Sex-abuse in the seminary

By a Broken Rites researcher

During many years of research, Broken Rites Australia has encountered a number of cases in which young men were sexually abused in seminaries while studying for the Catholic priesthood. The abuse has been perpetrated by some older priests who have taken advantage of their position of authority while they are supposed to be mentoring the young students.

In 2011, Broken Rites noticed another case of this behaviour. The Australian journal Eureka Street (22 March 2011) contains an article by prominent Catholic academic Neil Ormerod, who for many years has lectured in theological courses for trainee priests. Professor Ormerod says he has been contacted by a former seminary student, who dropped out some years ago. This young man has finally revealed how he was abused by an older seminarian who went on to become a priest.

Professor Ormerod (who is a layman, not a clergyman) writes:

  • "In training for the priesthood this young man had been abused by a senior and much older seminarian, in whose pastoral care he had been placed...

    "While the older seminarian went on to ordination, a position of trust and responsibility in the Church, the younger man's life fell into a spiral of self-destructive behaviours, symptomatic of post-traumatic stress. While the abuser is an honoured member of the Church community, the victim has been shunned by his family and church community."

Prefessor Ormerod says the victim has complained to the Catholic Church's Professional Standards Office (also known as "Towards Healing") but the PSO team were difficult to contact and were slow to act. They are still dithering.

Professor Ormerod says that the Church's system has no intelligent and responsible way of dealing with the abuse that occurs. From Church authorities down to the local community, he says, there is simply an inability to enter into the perspective of the victim of abuse.

He writes:

  • "I have long felt that the major cause of this lack of institutional response lies with the spontaneous identification of priests and bishops with the perpetrator of abuse. They are all members of the same club. They all had the same formation experiences, live with the same stresses and strains, and have the same temptations.

    "One priest on hearing from a victim of a fellow priest's repeated sexualising of his pastoral relations with various young women cried out, 'The poor man, struggling with his celibacy'. No sense at all of the trail of destruction caused and the faith damaged. Immediately it became a problem of personal spirituality, narcissistically appropriated, 'poor me/him'; not anger at the spiritual violation of another person.

    "I cannot recall ever hearing a priest express anger at the actions of an abusive priest (except perhaps Geoffrey Robinson), and the damage they do to their victims, as well as to their own ministry as the trust of the community towards all priests evaporates. Rather, what I pick up is a sense of shame and tacit complicity. Shame is disempowering."

Professor Ormerod suggests that perhaps the clergy should suspend all homilies for a month and sit in silent prayer for the healing of the victims of abuse and the conversion and repentance of their abusers; to help make church communities safer places for victims to be present.

He concludes:

  • "In the time they save from writing homilies, priests and bishops could develop a searching moral inventory (to borrow from Twelve Step programs) of their own failures to deal with this problem, their lack of leadership in their communities to make them safe, and the positive steps they can take to repair the damage that has been done to individuals and communities.

    "Something more than platitudes are needed. The Church is dying on the vine, and tinkering with liturgies and translations is not going to bring it back to life. Its credibility is shot to pieces every time abuse occurs."

Footnote by Broken Rites

Broken Rites knows the full details of the above-mentioned case. We can reveal that the alleged offender, who is twenty years older than the alleged victim, was still listed as a priest in the mid-2010 edition of the Australian Catholic Directory.

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