That is how things used to be - just about everywhere. That is why sexual abuse was swept under the rug - in the Church and out of the Church. We find it incomprehensible by today's standards - but that is how it was. What am I talking about?
Christian Brothers saw sexual abuse as moral failing, not crime.
Brother Anthony Shanahan, a former province leader of the Christian Brothers in WA, yesterday gave evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Perth.
The inquiry is examining alleged sexual and physical abuse in four homes run by the Brothers in Perth, Tardun and Bindoon between 1947 and 1968.
Brother Anthony told the hearing that the mindset at the time meant abuse was not thought of as a crime, but as a moral fault or failing. 'I think they saw it as something that was abhorrent, harmful - although I don't think they understood it as harmful in the way we would now, in terms of consequences for the victim, but something that was abhorrent and harmful and that was the way they dealt with it,' he said.
The chair of the Commission, Justice Peter McClellan, described the comments as extraordinary.
Brother Anthony said brothers who had been accused of abusing students at boarding houses were often sent to day schools. Brother Anthony also told the hearing one of the rules laid out in the Brothers' Constitution from 1962 stated that they were prevented from developing particular friendships with their students or fondling them.
He said a brother accused of fondling a boy might receive a warning and be transferred from a boarding house to a day school where it was thought there might be 'less opportunity for misconduct.' - Source
It explains so much about the culture within institutions and generally, within Western society at the time - but more shockingly so, within the culture of religious life. I really believe these things demonstrate that something was already wrong within religious life and seminaries far before the Council and reforms of Vatican II.
Likewise, there was a strange sense of sin or moral failing as if removed from civil law, as well as an exaggerated fear of scandal. Not so much for those scandalized but for being the source of scandal - of losing ones good name. Often enough, the victim became the scapegoat - sharing some of the blame - a notion entirely unacceptable by today's standard, while the perpetrator could be absolved in confession and sent away elsewhere to amend his ways - until 'temptation' got the better of him once again, and then maybe he would be punished with a retreat and reassignment to another house. Repeatedly exonerated: "You see, the devil hates religious life and will do anything to destroy an otherwise good vocation." See how that worked? Religious life almost enabled the bad behavior. Once in religious, life one had a vocation to be protected, and numbers were important to maintain as well.
It makes me wonder about the good old days. Did all the priests and religious who abused minors really have vocations in the first place? Did all those who left religious life after the Council really have genuine vocations? Maybe religious life really needed to be renewed after years of decay from within? What if religious leadership had already lost faith and simply bore the semblance and form of religion while living in denial of its power? Believing instead in its 'success' and 'prestige', while the only power left to them was to control those in their charge?
I don't know. I'm always trying to make some sort of sense of these stories.
Photo: St. Patrick's College, Strathfield was established in 1928 by the Christian Brothers.