Friday, May 11, 2012

Accusations of offenses committed by Legionaries reviewed by the Vatican


In a statement to the AP news agency, the Legionaries of Christ said seven cases of Legionary priests accused of sexually abusing minors had been referred to the Vatican's department that deals with sex crimes. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

The founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, sexually abused many boys and young men over a period of 30 years. He was disciplined by the Vatican in 2006 over the abuse.

The Legion issued the statement to the AP after the news organization approached it with the allegations; the Legion simultaneously sent the statement out to all priests in the order.

In addition to referring the cases to the Vatican as required by church law, the Legion said it had referred cases to police where civil reporting laws require it. It's not known, if any law enforcement action was taken given the statute of limitations may have expired for such old cases and the alleged abusers may long since have left the jurisdictions.

According to the Legionaries website:

“Over the past few years, in several countries, the major superiors of the Legion of Christ have received some allegations of gravely immoral acts and more serious offenses committed by some Legionaries….
…Of the accusations received by major superiors in the years since cases referring to the abuse of minors by priests were assigned to the competency of the CDF, internal preliminary investigations concluded that seven had a semblance of truth; the Legion forwarded these cases to the CDF. Only one case of abuse of minors by a priest refers to recent events; the others are from decades ago….
…Two other formal allegations not classified as delicta graviora have also been presented to the CDF….
…Furthermore, there have been some accusations of delicta graviora allegedly committed by Legionaries who, after the requisite investigation (canonical or civil), have been declared innocent….
…During investigations carried out by civil authorities (where this is the case), or during canonical investigations, and while the case is under study by the CDF, the territorial director and the general director have applied precautionary measures, restricting the priestly ministry of the accused, since the protection of children and of communities is of the utmost importance for the Legion. This, however, is never a statement about the guilt or innocence of the accused.. …
…The Legion of Christ reaffirms its commitment to respond quickly to accusations of gravely immoral acts, of delicta graviora, and of violations of religious discipline, using the correct procedure in each case, in conformity to civil laws, rigorously observing canonical procedures, and applying the appropriate penalties and sanctions established in the Code of Canon Law….
…It also reaffirms its commitment to continue to foster safe environments for children and young people, especially through the observance of Codes of Conduct for Legionaries, consecrated persons, and lay people who come into contact with children and young people in our institutions. Furthermore, there has been and is contact with outside institutions to improve our procedures and policies for the prevention of abuse. We also comply with civil law and Church norms in each country for the protection of youth….”

How does the percentage of alleged abuse in the Legion compare to the incidence of sexual abuse in the Church?

The Legionary web site claims that the congregation numbers 800 priests. Currently, seven are being investigated. That is 0.875% of the congregation’s priest-members. How does this percentage compare to the incidence of sexual abuse in the Church?  What percentage of Roman Catholic priests abuse older teens and occasionally young children?

According to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT), nobody really knows.

OCRT provides the following information. Their website gives a reference for each citation:

"Philip Jenkins, is a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University, and has written a book on the topic. He estimates that 2% of priests sexually abuse youths and children.

Richard Sipe is a psychotherapist and former priest, who has studied celibacy and sexuality in the priesthood for four decades. He has authored three books on the topic. By extrapolating from his 25 years of interviews of 1,500 priests and others, he estimates that 6% of priests abuse. 4% of priests abuse teens, aged 13 to 17; 2% abuse pre-pubertal children.

Sylvia M. Demarest, a lawyer from Texas has been tracking accusations against priests since the mid-1990s. By 1996, she had identified 1,100 priests who had been accused of molesting children. She predicts that when she updates the list, the total will exceed 1,500 names. This represents about 2.5% of the approximately 60,000 men who have been active priests in the U.S. since 1984. It is important to realize that these are accused priests; the allegations have not been evaluated in a trial. Also, there is no way to judge what proportion of actual abusive priests are included on her list. It may include 40% or fewer; she may have found 90% or more.

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter claimed, without citing references, that there are only 55 "exposed abusers" in a population of 45,000 priests. This is an abuse rate of 0.12%.

Various news services reported that 200 Roman Catholic priests in the Philippines have been investigated for "sexual misconduct and abuses" over the past two decades. That would represent almost 3% of the total population of about 7,000 priests. However, it appears that misconduct includes many offenses, from child abuse to rape to keeping adult mistresses."

A survey of child and youth sexual abuse within the church issued in 2004-FEB estimates that 4% of the 110,000 priests who served between 1950 and 2002 were abusive.

The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males, according to a 2009 study published in Clinical Psychology Review that examined 65 studies from 22 countries.

Sexual abuse by priests pales in comparison with abuse encountered in US public schools

A U.S. Department of Education report  issued in 2004 examined a number of American studies into the prevalence of sexual misconduct by school staff. They found that between 3.5% and 50.3% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career. They found that teachers, coaches, substitute teachers were the most common offenders. If this report is accurate, then sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic church, and by other clergy, appears to pale in comparison with the abuse being experienced by children and youths in the public schools.

Pedophilia and Ephebophilia

According to the Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute (CMRPI) , a national, science-based, 501(c)3, nonprofit organization with offices in Atlanta, GA and Alameda, CA., to be diagnosed with pedophilia, a person must:

  • Be sexually aroused by, have intense, recurring sexual fantasies of, or be involved in sexual behavior with a prepubescent child or children (generally 13 years or younger);
  • Be aroused by, have sexual fantasies of, or be involved with a child for at least six months.;
  • Be at least 16 years old, and
  • Be at least five years older than the child or children he or she is attracted to.

Donald Cozzens, former vicar of priests at the Diocese of Cleveland, OH, wrote in the year 2000 about his experience in the Midwest:

"As a group, [child sexual] abusers tend to be married men who prey on girls, although many pedophiles abuse both girls and boys. Our respective diocesan experience revealed that roughly 90 percent of priest abusers targeted teenage boys [ephebophilia] as their victims. ... Relatively little attention has been paid to this phenomenon by church authorities. Perhaps it is feared that it will call attention to the disproportionate number of gay priests. While homosexually oriented people are no more likely to be drawn to misconduct with minors than straight people, our own experience was clear and, I believe, significant. Most priest offenders, we vicars agreed, acted out against teenage boys." More recently, in 2002, he quoted other estimates that "90 percent to 95 percent, and some estimates say as high as 98 percent of the victims of clergy acting out [are] teenage boys." 

It seems that between 90-98 percent of cases that have come to light in the clergy sexual abuse crisis, are not technically pedophilia because they are cases of homosexual abuse of teenage boys aged 13-17.

Ephebophilia is the sexual preference of adults for mid-to-late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19.

The OCRT notes:

 "that if the age of consent for homosexual activity were lowered to the age of 16, as it is in many jurisdictions, then many -- if not most -- of the criminal acts by abusive priests would disappear. Most charges by the police against abusive priests would never materialize. Cases of ephebophilia would still represent an ethical quagmire, however. They would be a gross violation of the priest's ordination vows and would be an extremely harmful experience to most of the teens."

The on-going reform of the Legionaries of Christ

In my estimation, the fact that the Vatican is following up on the claims of sexual abuse by Legionary priests, other than the founder, Fr. Maciel, is a sign that the mandated reform is progressing albeit slowly. It would seem that the Legion is cooperating with the investigation. Several of the first young seminarians who were abused by Maciel claimed that they knew of other young seminarians who were abused. They named names. Many of these men continued in the Legion and became superiors. One of my enduring problems with the Legion is that these men, many of whom I knew well, never admitted to having been abused and, as far as I recall, adamantly denied the reports of Fr. Maciel's misconduct (not related to sexual abuse at the time) during the 1950s. If they were indeed abused, and subsequently, as superiors, covered up for Fr. Maciel, they are a major part of the Legion's problem.

The media has always been quick to blame current Legionary major superiors for the alleged "cover up". I suspect that what the current leadership may have known probably pales in comparison to the former group. Either way, it would seem that the Legion has been slow to move on the seven alleged abusers - although we don't know this for a fact. The investigations may have been underway for longer than has been revealed. The Legionaries report that investigations cleared some other of the accused priests.

"Harden not your hearts": when will we hear a heartfelt apology to the victims?

The Legionary communique reads:

'As the Holy Father wrote to the priests and religious of Ireland, “All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse.” We invite everyone to pray for these brothers of ours and especially for the victims.' 

What irks most people about the Legionary response to the abuse perpetrated by the founder and the alleged abuse of the reported seven priests, is the absence of apparent, public compassion for the victims and a clear intent to try and make amends. Until the Legionaries make some significant moves in this respect their protestations of concern and prayerful remembrance of the victims sound hollow to the general public and to me.

Why The Legionaries of Christ as an institution seem to consistently avoid expressions of sorrow, regret, and apology for the demonstrated grievous harm perpetrated by some members of the congregation is beyond me. This deafening silence rests credibility from the notion that the Legionaries, as a congregation, are on the road to genuine reform. Individual apologies and regret expressed by some Legionaries is not enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jack, Good on you for putting up the various statistics. While accepting the fact that clergy have abused here in Ireland, I have always been concerned by the over concentration on clergy as abusers. I felt this helped hide other more rampant sources of abuse. While I worked as a psychotherapist I met many people who were abused, however I had never met anybody abused by clergy until I started working with homeless people. Even there caution had to be observed as I came across people claiming abuse who had never been abused - but the financial payout was worth it.

God Bless