Anne Lastman

Having recently read an article in Crux Catholic Journal (Feb 21/2024) titled “Long after the pope’s abuse summit, victims still traumatised by the system meant to address their cases.” This I would suggest is not unexpected.  At the end of the proceedings at the Vatican Summit on the sexual abuse of minors issue, I was personally left with the sense of “what was that all about?” and wondered what was the purpose and hope of this summit.

The above-mentioned article asks the question what it was all about if long after the summit nothing seems to have changed.  Yes, some new personage was appointed to some post within Vatican but there seems to be nothing coming out from those in new posts.

I have a deep suspicion that those appointed have very little knowledge about the topic that they are to control, oversee, enquire, learn about. The posts were filled with names with hierarchical qualifications of the appointee which appear to make the issue sound important enough to warrant such high-ranking person.  

I, like thousands upon thousands watch from a distance and hear selective snippets fed to us by media to be reported globally and to really show how corrupt this monolith called the Catholic Church is. Indeed, the hope for the outcome escapes me.

We have heard from hierarchy of the Church indeed even from his holiness Pope Francis his term “zero tolerance.” Indeed, that’s how it should, be but that “zero tolerance” seems to be far in the distance because the scrutiny of this topic by top heavy personnel outside of the actual problem itself seems absurd.

The above-mentioned Vatican summit began with the presentation of two victims of clerical abuse, a male and a female, who did nothing more but to confirm to those who would hear that indeed the Catholic Church is monstrous.  The two individuals in question achieved the maintaining the rage and offered no solution.  Just their 15 minutes of fame.  This never achieves much. 

I shake my head and know that sexual abuse has not been understood and this summit was an attempt to stem what seems to be a tide of evil and wickedness which has lain dormant within the Church for eons and suddenly has found hearing ears, media attention, in some cases loss of reputations and possibly other benefits.

Having worked with counselling of sexual abuse victims for over 25 years, from what I heard from the summit is that not much will be achieved and indeed it appears to be so, as sexual abuse of minors is still continuing as we speak, and victims will continue to suffer and indeed some will end their suffering in a permanent way. 

It’s an illusion to believe that the spotlight being shone this issue will suddenly bring child abuse to an end because of said spotlight.  This is naive and a sign that the reason behind sexual abuse of minors is not understood for what it is.  An addiction. Just like any other addiction, with all of its ugliness, but before the addiction a repeating of previous personal trauma (suffered by perpetrator) and once embarked on this, the rest of the road becomes a necessity for the perpetrator.   The signature of trauma is repetition.

Defined, sexual abuse is the forceful intrusion into the sacred space of sexuality in the life of a person but especially of the child in the context of one, in whose trusting care, or one who should not have been doubted of love and care.  This is a very clinical explanation for sexual abuse, but behind these words there is an immensity of pain and distortion.  However, there is still much more to the experience and more and more the voices of those who have lived with the experience report dimensions which had hitherto been unacknowledged.  For these voices, sexual abuse has meant the brutalizing indignity and dishonour and loss of innocence. Loss of much which cannot ever be replaced or even known. “A clean sexuality” as one explained.

By its very nature sexual abuse is a form of distorted intimacy.  A violent and soul-destroying act/s whose evil and suffering can only be equated with past crimes of human sacrifice and genocide.  The violence inherent in the very act of abuse is also manifested in the physical, living realm of society because the victim then carries into family and then society, the aftereffects of this abuse.

That there is now a Vatican summit on the abuse of minors is a good thing but, are clergy the only perpetrators?  Yes, indeed there has been a bringing to light the sins of clergy of all denominations and institutions, but none have looked to see what actually sexual abuse is and what causes such an aberration.

After the Summit into abuse, what then?  Will that mean that there will no longer be any abuse of children?  Once all the perpetrators within the Catholic Church and other faiths and institutions have been purged what then? Will it end the sexual abuse of children? Will this summit with its 9-step action plan (Archbishop Mark Coleridge Aus.) find the solution?

One of the best steps that I can see of the said 9 steps is to understand sexual abuse better and its effects and why it happened, and if this is looked at truthfully, the why it happened in the Church will become much clearer. 

What happened?  The answer to this question “what happened” and how did it happen and where did it start must be sought.  It’s only with the being able to answer the “why” that an answer can be found.  Scapegoats are then not needed.

That there will be much time needed to deal with the deeply embedded issue is to be understood. That there must be real learning about the abuse and its effects and then programmes written to deal with this paraphilia. Also understood.

Sexual abuse of children is a paraphilia, it has nothing to do with priesthood catholic or otherwise.  It’s an abnormal sexual attraction to a child and it has existed since before humans could light a fire using sticks, and while there has been a universal taboo across cultures throughout known history, it has not ever been eradicated and even in our day there are cultures where children are bartered or promised and given for marriage while still in earliest childhood.  Its legal. Even for the sex trade which is illegal the young boys and girls are bartered for sexual favours.    Have we asked the question as to why attraction to children is needed or desired in a hypersexualised society?  The answer to this question is important. Perhaps an answer could be the societal loss of innocence which is now seen only in child and a desire for that cleanliness and virginity  and return to “virginal” state of human being.

That the Catholic Church and its priesthood has been singled out as having the largest number of perpetrators is not surprising because indeed it is the largest denomination which has good and holy priests but also a minute percentage of not so holy ones.

So, the question remains where did the perpetrator emerge from and how did it begin with the perpetrator?  Some research comes to an answer that perpetrators come from a background where they were themselves abused. Whose own member of family (most especially fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers and occasionally females) sexually abused them, and the abusers before were also abused. Transgenerational trauma has continued and will continue until there is a resolution. The body through the DNA remembers. 

Many reasons are posited for why parent/s/familial member sexually their own child/ren and again research seems to point to an attempt by the abuser to repeat his/her own story and gain mastery over it. However, because of the nature of the “drug” (sex) it becomes addictive leading to further intergenerational and transgenerational transfer of this psychological aberration. 

Other reasons proffered are that perpetrators are looking for lost closeness and love from their own parents whose emotional abandonment and neglect left an imprint of incomplete development.

There is copious amount of literature on the sexual abuse of children and research into this has been in existence for at least fifty years, and abuse research was not about a select group (church) but where the source of all abuse begins.  Yes, institutions unintentionally have perpetrators in their midst, but the perpetrators did not become perpetrators because they became, in this case priests, but a perpetrator already comes from a situation, where the taboo has been broken. The abuser comes into priesthood trying to escape from possible temptation to do same as was done to him.  The abuser comes into priesthood looking for Gods help to be healed of such inclination. The abuser comes into priesthood looking for a place to feel clean without temptation.  The abuser comes into priesthood hoping to feel self-honour and self-forgiveness and God’s forgiveness.  I do not believe that an abuser priest goes into priesthood with the intention of having unlimited victims at his disposal. 

What becomes possible for society to do today, is to be more on the alert for children who display signs of something being wrong.  To believe the child when child tries to say something which he and even she find difficult to say. A child will not be able to live with “a secret”. A child will act out his/her pain, fear, dissonance. A child will give clues that all is not right in his or her life and world, and it is important when these clues are seen that appropriate measures be taken. First to listen. Gently, by the right people, and so discreetly that no further hurt will be felt by the victim.  The victim will not feel like he/she has broken the enforced promise of silence which is usually harm to family or fear that God will punish him for “telling.”

The Church is walking the road to Calvary and so she must just as Her Lord walked the same road to the same place to cleanse sins of the other. 

The Church has always seen human sexuality as being expressive of the greatness and grandeur of human love which in itself is holy, and sanctifying. However, there has to be a willingness and goodwill to study this very important topic, to discover what the real meaning and truth of human sexuality is all about. To glimpse at the glory, which is inherent in it, because it is “life” but also to glimpse the potential ugliness, if abused.

What has been of interest to me is that for political correctness and to be seen to be doing the right thing the perpetrators have been forgotten in all of this.  Yet Jesus never forgot anyone, the “zero tolerance” which this comment has implied.  

Zero tolerance is assumed but zero tolerance must also deal with perpetrators who in most instances begin their life of licentiousness as victims and end with self-destruction.

In anger calling them “tools of satan” does nothing.  It’s a type of comment which media would use and is a self-defensive comment.  

Instead of vilifying the “dirty” “filthy priests” the catholic world and with other denominations weep for those victims, suffer for the victims, pray for the victims and perpetrators, and unlike the media stop the vilification of catholic church, catholic priesthood, and victims of both kinds. 

Today with the benefit of hindsight we can see that the situation has never been handled well from the top all the way down, within the Church ministry situation.  That it was always seen as morally wrong and  a mortal sin is true, but it was considered that with, sacraments, prayer, retreats, supervision, supports, moving of perpetrator far from the object of what was thought “affection” all would be resolved, but as Reverend Father Benedict Groeschel (1933-2014) has said that in all his  years of training and  counselling  and in earlier decades the word paedophilia never came to attention. It very much probably existed but no one would have known what to do with it.  Like its occurrence in a family, silence is the demand.

Molesters were moved from parish to parish due to the very poor understanding of the strength of this inclination and addiction.  However, with the recent research into this crime and its aftereffects, it has been realised with horror, the pain which this has caused to victims, family, society, and Church. We have slowly entered the realm of understanding pain in early childhood and lifelong effects.

Because the Church is the household of God the priest represents Jesus and to be abused by a priest the victim believes that Jesus and God must hate him and has abandoned him.

It has been suggested that the celibacy issue of the catholic Church is responsible for such number of clerical sexual abuse, but this is simply another attack against the Church fed by a media which is anti-Catholic.  If celibacy was the issue, then the priest has others and friendships which may be interested in forming a “normal” sexual relationship without his attraction to young most especially male child. 

The MAMBLA (man boy love association) of North American is not made up of priest but is an organisation seeking to advocate and legitimize “man/boy” relationships.  There are different places for one with a sexual attraction to boy child where he is able to find place without it being catholic priesthood.

Yes, there is great shame in what happens. In pain caused. In the ignorance with which this has occurred and handled but quoting the “Millstone” passage (Mt.18:6) and standing before God (as we all do) will not achieve much if anything.  However, what will achieve much is the knowledge about this which we now have. Attention to a child showing signs. Formators of young men for priesthood, counsellors who are not ashamed to work with this deep pain, and a knowledge and belief that God never turns his face away.  We may not be able to eradicate this horror but be present and heal where possible.

Forgiveness and healing of this pain is possible, however, forgetting for a human being is not possible, even though God says of himself “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins”(Iss:43-25) and in Hebrews 8:12 “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities and I will remember their sins no more”    For God everything is possible but for the human being the forgetting is impossible unless suppression is brought to bear and this brings with it its own further difficulties.

I don’t write this piece with the intention of excusing the crime, the sin, the assault but after many years of work in the field, (post abortion pain and grief and sexual abuse pain and grief) I have formed an opinion of the pain involved. The anger, the rage, the guilt, the helpless and hopelessness of this situation but I have also seen miracles not of forgetting but of a peace both in victim and abuser.  

In a situation like this we cannot expect more but we can be thankful that we can help even in the smallest of ways to bring a justice into such a situation.