CTS publish consultant psychiatrist’s report on the Catholic Church & the Sex Abuse Crisis

The Catholic Truth Society are publishing a report by consultant psychiatrist Dr Pravin Thevathasan, The Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis. The report is written for the non-medical lay person and draws on Dr Thevathasan’s professional work with survivors of child sexual abuse and other medical studies.

The CTS have released extracts from Dr Thevathasan’s introduction:

‘In his Pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI has this to say to priests who are guilty of sexual abuse:

“You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres… Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church…”

He also addresses the bishops who failed to protect victims:

“It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of sexual abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations.”

The problem of sex abuse

In this work, no excuses will be offered in order to justify the appalling crime of sexual abuse perpetrated by a small number of Catholic priests – about 2 to 4% credible accusations in the United States and less than this in the United Kingdom in the last forty years – nor for the pastoral negligence of some bishops. To quote Pope Benedict, sexual abuse has “profoundly wounded people in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.” The Pope has also said that the crimes of priests, while reprehensible, should be seen in the context of the times in which these events took place. Citing the rise of child pornography and sexual tourism, he concludes that moral standards in society at large have broken down.

I will therefore begin by an examination of the problem of sexual abuse in the wider society. I will argue that the incidence of sexual abuse is significant and that, until relatively recently, many psychiatrists and psychologists believed that they could cure these offenders by means of therapy. It is important to recognise that this common belief was held during the time when bishops were transferring abusive priests from one parish to another, often following psychological evaluation.’

‘The sex abuse crisis has had terrible consequences. First and foremost we think of the innocent victims and their families. We also think of the very real damage this has been done to the reputation of the Catholic Church.

“In my booklet, I show that the abuse crisis needs to be put in its context. The vast majority of priests are entirely innocent of this crime. The abuse of children is far from uncommon in society and, ultimately, abusive priests come from this society. That is why candidates for the priesthood must be selected with care. The fact that the crisis has occurred within the Church suggests that the Church has assimilated a certain spirit of worldliness.”

‘As a Consultant Psychiatrist of Fifteen years, I have looked after both sex offenders and victims. As a Catholic, I have seen the effects that the crisis has had on the Church. I have no doubt that the abuse of children leads to very significant psychological consequences. As part of my research, I examined Psychiatry books written in the 1970′s and was surprised by some of the views then expressed. It would appear that many, but not all, clinicians then had opinions that have been discredited.

“I also show that it is unjust and wrong to claim that this crisis is largely a problem afflicting the Church. Indeed the research suggests that child abuse has a far higher incidence in other institutions.’

“I discuss the safeguarding procedures now in place in the Church. It goes without saying that such instruments are only as good as the people who make use of them. The Catholic Church in the United Kingdom has been commended in implementing such procedures and is regarded as an example of good practice. However, there can be no grounds for complacency.

“When I asked a Cardinal for his opinion of the crisis, he suggested that the problem is ultimately a spiritual one. We need to pray for good, solid, holy vocations to the priesthood.”

Patrick Guinan M.D, who has written extensively on the psychology behind the sex abuse crisis praises Dr Thevathasan’s new report:

“I feel that it is outstanding. It is a lucid and complete review of a difficult issue for the Church. He summarizes the history and suggests that following Vatican II there was a breakdown in ascetical discipline. (This issue is no better explicated than by Dr. Cross in his excellent ‘After Asceticism’) Finally the article ends with the optimism of Pope Benedict. The Catholic Truth Society and Dr. Thevathasan are to be commended.”

Protect the Pope comment: One of the things Dr. Thevathasan’s report on the Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis does is outline the dreadful impact of the crime of sex abuse on children based on his work as a consultant psychiatrist. The other thing it aims to do is try to get people to recognize that the sex abuse of children is a wider problem for society than is usually admitted.

While unflinchingly exposing the crime of sex abuse committed by a minority of Catholic clergy Dr Thevathasan challenges the scapegoating of the Catholic Church for this crime, that is blinding society to the scale of the crime in its midst.

Today the NSPCC released horrifying figures from the Home Office that reveal that in 2010 there were more than 21,000 child sex offences recorded in England and Wales.

‘Of the 21,618 cases of child abuse – including rape, gross indecency and incest – between April 2008 and March 2009, one in seven victims were younger than 10, and 1,000 were five and under.’

As the NSPCC states this figure of 21,000 crimes of child sexual abuse is just the visible tip of a very nasty, hidden iceberg of unreported crimes in England and wales.

Unless society as a whole moves beyond blaming the Catholic Church solely for child sexual abuse, and starts recognizing it’s a much more wide-spread crime in society the longer tens of thousands of children are going to suffer this appalling crime in silence and alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for the Catholic Church to be let off the hook for the disgusting sexual crimes of a minority of its clergy,  or for the culpable cover-up committed by a minority of its bishops, but I am asking that a sense of proportion enters into the public discussion of this bigger problem for society.

To purchase Dr Pravin Thevathasan’s report, ‘The Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis’ go to http://www.cts-online.org.uk/acatalog/info_EX39.html

http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/UK-News/Shocking-Abuse-Figures-Reveal-More-Than-21000-Victims-Of-Child-Sex-Offences/Article/201001415534771

22 comments to CTS publish consultant psychiatrist’s report on the Catholic Church & the Sex Abuse Crisis

  • Tim

    “Patrick Guinan M.D, who has written extensively on the psychology behind the sex abuse crisis praises Dr Thevathasan’s new report:

    “I feel that it is outstanding. It is a lucid and complete review of a difficult issue for the Church. He summarizes the history and suggests that following Vatican II there was a breakdown in ascetical discipline. (This issue is no better explicated than by Dr. Cross in his excellent ‘After Asceticism’) Finally the article ends with the optimism of Pope Benedict. The Catholic Truth Society and Dr. Thevathasan are to be commended.””

    It is an interesting hypothesis worthy of consideration that the problem in the church was caused at least in part by what was happening outside the church. Whilst this is not an excuse it would certainly be odd for the church not to be affected at least partly by that was going on outside its walls, I am not sure it is a complete explanation.

    The recent John Jay report makes difficult but interesting reading and the problem I have with the idea that the scandal in the church was caused by changing social attitudes outside the church (which is basiscally the JJ conclusion) is that whilst that might explain the rise in abuse in the 1960s and 1970s, it does not explain the drop in abuse in the 1980s and 1990s. If you are going to see this as a societal problem then you need to be consistant in this view – if you blame secular society for the increase in abuse in the 1970s, you must credit secular society with the decrease in abuse in the 1980s. It cant be as simple as saying it is all down to permissiveness, because although that started in the 1960s, it wasn’t thrown into reverse in the 1981 (the date when abuse peaked and too early I would say to be the date when the Church or civil authorities got their act together and started taking safeguarding seriously)

    It seems to me that the true explanation for the scandal in the church may be more complex. Perhaps it wasn’t permisiveness per se that caused the problem, but the fact that society changed very rapidly and priests were slow to come to terms with and cope with those changes?

    Maybe the problem was caused by the combination of permissiveness and a group of men who were poorly equiped to deal with permissiveness.

    • Pedro

      Tim

      The problem is centuries old. It’s just that in the 1980s people were willing to start confronting the church about it. What you’re seeing is increased reporting, plus a sudden realisation by those priests responsible that they would no longer be allowed to get away with it.

      • Deacon Nick

        Pedro, it’s not just a centuries old problem in the Church, its a centuries old problem in society. It happens less among the clergy than in the general male population.

        • Pedro

          “It happens less among the clergy than in the general male population.”

          You still don’t get it. It’s the endemic cover ups by the church that is most shocking, closing ranks, binding the victims to silence, often victimising them further, compounding the original crimes.

          • Deacon Nick

            Of course I know its shocking, and in my original post I wrote that it was culpable, but do you think this cover-up and closing of ranks is unique to the Catholic Church about child abuse? That the Church behaved so is abhorrent, and vile, and the Church should be held to a higher standard, but don’t think for one minute that its the only institution to have put the institution before the victim.

          • Pedro

            “don’t think for one minute that its the only institution to have put the institution before the victim”

            OK, who? What other organisation was ever so trusted, exercised such power, made such grandiose claims for itself and its moral authority, and betrayed that trust so consistently?

            Who?

            The Catholic Church is right out there in a league of its own.

          • Deacon Nick

            Pedro

            You can’t blame the whole Catholic Church for the sex abuse scandal. That’s just ridiculous. There are 1.5 billion of us!

            Have a look at these:

            Teacher sex abuse cover up: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/3853127.stm

            Man charged in abuse inquiry at Barnados: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/man-charged-in-abuse-inquiry-at-barnardos-1163964.html

          • Pedro

            I’m astonished you could even think those cases comparable to the church wide cover ups. There were no letters from Barnardos or the Education Ministry instructing officials to obstruct inquiries as there have been from Vatican representatives to both American and Irish bishops. There was no systematic pattern of behaviour throughout those organisations to move offenders on, or to silence victims, or to restrict access to or destroy files. There certainly weren’t any claims to a superior moral authority.

            I’m not saying that every Catholic priest, bishop or lay person bears responsibility for what happened. I am saying the Vatican was involved and where bishops didn’t know what was expected of them it was soon made clear. I am also saying that there are still a considerable number of Catholics like you who are constantly trying to make excuses: it was the culture of the times, everybody was doing it, it was the gays, a few rotten apples, what about everybody else…

            Of course there is child abuse elsewhere, but nowhere else was cover up a matter of de facto policy. In the Catholic church it was endemic, systematic and institutionalised. The more you make excuses for it the more you appear to be in denial. And don’t say you’re not making excuses – this whole thread is one long excuse.

            And if I sound angry and emotional it’s because I am.

          • Deacon Nick

            Pedro, you’re right to feel emotional and angry about the sexual abuse of children by some Catholic priests. You’d be right to be angry and emotional if you were right that Catholics were making excuses for this. I don’t think that’s what’s happening, we’re trying to understand how this dreadful thing happened. I don’t think this thread is helping either of us. I’m having to bite my tongue because you’re making it personal by saying I’m making excuses and in denial. So before I write something I regret I’m making this my last post on this thread.

          • Pedro

            Very well. I’ll bite my tongue also. I regret making it personal.

  • Pedro

    “Unless society as a whole moves beyond blaming the Catholic Church solely for child sexual abuse”

    No one blames the Catholic Church for child abuse committed outside the Catholic Church. It is quite correctly blamed for using its authority and prestige to cover up the abuse of children by its own priests.

    All this finger pointing at others isn’t fooling anyone you know. I still haven’t heard of a single bishop, whose first thought on hearing of these crimes, was to protect the victim, rather than protect the church.

    • Deacon Nick

      Pedro, I’m not attempting to fool anyone with this post. If you think I am then you haven’t read it properly or I haven’t expressed it very well or you are intentionally misrepresenting me. I expressly wrote that the Church shouldn’t be let off the hook for its responsibility in this crime.

  • louella

    It’s frightening….but I think paedophilia is a rapidly growing problem in secular society. There are no moral restraints…only criminal restraints….and secularists don’t have a well defined interior conscience. Their motto seems to be…do whatever you can get away with. And there are calls from certain quarters for the de-criminalising of paedophilia when the child has given their consent. Absolutely foul and evil…. especially as we all know children are unable to give their consent to something they are not equipped to deal with or understand.

    In my opinion…there are few depths to which secular society will not stoop. This is true of all Fallen human beings…but as Christians we know very well there are defined moral limits which we are obliged to keep…or pay a severe price. Not so secularists.

  • aline

    Pedro,

    There were never guidelines from the Vatican instructing bishops to cover-up abuses. Please stop making things up.

    They just did not make it compulsory to report them to the police, especially at a time when in most countries in the world, being a bishop was illegal under communist rule.

    That would mean sending an innocent bishop giving himself up to the police to be jailed or worse still to be tortured and killed.

    Some common sense had to apply, don’t you think?

    • Tim

      “They just did not make it compulsory to report them to the police, especially at a time when in most countries in the world, being a bishop was illegal under communist rule.”

      wow, That is the most ingenius excuse I have heard so far.

      If we are talking about the abuse in the USA the UK, Ireland, Canada then the “teh police are communist” excuse can’t apply can it.

      And you can’t get away with making it sound like it was only a problem of teh past. The current Vatican Guidelines require that all cases are referred to the Vatican for decision and bishops are told only to report cases to the secular authorities if it is “without prejudice to the sacramental internal forum” which probably means cases should be heard, where it is possible, in secret under canon law.

      • Deacon Nick

        ‘which probably means cases should be heard, where it is possible, in secret under canon law.’

        Not true. There are two parallel processes that are not mutually exclusive, the criminal and the ecclesiastical. The situation in this country is that when an allegation is made against a priest or deacon, he is immediately suspended from post, and the allegation is reported to the police and is also investigated by the Bishop and his safeguarding commission, who report to the Holy See.

        It is understandable that you do not trust the Church, but as far as I can see the safeguarding of children is improving and criminal clergy are being reported to the police.

        • Tim

          “There are two parallel processes that are not mutually exclusive, the criminal and the ecclesiastical.”

          That is how I would like it to be. I hope that it is. But when the Vatican issues rules include demands that the secular athorties should only be told “without prejudice to the sacramental internal forum”, then you can see why I am unwilling to trust the Church. And when people of good will who are much better informed than I am like yourself feel obliged to use words like “*as far as I can see* criminal clergy are being reported to polcie”, that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

          Why couldn’t the Rules say “all credible allegations made against priests must be reported to the police without delay and proof that this has been done must be forwarded to the Vatican”? Secular organisations like schools and the Scouts have demands like that in their policies and they manage OK with them.

          I am hopeful that the day will come when the Vatican does issue some better rules, but church will be criticised until they do and that is tragic for all the good people in the church (not least for the vast majority of good priests and the “flock” who would like to be able to trust the church authorities).

          Why is the Vatican unable to see that proper reporting demands would reasure many people within and outside the Church and result in much less damage being done to the reputation of the church.

          • Deacon Nick

            Tim, I wrote ‘as far as I can see’ because I’m not privy to everything that is going on in the Church, either here or abroad. This type of thing is, as they say, above my pay grade. I’m not a member of staff of a Bishops Office, that would deal with these matters, nor am I involved with the safeguarding office. And even if I was, I would not be able to talk about such matters on a web site, as it would be a matter between the Diocese, the Police and possibly, social services. So please don’t read anything into my statement, ‘as far as I can see’.

            Every diocese in this country reports allegations of abuse against clergy immediately to the police, just like schools and the Scouts.

  • Robin Leslie

    And, as we know Nick those priests in the UK who are eventually cleared by the police of all allegations made against them are denied the presumption of innocence under the Child Protection regime installed under Vincent Nicholls before he was consecrated Archbishop of Westminster. Such priests have never been reinstated
    under this UK regime and remain in a limbo of supension and silence
    CONTRARY to Roman norms laid down by the Vatican that priests cleared of such charges be reinstated to active priesthood. So let’s acknowledge the abuse and mature into reasonably adult people
    for ‘heaven’s sake’.

  • John Flaherty

    As a psychotherapist I am aware that part of the quest of a person to heal or change is to identify roots of their thinking or feelings, and the personal experiences that have crafted their life. In this sense, I view the report being discussed as valid attempt to address the problem. I am not in a position to comment on its accuracy. But I respect the attempt.

    However, I can also understand the view of the victims who see the publication of such a report at the present time as an attempt to “explain away” the history of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. Again: it is the TIMING and PUBLICATION of the report that is the problem.

    This is my reason for taking this position: You don’t invite the victims of sex abuse to watch the perpetrators search themselves for answers. You don’t open the therapeutic process in mid-journey to the critique of victims. Only when the perpetrator fully understands their actions can they go before the victims in a manner that makes for effective healing and reconciliation.

    My hope is that the genuine regret and desire for reconciliation with victims will be received in a manner satisfying for both parties when the Church completes its self examination.

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