in cases before the Vatican (pg. 199).
Given the highly sensitive nature of the topic discussed, it is somewhat understandable that there are some repetitions of the cases reported, as well as what seems like an over-reliance on religious arguments derived from the Gospel accounts, which keep appearing in the book’s narrative.
It is hoped, however, that more detailed probing into the human rights of individual Church people will be pursued.
As Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote in America magazine in 2004: “The Church must protect the community from harm, but it must also protect the human rights of each individual who may face an accusation. The supposed good of the totality must not override the rights of individual persons.”