If there was one crime in society that could be said to be the most perverse, it
would surely be the sexual assault of an innocent child. So what is it that has
caused the most elevated teachers in our community to perform the most
perverted crimes so frequently?
Bertrand Russell once said of clergymen, 'Any average selection of mankind set
apart and told that it excels the rest in virtue, must tend to sink below the
average'. While there are many church clergy in Australia who clearly defy this
description, Russell's comments may be very appropriate to those clergymen who
battle sexual repression and rigid dogma.
From a very early age the novice clergyman is told to eradicate sexual thoughts
from his consciousness altogether. Internal dialogue on sex is discouraged so that
many priests grow into middle age with no framework to hang sexual urges or
experiences upon. The number of paedophile priests who cited 'sexual naivete' as
some sort of defence to their crimes in court reports is astounding.
Some religious orders like the Mormons actually publish official instructions on how
to avoid masturbation. The Guide to Mormon Youth under the heading of
Overcoming Masturbation exhorts young people to 'Set a goal of abstinence. Begin
with a day, then a week, month and year....If you masturbate, colour that day
black' (on a calendar). Under the heading of 'Avoiding Temptation', the Guide
encourages novices to leave the door partly open when on the toilet or in the
shower and to 'wear pajamas that are difficult to open', 'put on several layers of
clothing that would be difficult to remove while half asleep', and 'In severe cases,
tie a hand to the bed frame'.
'Employ aversion therapy. To cancel out the pleasurableness (sic) of masturbating,
associate something very distasteful with the act. For example, imagine bathing in
a tub of worms and eating some of them'.
Clearly these are extremist views and a form of mind control that is unacceptable
to a reasonable adult. The Catholic Church has quietly and belatedly admitted that
attitudes like this around the training of priests can cause problems. In December
1999, A Catholic Bishop's report called Towards Understanding, suggested that
little or no training in the issues of sexuality and celibacy could contribute to sexual
abuse by clergy. However, the report also confirmed that the church had still not
accepted its responsibility in the epidemic of child sexual assaults by suggesting
that there was no evidence that the incidence of abuse of children was greater in
the church than in the community at large. This is clearly and demonstrably untrue.
With 450 individual child sexual assaults by church clergy acknowledged in the
courts over the past 10 years, the nation's churches constitute the largest
employer of paedophiles in the country by a very long way.
In fact this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Consider this.
A study conduced by Professor Freda Briggs, Russell Hawkins and Mary Williams at
the University of South Australia found that of 179 men who were sexually abused
as children or convicted child molesters, 15 per cent nominated Catholic priests as
Research conducted by journalist, Jason Bearry, in the US revealed that 15 per
cent of all Catholic priests in the US had sexually molested children in their care,
but only a tiny proportion faced charges. According to other news sources, US
Catholics had filed suits against nearly 500 priests over the past several years
from 1993 and the church had already paid out nearly million dollars to plaintiffs
who could eventually number in the tens of thousands.
In 1992, ABC Compass program aired an episode entitled The Ultimate Betrayal
that claimed at least 15 per cent of Australian Clergy, of all denominations,
sexually abused people in their congregation.
There appears to be approximately 20,000 church clergy in Australia. If the 15 per
cent figure is ultimately proved then there could well be 3,000 child sex offenders in
the church and not 450.
More worrying are recent reports from the US that hundreds of Roman Catholic
priests have died of AIDS and hundreds more are living with HIV. In late January
this year, an in depth Kansas City Star/Reuters' report stated that 'priests were
dying of AIDS at a rate at least four times that of the general population.' The
report quoted estimates from medical experts, priests and health statistics in
drawing its analysis.
The fact that the Church officially outlaws gay sexual relations and opposes the
use of condoms says much about the reasons for such an epidemic. The report
quoted most priests as saying that the church had failed to give them any early sex
education that would have equipped them to deal with the issues.
The statistics and the evidence that we have on hand suggests that the problem is
getting worse rather than better.
No other profession features in child sexual abuse statistics to anywhere near the
extent that church clergy do. Their response to increasing criticism on the issue is
to point the finger at the sex industry in an attempt to shift their guilt. Sex crimes
and sexual depravity will naturally be found in an industry that deals in sex, they
argue. So whenever prostitution or censorship law reform is on the agenda,
Bishops, Cardinals, suburban and country priests all step forward to condemn
those working in the sex industry as immoral and perverse. Politicians continue to
bow to the church's so-called 'moral authority' and turn a blind eye to the real facts
about child sexual abuse.
How strange it is then that not one prostitute or so-called pornographer appears
to have ever been convicted of child sexual abuse in Australia. Not even one.
Clearly there is something about the nature of the sex industry that diminishes
child sexual abuse and there is something about church culture that encourages it.
The job ahead for our legislators and community leaders is to conduct a formal
enquiry to determine just what this 'something' is.
Representing Australia's sex industry, the Eros Foundation has approached church
clergy on a number of occasions in the past with the aim of initiating dialogue on
sex and censorship issues. From the Roman Catholic church there has been silence
and arrogance on the issues. On the 11th October 1996, the Rev Mark Coleridge, a
regular anti-sex campaigner in the church, wrote in reply to an Eros request by
stating, ' In my capacity as Church spokesman, I have received many invitations
but yours ranks among the more exotic. I am not sure what you have in mind when
you suggest a debate, but I cannot imagine anything that would be of mutual
benefit. I am afraid therefore that I shall have to decline.'
On the 6th of June, 1997 and again on the 27th May, 1999, the Eros Foundation
wrote letters to the Roman Catholic Church's parliamentary representative,
Senator Brian Harradine outlining the problems of child sexual abuse in the church
and asking him to support an official enquiry. His silence was deafening.
Without any engagement on the issue the church is isolated and will continue to
make the mistakes of its past. The prosecution of 450 sex crimes against it in 10
short years is overwhelming and damming evidence. It is the responsibility of
government now to impose that engagement for the good of the community and
the good of the church.