A Deep Sense of Shame

The sex abuse scandals coming to light in the Catholic Church have appalled everyone. As a woman, I find it incomprehensible that anyone could think of abusing a child or young person. I’m sure most men feel the same way. In vain do some argue (what is actually true) that Catholic clergy are statistically less likely to be abusers than married men. The stories of abuse, the cover-ups, the ineptitude of many ‘official’ responses have left us all reeling. As a Benedictine, I feel a deep sense of shame that Benedictine monks have been among the offenders. I’ve known some of them, and it is painful to record that I’ve heard them preach, received the sacraments at their hands, even been lectured on how I ought to live while they themselves were breaking their vow of chastity and injuring those entrusted to their care. How does one deal with one’s feelings of disgust and betrayal?

One way would be to say, I will have nothing more to do with any of them. They are all hypocrites and liars and have profaned the holy of holies. A little bit of me does want to do that, if I’m honest. A bigger bit of me wants to say, perhaps even this can be a source of purification for the Church. Perhaps there will be less arrogance among the clergy. An even bigger bit of me wants to lament the evil that has been done and pray for all who suffer as a result, especially those who are losing many of the services the Church has traditionally provided because of the discrediting of the institution along with some of its members β€” the compensation payments to those who have been abused do not come out of thin air. Most of all, however, I want the Church, and the Monastic Order in particular, to ask itself how this could have come about. A scandal is literally something that causes us to stumble, that deflects us from the right way. Some people have accused us as nuns as being in some way in ‘collusion’ with the monks. That is nonsense, but I think it highlights the fact that a deep sense of shame is not enough. The past cannot be changed, but it can be redeemed and everyone of us has a part to play in that.


26 thoughts on “A Deep Sense of Shame”

  1. As always you force us to reconsider our gut reaction unlike you I cannot see a redemptive side to them. Most cannot be cured.
    If only I thought it all over. I believe more is hidden, the Abbots have hidden much for a long time.

  2. I would like to think that such scandal will bring about less arrogance amongst the clergy, but I fear that the opposite will occur. We will see more of the attitude of “different and apart”, more aloofness, a greater sense of exclusivity – and with that the implied sense of “better”.

    There is a nasty trend towards greater clericalism across the whole Church and this might enhance that.

  3. I am sorry to say that your second and third sentences defy belief. You appear to be drawing a distinction between the way men and women react to the scandal of child abuse. “As a women…” etc. suggests that no woman could possibily fail to be appalled by child abuse. Well, I certainly hope that all women have this reaction but, tragically, women child abusers do exist. You then go on to affirm that only “most men” have the same reaction to child abuse as all women. In other words, a small minority of men could not be expected to regard child abuse as a scandal. I believe that this distinction is completely false. ALL right-minded people, whether male or female, have the SAME reaction of horror in the face of child abuse.

    I am married and a father myself. I was also a Benedictine for some time. I agree with your conclusion, which focuses on the real question of how child abuse in church circles could have happened in the first place. The Church must accept that its training and management of clerics and religious has for many decades been completely inadequate. Some men have been allowed to proceed to ordination who should never have been allowed to enter seminary in the first place. Similary, some men and women have been allowed to make religious profession when they should never have even started their postulancy.

    I think that sorting out the selection of candidates and ongoing human formation in seminaries and all other religious institutions is essential to overcome this evil. It seems to me that progress has been made in this area in recent years, but it will take more effort for all of the recommendations in official documents to be routinely implemented at grassroots level.

  4. Sex scandals and sodomizing of children are coming to light in the Church, and also everywhere else. As if the scandal in the Church was the tip of the iceberg.

    It seems to me that the approach to sexuality as a whole by the Roman Catholic Church has been skewed for centuries and unhealthy ways of looking at it has led us where we are today.

    Sexuality is beautiful, God-given, and should be seen as the gift that it is. To repress it as some have done over the centuries has brought us here.

    Homosexuality exists, and does seem to exist very much within the Catholic clergy. As long as homosexuality is not seen as a sexual orientation, also God-given, but described as Devil-driven, abnormal and sick behaviors will continue…

    Yes, some of us can transcend sexuality. Most of us cannot and lead a normal sexual life. This strange fear of sexuality, and particularly women’s sexuality, that the Church Fathers have had, may just have the hierarchical church crumble from within.

    The Church as in We are the Church and the Body of Christ will go on. πŸ™‚

    PS: I feel for your shame.

  5. I think the comments are spot on. The ‘shame’ felt by the Church doesn’t seem as great as the need to get everyone to feel sorry for them for being ‘under attack’! Pedophiles are recidivists – they repeat their crimes. Priests who have done this need to be defrocked and reported to police and although we may forgive them, we can never forget. The exclusivity of the priestly vocation allows cover ups. And by the way – nuns have abused children too, both physically and sexually so women aren’t always the ones who feel appalled. Hate the sin, not the sinner but don’t excuse it or forget it or allow it to continue!! Woe to those who injure the children!! Their angels are before the face of God!

  6. Thank you for saying this, it causes great pain among all those who try to serve God. Those who blame God need to realise we are all sinners. It is not God’s fault.
    When I was young I was asked if I would be prepared to die for my faith, I did not expect to die of shame.

  7. Thanks for this.
    The issue of abuse , clericalism, formation and ministry, the complexities of sexual theology are areas that demand open discussion and radical overhaul.
    As a Catholic woman sadly I realise that much of my hopes for change of the church are highly unlikely to bear fruit in my lifetime. How can I play a part in redeeming the church when my views at what I would like to happen are not listened to, patronised or ridiculed?
    On an emotional level I have never felt so angry and profoundly frustrated at the institutional church on so many levels.
    Prayer is needed !!


  8. Thank you, S. Catherine. I appreciate this civil discussion and treatment of this very difficult topic. It’s another little step in the long journey of healing our broken and shamed spirit.

  9. Thank you all for your comments.

    When I wrote ‘as a woman I . . .’ I was writing within the limitations of my own knowledge and experience. I can only approach this subject as a woman; I cannot enter into the mindset of male clerical abusers nor can I truly enter into the mindset of men. Some men with whom I have discussed this subject seem to think it is of no real consequence. I assume they are in a minority. I certainly hope they are in a minority. No woman with whom I have spoken has ever dismissed the subject in that way. If that ‘beggars belief’, I’m sorry, but it has no sinister meaning on my part: it just reflects my experience.

    As to nuns abusing children, as far as I know, no Benedictine nun in this country has ever been charged with abuse of children. If you have evidence to the contrary, of course, I will withdraw that statement.

    I have written on this subject a number of times and I think I have made my views sufficiently clear. I dislike the suggestion that I am in any way defending or excusing those guilty of abuse.

    • I for one don’t believe you are excusing either the abuse or the cover-up but some of what you wrote does invoke comment, especially the part about women, and your last comment about not knowing of any Benedictine nuns in the UK who have committed abuse. I never mentioned the limiting terms of either Benedictine or the UK – only that ‘nuns’ (who are women and representatives of the Church) have committed abuses. I do believe that this is more of a male problem than a female one, but that is because it is not really an issue of sex, but of power, and men have traditionally had more power than women, and therefore have had more opportunity to abuse it. But nuns in schools have had great power over children as well and have not always used it appropriately.
      But we all know that there are many wonderful priests and nuns throughout the Church – more than there are abusers, praise God. Despite what some other poster commented, I am not against the Church. I am against child abuse within the Church and against cover up. I admire our present Pope and think he is doing a wonderful job. I work very hard to strengthen the Church as a lay person but I won’t deny her faults either, and that includes priests, nuns and lay faithful. We are all sinners and need God’s mercy. And the Church needs our prayers.

      • Thank you. I trust I have already made it clear that I was reflecting on one aspect of abuse, prompted by the situation at Ealing Abbey, i.e. the clerical and monastic involvement. I realise that most people won’t know the difference between nuns and sisters, but I wouldn’t attempt to cover the whole subject of abuse in two paragraphs. I was writing as a Benedictine about Benedictines. It is a source of particular sadness and shame to Benedictine nuns that Benedictine monks should have behaved as they have.

  10. While the abuse of children by clerics and religious is horrendous, it is not something that happens only in the Roman Catholic Church. Such abuse has been found almost everywhere adults have authority over children. What bothers me the most about what has happened in the Roman Catholic Church is the systematic cover-up of such abuse and the policy of moving abusers from one venue to another providing abusers with a never ending supply of victims. I do not blame individual clerics or religious for this as this policy of moving the abusers was (is?) too widespread to be anything other than the official policy of the bureaucracy of the Church. In addition to that, said bureaucracy has not stepped up and confessed their error, nor have they taken any responsibility for the settlements won by victims who became victims as a result of this policy of moving abusers.

    • For Kathryn Dau-Schmidt
      I do not believe there is any systematic cover up of anything with this Pope. He has put everything out in the open, that which as a Cardinal he was, under obedience, not able to do. Neither do I believe priests who are guilty of such abuse have been moved to other pastures; either they are behind bars, defrocked or light years away from the sight of a child- The catholic church does not seem to joke on this, a matter you seem to denote it treats lightly. Furthermore, there are hundreds of people set up to falsely accuse priests of abuse without any concrete proof, or simply fabricated… in order to gain ill gotten compensation. I know you guys are anti-Catholic and have organized yourselves to create as much damage to the Catholic Church as possible- but there are some out here whom you simply cannot fool…

  11. You have to admire Pope Benedict XVI for drawing all this out in the open- without any kind of reservation- that reservation which was imposed upon him by previous pontiffs in an effort to save the Church from scandal, but which has only worsened the situation.

    One should feed shame and sadness, naturally, but one should not be surprised, for the Church is made up of human beings, and as we know, we are all sinners. What perhaps happened in the past is that there was little mention of sex or facing up to sensual and sexual situations among religious communities… it just wasn’t the thing one explored and that secretive attitude prevented people from seeking help.

    Many have often suspected, that apart from Prince Andrew the other princes were inclined to favour their own sex, and a lot more men in Britain are more gay than most of their counterparts on the continent… why? Again single sex schools and lack of communication, I believe, is to blame for this.

    One more thing- claims of abuse have rocketed sky high simply because of the hope of getting compensation. Only the other day I read of a woman who is now a mother and wife reporting her former parish priest for sexual abuse when she was 7 years old- For crying out loud, how can anyone believe her! Besides, sexual abuse has to be proven to have taken place or not before condemning a priest, and most of these cases are based on hearsay alone. Let’s not forget, there is also a lot of anti-Catholic spirit among the Anglo-Saxon press which spreads right throughout the USA.

  12. ” As a woman, I find it incomprehensible that anyone could think of abusing a child or young person.”

    I think this is a good article but I am glad that at least one commenter has taken you up on this one. Women do abuse, in fact a third of male victims of abuse report their abuser being a woman. It is also being increasingly recognised that children also abuse other children (although many children who abuse have been abused themselves.) Again this is something we find hard to deal with because it upsets all our stereotypes about the perpetrators of abuse.

    I was abused as a child. It was terrible and I still bear the scars. I don’t know how to deal with the subject of abuse rationally or what the Christian attitude should be towards those who abuse, or indeed to my abuser. But I do think we have to acknowledge the complexities of the subject – painful as this may be- and maybe to confess our ignorance and inadequacy as we try to discuss this subject or deal with the issues.

    • Sue, thank you for your comment which must have been painful for you to write. I was simply telling the truth: I find the idea of abuse incomprehensible, i.e. I do not understand how anyone would want to abuse a child or gain any form of gratification from doing so. That does not mean that I deny that abuse happens. In addition, we have a very robust safeguarding process in place here at our monastery. Effectively, it means that we never have children in the house or come into contact with them. I personally think that’s a loss but it is a direct consequence of the actions of abusers.

      • It is regrettable that such stringent safeguards are necessary in consequence of the harmful actions of others. The innocent suffer unjustly, and potential spiritual benefits of wholesome interaction of the young with monastic nuns is lost.

      • Unfortunately life teaches us that pedophilia and homosexuality are related, if not equated since pedophilia is more common among gays. This was the comment regarding the link I posted above.

      • Well, my life experience has taught me that people will go around claiming that “research” backs up their political agenda when it doesn’t. What you have linked to is a bunch of assertions that somebody has made up. What was the sample size? What were the study conditions? Where was this study published? The people who started the “news” site that you linked to are conservative evangelical “Christians” who definately have an agenda to push.

        Here is a scientific study done for the United States Council of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf Which states “Less than 5 percent of the priests with allegations of abuse exhibited behavior consistent with a diagnosis of pedophilia (a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent fantasies, urges, and behaviors about prepubescent children).” Also “Priests with pre-ordination same-sex sexual behavior were significantly more likely to participate in postordination sexual behavior, but these priests were more likely to participate in sexual behavior with adults than minors. Same-sex sexual behavior prior to ordination did not significantly predict the sexual abuse of minors.”

        I am offended that you would use this blog, which has always been reasoned and principled, to spread these lies.

  13. Friends, I’m going to step in here and close the comments on this post. I appreciate the candour and frankness with which you have answered, but I think we are going too far from the deliberately limited scope of the original post.

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