Thursday, March 03, 2016

Things were different then

I have been keeping half an eye on Cardinal Pell's appearances before  Australia’s royal commission into institutional responses into child sexual abuse, after 20 hours of questioning it has now ended. I haven't been watching the on-line video streaming, I have been reading the press reports.

There is an assumption, not just in Australia but elsewhere, including here, that we can judge the past by today's standards and with that there is a an assumption that our attitudes to children has always been what it is today.

Thirty years ago women who were raped simply didn't report it. I remember one woman who did and told me that her experience with the police in the UK was a like second rape. They interrogated her as if she herself was guilty. They wanted to know about her sexual history. They wanted to know the ways in which she might have provoked her assailant, how she was dressed, they even wanted to see her underwear and enquired about why she should want 'sexy' (their word) underwear rather than anything else.

If she had pursued her claim, and the assault had come to trial, in those days she would have had to make her claim in open court, without any reporting restrictions. Her assailant's lawyer would have been able to interrogate her, again revealing her sexual history. In this situation lawyers were aggressive and always shifted the guilt from the man to the women. Newspapers delighted in sexual revelations. For most women rather society than offering sympathy, there was the assumption 'that there is no smoke without fire'. For a 'respectable women' reputations still mattered and a reputation could be easily lost and mark her and her family for the rest of her life. Simply, respectable women did not get raped and respectable people did not know women who were raped,
Now, perhaps the law has changed and many suggest that now an assailant has to prove his innocence but it changed because the law was previously so unfavourable to women.

As with women even more so with children; victims were simply not believed, and sexual abuse was simply not understood. In the Church especially, there was certainly a culture of 'cover-up' this has come under scrutiny but there was also a great deal of sexual naivete on the part of clergy. Many clerics I suspect dealt with their own celibacy by simply trying not to think about sex, by being a-sexual. It was a virtue the result of a spirituality of sexual purity

In the new age of 1960's sexuality Catholic clergy were encountering a new world totally beyond their experience and in many ways at odds with all they believed and were trained in, they were like rabbits in headlights. There was practically no study and very little was written about sexual abuse before the tsunami of accusations that broke in the 1980s in the Catholic Church. The Church had always dealt with such failings by dealing with the perpetrator, it was treated, as everyone says, like alcoholism, as a moral disorder, a spiritual weakness, a breaking of vows. There was a sense that if a period of prayer and reflection didn't work, then often a period as military (or industrial) chaplain might.

In the case of Cardinal Pell surprise was expressed that although he was a Consultor in his home diocese of Ballarat he was oblivious to child abuse in the diocese, I can understand this, I can well imagine that Fr X was discussed but not as a child abuser but in terms of upsetting people and 'various' complaints being received, of being someone who had difficulties with celibacy, even as a malevolent influence on the young but without actually describing what he was doing with children. If the issue was broached at all, like theology manuals of the time it would be couched in the most oblique of terms. The Church of a generation ago tended to see itself as a 'just society' where even the worst of sinners had the right to protection, and where he had the right to have his reputation protected be protected from scandal and certainly if protecting the reputation of the Church was also served.

The Church of course always saw itself as 'merciful', and like every other group in society failed to acknowledge the victims of the pervert's sin. The Church had the problem of not knowing how to deal with its own who had fallen. One consequence has been that bishops in the past saw themselves as fathers of errant sons, now they see themselves as managers with insurance and PR liabilities. I suspect too that there was more than a certain discretion about a matter that was deemed to be more properly dealt with in the internal forum.

What amazes me with the accusations against the Cardinal, and others, is that victims expected the Church to act when they themselves chose not to go the either the police or social services. There was an assumption that somehow the Church had the power to deal with someone that was above or beyond the law. The truth is of course that the social services of the time would have acted in an even less sympathetic way than the Church and the police most probably would have taken no action or treated a child in the same way as they treated women who were raped.

We find it easy to forget that children were treated with what we consider today extraordinary violence. George Ratzinger admitted 'abusing' children in his choir school, he gave them a 'clip round the ear', my music teacher thought little of doing the same. In my own school boys visited the headmaster rarely, few came away without receiving a few strokes of the cane. In the gym there was scarcely a lesson in which a boy was not 'slippered'. It was part of the culture. At Eton at the time, as in most of our more exclusive schools, not only did masters beat but so did senior boys.  In working class families, if a child was beaten at school it would not be unusual for the father to apply the same punishment, "because you must have deserved it". In universities, as in the military, 'hazing' freshman with beatings or even sexual humiliations was part of the culture. Physical and sexual abuse, are obviously not the same but they do tend to go hand in hand, as too of course does psychological abuse. The culture was abusive, and far from child centred. Even in medicine procedures in which an adult might receive anaesthetic children often given to children without it. There was a sense that children get over these things quickly, they have a different pain threshold or they forget quickly.

Cardinal Sodano famously dismissed the clerical sex abuse as media fabrication, perhaps there is some truth in this, perhaps the most politically astute act of Pope Francis was to distance the Papacy by appointing a Commission to deal with it for him, rather than take it on himself. Australian abuse victims are asking for a meeting with him, whether he will grant their request is unlikely, he hasn't met with those who have complained about Cardinal Daneels or the countless victims from Los Angeles who complained about Cardinal Mahony's cover-up and he has been positively dismissive about case brought against the Chilean Bishop Juan Barros who he himself appointed as bishop of Osorno. At best they will be met by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, head of the papal commission.


Highland Cathedral said...

I went to a Catholic secondary school in the late 1950s/early 1960s. One of the teachers taught Latin and History. For History his teaching method was to make the pupils learn several pages in the textbook. The next lesson he would test that you had learnt the contents. If you failed to answer a question he gave you the strap. For Latin he gave the strap to any pupil who gained less than a certain mark for his homework. I really struggled with Latin and so I regularly got a dose of the strap. I now attend the Traditional Latin Mass. However, my wish is that it would be said in English. My own father, by the way, used a slipper to administer punishment to myself and my brother. Different times indeed.

Sadie Vacantist said...

This is spot on. The big error was "Gaudium et Spes" and the mistaken belief that the Church had no enemies. A narrative emerged that the Church could say and do anything it wanted post-Vatican II. This arrogance extended to the company it kept especially secular psychologists. I'm afraid the Jesuits were the worst offenders from my experience. Some of the older clergy simply don't get it. Much of the self-destruction of the last fifty-four years has been unnecessary.

Alan said...

Wise words indeed, Father.

It saddens me to see both Catholic and Anglican bishops slagged off, sometimes posthumously, for behaving like Christians with a belief in the possibility of repentance and forgiveness. An ecumenical case in point in your part of the world is the damnatio memoriae of the late Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, following convictions for sexual assault of a former suffragan (auxiliary) bishop and a Brighton vicar. If Dr Kemp had been aware of a problem, he would certainly have construed the issue as homosexuality - something which seems to elude many of his detractors.

John Fisher said...

In Australia we had string of very liberal bishops following Vatican II. They were all from the same mold and were very wishy washy but still hung onto authority which they used to punish and impose their wishy washiness. They allowed creativeness in the liturgy, morality and helped the process of dissolution. They were chosen because they repudiated discipline, concise morality and were part of the new caring sharing Vatican II Church that stood for nothing except appearances. Archbishop's of Sydney Freeman, Clancy... Bishop Robertson, Archbishop of Melbourne "Chicken" Little, Bishop Mulkearnes of Bendigo, Malone Bishop of Maitland Faulkner Archbishop of Adelaide, Heenan Bishop Rockhamption, Archbishop Carroll Canberra Goulbourn. Notice the Irish names. The Australian Catholic Church was a colony of the Irish with many attitudes towards authority. The Pope tells the Bishops and the Bishops tell us attitude. Its a cultural issue. These men and many sex abusers were educated in seminaries where "Modernism" was normal. Some seminarians slept with each other and homosexual groups formed in seminaries during the 1970's up until now. Laity new this and no one listened. These bishops persecuted good priest and laity who were whistleblowers. Pell has assisted with the appointment better bishops. Let me also add David Ridsdale one of the victims was found guilty of sex abusing a 12 year old boy when he was 18. Some gay activists use sex abuse as an issue to destroy opposition from the Church not so society will be more moral but so they can name and shame while forcing through the gay agenda. Catholics are very confused and like 1930 Germany we are under attack from our own. These gay activists and secularists are like those Nazis or Communists who abandoned their religion for fashionable ideology.

Exsollertan said...

Thank you for this post Father. I was considering whether to email you regarding my concerns about the way the press are treating Cardinal Pell.

I was disappointed to find earlier this week that the Telegraph’s Rome Correspondent, Nick Squires seemed to rely on gossip in preparing his report on Cardinal Pell. Squires states that Cardinal Pell claimed to be too frail to travel to Australia "despite being seen last week wandering around Sydney".

Really? Seem by whom?

Why couldn't Squires check with the Cardinal's office to see what his diary was last week?

By the way, Squires learned his trade on the Brighton Argus which may explain a lot.

In the same vein, with all the accolades being heaped on the movie ‘Spotlight’ I am waiting for a similar movie about how the BBC, the police and the press connived to suppress all whispers concerning the behaviour of Saville. It was Richard Ingrams of the “Oldie” who decided to publish and break out of the conspiracy of silence.

Will there ever be such a movie? I wonder ...

happily a child of God said...

Dear Father.
There is another perspective on the movie "spotlight":
Happily a child of God

Nicolas Bellord said...

I wonder what many people would have done if they were a Bishop in the 1960s onwards presented with accusations of abuse by one of his priests. First of all after the decriminalisation of homosexual activity there was a great deal of sympathy for people who had previously been criminalised and/or blackmailed under the previous regime. Many abusers would have got under the radar on that score at that time.
Secondly if the matter did get to the police they would probably say that there was no hope of conviction as nobody would believe the victim. In a bad case the prosecuting authorities were sometimes prepared to do a deal whereby the priest was relocated instead of being prosecuted. In a really bad case that got to the magistrates an assurance that the priest would be sent for psychological treatment would be accepted and a suspended sentence would be usual. Thus in most cases the Bishop would have been left with the priest even though he might be away receiving treatment for a few months. Treatment that the Bishop believed would work. What should the Bishop have done then? Move him somewhere else preferably somewhere where there was no chance of him meeting young people - a place difficult to find? These predators were pretty persistent and clever and they would usually find their way round any such restrictions. I suppose some people believe that Bishops have the power to send their errant priests to the stake or to be locked up in San Angelo. There were cover-ups, bad decisions, naivety etc but would any of us have done any better? It has taken a host of procedures and better knowledge to try and deal with the problems but these did not exist at the time. Indeed now there has been injustice where some priests have been regarded as guilty until proved innocent and others unduly penalised for trivial mistakes in following the draconian procedures.

Gregkanga said...

The hatred of Cardinal Pell by the left in all its forms around the country, especially by the socialist's state of Victoria, is one of the clearest indications of how successful the Neo-Marxists inculturation and secularization processes have been. As the highest ranked orthodox Catholic prelate in this country, he has been cast by the mass media, the police, the Royal Commission, liberal left Catholic's, laity and hierarchy alike, and even the victims of sexual abuse, as the primary evil in our country and state, as a human being that is utterly evil. And, that he alone is responsible for all the horrors of sexual abuse in the Church. Logically, this is what happens in a society which subscribes to Marxists and socialist's ideas and behavior, and which advocates a humanism totally without God. In a socialist's state such as ours, which has renounced God, sin and evil are reduced to what offends man, the state and secular society. If you were a visitor to Victoria for the first time and read the papers, listened to the radio, or watch the news on television, you could not help but conclude that Cardinal Pell and the Catholic Church, are evil and the primary enemies of our state. And this is precisely how the Neo-Marxists Paganistic Left would like to define the Catholic Church. This Neo-Marxists Lefty tribe is after a big Catholic Scalp.

patricia said...

This is the best reflection I have read on the way Cardinal Pell is being treated by the press. I do agree that society was different then and things we now know as abuse were common place in previous decades. However sexual abuse of children is quite different from physical abuse and abuse by a priest is the biggest betrayal of all . Children are not fully formed and so these experiences have a permanent effect: innocence, trust, and confidence in bodily integrity is destroyed . The rape of an adult woman is a terrible thing but it is not comparable to the rape of a child.
I think that our real focus should be on the terrible suffering of the victims . The acts committed against them have been described as "soul murder" .
Maybe the Cardinal, and the Church , should bear the burden of the anger as a penance for the wrongdoings of others. I don't think it is for us right to portray Cardinal Pell as the victim of injustice because it suggests we have turned our face away from the real horror.

Lepanto said...

The Pope has ignored the most scandalous things about 'liberal' cardinals and bishops (Daneels etc). From what I know of the Pope, I think that by contrast Cardinal Pell - who is not a 'liberal'- should prepare himself to be 'thrown under the bus'. I hope that I am wrong but...

Paul-A. Hardy said...

Yes, Father, you are right. But the thing that is shocking to me is not that the abuse went on or that it was covered up but that no one in hierarchy from the top down could see that times were changing. The same culture existed in my university in the US during the late 1970s. Tutors and other faculty tampered with students just as they did in the UK, where I took another degree. Except, in the US the president of the institution began quietly to root this out. No one understood at that time. But he saved the university millions of dollars in law suits. Now this is a secular institution, why in the entire hierarchy was there not leadership of similar calibre at the time? Indeed, in the parish of the US university was a priest who publicly solicited same-sex encounters. He is now a bishop. Its not the sin that shocks me but the weakness of spiritual power to root it out—the appeal to secular science. But most of all what surprised me in the most unpleasant way was the knowledge that the hierarchy has not my own best interests at heart. Admittedly, I was in doubt that they and the clergy who followed them cared about the spiritual welfare of Catholics with implication of Vatican 2 reforms, which in this country was brutal. The sex abuse scandal only confirmed it. I felt no guilt any longer about attending mass and receiving the sacrament at any church where there is valid mass, even if it is illicit like SSPX. I had to be a light unto myself. And I know from experience the spiritual power of the ancient Latin mass. I tell you the truth the ancient mass and the martyrs commemorated therein, is why I am still a Catholic. I know that I am in communion with the martyrs: Linus, Cletus Perpetua etc. and that is enough. What the current hierarchy is doing is of little interest. They are no different from the politicians and other denizens of this world. So much is clear. When the Pope speaks, I take him at his words like he is the oracle of Delphi. If I can figure out what he means and can apply it my life, well and good. If I don't understand it, I leave until such time as God grants me the grace to figure it out. Who am I to judge? The key theme for me of his pontificate. I do not know how sifting and re-sifting this muck brings us closer to God, His Christ and the Holy Spirit. Is it not the Incarnation enough for us? I understand your motivation for printing this I think. Its compassion for the faint hearted. But please, Father! Let us move on!

Sixupman said...

The media coverage of +++Pell's interrogation all but ignores the fact that the Australian Commission is to look at all 'offending' institutions - one is given the impression that Mother Church, alone, is under scrutiny.

A balanced analysis Father.

John L said...

This won't wash and is in fact contemptible. There is no parallel between being caned and being sexually abused. There were specific canon laws requiring priests who sexually abused to be give severe punishments. These laws were deliberately broken by bishops and religious superiors. Compare the treatment of priests who insisted on saying the traditional mass after 1970.

Fr Ray Blake said...

My point was simply that we treated children differently then. However I am not entirely sure physical and sexual abuse are that far apart.

Jacobi said...

The swing of the pendulum.

I have commented elsewhere how, in my experience and that of my Catholic friends, child abuse was just so rare, pre-60s. I am not surprised that Pell was so slow to react. The Church has now gone to the opposite extreme in its anxiety to be Politically Correct. The number of wrongly abused priests far outweighs the number of claimed abused, certainly in the USA where good stats are available.
The 50s were not abusive. Yes I got my fair share of the belt, and was told many times what a stupid boy I was. Can't say it ever worried me. But when I look at the present generation, including my own family, I despair at their psychological fragility, - all as a result of being “protected”.

Francis said...

Yes, attitudes have changed completely and this is the big challenge for the Church.

The secular media accuse the Church of hypocrisy and being a den of iniquity but I clearly remember tabloid articles in the 1980s about choirboys being abused by a CofE cleric where the whole tone of the coverage was jocular. Today there would be outrage. Back then, the incidents were portrayed as if they were a Frankie Howerd joke. "Parish shocked by vicar's naughty romps with choirboys" was the tenor of the reporting.

Would the media ever admit that there is a log in their own eye? Silly question!

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