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Perversion of Power

Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea

Publication Year: 2007

Since 2002, the Roman Catholic Church has been in crisis over the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the cover-up of those crimes by bishops. Over 11,000 alleged victims have reported their experiences to the Church, and more than 4,700 priests since 1950 have been credibly accused of sexually victimizing minors. The Church has paid over one billion dollars to adults who claim to have been sexually abused by priests and there is no end in sight to these lawsuits. Celibacy, homosexuality in the priesthood, the infiltration into the priesthood of secular moral relativism, too much liberalism in the Church since Vatican II, damaging rollback of Vatican II reforms by conservative prelates--all have been suggested as causes for the crisis. This book, however, begins with the premise that, because the pattern of abuse and cover-up was so similar across the world, there is something fundamentally awry with Church traditions and power structures in relationship to sexuality and sexual abuse. Specifically, in chapters on suffering and sadomasochism, bodies and gender, desire and sexuality, celibacy and homosexuality, the author concludes that aspects of the Catholic theology of sexuality set the stage for the abuse of minors and its cover-up. Frawley-O'Dea also analyzes the American bishops' lack of pastoral care and tendency towards clerical narcissism--the belief that the needs of the hierarchy represent the needs of the wider Church--as central factors in the scandal. She balances this criticism with a discussion of the backgrounds of the bishops presiding over the crisis and the challenges they faced in their relationships with the Pope and Vatican officials. Drawing on twenty years of clinical experience, she imagines the dynamics of sexual abuse both from the victim's point of view and from the priest's, and she probes why the Church hierarchy, fellow priests, and lay people were silent for so long. [NEXT SENTENCE IS OPTIONAL CUT FOR SPACE] Finally, Frawley-O'Dea examines factors internal to the Church and outside of it that drew this scandal into the public square and kept it there.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-xii

There is a paradox to writing. It is a very solitary pursuit yet it cannot be accomplished without others. Those others deserve recognition and giving it is one of the more pleasurable aspects of writing a book. In April 2002, Therese Ragen, Ph.D., a fellow psychoanalyst, piqued my interest in the Church sexual abuse scandal and prompted me to use ...

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Personal Preface

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pp. xiii-xv

I was born in 1950 and raised in the Irish Catholic culture of Lowell, Massachusetts. Catholics were known and located in the cultural landscape as much by their parish affiliation as by their street address. I was baptized and made my First Communion at St. Patrick’s where many years later Fr. Dominic Spagnolia would successfully stare down sexual abuse allegations ...

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1. From the Bayou to Boston: A Developing Pattern

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pp. 1-16

Most writers agree that the Catholic Church’s contemporary sexual abuse crisis began in Henry, Louisiana, in 1983 when molestation allegations were made against Fr. Gilbert Gauthe.1 The Gauthe case, set in the deeply Catholic bayou country of Louisiana, was the first nationally publicized narrative of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest. In addition to being ...

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2. Surviving Soul Murder

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pp. 17-36

For thousands of men and women, the Catholic sexual abuse scandal is not just a newspaper story or a fascinating psychosocial study; rather, it is a central thematic strand of their lives. They live, or try to, with the physiological, psychological, and spiritual wounds inflicted upon them as children and adolescents by men they loved and trusted. Sometimes the ...

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3. Suffering, Submission, and Sadomasochism

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pp. 39-56

Until Vatican II, themes of suffering dominated much of the iconography and narration of Catholic theology. Some Catholic thinkers even seemed to idealize suffering. This valorization of suffering may have supported the behavior of abusing priests while influencing other Catholics, including many bishops and the Vatican, to minimize the suffering of sexual abuse victims. ...

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4. Embodied and Gendered Souls

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pp. 57-72

The perversion of power relationships often characteristic of the Catholic Church sometimes was eroticized and expressed sexually. It is therefore necessary to unpack Catholic teachings about bodies, gender, desire, sexuality, and sexual orientation to illustrate the links between the Catholic theology of sexuality, the valorization of suffering, sadomasochism, and ...

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5. Degraded Sexual Desire and Theologized Sex

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pp. 73-86

Despite the breadth of potential perspectives on these human yearnings, sexual desire and its first cousin, lust, have had troubled histories within Catholicism. In fact, they have been the victims of oppression, confined to narrowly defined channels of officially sanctioned expression wholly limited to heterosexual marriage. Like ants at a garden party, sexual ...

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6. Celibate Sexuality and Sexually Active “Celibates”

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pp. 87-108

Many commentators on the scandal focused on mandatory celibacy as a cause of the crisis. Some felt that required celibacy contributed to the sexual abuse of minors by narrowing the field of candidates for the priesthood to an already unusual slice of men—those willing at least to try to refrain from sex for a lifetime.1 Others insisted that it was not celibacy ...

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7. Homosexuality: Secreted and Scapegoated

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pp. 109-128

Homosexuality* within the priesthood was until recently an even more secreted phenomenon than sexual abuse of minors or the sexual acting out of heterosexual priests with adult women. While many priests are homosexual, the Church’s official position devalues homosexual orientation and outlaws homosexual activity. It is once again the paradox between ...

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8. Where Were the Pastors?

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pp. 131-150

Bishops have both pastoral and institutional responsibilities. As guardians of the institutional Church, they are chief executives of nonprofit corporations that deliver a myriad of educational and social service programs, pay numerous employees, manage investments, conserve art, settle legal conflicts, and oversee properties and buildings. As pastors, on the other ...

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9. Clerical Narcissism

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pp. 151-170

Cardinals and bishops are considered princes of the Roman Catholic Church and frequently are addressed as “Your Excellency” or “Your Eminence.” Despite the overtones of royalty, however, the office of bishop is not intended to be a promotion nor a symbol of elevated status and prestige; it is supposed to be a ministry of service.2 George Weigel puts it...

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10. Perpetrators, Priests, People in the Pews

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pp. 173-190

A discussion of abusive priests is burdened with the same handicap inherent in any attempt to generalize about sexual offenders. In truth, none of us knows very much about sexual predators because the majority of them never are identified. What we do know is based on research with offenders who have come to the attention of either the mental health or the criminal ...

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11. The Secret Is Revealed

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pp. 191-216

Prior to the 1980s, the sexual abuse of children and adolescents was a well-kept secret throughout society. It was the women’s movement of the 1970s that dragged incest and sexual abuse into the public eye, along with other forms of domestic violence and crimes against women and children. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, methodologically sound empirical ...

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Epilogue: Is Everything Old New Again?

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pp. 217-220

In 1988, a student at Niles College in Illinois allegedly awoke to find his pants pulled down and Daniel McCormack, a fellow student bound for the Roman Catholic seminary at Mundelein, standing over his bed.1 He was advised by another student to inform the Archdiocese of Chicago.2 Church officials say he did not; he will not say what he did.3...


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pp. 221-266


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pp. 267-304


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pp. 305-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592224
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826515469
Print-ISBN-10: 0826515460

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2007