Perversion of Power
Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: Vanderbilt University Press
Table of Contents
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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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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 ...
1. From the Bayou to Boston: A Developing Pattern
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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 ...
2. Surviving Soul Murder
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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 ...
3. Suffering, Submission, and Sadomasochism
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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. ...
4. Embodied and Gendered Souls
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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 ...
5. Degraded Sexual Desire and Theologized Sex
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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 ...
6. Celibate Sexuality and Sexually Active “Celibates”
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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 ...
7. Homosexuality: Secreted and Scapegoated
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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 ...
8. Where Were the Pastors?
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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 ...
9. Clerical Narcissism
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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...
10. Perpetrators, Priests, People in the Pews
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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 ...
11. The Secret Is Revealed
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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 ...
Epilogue: Is Everything Old New Again?
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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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Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2007