Catholic celibacy, secrecy and child abuse

Celibacy and secrecy are the major reasons child abuse is so prevalent in the Catholic Church, a new report says.

The report, Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports, was co-authored by Prof Des Cahill and theologian Dr Peter Wilkinson.

Cahill, who helped the Australian child sexual abuse royal commission, says part of the reason he has devoted the past five years to analysing why child abuse has plagued the church came about because he found he’s been living with pedophile priests.

After examining the findings of inquiries, police records and church reports since 1985, Cahill and Wilkinson found the patriarchal nature of Catholic establishments that means abuse can go unchallenged.

The possibility of abuse in Catholic residential institutions, like orphanages, should be getting more attention, especially in developing countries, the report notes.

Cahill and Wilkinson reported that although a small number of nuns had abused, the risk for children was much higher in institutions where male priests had minimal interaction with women.

“Their contact with women in teacher training institutions would have been carefully proscribed and then they were appointed to male-only schools where they were in charge of young boys and adolescents,’ the report says.

“And they were living in all-male religious communities. They had to make do with a sacralised image of a sexless Virgin Mary.

“It was a recipe for a psycho-spiritual disaster.”

Cahill says the report’s findings show there’s an urgent need to rethink the priesthood in the 21st century in relation to the celibacy requirement for priests.


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