Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Christian Brothers former provincial: Fondling, not a crime but a moral failing.


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.


  1. Chris in Maryland6:32 PM

    Terry - I agree with your implication that the pre-Vatican II period was not "the-good-old-days." (Which is not to believe that now is any better.)

    Clearly - lots of the "religious vocations," priests and nuns alike, were not true Catholic vocations - they were institutional niches that were vacated as soon as the doors broke open in the late '60s and the 70s.

    Everyone normal, caring adult in 1950, 1960, 1970, etc, etc, knows that for an adult/adult man to fondle a child/boy is monstrously sinful. Period. Forgivable - well - yes - with God - everything is possible. But not easily forgiven. No cheap grace when little souls have been abused.

    How the mind is darkened by sin...

  2. I think your assessment is correct. And then we, as in the bishops and others in charge, moved somewhat from seeing it as a moral failing to seeing it as an illness, and offenders were sent to treatment facilities. Now where are we, I wonder.

  3. This reminds me of what Pope Benedict said some years ago: "In my view, a Church which seeks above all to be attractive, is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for herself, she does not work to increase her numbers and power. She works for Another. She serves not herself, not to become strong. She serves to make the announcement of Jesus Christ more accessible...".

    I think there is much to be said for there being problems well before the Council. How could there not be? We either believe that the 'reforms' were purely founded on ideological grounds, a self-serving revolution, which is what many who denounce everything post-Council hold, or we believe that, whatever came of the Council and following, still, there was SOMETHING there before which prompted the sincere need for reform (and how could we canonize John XXIII otherwise?).

    I have noticed too, that among the Traditionalists, there seems to be a consistent focus upon the numbers. They lament the loss of decline in vocations, parishes, the artifices that Christendom had built up for centuries. They see what they observe as scandalous destruction as signs necessarily of decline - a fall from the good old days. Or, at least that's how I see them.

    But what of the authenticity? Or the lack thereof? They seem to make the assumption that the evidently flourishing Church was better off.

    Yet, Cardinal Ratzinger stated, as is well-known, much earlier, that the Church will become small, the social privileges will be lost, etc.

    What is ironic to me is that the Traditionalists who often see themselves as the faithful remnant are scandalized by the fact that the Church may well become - and necessarily so according to this report about the good old days? - a remnant Church! Not "the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith."

    Enter Pope Francis. When Pope Francis speaks of neo-Prometheans and ideologues, etc., I think he has something like this in mind. What the Pope abhors, I believe, perhaps more than anything, is hypocrisy, and inauthenticity. He abhors pride. He abhors the Church as one which is self-sufficient, comfortable, having taken life for granted; the status quo.

    Whether Pope Francis' particular approach to eradicating these things is sound of not I am not sure, but I think that is fundamentally what he is about. The Traditionalists see it as an 'attack' because they have in mind a vision of what is real that resembles the power and stability of that which was from a past era. They lament the loss of the Social Kingship of Christ and even some of them discuss a return to monarchy. They see the "terrific upheavals" which have occurred and which will, it seems, continue to occur as the ongoing fallout from being delivered into the hands of revolutionary heretics, Modernists, etc.

    But the thing is: what if that is true, that last part? What if God has, in His Providence, so delivered us, to some degree, into a realm of dissent? Is not God always with His truly faithful? His little flock of believers? Perhaps it I all according to 'plan'; perhaps it is sifting and God is taking the goodness of the Traditionalist mindset - their fidelity to doctrine and discipline - but purifying them still; and taking the goodness of the Progressive mindset - that there is such a thing as real reform in the Church and we ought to recognize it - but purifying them still, so that what remains are the little flock who have the right balance, both fidelity but not without real trust in God instead of self-sufficiency?

  4. +JMJ+

    I remember reading a medieval book whose author lamented the huge numbers of vocations to religious life. (I have no idea how huge "huge" was . . . but that's not the point.) He specifically contrasted what he was seeing to the days when there were so few monks and nuns that you could be fairly sure that all of them were holy. (Okay, some hyperbole there.) After religious life became a thing, however, people who weren't really cut out for it started to be attracted to it, and the problems snowballed from there.


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