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Studies pulls no punches

studies_01Ian Elliot, CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, is the guest speaker at the launch of a special edition of the Jesuit journal Studies, on the future of Catholicism in the wake of recent reports into clerical child sexual abuse. “Healing a Broken Church? Catholicism after the Reports” will be launched in Milltown Park, Sandford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, on Wed 15 Sept at 6pm. Articles in this autumn issue of the journal include ‘The Psychology of Clerical Paedophilia’ by Brendan  Callaghan SJ, ‘The Irish Media and the Murphy Report’ by David Quinn, ‘Transparency, Accountability and Exercise of Power in the Church of the Future’ by Nuala O’Loan, and ‘Reforming the Vatican’, by Eberhard von Gemmingen SJ. Psychologist Brendan Callaghan SJ has worked extensively with victims of abuse, and in one section of his article on ‘The Psychology of Clerical Paedophilia’ he examines the issue of celibacy and transparency. He says that in order to understand how the Church deals with issues in the area of sexuality it must be acknowledged that the public practice and discipline of the Church assumes that every ordained celibate is living a chaste and celibate life and yet such research as exists tells us that this assumption is not supported by the evidence.

The problem then is of a culture where on the one hand, struggles and failures are almost impossible to acknowledge other than in confession, and on the other, documented evidence exists of some cases of sexually active relationships between bishops and their clergy, and religious superiors and their subjects. He concludes, “It is not difficult to see how a culture of conformism and silence provides a near-perfect context for this level of dysfunction, nor to see how this culture permitted not just inappropriate but also abusive sexuality to go unchallenged”.

In his article on facing faith trauma in Boston and Ireland, Robert Bowers quotes a 2007 research project that found that ‘more than four out of five (Boston area)  Catholics no longer attend Mass. One of the chief reasons for cited for their ‘alienation’ was the clerical abuse scandals, their mishandling and the cover-ups. Bowers examines how lessons gleaned from Boston could possibly help the Church here.

Studies editor Fergus O’Donoghue SJ says there is also need for a profound change in attitude at the highest level of the Church, resulting in more than cosmetic changes. “The Church is administered by a Curia badly in need of reform; some departments are headed by men who are narrow in outlook, advanced in age and incompetent. Too many Vatican officials have received all of their formation in Rome and cannot understand the problems of the local churches.” According to the Jesuit historian, fear, which is toxic, was a major factor in the way Church authorities dealt with paedophiliac priests and religious, and governed the way seminarians were trained. So “Fear needs to be replaced by participation and by consent. Secrecy, which should be anathema to those who proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, must be replaced by transparency. Given that the permanent ministry in the Church tends to be self-selecting elite, the involvement of the laity is fundamental to the health of the whole Christian community.”

A concrete example of greater lay involvement comes from Irish Jesuit Edmond Grace who argues  that the laity should be allowed to nominate the candidates they want to go forward for ordination. He says they have only been paid lip-service about their role in the Church. In his article on ‘The Irish Media and the Murphy Report,’ journalist David Quinn notes that the very weak position of the Catholic hierarchy brought about by the recent reports has had a knock on effect in other areas. He cites the instance of the recent Civil Partnership Act where the Bishops were in no real position to offer effective public resistance. He hopes that the Murphy and Ryan reports will prompt more lay Church members to come forward in defence of their rights as Catholics and become the public face of the Church.