How can we balance Justice for both Abused and Clerical Abuser?

I see I have drawn the ire of certain spokespersons for the victims of clerical sexual abuse by the report on the ACP website of our meeting with the NBSCCC.  (The report can be found in its category on the ACP website)  I was trying to highlight an issue that I regard as needing some open discussion in this whole sorry saga of clerical child sexual abuse.  Priests who, having come out of the seminary with the emotional and sexual maturity of a teenager, due to the terribly restrictive nature of the recruitment and training, got involved in some form of relationship with a teenage girl. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, in a recent talk, suggested that as a result of the training this was something that was a real possibility.  These types of relationships, I presume, varied greatly; sometime doing a great deal of harm, and other times causing lesser damage.  I suggested that a priest, who managed to put that period of his life behind him, and who had no further allegations of any nature against him, maybe should not now be publicly shamed and removed from his ministry – often forty years or more later. This is not to diminish the pain that the person making the allegation may have suffered because they may not have been able to put the experience behind them.  However I think that it is necessary to distinguish between justice and retribution.

Some of my friends tell me I am a fool to engage in this type of debate. They say that there is one dominant narrative on this topic, and it is impossible to challenge it even in the slightest. They are probably right, and I find myself comparing it in some way to my experience with the Vatican, who also had one way of looking at things and insisted that this way could not be challenged.

But since I myself experienced sexual abuse as a young boy over a period of time, I believe that maybe I have some right to have my say on the topic.

A couple of things I have learned from this whole experience.

  • It is impossible to measure fully what effect sexual abuse in your early year has had on you. I have no doubt that it influenced my life, and probably was an underlying factor in some of the major decisions I have made.
  • I would never want to call myself a victim.  Psychologically that would, I believe, be a very damaging self-image to have. It could so easily cause a person to get locked into that part of one’s life, and never be able to move on. That would have a devastating effect on one’s growth and development, which to me is the primary purpose of life.
  • While it certainly affected me, I don’t tend to regard that experience as the most difficult of the many problems I have had to face in the course of my life.  I am not suggesting that should be the case for everyone; I am only saying what it has been for me.  I am conscious of the fact that anything up to half a million people in this country have experience child sexual abuse.  We only hear from a tiny fraction of those, so it is hard to make any generalised statements without further research.
  • There is a tendency among some to measure degrees of suffering, and to suggest that one form of trauma is worse than another. I do not agree.  Suffering is a very personal thing, and only the individual can measure the degree of difficulty a particular suffering brings to his or her life.
  • I think I can truly say that I genuinely do not hold any bitterness or resentment against the man who abused me, and is now long dead. I hope he is at peace.  Life has taught me, as it teaches many, that bitterness and resentment are destructive of the person, and every effort should be made to overcome them.

So that is where I am coming from. In my work with the ACP over the past three years I have listened to the stories of a great many old priests whose lives have been shattered by the visitation of an accusation from the distant past. It is not in my nature not to feel sympathy for them, and to question the quality of justice that is being operated at present by the Church in dealing with them. While in the past it tried to deny the reality of abuse of children by priests in order to preserve the good name of the institution, I believe the way it treats certain priest is now also unjust, and is done for the same motive.