Thursday, May 05, 2011

Married clergy won't prevent sex abuse, Fr Grimm

Luke Coppen drew his readers' attention to an article by Fr William Grimm, a senior priest living in Japan, on Bl John Paul II's complicity in the sexual abuse of children, and Archbishop Nichols' reaction to it.

Responding to complaints that the beatification of Pope John Paul II was over-hasty and unseemly in light of the sex abuse scandal that will always be a blot on his papacy, the archbishop did not deny the problem. He simply said that beatification is not a “medal for good management service.”

Fr Grimm takes scandal from Archbishop Nichols' choice of words. But the fact is, Archbishop Nichols has a point: the Pope is not directly (even if he is ultimately) responsible for such abuses, and the way that the Pope, even more than a bishop, can deal with such issues is adminstrative. If the Vatican failed (as to an extent it clearly did) in its handling of the crisis for a long time, this failure is a failure of administration: policies were not enforced, procedures were not followed, indeed some policies and procedures were unfitted for the situation and had to be (and were, eventually) changed.

Fr Grimm makes it sound as though what was needed was not a closer attention to the laicisation process, the statute of limitation, the relationship between canonical and criminal procedures and other such boring things, but some effusion of emotion from the Holy Father himself. Really? Was that going to solve everything? As a matter of fact we read that the Holy Father was very angry with the American bishops at his famous meeting with them over sex abuse. Such anger was justified and necessary. It certainly wasn't sufficient - and it was supposed to be.

Where Fr Grimm really goes off the rails, however, is his suggestion that what the Church needs now is a married clergy.

It is hard to imagine Archbishop Nichols’ Anglican counterpart, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, saying the same thing. After all, Williams is a father not solely by virtue of ordination, but because he has two children.

Is Fr Grimm going to make a detailed comparison between the Church of England's handling of sex abuse cases and the Vatican's? (And yes, they have had plenty of cases to handle.) No: he's just going put in his little dig at the celibate clergy and move on. And, as the father of four children, I find his use of the sexual abuse of children as a way of making cheap ideological shots at the Church deeply offensive.

Fr Grimm may think that wearing a tie and talking about a married clergy make him frightfully up to the minute, but unless he has been asleep for the last thirty years he should know that the non-celibate teaching profession, as well as the non-celibate clergy of Protestant denomenations, have had their fair share of child sex-abuse cases, indeed in comparison with the Catholic clergy more than a fair share. There simply isn't any reason to imagine that a married clergy would protect our children any better than a celibate one.

But here's a deeper point. Fr Grimm thinks that the emotional protectiveness a parent feels towards his or her children is the ultimate guarantee of safety. Well, perhaps it should be. But the stories of clerical (and other) sex abuse shows that it is not. The failure to protect children from predatory teachers, scout-masters, and different kinds of clergy are frequently failures of parents. Parents who don't detect the distress of their children, who don't listen to them, who don't believe them. This is tragic, but it is true. The failures of bishops and even of the Holy Father has a parallel among the laity, and indeed it could not have happened in a vacuum: it was part of a culture which permeated the whole Church, and ideed the whole of society.

Fr Grimm might like to reflect on this little nugget of history, from 1946. The man who rang the alarm bells about the horrific conditions in Irish orphages was a celibate priest, Fr Edward Flanagan. The man who told him to get lost and kept the show on the road for another couple of decades was a lay, married, father of seven, Gerry Boland, the then Minster for Justice. Who, we might ask, was the true father? Maybe it was because he understood his spiritual paternity that Fr Fr Flanagan wasn't ashamed to wear a clerical collar.

Before we become too smug about the sins of past generations, here is another question. How many Catholic parents today, congratulating themselves that they would never turn a deaf ear to indications of the sexual abuse of their children, are ignoring the content of sex education classes in school which are systematically sexualising their children, and thereby opening them up to sexual exploitation?


  1. shane1:31 pm

    Joseph interestingly enough Mr Boland came from the anti-clerical wing of the old IRB tradition, even threatening to leave the country if Catholicism were made the state religion in the 1937 Constitution.

    IMO justice is not being done to the Christian Brothers. The vast majority were decent men, working in inauspicious conditions and circumstances; corporal punishment was the accepted norm back then. Not just in Ireland either; public schools in England were bastions of brutality. During the debate on the Ryan Report, the (Anglican) gay rights activist Senator David 'Pope is a Nazi' Norris stated: "The Protestant section of this society is not exempt, except by whitewash. I attended an up-market Protestant boarding school where sadism was rampant and someone very close to me had his life destroyed by this sadism."

    Even the (flawed) Ryan Report acknowledges some attempts to keep the use of corporal punishment under control:

    7.224 He [Br Yves] remembered being reprimanded by the principal of the School for beating a boy too harshly, and toned down his severity accordingly.


    7.66 Br Noonan was Superior General of the Congregation from 1930 to 1949. He was anxious to reduce the reliance on corporal punishment and he admonished those who were intemperate in its use. There are some grounds for believing he did keep down its excessive use during his tenure of office.


    7.67 A Visitation Report in the early 1930s described an extraordinary penalty imposed on a Brother in the refectory: ‘Br Sebastien erred on two occasions in punishing boys severely. The Superior reproved him publicly and ordered him to make a public apology, on his knees in the Refectory

  2. shane1:34 pm

    David Quinn wrote a very good article in (the Jesuit) Studies magazine about the Ryan Report. He attended most of the Inquiry's hearings and felt compelled to give the report greater analysis, having realized that most media commentators had read little more than the summary.

    Here are a few of the facts: 1,090 former residents reported to the Ryan commission; they named 800 alleged abusers in over 200 institutions.

    Boys: 50% of the physical abuse reports and 64% of the sexual abuse reports came from 4 institutions.

    Girls: 40% of the physical abuse reports came from 3 institutions; 241 women religious were named as physical abusers, but 4 of these were named by 125 witnesses and 156 sisters were named by only one witness each.

    Of the 800 religious and others named as abusers, 400 were named by only one person. Sixteen institutions had more than 20 complaints made against them.

    Quinn's point about the discipline is also echoed by Fr Michael Hughes, archivist for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation, and who had been involved with supervision at Daingean. According to the Irish Times ( 'Living hell' reformatory claim rejected; Wednesday, June 07, 2006): "He agreed there were gangs and a hierarchy among the boys with newcomers known as "fish". He did not agree it was a situation which got out of control, though there were disturbances at times. "Discipline at the school was very severe for that very purpose, so staff could keep control. It was intended as protection for the children . . . these lads were not small boys."

    He agreed the Brothers worked all year around, seven days a week with no day off until the 1970s, and that 20 of them were responsible for 150 boys.

  3. shane1:35 pm

    The left-liberal Professor of History at UCD, Diarmaid Ferriter (who certainly cannot be accused of pro-Catholic bias) also notes something similar in his book 'The Transformation of Ireland' (page 517):

    "Though it was not fashionable to admit it towards the end of the century, many of the members of religious orders had worked hard under difficult conditions to educate and provide for vulnerable can have some sympathy with the contention of Patrick Touher, an inmate of Artane Industrial School, that 'on the whole the [Christian] Brothers were doing their best, within limited circumstances in hard times and with frightening numbers. They too shared in the hard rigid life. They had no luxuries, nothing to look forward to, except more of the same'."

    The ultra liberal Fr Joseph S O'Leary (of the Spirit of Vatican II blog) describes his experiences as a schoolboy with the Christian Brothers in the 50s and early 60s:

    "My school, the North Monastery, Cork, was a well-run school, and the Brothers devoted their free time to organizing sports, excursions, pageants, debates, concerts, bands, summer schools in the Irish-speaking area of West Cork, even an ecumenical meeting with a Church of Ireland school. These men led Spartan lives and most of them conveyed a sense of idealism that they passed on to their pupils. This had a very wholesome impact on Irish life.

    As teachers the Brothers had the gift of making us study and actually acquire knowledge — something rare in contemporary education. We spent thousands of hours poring over classical English, Irish and Latin poetry and prose — a privilege more with-it curricula no longer accord — and the amount of maths, math-physics, physics and chemistry absorbed then — and now entirely lost — boggles the mind. It is true that students with learning disabilities or incapacity for Irish were sometimes badly handled. Corporal punishment allowed some loutish teachers to use the stick too freely."

  4. shane1:36 pm

    A letter to the Irish Times, May 25:

    Madam, – From the age of seven (1930) to 17 (1940) I was a boarder in a Christian Brothers-run Dublin orphanage after the death of my father in 1930. My mother died in 1938, having been left in poor circumstances after the death of my father.

    During the years I was a boarder I was not abused in any way by the Christian Brothers and knew of no abuse of the approximately 100 other boarders.

    I was given free board and lodgings; a good education to Leaving Cert standard. Facilities were made available for all who wished to avail of them to engage in Gaelic football and hurling; handball, outdoor parallel bars; outdoor tennis during summer months; table-tennis for indoor amusement, and every effort was made to occupy us during summer holidays (for those without a home to go to) including occasional day excursions in CIÉ buses to places of interest within reasonable distance of Dublin. As anyone will tell you, looking after 100 lively boys required discipline but, in my experience, any discipline (eg slaps with a leather) was administered without excessive severity. I speak from personal experience.

    The education given so generously was first class and some Brothers gave special classes in their own free time to bright children to help them sit for scholarships.

    When schooldays were over, the Brothers worked might-and-main to secure employment for school leavers. They even provided a hostel in the grounds of the orphanage where low-paid ex-boarders were accommodated until they found their feet.

    I will always be grateful to them for the help they gave me and my brother at an extremely difficult time, and the peace of mind they gave my mother in the last few years of her life. So please don’t tar all these fine men with the same brush. – Yours, etc,

    DONAL KAVANAGH, Dublin 12.

  5. Anonymous8:17 am

    I know this is superficial in some ways, but I can never take a Priest, who dresses like a Bank Manager, seriously.