WILLIAM GRIMM MM. Schoolyard bullies in the sacristy. Sexual abuse by clergy should be blamed on emotionally immature men, not homosexuality or celibacy

Half a century ago, the bishops’ conference of the United States commissioned an interdisciplinary study of the priesthood in that country. Key parts of it were led by two priests who at the time were celebrities in the Catholic community, Andrew Greeley the sociologist and Eugene Kennedy the psychologist. (Disclosure: as a seminarian I was office assistant to Kennedy in the early stages of the study.)

The results of their work, especially the psychological part, showed a large majority of American priests to be dissatisfied as well as emotionally underdeveloped and therefore unable to develop healthy relationships. Their training and insertion into the clerical culture, which in many cases started as young as age 13, froze them into a perpetual adolescence.

Instead of taking the studies to heart and working to improve the situation, as one would hope, the bishops, as one would expect, ignored the results of their own study. Greeley, noted for his pugnacity, responded, “Honesty compels me to say that I believe the present leadership in the Church to be morally, intellectually and religiously bankrupt.”

Now everyone realizes how right Greeley was, as abuse and cover-ups by bishops around the world become headlines. Behind those headlines is the situation of which the social scientists led by Greeley and Kennedy warned. And the entire Catholic Church is suffering because of bishops’ failure to act then.

It is well attested that sexual and other forms of abuse are really about the misuse or abuse of power rather than sex. For a believer, that should be no surprise. When the devil tempted Jesus with power, the tempter declared that power was his and his to distribute. And Jesus did not dispute that.

When immature boys, no matter their age, abuse power, they often become bullies. And bullies usually victimize weaker boys. That, and not homosexuality, is probably what underlies the striking frequency of the abuse of boys by clergy. Research has shown that sexual abuse by clergy is not caused by homosexuality. Nor, for that matter, celibacy. The schoolyard moves into the sacristy when emotionally immature men are in charge there.

It is worth noting that since changes in priestly formation instituted after Vatican II, the cases of sexual abuse by priests and bishops have lessened. Most cases of abuse and cover-up, whether against children or young adults such as seminarians, have been perpetrated by those trained before the council or in unreformed systems that have held on to “the good old days.” So, though the recommendations of the researchers in the 1960s were not instituted fully, even their partial implementation has made a difference.

However, not all immature clergy abuse boys or girls or even young men. The bigger number, only recently getting the notice that the abuse of children has overshadowed, is the abuse of women by priests and bishops. That is not limited to clergy, of course. The #MeToo movement and its offshoots are making us aware that the abuse of women is the more common form of abuse among all kinds of immature males.

And females. Little boys grow up and too often merely become big boys. Little girls seem better able to grow up and become women. But not all do. In the context of the Church, the fuse that will lead to the explosion based in novitiates, convents and schools, orphanages and other institutions run by sisters is smoldering. The abuse of girls, other women and boys by sisters is the powder keg.

The first thing we learn from all this is that the current crisis for the Catholic Church is not going to end any time soon. It has only just begun. There are more and bigger explosive exposures ahead.

It will take generations for the dust of those explosions to settle and for the Church to recover. Those who have compared the current situation to the Reformation 500 years ago from which we are still recovering are right.

What are we to do? Well, an increasing number of people have decided to walk away from the Church. That number will grow with each exposé, and who can blame them?

What of those who decide to stay? Our responses to the situation must be the same actions that we perform in the sacrament of Penance: contrition, confession and conversion.

Contrition begins with sympathetic and humble honesty shown toward victims of the Church leadership’s failure to protect them and even more in its inflicting immature predators upon them in the first place.

Confession consists in being proactive rather than reactive in rooting out the problem. Even now, the work of Church leaders is being performed by the media and legal systems. The more that happens, the worse things will be. This includes cooperating with civil requirements without being forced by threat of legal action or bad publicity.

Conversion will take the form of implementing significant changes in the shape of clerical and religious life and involving more lay people as well as clergy and professionals in the actual running of the Church.

Then, over the course of the generations through which healing may take place, we must pray for the courage and faith to follow the medicinal guidance of the Holy Spirit with the conviction that though the disease is critical, it need not be chronic.

William Grimm MM is a New York-born priest active in Tokyo. He has also served in Cambodia and Hong Kong and is the publisher of UCA News.

This article was on-published by La Croix International, March 25, 2019.


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7 Responses to WILLIAM GRIMM MM. Schoolyard bullies in the sacristy. Sexual abuse by clergy should be blamed on emotionally immature men, not homosexuality or celibacy

  1. Grimm’s apologetics for clerical pedophilia are grim, obscene and offensive.

    Seriously? ‘Schoolyard bullies in the sacristy.’ ’emotionally immature men’ ’emotionally underdeveloped’ ‘perpetual adolescence’ ‘immature boys’ ‘immature males’ big boys’’ immature predators.’

    The church leadership is forcefully condemned ,“Honesty compels me to say that I believe the present leadership in the Church to be morally, intellectually and religiously bankrupt.” and their cover up is blamed because ‘the entire Catholic Church is suffering because of bishops’ failure to act then.’

    No, the priest pedophiles are the ones who are morally , intellectually,and religiously bankrupt. They are criminals.

    Grimm is perpetrating another cover-up- consequently his priority is concern for the future of the church – ‘It will take generations for the dust of those explosions to settle and for the Church to recover.’

    What about the generations for the filth perpetrated on the bodies and psyches on the victims to recover – if ever?

  2. Ed Cory says:

    Trish, I think you should re-read the references to confession, my interpretation was quite different to yours.

    Abuse of children, abuse of women, disabled/vulnerable, use of porn, prevalence of masturbation, the list of inappropriate behaviours grows, and threatens to swamp the institution. Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers – that was, it seems, the work of a moment. This one is of a more Herculean scale.

    The Church is notoriously resistant to change, especially anything vaguely ‘liberal’. That does not bode well for reform. For us, the litmus test will be our own Plenary Council – will the nettle be grasped, will courage overcome timidity, and should major change be adopted, how will clergy and laity adapt to the new Church order?

  3. carey burke says:

    Some Catholics will find solace in William Grimm’s take on the clergy sexual abuse and cover-up saga. Buffeted by successive scandals and frequently bewildered beyond belief, Grimm offers them some temporary respite and an impression of orderly repair.

    Drawing on a ready supply of convenient understatements, overstatements and misstatements, Grimm explains the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in a staggeringly inaccurate manner: it was just emotionally immature men, recruited to the seminary at age thirteen, acting like school yard bullies. And, after all, thing are looking up: child abuse figures are down and seminary programs have been updated. Grimm adds that all is not plain sailing – as clergy abuse of adults will provide ongoing media fodder for some time to come. But, with a little help from the laity and a conscientious approach to prayer and penance , Church recovery will continue a pace.

    Either this is a slick piece of spin writing designed to envelope uncomfortable truths in mellifluous prose, or it is the musings of someone who has remained insulated from the brutal suffering of victim survivors and their families and studiously ignorant of the morally flawed responses of a flotilla of bishops. No doubt, subsequent articles will reveal all.

  4. Trish Martin says:

    William your notion to fix the problem with the sacrament of Penance is just plain wrong. For a start Confession has been used to enable abuse to continue due to a false sense of forgiveness, and in some cases it has been used for grooming purposes. Contrition, confession and conversion can be delusional concepts in the mind of someone with a psychosocial dysfunction. I think the elephant in this crisis is the notion that Ontology is conferred at ordination. Ontology as a power is the single cause of clericalism. This element above all others leads to an internal interplay between power conferred by God and powerlessness caused by the imposed denial of the priest’s human needs such as his emotional well-being, his own sexuality and lack of opportunity for intimate relationship.
    Jesus alone claimed to know the Father and no one would deny that Jesus and all that he began has changed humanity’s awareness of itself. But ontology does not come about when one is ordained into a tradition of forms, rituals, loyalties and conferred identity. Or does ontology come about when one is disconnected from people’s spiritual hunger and experiences of being a person. One is ontologically changed through the action of grace, its happens when radical change happens at the core of one’s being. It means a transformed consciousness of relationship in a concrete situation where love become the driving dynamic. The result is a selfless turning towards another in a real life situation to the extent that ‘I’ becomes unified in relationship. It means love with pure attention to another persons well being, and the ‘I’ is no longer at the center. One does not ask what does this relationship do for me? Love is about giving life and wholeness, and boundless non-possessive nature to another at the personal level of relationship. This is the graced relationship that Jesus spoke about when he gave the command to “love one another.” The Trinity is made up of love between three divine Persons, and we are asked to engage by relating on a personal level with each other. How can any priest be expected to do this when he replaces the basic needs of his human nature with an ideological identity that denies eros, the feminine and his own emotional well being?

    • David TIMBS David TIMBS says:

      Trish, when Bill mentions ‘Confession’, I don’t think he is referring to the Sacrament of Penance but rather to the need for a public acceptance and admission of responsibility by those who covered up and/or enabled the sexual abuse of vulnerable women and men.

  5. Jim KABLE says:

    Well, there you are! Exposures next will be into the abuse of/by female orders – as if we are unaware of the Convent Laundries and selling of babies (those who survived and were not buried in the fields alongside) out of Ireland – and so no doubt here in Australia, too. Which Sister will be the first to put up her hand and shine the light onto such matters here! Whether OF the abuse of Sisters by their male equivalents – or BY the Sisters of those in their charge.

  6. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    The abuse of women…. exactly.
    The name of the powder-keg in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia – is Sister Luke.
    We’ll be hearing more about her, courtesy the Royal Commission (already published); and the civil litigation just taking-off in Victoria.

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