Clerical Male Mess! by Janice L. Poss

“I am sorry!” “I am guilty of sex abuse” “I have hurt many young children!” “I have ruined lives!” “We are sorry for hiding sex abuse in the Church!” “We are criminals!” “We want to make amends!” We, in the pews, have yet to hear true contrition, instead we hear how the Church needs healing. True, but where is remorse from those who perpetrated and covered-up the crimes? To heal, we must hear from them.

Remorse, a contrite heart, admitting grave sin, deceitfulness, criminal behavior, the global Catholic Church has not yet confessed this loud enough. Why? Why is male clerical privilege so deeply ingrained in the construct of In Persona Christi that none of these guilty perpetrators of crime are able to directly tell Catholics worldwide that they truly, in their hearts grieve for our church and grieve for what they have done to our children? Where is their sensitivity for children?

The first weekend of September I heard and felt perhaps a beginning. How long will it take to hear what we need to hear to heal –again — from major abuse and systemic, criminal cover-ups?

This story might turn a page in the disgusting horrors of this long-standing cover-up that has faith-rocked and shocked us.  The first Saturday of September, I attended a healing Mass, at the annual Southern California Renewal Communities (SCRC) conference, that was con-celebrated by priests and deacons who are part of the charismatic renewal in the Los Angeles archdiocese, led by Bishop David O’Connell. During his homily, he told everyone in view of the abuse report in Pennsylvania all parishioners need to grieve but use our authority to change the Church. He pleaded for us to do it because it is needed. This was as a genuine cry for help.  Afterwards there was Eucharistic Adoration again led by Fr. O’Connell. As we prayed, and chanted into a deeper spirituality with Christ, he began to sob uncontrollably for several minutes.

There are good priests who feel the profound pain of the victims, and those they shepherd.  That is as it should be.  There can and should be no other response!  At this solemn time, we need, as John Foley’s song resounds, “to hear the cries of the poor,” of the harmed victims, those abused, violated, without concern for consequences.

Between 1985-2004, the Los Angeles Archdiocese addressed abuse in its region because reports were beginning to pour in. On February 17, 2004, the Archdiocese produced the document, Report to the People of God: Clergy Sexual Abuse, Archdiocese of Los Angeles,1930-2003.  This twenty-seven-page document begins to unravel what was happening in Los Angeles and how reporting systems and parish checks for clergy and lay ministry were put in place back then. A Zero Tolerance policy was instituted, and retired FBI personnel was hired to investigate.

In the opening statement of the report, the head of the Archdiocese, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, stated:

In early 2002, I told you of my personal sadness that, tragically, some who have ministered in the name of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles have preyed upon the most vulnerable members of the flock and caused them incalculable harm. Since then, it has become apparent that the greatest betrayal in the Church is for one who has committed his life to minister to God’s People after the model of the Good Shepherd, has used his spiritual position to abuse or injure any member of that community.

Again, I sincerely apologize to anyone who has suffered from sexual misconduct or abuse by a priest, deacon, lay minister, employee or volunteer of the Archdiocese. I acknowledge my own mistakes during my eighteen years as your Archbishop. Apologies are vitally necessary but are insufficient. My goal is to do all in my power to prevent sexual abuse by anyone serving our Archdiocese now and in the future.

Moving the healing and reconciliation process forward requires the fullest possible disclosure of what happened over the years. The victims deserve nothing less. This Report has been made available today on our Archdiocesan website.

The Report represents our best understanding and information of the history of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese, our efforts to eliminate this scourge, and about the number of priests and religious who have sexually abused minors and the number of victims of such abuse.

How did this the lack of taking consequential responsibility happen?  The power of a reified priest can cause more ill in the destruction of those who in faith trusted in his holiness.  What went wrong, how could they have betrayed for so long and no one blew the whistle earlier?  If we are supposed to be a ‘relational people’, how could those who are supposed to be most relational, most pastoral fall so far from grace?

In the LA Archdiocese, anyone in ministry is fingerprinted and attends mandatory Virtus training every four years.

“These programs and policies do not take away from the very real harm that was done and the trust that has been broken. They are a testament to the commitment of the people of the Archdiocese, the majority of whom are lay Catholics having worked for three decades to implement and carry out these programs to ensure:

  • abuse is reported to the police and investigated regardless of the statute of limitations;
  • victim-survivors and their families receive healing support;
  • anyone found to have abused a minor at any time, regardless of whether a member of the clergy or a lay person, is not allowed to serve in any capacity in the Archdiocese under zero tolerance.”[2]

Many are calling for transparency (Cardinal Cupich, NCR, Aug 27, 2018)[3], for an ‘overhaul,’ (Mary Hunt, NCR, Aug. 21, 2018[4] and Aug. 29, 2018[5]), total involvement of lay parishioners and other professional agencies to open any closed doors bringing in clean and fresh air that has been stale for too long. Once implemented, then healing can begin…

Part II coming next week.


Janice Poss is a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate University in Religion and Women’s Studies, holds MA.Th. from Loyola Marymount University and BA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, sits on the parish council at her church and whose interests are in theological, philosophical and spiritual aspects of religion as they are expressed aesthetically in the visual arts.

Resources: (Clergy with No Permission to Minister in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 2017)


Categories: abuse, Catholic Church, General, power, Sex Abuse Crisis

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. You hit the nail on the head when talking about the reified authority of the clergy. Catholics are taught from infancy about the authority of the clergy because a priest stands in for Christ at the Eucharist. This results in folk giving up agency to priests, which goes against the teaching of Paul who said “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” The only way I can see to avoid these abuses is to remove this authority from clergy, and with the aid of teachers and spiritual directors ‘work out our own salvation’.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How any woman can remain a member of that church is beyond me.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Richard Sipe says that because even masturbation is a sin, and given that only 1/2 of all priests are celibate at all times, and less than 1/2 all the time, it “makes sense” that the emphasis of the supposedly celibate clergy is on forgiveness of the sinner no matter the nature of the sexual sin. This is one reason that it is unlikely that the priestly hierarchy will ever protect the laity from abuse by the clergy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reading this post makes me gladder than ever that I’m not Catholic. Or even Christian.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Abuse is about so much more than sex. The structure of power over others needs to be continually recognized in the equation as well. A major overhaul is needed, which I can’t see happening without a “split” in the institution. Or maybe the future is in small house churches, lay led and Gospel centered.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The answer to the question was in The Thornbirds”: the foundation is male privilege and power, not love. Part of me feels like women are excluded because they embody the power of live, which men fear.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I recently visited Newfoundland where I heard about widespread clerical abuse of children in Irish communities. One of the researchers commented that Irish Catholicism is particularly based on hierarchical authority–do what the priest says and the priest can do no wrong. She contrasted this to Italian Catholicism where, she said, people don’t always take priests and church doctrine seriously.


    • I’m from an Irish Catholic family and have struggled with the church most of my life. I’ve been part of other denominations but find institutional religion difficult and now find myself unable to be part of any. My family moved to Scotland and I was born here, and do notice a difference in approach between the Irish, Italian and Scottish Catholics, with some of the Irish taking an almost feudal approach when I was growing up, that said, my family were quite liberal.

      The clerical abuse scandal is part of why I struggle with the church; I kept going for a long time until I realised church was causing me pain and draining me, not giving me life. What I want to say with regard to child abuse though, is that in the reading I’ve done on this, the numbers of abusers in the Catholic Church equate to general population levels, but the media focus has been on Catholic abusers ignoring other denominations where we know this is also occurring. Doctrines like the infallibility of the Pope on doctrinal matters, enforced celibacy, and a male only priesthood are all ingredients in wanting to challenge the Catholic Church on abuse, because we see these factors as contributory, and when we add in the cover up, and the mindset that wanted to protect the institution above human beings, there is much to answer for, however, it’s naive to focus solely on the Catholic Church. We know CSA happened in local authority children’s home, in football clubs and gymnastic teams; we have recently convicted a gang of Pakistani me in England who groomed young girls into sexual slavery. The common denominator is being in a position of authority/power over children and using that to exploit them and intimidate them into compliance. We also ignore the family being the place where easiest access to children is available – in my wider family I know of two children who were sexually abused by different members.

      This needs dealt with, but in order to do so we need to name it correctly. Pedophilia is a paraphilia, an orientation which draws those with it into places to access children, and we know these places are many and varied. Our distaste for discussing all things sexual helps keep this hidden both in its practice and covering it up when it’s revealed. The Catholic Church approach to sex, sexuality and reproduction is a huge factor in what’s made this a huge problem for the church and the wider community, and until it is prepared to look itself in the eye nothing much will change, and the same can be said for the other groups I’ve mentioned.

      Be in no doubt I am not excusing the Catholic Church, far from it, I believe the Church has betrayed children over decades, if not more; I’m saying this is a wider issue than just the Catholic Church.

      Liked by 2 people

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