BY MICHAEL MULLINS
For many Australians, the first media mention of clergy sexual abuse was broadcaster Derryn Hinch’s (pictured) vilification of Ballarat priest Fr Gerard Ridsdale around 25 years ago. Arguably Hinch set in motion a dynamic that would see offending abusers targeted rather than the institution of the Church. The announcement of the Royal Commission has seen that reversed somewhat, with the outpouring of anger towards the institution of the Catholic Church, with particular focus on the seal of confession.
The debate about whether to target “rogue” priests or the institution is alive in Ireland, where a prominent player is psychotherapist and UCD academic Marie Keenan. Her most recent book is reviewed in an Association of Catholic Priests blog titled “Vilification of abusers won’t contribute to solution”.
If we want to understand sexual violence, we have to get to know its perpetrators and the worlds in which they were formed... For their part, media outlets have helped uncover abuse, but they have also contributed to the vilification of clerical offenders, fixating on the category of pedophilia (at the expense of other abusive scenarios), and fomenting moral panic.
Church officials, on the other hand ... would have us pay attention to abusers only as aberrant pathological individuals. The theological or institutional context ... is more or less off-limits. ... [Keenan’s book is an] analysis of extensive conversations with nine Catholic men — all retired or laicized Irish priests and brothers — who admitted to having sexually abused minors in the past.
The premise for such a move is simple: Vilification of abusers prohibits thick understandings of their lives. Content to turn “them” into monsters, we avoid their (and our) implication in wider contexts that helped produce the abuse. Humanising abusers offers significant new angles on the problem.
UCAN’s Give Us This Day provides an example of media vilification of abusers, quoting from Friday’s Fairfax investigation on the defunct Encompass Australasia program, in which a “well placed source” says:
Some of these people were not mentally ill, in my opinion. They were criminals who knew exactly what they had done and were proud of their achievements.
From the US, Catholic Culture’s Phil Lawler writes about the “open season on Catholicism” in both Ireland and Australia (with the death of the miscarrying Savita Halappanavar in Ireland), as political.
In Ireland and in Australia, the attacks on the Church are political and opportunistic... In each case, a calm logical analysis shows that the attack against Catholicism is misguided. But all sorts of attacks, misguided or not, are likely when it’s open season.
Gerard Henderson gives detailed analysis of one media story, an article titled “Catholics and bitter politics” that appeared in the Australian Financial Review ten days ago.
Andrew Clark, who is not a Catholic, seems to have spent the last three decades as the Australian Financial Review’s own in-house expert on all matters concerning Catholicism. The problem is that his articles on Catholics and politics in Australia invariably contain howlers. This was the case again last weekend when Mr Clark’s article titled “Catholics and bitter politics” appeared in the AFR’s “Perspective” sectio
The National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Roberts cites the case of recently expelled Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois to discuss sexual abuse from another angle, which is his view that the Vatican appears to consider it a lesser offence than advocating women’s ordination.
Bourgeois' case is a prime illustration of what, today, the institution can and can't tolerate. ... The point to be made, now that Bourgeois is out, is an obvious one. There are cardinals who have had as much to do as any individual might with the near destruction of once grand Catholic communities. ... Bevilacqua oversaw priests who were involved in nothing short of sexual torture of youngsters. And he hid their deeds until the statutes of limitation kicked in.
Those in the already thin ranks of the Australian Catholic blogosphere appear to be experiencing something of a dark night of the soul, with its most prolific members going quiet. Two weeks ago, Australia Incognita announced she was “going on a blogging break for a while” and requested her readers to keep her in their prayers. The blogging of Country Priest has been sporadic in recent months, and last week he provided the explanation.
Only 5 per cent of respondents [in a US survey] said they read or follow blogs on the Catholic Church. ... There must be a sizeable minority who think it’s a contemptible waste of time — a group I sometimes identify with myself. There are many ways to exercise the apostolate, and blogging isn’t at the top of my list ... Still, I’ll persevere. When I’ve got something interesting to ponder, I like blogging. But long gone is the naive resolution to post daily, or at least several times a week, just for the sake of maintaining an audience. That’s not a good use of time.
It seems the ball is in the court of his readers to persuade Country Priest that blogging is not a waste of time.
Meanwhile the third in the trio of once prolific Australian Catholic Bloggers – Sentire Cum Ecclesia – is making up for the quiet of the others, though perhaps only temporarily. He is using his blog as a journal of the Holy Land pilgrimage he is currently enjoying. There is much detail, including the following account of one of the must-do activities for Holy Land pilgrims.
I’ve decided that swimming in the Dead Sea definitely should go on the list of things you should do before you die. In fact, if I could, I would put it on the list of things to do every morning when I woke up. ... Where I got in the water was quite cold, but a little distance away it was warmer and nice to sit in ... You could feel the salts in the mud getting into your skin, and rubbing it on your skin was like being steam blasted. After washing it off in the showers, it left the skin feeling very clean (and a little bit tingly).
As a matter of clarification, Sentire's pilgrimage is not the CathNews pilgrimage, which began on Saturday. Despite the Gaza hostilities, it is pilgrimage season, and there will be coverage of the CathNews pilgrimage with Christine Hogan's blogs, commencing this week in CathNews.
Michael Mullins, founding editor of CathNews, compiles this 'Blog Watcher' column every week.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.