Marie KEENAN. Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Gender, Power, and Organizational Culture. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012 pp. 355. $62.50 Hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-989567-0. Reviewed by Anthony J. POGORELC, The Catholic University of America, WASHINGTON D.C. 20064
This is a well-researched volume that examines sexual abuse in the Catholic Church from both individual and structural perspectives. It gives voice to perpetrators who discuss the elements of their lives that gave way to their offenses. It considers these offences and their cover-up by members of the hierarchy as interlinked. The author’s thesis is that factors that contributed to the conditions enabling clerical offenses also enabled bishops to act as they did. Keenan reviews significant literature on clerical sexual abuse from a variety of countries but especially the U.S., Canada, Australia and Ireland and assets that the Catholic Church has done a poor job of learning from its own history.
The Church by and large sees sexuality as a problem and it’s a static view of natural law that has hardly been tempered by modern knowledge. Clerics earned higher status by the practice of perfect continence, but failure to achieve this trapped some in prisons of self-loathing and secrecy. The structures of governance are tied to obedience to superiors, which frequently curtails debate and hampers change. Clericalism shapes a culture bounded by these attributes and socializes new members to revere and protect the system. Keenan asserts that structural reform is the best means to address the roots of the problem of clerical sexual abuse. She praises seminaries for a greater emphasis on an integrated formation process that stresses human development, but also suggests that only results over time will reveal the effectiveness of these reforms.
Keenan discusses the situations of real clerics by comparing non-offending and offending clergy as well as clerical and non-clerical offenders. She concludes clerical offenders are not a homogeneous group and should not be treated as such. She provides a critical review of theories of sexual abuse, pointing out the limits of single factor theories and those that hold childhood deficiencies responsible. Sexual abuse is a complex phenomenon and theories continue to evolve. She is critical of theories that portray offenders as fundamentally different from the general population which can result in the marginalization and demonization of offenders. She encourages approaches that focus on the complex relationship between the individual and social conditions. Inclusion of the dimensions of power disparities between child and cleric and cleric and hierarch are relevant to understanding the problem. Feminist and Masculinities perspectives are especially helpful in understanding power in relationship to the origins, management and popular portrayal of the politics of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
This social perspective is applied in depth to the case of sexual abuse in the Irish Church as well as its context and implications. Drawing on interviews with men who abused, she looks at sexual histories, understandings and attitudes toward sexuality, self-awareness, homosexuality and cultures of secrecy and denial. She compares the perspectives of offending clergy on these matters with those of clergy who did not offend. She concludes that inadequate preparation and support for a celibate life and inadequacies in the Church's understanding and moral perspectives on sexuality contributed to the legacy of sexual abuse.
While sexual motivation is always present in sexual offenses, other factors also have a role. Many clergy come from families with histories of addiction and abuse and as a result they minimize their own needs and do not seek help. Accepting socialization into a culture centered on obedience, they may comply outwardly but can be internally hostile. This same culture discourages disclosure of emotions and leaves men isolated. For some going to confession helped them to manage their distress, but often reinforced an acts-oriented morality at the expense of a sense of relationship and empathy which could have lead them to appreciate the consequences of abuse for the victim. Clerical sexual abuse was aided by the power position they held as well as a lack of support, supervision and accountability. Their superiors tended to take a defensive posture and because of their focus on what they perceived as individual moral lapses, they missed the systemic dimensions of the problem
Keenan suggests that more emphasis should be given to the role of hegemonic masculinity in this issue. It is not celibacy, but a theology that problematizes sexuality that contributes to the shame and self-hatred that forces men to avoid dealing with basic human struggles. Over-identification with an idealized clerical image cut them off from others and resulted in loneliness and isolation. Troubled relationships with superiors also tended to be a factor.
This is an excellent book for church leaders and seminary formators and for anyone who wants to understand this crisis in order to bring about healing and reform in the Church.