Abuse and Cover-Up; Gerald Arbuckle’s challenging new book


The Catholic Church is in its most challenging condition since the Reformation.

The claim is made by in Abuse and Cover-Up Refounding the Catholic Church in Trauma, a new book by New Zealand born anthropologist, theologian and international scholar, Fr Gerald Arbuckle SM.

Using the psalmist’s image, Arbuckle says the Church was once a “strong mountain of great prosperity”, but that power and prestige previously granted the Church has all but disintegrated.

Arbuckle describes the Church as the People of God who are demoralised and who are not sure what to do.

“The gap between Church rhetoric and reality is a chasm.”

“Lay people feel betrayed, disillusioned, and angry,” writes Arbuckle.

He says the suppression of public grief has only intensified the sadness and rage in people’s hearts, destroying people’s trust in their leaders.

“The short-sighted fear of scandal has been, and is, the curse of the Church…. Because it is an easy and much-used cover for cowardice, it exploits the future in the interests of the present, preferring scandal of missions to come to that of hundreds now”, notes Arbuckle; quoting 1907 ‘modernist’ George Tyrrel.

‘Pulling no punches’, Arbuckle labels the culture of abuse and the system of cover-up as “systemic corruption.”

“Sexual abuse cover-ups are systemic institutional evil because the culture of the church in this matter is corrupt”, writes Arbuckle.

Arbuckle laments the contemporary tragedy of the disappearance of evil and contrasts it with the vision of the People of God, as outlined by Pope Francis; “to create a culture where each person has the right to breathe air free of every kind of abuse.

A culture free of cover-ups, which end up vitiating all our relationships”.

Calling for major culture change in the Church, Arbuckle says the church must seek forgiveness, mercy, and repentance.

Published by Orbis Books, Abuse and Cover-Up: Refounding the Catholic Church in Trauma is praxis-oriented book focusing on the cultural reasons for this trauma and how the People of God can move forward.

Pivotal to the discussion, Arbuckle asks two fundamental questions:

Why is the culture of the Catholic Church, despite Vatican II’s emphasis on collegiality and transparency, still prone to covering up abuses of power?

How can this culture change for the Church to move forward?

An anthropologist, Arbuckle maintains that because of its ruthless excavation and exposure of the preconceptions on which we base our lives, anthropology is among the most challenging disciplines of the entire academic curriculum.

“Applied cultural anthropology does not tell us what we want to know, rather it unsettles the foundations of what we thought we knew already.”

Reviews of the book are positive.

“Among the many books on clergy sex abuse, this work of the anthropologist and theologian Gerald Arbuckle is, without doubt, the most helpful. . . . A book that must be meditated upon by the Vatican officers and all the bishops”, writes the triple doctoral graduate Peter Phan, Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University.

“Not just an analysis of the phenomenon of abuse and cover-up, but also the action plans and strategies needed for refounding the Church”, writes Massimo Faggioli, Church historian, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, Philadelphia.


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