Talk given by Gerardine Taylor Robinson to the Australian Council of Priests


I am a reluctant presenter at this Conference for many reasons but primarily because I am aware that, as a result of the horrendous abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy which was detailed at the Royal Commission, the morale of Catholic clergy – and especially the morale of the “good guys” – the many dedicated and selfless men who are the face of God to the people to whom they minister, has taken a battering throughout the five years of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse and following the release of the report in December 2017.
I do not want to add to that burden, but we do need to have some painful conversations about critical issues that challenge us – as our Church is in crisis!
In written Chinese, the word for “crisis” in their symbolic language comprises the symbol for “Danger” and the symbol for “Opportunity” under the same roof. We live in dangerous times as a Church, but we also face an unprecedented opportunity to radically reformulate our lives and our Church by reclaiming the values proclaimed by Jesus and embedded in the Gospel.
My sharing today is based on two old but wise sayings – Firstly, “Hurt people, hurt people” and secondly, “If nothing changes, nothing changes”.

Some of what I will say and recommend today may be uncomfortable, challenging and even confronting. I don’t mind if you disagree with my reflections and recommendations – I don’t mind if you feel uncomfortable – even angry – because anger is an energy for change. Out there are many victims whose anger mobilised the Royal Commission to help us to reflect on our reality as a Church. So! Let’s talk!
My contribution to the Royal Commission in interview on 13th February 2017 was mostly clinical opinion based on almost 30 years of working with Catholic clergy and religious in both the USA and Australia.
The Royal Commission’s task was to listen and bear witness to what happened to children in Institutions, to provide compassionate and just responses to those who were abused, and to recommend changes to Church structure, culture and processes in order to prevent abuse. The bottom line of these deliberations – No more victims!
My task today and the perspective I offer for consideration are to describe “A View from the Clinic”. If you like, – my reflections on some factors I think need to change if we are to make a whole-hearted response to the tragedy of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy and religious.
As I previously mentioned, I have been working with Catholic clergy consistently for almost 30 years – in the United States for eight years, and Australia for 21 years. The clergy I have had the privilege to work with in both the United States and in Australia have come from nearly every country on earth. Over many years now, I have noticed

factors and patterns that are consistent from culture to culture, though they differ in intensity, and application in different cultures.
External factors such as social change movements and academic reflections and opinions have failed to impact and to radically alter the internal attributes of the Catholic Church that have led to the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. And if nothing changes – nothing changes!
Awareness of Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse has always existed in the Catholic Church. This is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the centuries, Catholic Church authorities strove strenuously to keep such misconduct away from public view. However, with the advent of radio and television combined with the arrival of investigative journalism and social media, the maintenance of such secrecy was always doomed to failure and in fact led to an escalation and sensationalisation of the scandal.
For a comprehensive overview and summary of the extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church I recommend to you the RMIT report of Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson titled, “Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports”1
I acknowledge that the Church in Australia since the mid-1990’s has been active in seeking to respond to child sexual abuse within its institutions. It established the Towards Healing 9-Point Plan, redress arrangements, counselling and support services for victims, and assessment and treatment for perpetrators.

But even the concerted effort by the Church in Australia in the mid 1990’s to begin to address the issue at that time was driven by external factors, namely by the media and, in particular, by the attention given in the media to high profile serial perpetrators such as Fr Gerald Risdale.
If we are to enact and embrace change after the Royal Commission, then the impetus for change must come from within and it must come from both the grass roots level and from leadership.
The Royal Commission concluded that there were multiple factors that contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Church agencies. Furthermore, a combination of individual and systemic factors was involved, and they were interactive.

The Royal Commission quoted (Vol 16, Book 2, p587) evidence given by a social scientist and theologian as follows:
“The features of the institutional church that are said to contribute to a climate in which sexual abuse by Catholic clergy becomes possible includes
 the theology of sexuality,
 the ecclesiastical structure of power relations and hierarchical authority,
 the clerical culture,
 seminary formation.
These aspects of the institution are influenced in turn by its traditions and teachings that are seen by some scholars to have rendered sexual abuse by clergy and the subsequent responses of the Catholic hierarchy almost inevitable.”2
The Royal Commission concluded that individual pathology on its own is insufficient to explain child sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy and religious. Specific factors that heighten the risk of abuse relate to an individual’s psychosexual immaturity or psychosexual dysfunction which combine with situational and institutional factors.

Others more qualified than I can comment on the Historical and Institutional factors that contributed to child sexual abuse such as Theological teachings, Canon Law, Leadership, Models of Church etc.
I wish to confine my comments to my area of expertise which is human development and clinical perspectives gleaned from working with clergy for three decades.
Keeping in mind then, the interplay of systemic and individual factors that heighten the risk and even likelihood of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by clergy, I would like to comment on four specific contributing factors that I have encountered and observed within my area of expertise:
1. The corrosive culture of clericalism that pervades Catholic culture;
2. Celibacy and understandings of sexuality;
3. The selection, training, and formation of candidates for the priesthood;
4. The on-going personal development and support of clergy after ordination.
I will conclude by suggesting healthy ways of being in Church today.
Based on my view from the clinic, I wish to offer some practical and structural changes related to these four factors that may facilitate a more relational, accountable, healthy and nourishing culture in which men can continue to grow and to minister.

By and large our understanding of the priesthood has been influenced by particular theologies that have seen priesthood as a personal gift or calling that elevates the man above the laity. As Marie Keenan so accurately observed,
“Influenced by this theology of priesthood, it is little wonder that priesthood was construed by clergy and laity alike as a personal gift and a permanent sacred calling, rather than a gift of service to the community. It is also little wonder that a corrosive culture of clericalism was to be born from such a theology, which was to affect clergy and laity alike”. 3
It is a reality that in our Church at the current time, we still have senior hierarchical figures who are proposing and promoting a theology of ontological change at ordination which elevates ordinary men and distinguishes them from lay men. I propose that this is unhealthy.
This theology appeals particularly to young men who have a rigid cognitive style, an unintegrated sexuality, and an unconscious sense of powerlessness that they seek to counter with the trappings and power that is afforded them by the church hierarchy and the laity at ordination.
Such individuals who have a defective sense of self, inadequate psychosexual development, and a sense of entitlement, and who inflexibly adhere to a theology of

priesthood that separates them from others, are flocking to seminaries in this time of social uncertainty, rapid change and global insecurity. And – Hurt people, hurt people!
If we are to begin to address the culture of clericalism, we must start with our seminaries where such ideas and theologies are being endorsed and promoted.
The current, most prevalent seminary model which has students segregated from the secular world, living and studying in a homosocial, institutionalised and highly structured environment, where, by and large, women are unwelcome and/or kept on the periphery, is dysfunctional, insular and a breeding ground for clericalism.
Furthermore, the model continues to perpetuate the conditioning of the laity which has been reinforced over decades, encouraging them to afford seminarians status, respect and power that they have not earned and do not deserve. It places seminarians in a perilous situation of being betwixt and between the real world and the false world of clericalism.
For some years now, I have been involved in assessing Maronite candidates for the priesthood and diaconate. Some of these men are married with children, they work a fulltime job and they study theology, philosophy, scripture, canon law etc in their own time whilst being immersed in their local parish in various ministries.
By and large, they are older than the typical Catholic seminarian, mature, responsible, and fully engaged with the responsibilities of family life, financial management and

social welfare commitments. Even non-married candidates for diaconate and/or priesthood are immersed in the same responsibilities and realities.
Why would such a model or an adaptation of the model not work for Roman Catholic seminarians?
I acknowledge that the majority if not all of you in this room have most likely come through the model that I deeply question. But if nothing changes, nothing changes.
I said at the beginning of this presentation that I would propose some practical changes to Church structures and systems.
To attempt to change the breeding ground for clericalism that begins in the most current, common seminary model, I propose the following:
Since personal and psychosexual development and integration is a process towards maturity, I suggest
 That the entry age for seminarians be raised to mid-20’s. I would suggest 25 years of age as a minimum.
 That a pre-requisite for consideration for seminary be a University degree and/or a Trade qualification, and at least three years of working in the chosen field or trade.
 That candidates demonstrate financial independence
 That candidates demonstrate independent living

 That seminarians remain living in the community in non-institutional settings in a model yet to be imagined.
At this point, I would like also to make an observation about the selection of seminary formation staff.
Influencing the formation of another human being, whether it be a child or a young adult, is a profoundly serious ethical, moral and spiritual task. One is shaping the ideas, the dreams, the expectations, the identity and the awareness of another human being. To attempt to do so without adequate and accurate self-knowledge and without significant professional training and input is to me unthinkable.
Most staff at seminaries in the predominant model are clergy. They are good, pastoral priests who have proved their mettle in parish work, academic fields and other ministries. By and large, they have good interpersonal skills and sound pastoral experience. However, they are being plucked from the field and elevated to the position of Rector and/or formation personnel with little if any formal training in human formation. Note my emphasis on “human formation”. If we don’t have healthily functioning human beings, we’re not going to have healthily functioning professionals of any kind.
I suggest that it is unjust, unfair and unethical to put this burden onto any person or persons charged with formation in seminaries.

Furthermore, these clergy are also charged with deciding who goes through to ordination and who does not. As I said at the Royal Commission, why would a seminarian disclose personal challenges – especially of a sexual nature – to a person or persons who can preclude him from ordination?
If nothing changes, nothing changes.
The Royal Commission endorsed the research findings of many academics and social scientists indicating that there is no direct causal link between celibacy and the sexual abuse of children.
However, the Royal Commission concluded that there is a heightened risk of sexual abuse where some compulsorily celibate male clergy have privileged access to children.
This conclusion was based on the understanding that for many male clergy, celibacy is linked to loneliness, depression, mental illness and isolation, and to subsequent alcohol and substance abuse, gambling, compulsive use of pornography and sometimes to sexual boundary violations with children and vulnerable adults.
The fundamental principles of Catholic sexual teaching are inspiring – that sexuality is sacred; that sexuality should be mutual; that sexuality is an expression of love and open to new life and new love within the couple.

However, Catholic sexual morality and teaching has been determined by male celibate clergy. It has not been open to “the wisdom of the married” and more recently to a feminine, relational approach to sexuality.
Historically, Catholic church teaching on sexuality seemed to demand perfection from the outset rather than growth into a graced humanity from adolescence to adulthood.
One predominant theology of sexuality is particularly problematic. Personal identity is predicated on maleness and femaleness or a mixture of both. In relation to Catholic clergy for whom celibacy is mandatory, Marie Keenan noted,
“Ordained male clergy at ordination are called to act out their maleness in which sexual activity is eliminated altogether and sexual desire is sublimated”4
Surely this imposed approach to sexuality dictates underlining the importance of discerning who is and who is NOT called to such a lifestyle. Some men – and I believe from my view from the clinic – few – can live a healthy life without sexual engagement. Many cannot! I know this from observations and from the confidential narratives I have listened to over three decades.
What I do know is that a choice for celibacy can only be made with a degree of psychosexual maturity which results from a wholistic maturation process.

Only those who can maturely embrace the loss of generativity implicit in a choice for celibacy and who can healthily grieve this loss, can live celibacy creatively and lovingly go on to respect and to protect children.
Those who resign themselves to mandatory celibacy as a necessary “sacrifice” required at ordination are hugely at risk of sexual boundary violations. Because hurt people, hurt people!
In relation to the Church’s theology and teachings on sexuality, I have a particular problem with the teachings and documents related to sexual orientation.
I wish to state clearly at this time, that in no way is sexual orientation and, in particular homosexuality, associated with the sexual abuse of children. Homosexuality is one of many sexual orientations. The abuse of children is a paraphilia and as such, a psychiatric disorder.
I wish to make comment on the Church’s teachings related to homosexuality because the fact is, a substantial number of our clergy are other than heterosexual.
Cahill and Wilkinson noted that there are various estimations of the proportion of homosexual priests and religious in the Catholic Church. They observed that the better estimates are in the 20–50 per cent range. 5

In my evidence to the Royal Commission, I suggested that the impact of the homophobic teachings and environment within the Catholic Church on homosexual men within the ranks of the clergy has been horrendous.
The hierarchical structure and the pervasive homophobic atmosphere in the Church together with inaccurate, denigrating and destructive Church teachings about sexuality by some moralists and Church leaders, and particularly about sexual orientation, have resulted in the spiritual, emotional and psychological abuse of many good men (and women).
I have seen, and continue to see, these people in the clinic, and each time I make my lament against the diminishment and/or the destruction of a human soul.
I propose that a theology of sexuality that leads to self-hatred, to ridicule and to secrecy driven by shame, requires radical reformulation.
What the Church needs now is not a return to traditionalism that has provided what appears to have been -a safe haven for the fearful in the past, but a radically new, reformulated theology of sexuality that is transformational and liberating and which recognises that all of us are made in the image and likeness of a generative and loving God. This is a task that needs to be undertaken with urgency. Because “Hurt people, hurt people”; and “If nothing changes, nothing changes!”

The Royal Commission concluded that the inadequacies of selection, screening and initial formation of candidates for the priesthood contributed to the incidence of child sexual abuse.
There is a perception that, by screening candidates prior to acceptance into seminaries, we can weed out individuals with a predisposition to offend. This perception is based on the assumption that individual pathology is responsible for offending. That assumption is inaccurate – it is the interaction of the individual and systemic factors – the milieu – that is responsible.
Historically, the hermeneutic of suspicion has clouded the association of Church with the social sciences – especially with psychiatry and psychology.
Professional and comprehensive screening are important, but there is no identifiable profile of an offender. And no completely reliable screening process.
Therefore, in terms of the assessment of candidates for the priesthood, clinicians who have experience in clinical psychiatry and psychology and a comprehensive speciality in understanding the sub-cultures of religious life and diocesan priesthood, have the best chance of unearthing the complex web of interacting factors that could contribute to sexual offending in the future of a candidate.

These interacting factors include, but are not limited to, a rigid cognitive style, immature or pathological psychosexual development, mood disorders, acting out behaviours such as gambling and alcohol and substance abuse, compulsive use of pornography, and personality disorders.
As I mentioned at the Royal Commission,
Until recently, (and perhaps to date) poor or non-existent screening procedures allowed for the selection of candidates who were relatively immature psychosexually and psychologically. Furthermore, formation systems were typically characterised by rigid, formal, hierarchal relationships that inhibited healthy psychological development and precluded opportunities for healthy psychosexual development. In such systems, candidates were deprived, to a large extent, of the opportunity for responsible decision making.
The system rewarded compliance and the inhibition of both aggression and libidinal energy, encouraged repression and dependence; promoted a preoccupation with short-term goals, namely Ordination or Final Profession.
Subsequently when some men transitioned from the rigid, formal structure to the more open system of parish life, and when there were no longer any external goals or structures, some clergy found that they lacked the internal resources for self-direction, self-monitoring and self- maintenance.”6

Given that the assessment of candidates is, I believe, a deeply nuanced challenge requiring specialist professional training and experience, I propose the following:
 That, as suggested by the Royal Commission, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference establish and adopt a National Protocol for the assessment of candidates.
 That a highly skilled, multi-disciplinary team of initial and on-going assessors of candidates be external to the seminary staff and include professionals from various disciplines.
 That a program for training and mentoring of clinicians selected to undertake this task in the future be instituted immediately.
 That the pre-requisites for candidates for priesthood noted earlier in this paper be adopted.
I have suggested practical changes to a model of seminary and to the selection and screening processes that could contribute to a healthier environment for the training of seminarians.
One final observation I would make is that, in the past, seminary curriculums have been dominated by studies in theology, philosophy, scripture, canon law etc – all of which are important to the formation for priesthood. However, in such over-crowded curriculums, human formation and an understanding of the dangerous dynamics which occur in helping relationships leaving both the helper and the helpee vulnerable to boundary violations, have been at best minimised and at worst neglected.

As a result, the system has failed its seminarians and clergy by being complicit in allowing well-motivated, generous yet virtually untrained men to minister as pastoral guides and helpers in an environment where vulnerable people often first seek support from clergy, who may be ill-equipped to maintain healthy boundaries in volatile, emotionally laden engagements.
It is easy to point the finger of blame at individual clergy who have breached boundaries either with children or vulnerable adults, labelling them as “bad apples”. We need to look closely at the barrel in which these apples decayed.
The specific systemic factors which have contributed to the harm must be identified, taken seriously, and addressed comprehensively, even as soon as yesterday.
Formation and personal development constitute a life-long journey for all of us – not just for clergy. I will say little here about on-going personal development of clergy other than it must be wholistic – relational, psychological, emotional, and spiritual.
Like all professionals, clergy are called to be just that – professional! It involves being accountable to ethical and behavioural standards, to a Code of Conduct, and above all to each other and to the laity.

Finally, I appreciate that the challenges that face us in the present crisis are daunting. I note that the contemporary presbyterate is very different from the group that most of you joined. You are fewer in number, older by average, and a more multicultural group. The demands of work are ever increasing and ever more technical, and few may feel as much energy as when you “first signed up”!
But your impact in this present crisis will be in the relational, in your humanness and in your willingness to promote change at the grass roots level.
If I could make positive suggestions for you as a woman who has a deep love for the Church and a profound admiration and tenderness for you the clergy, I would suggest to you the following:
Be men of prayer and then lead in this time of crisis. It is a dangerous time, but it is an opportunity to embody humility and faith, to hope in a different future, and to influence change.
Don’t do nothing because you can only do a little. Find your voice to be an agent of change.
Model your church ministry on inclusion, adopting a team approach. Include women as equals and see their contribution not as oppositional but as complimentary.
Allow some trusted people into your personal lives – have at least one dear friend who you know is there for you at any time – no matter what. If possible, one brother-priest who knows you inside and out.

Prioritise your own family – parents, siblings, nephews and nieces.
Allow parishioners and colleagues to support you outside of your role. Develop a more mature relationship with Church authorities that is mutually respectful and reciprocal.
Take advantage of supervision- either individual or peer group supervision. Avail yourself of regular spiritual direction and of therapy to stay healthy at times when you feel depleted.
With due respect, I suggest that Bishops need to recognise that they have a responsibility to subsidise the costs for such therapy and supervision.
Above all, know that your responses to the challenges we all face in this current crisis must be based on Gospel values.
I leave you with the exhortation each of you accepted in the Rite of Ordination to the Diaconate. It is all as simple and as complex as this:
Believe what you read; Teach what you believe; And practise what you teach.

1. Cahill,Desmond,&Wilkinson.Peter:ChildsexualAbuseintheCatholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports. Centre for Global Research. School of Global, Urban and Social Studies. RMIT University, Melbourne. August 2017
2. RoyalCommissionintoInstitutionalChildsexualAbuse.FinalReport.Volume 16, Book 2, Page 587
3. Keenan,Marie.ChildsexualAbuseandtheCatholicChurch:Gender,Power and Organisational Culture. Oxford Press. 2013
4. Ibid
5. Cahill,Desmond&Wilkinson.Peter:ChildsexualAbuseintheCatholic
Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports. Centre for Global Research. School of Global, Urban and Social Studies. RMIT University, Melbourne. August 2017
6. RoyalCommissionintoInstitutionalChildsexualAbuse.CaseStudy50. February 13th 2017
7. RiteofOrdinationtotheDiaconate.

Yet to be completed
1. Cahill, Desmond & Wilkinson, Peter: Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports. Centre for Global Research, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies. RMIT University, Melbourne. August 2017.