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Perversion of Power
Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church
Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
Author BioMary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist, was the only mental health professional to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their seminal 2002 Dallas meeting on the sexual abuse crisis, and she was one of the clinicians speaking about sexual abuse to the Conference of Major Superiors of Men that year. Frawley-O'Dea is co-author of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and co-editor of Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims. She is the former Executive Director of the Trauma Treatment Center at the Manhattan Institute of Psychoanalysis.
Main DescriptionSince 2002, the Roman Catholic Church has been in crisis over the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the cover-up of those crimes by bishops. Over 11,000 alleged victims have reported their experiences to the Church, and more than 4,700 priests since 1950 have been credibly accused of sexually victimizing minors. The Church has paid over one billion dollars to adults who claim to have been sexually abused by priests and there is no end in sight to these lawsuits.
Celibacy, homosexuality in the priesthood, the infiltration into the priesthood of secular moral relativism, too much liberalism in the Church since Vatican II, damaging rollback of Vatican II reforms by conservative prelates--all have been suggested as causes for the crisis. This book, however, begins with the premise that, because the pattern of abuse and cover-up was so similar across the world, there is something fundamentally awry with Church traditions and power structures in relationship to sexuality and sexual abuse.
Specifically, in chapters on suffering and sadomasochism, bodies and gender, desire and sexuality, celibacy and homosexuality, the author concludes that aspects of the Catholic theology of sexuality set the stage for the abuse of minors and its cover-up. Frawley-O'Dea also analyzes the American bishops' lack of pastoral care and tendency towards clerical narcissism--the belief that the needs of the hierarchy represent the needs of the wider Church--as central factors in the scandal. She balances this criticism with a discussion of the backgrounds of the bishops presiding over the crisis and the challenges they faced in their relationships with the Pope and Vatican officials.
Drawing on twenty years of clinical experience, she imagines the dynamics of sexual abuse both from the victim's point of view and from the priest's, and she probes why the Church hierarchy, fellow priests, and lay people were silent for so long. Finally, Frawley-O'Dea examines factors internal to the Church and outside of it that drew this scandal into the public square and kept it there.
Reviews"Dr. Fraley-O'Dea is social scientist, concerned with what happened, why it happened and what the consequences are and she presents her findings dispassionately, clearly and with the solid support of extensive scholarly research. The results are of value to professionals as well as laypersons and should be of particular interest to Catholics and to those charged with the welfare of children."
--Out in Jersey
"...a must read".
"In this excellent and passionate discourse, Frawley-O'Dea faces head on each of the fundamental sense of perversion as they apply to the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy...Frawley-O'Dea has produced a fair, broad, well-supported, passionate work. Those involved in the treatment of sexual abuse victims may find parts of Perversion of Power a useful learning experience. More generally, anyone concerned with healthy religious behavior and belief, genuine human spirituality, and religious reform will find the book a worthwhile read." - PsycCRITIQUES
"Frawley-O'Dea . . . argues that Catholic theology and doctrine . . . may have set the stage for the abuse. This is important reading . . . Essential. "
"Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist who has worked with victims of sexual abuse, examines the Catholic clergy sexual-abuse crisis in this well-documented compendium that incorporates her analysis of what went wrong. "
"The book is well-documented and researched as well as provocative and challenging. Although readers may not agree with all Frawley-O'Dea's conclusions, nevertheless the book must be classified as a must-read for church leaders and the hierarchy."
--Newsletter of the National Federation of Priests' Councils
Expanded Table of Contents
1 From the Bayou to Boston: A Developing Pattern 1
Boston and Beyond
The Catholic Crisis in Context
“Experiencing” the Crisis
Starting at the Top
The Cover-Up Is the Scandal
The Irish Factor
Priests, Laypeople, and the Cultural Milieu
2 Surviving Soul Murder 17
A True Crime Story
Keeping the Secret
Long-Term Consequences of Sexual Abuse
Disassociation and the Victim Self
The Abuser Self
The Entitled Self
The Interpersonal World of Survivors
Teachings and Traditions Implicated in the Scandal
3 Suffering, Submission, and Sadomasochism 39
The Valorization of Suffering
Dominance, Submission, and Sadomasochism
Centralized Authority and Submission
Dominance/Sadism and Submission/Masochism
4 Embodied and Gendered Souls 57
Can Real Men Be Priests?
Women in Catholicism
5 Degraded Sexual Desire and Theologized Sex 73
Degradation of Sexual Desire
Sex in the City of God
The Ethics of Catholic Sexual Teaching
6 Celibate Sexuality and Sexually Active “Celibates” 87
History of Celibacy
Theology of Celibacy
Sexually Active “Celibates”
Heterosexual Activity in the Priesthood
The Sexual Victimization of Nuns
Fathers, not Dads
Paradigms of Fatherhood
Priests and Progeny
Adopted or Fostered Children
The Bishops: More Childless “Fathers”
The Future of Celibacy
7 Homosexuality: Secreted and Scapegoated 109
The Theology of Sexual Orientation
The Sexual Orientation of the Priesthood
Sexually Active Homosexuality in the Celibate Priesthood
Homosexuality and Sexual Abuse
The Catholic Hierachy
8 Where Were the Pastors? 131
Revictimizing the Victims
Enabling and Abandoning Abusers
Neglecting Good Priests
Affronting the Laity
Short on Priests, Short on Pastoral Promise
Bishops Need Pastoring Too
9 Clerical Narcissism 151
The Center of Attention
Circling the Wagons
Clericalism Starts at the Top
Church Teachings Relevant to Clericalism
Ordination and Ontology
All Bishops Are Not Clericalists
Priests, Laypeople, and Culture
10 Perpetrators, Priests, People in the Pews 173
Perpetrators: Who Were They?
Empirical Data on Abusive Priests
“Omertá” in the Priesthood
People in the Pews
11 The Secret is Revealed 191
Sexual Abuse Acknowledged as a Social Problem
Therapists Replace Confessors
Changing Views of Authority
Law and Order
Victim/Survivor and Advocacy Groups
Conservatives and Liberals Hijack the Crisis
Priests Raise Their Voices
The Laity Speak Out
Epilogue: Is Everything Old New Again?