Monday, August 03, 2015

Clerical Sexual Abuse

a review by Edd Doerr

 Clerical Sexual Abuse: How the Crisis Changed US Catholic Church-State Relations, by Jo Renee Formicola. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 279 pp, $105.

No Longer on Pedestals, by Carol A. Kuhnert. iUniverse, 2014, 385 pp, $23.

By now the clergy sexual abuse scandals, worldwide and of long duration, are out in the open. In the current issues of Free Inquiry and the ARL journal, Voice of Reason, I reviewed Kieran Tapsell’s book, Potiphar’s Wife: The Vatican’s Secret and Child Sexual Abuse. The two reviewed here are just the latest in a long stream on the subject, many of them by Catholic authors, such as Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea’s Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (2007); Leon Podles’s Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church 2008); Lucinda Almond’s Child Abuse (2006,  to which I contributed a chapter);  and two in Spanish by Spanish psychologist Pepe Rodriguez, Pederasty in the Catholic Church: Sex Crimes by the Clergy against Minors: A Drama Silenced and Covered Up by the Bishops (2005) and The Sex Life of the Clergy (2002).

Jo Renee Formicola, a professor of political science at Seton Hall University, a Catholic institution, starts off on page 1 noting that the abuse scandals in the US alone have so far cost the Catholic Church over three billion dollars to settle lawsuits. She makes clear that internal progress to deal with the abuse mess has been agonizingly slow, a matter of “too little and too late,” with church officials in the US and the Vatican far more concerned about protecting their image and covering up the abuse than about the vast numbers of minors who have been victims of clergy sexual abuse. She also touches on the scandals in Belgium and in Ireland, which, with only one percent of the US population, the 2006 Ryan Report showed that over a period of 70 years there were over “over 14,000 sexual abuse victims of priests and nuns.” She notes that the 2004 John Jay College of Criminal Justice study, “The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, 1950-2002,” found that “4,392 clergymen were accused of abusing 10,667 people between 1960 to 1984 at a financial cost of $573 million,” that “most of the victims were males between the ages of 11-14.”

Formicola’s well documented book details the legal and canon (church) law complications involved in dealing with the problem and concludes that church officials have consistently sought to shield the scandals from public scrutiny and civil law enforcement.

Carol Kuhnert is a devout Catholic woman in the St Louis area whose older brother was a priest who abused numerous minors. Her book is a courageous, detailed, well documented account of one abuser and the author’s years long though fruitless efforts to get her church to clean up the mess. She makes clear that the cover-ups and indifference toward the abuse were/are every bit as bad as the abuse itself.

Both books mention Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was a bishop in St Louis who seemingly was of no help there, who was then archbishop of Milwaukee where he tried to move church assets around to avoid their being used in compensate victims, and who now as archbishop of New York had been campaigning to have the New York legislature divert public funds to his church’s private schools through vouchers, which would of course be contrary to the state constitution’s Article XI, Section 3.

Both of these books merit five stars. Too bad the list price of the Formicola book is so unreasonably high.

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