Friday, 30 January 2009

Priests, Paedophiles, and Purity.

I generally refrain from commenting on paedophile scandals, inside or outside the church.  But two stories which almost co-incided a few weeks ago have been niggling at me since I encountered them.  Now, in the diocese of LA, clerical misconduct of a sexual kind is once again in the news:  The Wall Street Journal reports the archdiocese is under investigation for failing to report abuse ("in the distant past", retorts teh diocese.).

It was reported earlier that the Church's own investigation into its seminaries has yielded the gratifying conclusion that 'homosexual' activities in seminaries had declined since the crackdown on admitting gay candidates, and that as a result, there was confidence that clerical paedophilia would consequently cease to be a problem.

The second report, published just a short while previously, was of an investigation into clerical training in United States seminaries (of all faiths, not specifically Catholic - but there is no reason to suppose that Catholic institutions are any better than the rest.  Quite the contrary.).  One alarming finding was that the majority of seminaries made no provision at all for basic sexual education.

The implications are breathtaking.  "The glory of God is humans fully alive", St Irenaus teaches us, and sexuality we know is a fundamental part of our humanity, contributing significantly to both physical and mental health.   I have long found it extraordinary that the Catholic Church sees fit to leave the formulation of doctrine on such an important topic to men who as a result of deliberate perosnal choice, either have no direct experience of the subject, or are living double lives in defiance of those vows. This is itself ridiculous.  But I now realise that it gets worse:  not only do these peole have no direct experience of sex, many of them also lack proper professional training in such matters.

Against this background, it is no surprise at all that many priests have developed so poorly in their sexual identities that they have ended up preying on the vulnerable, as is well known.  But what are the chances of parishioners who find themselves troubled by sexual issues, getting psychogically sound advice from their pastors?

It seems to me that the scandal of paedophilia indirectly caused by the church's ill-advised policies may well extend far beyond just the abuse by clerics, but also to a wider, hidden level, of people whose psycho-sexual health myhave been derailed by well-meanng but untrained and incompetent clerical advisors.

Trying to fix the problem by simply driving away from the seminaries those well-adjusted people with the honesty and self-knowledge to acknoweldge their sexuality is craziness, and can only compound, not solve, the problem.

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