Matt C. Abbott
Newark priest blames bishops, celibacy
Matt C. AbbottBy
The following essay was written by Father Robert Hoatson.
© Matt C. Abbott
The following essay was written by Father Robert Hoatson.
At the July 21-23 SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) Conference at a Jersey City, NJ hotel, Richard Sipe, former Benedictine monk, therapist, and expert on celibacy, in a talk entitled "The Power of Powerlessness," challenged attendees to consider two principal questions: "Why did you trust the priest who abused you?", and "Why did your parents allow you to be with the priest who abused you?" The answers to these two questions form the foundation of the explanation for the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis and its ongoing denial and cover-up.
On December 13, 2005, I filed a five million dollar lawsuit against a number of Catholic Church entities and individuals for the sexual abuse I endured from the time I was eighteen years of age, and for the retaliation and harassment I received from all church quarters, especially its leadership, for publicly revealing my abuse and attempting to assist in the clean-up of my church's dirty secret.
Two weeks after I filed my lawsuit, invitations (which I had already accepted) to speak at two Voice of the Faithful (a Catholic reform organization) meetings in the New York metropolitan area were withdrawn. The reason: In my lawsuit, I had accused one bishop, one archbishop, and one cardinal of having violated their vows/promises of celibacy by engaging in sexual abuse or consensual sex. Voice of the Faithful believed it was abhorrent for a priest to accuse bishops of sexual misconduct, so two of its affiliate chapters uninvited me. One later reversed its decision after being bombarded with protests.
Why would members of a Catholic reform group that purportedly supports victims of abuse and calls for significant changes in church operations, have responded to me in that manner? Richard Sipe's questions provide the answer. Voice of the Faithful Catholics and regular "pew" Catholics still believe that priests and bishops actually abide by the vows/promises they have made, especially celibacy. They believe, naively, that bishops and priests are not engaged in wholesale violation of sexual norms as prescribed by celibacy. Well, Sipe (and I) have news for them. The reason why Catholic Church officials (bishops) have not handled the clergy sexual abuse crisis adequately in any way, shape, or form is because many of them (perhaps most) have been active participants in the violation of celibacy.
Years ago, Catholics would not have thought twice about allowing their children to be alone with a priest or religious in any context or condition. The priest was to be trusted implicitly with the lives of those children, particularly in the area of sex, since he had promised never to engage in sex of any sort. We now know that numerous priests and bishops did not abide by their vow; in fact, the percentage of those who engaged in abusive sex with children is four times the number of those in any other profession. And that number does not include those who may have engaged in consensual sex with men or women. So, why did we trust the priests/religious who abused us? Because we were socialized into believing that priests and religious were practicing celibacy.
Sipe's explanation is similar. "When you really think about it, isn't it because you never suspected that a priest would be sexually active? Isn't it because it never crossed your parents' minds that a priest would be sexual with you or any minor, or with anyone for that matter? Wasn't it because you were taught not even to think that a priest or a nun could be sexually active? Weren't you taught that priests and nuns deserved the highest respect? They represented the highest good and God? You could trust them precisely because you were told they were celibate."
Haven't we heard enough of priests abusing children to change our notion that celibacy is what it is supposed to be? That is not to say that many priests and religious men and women do not live their vows/promises faithfully, but it is high time Catholics begin to understand that at the core of the sexual abuse crisis is a culture among the clergy and religious that gives them the green light to act out sexually, in many different ways, and in many different contexts. And, it is time for Catholics to understand that violations of celibacy occur at the highest levels of our church leadership, among Popes and cardinals, and all the way down the ladder. All one needs to do is to read many of the books that have been published on the topic.
Sipe claims the Church has perpetrated the myth of a celibate clergy in order to control the docile flock that has followed without asking questions. "The church has not only propagated this myth of a practicing celibate (sexless) clergy, but is also fighting with all its might and money to reestablish that belief." Not only is it common knowledge that in many countries of the world celibacy is not lived by the clergy at all, it would never be accepted as normal behavior among many of the world's nations. So, the church continues to promulgate a virtue or lifestyle that is neither realistic nor operational.
I entered a religious community of brothers at the age of eighteen. My first superior tried to "pick me up" from the outset. He was in his late thirties and held in high esteem. During my first individual conference which began my religious life, he told me I was a cold person and needed to be warmed up. That was a pick-up line, and he continued to use that line throughout the year. Because he was the superior, I took his words to heart and commenced a period of serious introspection (unhealthy, I might add) as to why I was a cold person. I concluded that what he meant was that the only way to be "warm" with someone was to be sexual, and two men in the order succeeded in sexually abusing me because of my idealism and the grooming process of my first superior.
During my novitiate year, the novice master would end my monthly conferences by hugging me tightly and rubbing his face up and down mine. It was discomforting, to say the least, and I rejected it in my heart, but the culture promoted it. He took some of his favorites to the local bar and had sex with a number of novices, according to reports I have received. At least one man from those novitiate years committed suicide. The novitiate was the place where the spiritual lives (especially the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience) of young religious were supposed to be nurtured. In my case, it was the place where celibacy/chastity was violated on a regular basis.
I left religious life after nearly twenty-five years because I felt the Lord was calling me to the priesthood. I had heard stories of the archbishop of my home diocese inviting seminarians to sleep with him, so I wanted to make sure he wouldn't try that with me. I asked a priest who was familiar with him if his sexual activity had continued, and he responded that he had stopped because the Papal Nuncio and an auxiliary bishop had called him in and told him to cut it out. I began preparing for the priesthood at the seminary of that diocese.
I was hesitant to go to the seminary because of my religious life experiences, but I also knew the Lord was calling me to the priesthood. What I imagined the seminary to be turned out to be just what I had heard and experienced. I was, however, able to mind my business and plow through the frequent chatter about the sexual activities of other seminarians and the sexual lives of both professors and seminarians. Sex was plentiful in the seminary if you wanted it. One priest abuse survivor who attended the same seminary told me the story of some ordained priests stationed in parishes who regularly showed up at the seminary and stood outside the cafeteria to scope out the "cute" seminarians for sex. Many seminarians and professors were given female nicknames by the seminarians, and at least one seminary professor was rumored to have the AIDS virus.
One seminarian with whom I became friendly and who asked me to teach him to play golf told me one afternoon after a golf session, "If you want to be my friend, you'll have to be my bitch." For those who may not realize it, that was a "pick-up" line." The same man was placed in charge of a house where young men are discerning vocations to the priesthood. When I warned the present archbishop of this, he responded by allowing that priest to "order" me to attend a meeting at the chancery to discuss my charges. Needless to say, I was not accorded any meeting to explain what happened to me.
This is what happens in a "celibate-challenged" culture. Those who are living the vows are anathema, while the sexual actors are promoted to higher offices. Sex is open, available, and even recommended in many clerical circles today. Priests couple off now and live "married" sexual lives in vacation houses they purchase together or in rectories they share together. Many frequent homosexual or heterosexual "pick-up" bars and establishments, not identifying themselves as priests to unsuspecting trysts.
A gay friend from Boston told me recently that he had a torrid affair with a guy who was a priest, only he did not make it known that he was a priest until my friend had made a commitment to him. When he found out, he was devastated. He met the priest in a gay bar. He said a sizable number of priests frequented that gay bar. What would parishioners think if they knew their parish priest, perhaps their pastor, was socializing in the local neighborhood gay or straight bar, picking up "chicks" or available men for sex?
Is the parish priest living a celibate lifestyle? Do parishioners have a right to know? Is the bishop living a celibate lifestyle? Do the people of the diocese have a right to know? It seems that Catholics do not want to talk about sex, let alone the sex lives of their clergymen. In how many parishes have parishioners suspected that a priest has been carrying on an affair with a man or woman but kept silent? In many cases, parishioners and others have been relieved to hear that a priest is involved with a woman rather than a man or a child. In all cases, however, celibacy is being violated.
So why did we trust the priests who abused us? Because we were brainwashed into believing that they were celibate men. They were not and are not today. Since I filed my lawsuit, I have received phone call after phone call reporting the sexual activity of this bishop and that bishop, of this priest and that priest.
A man from New York City told me recently of his abuse by a deceased bishop of an eastern diocese in the sauna at the New York Athletic Club, a prestigious club to which many clergy belong. Another told the story of a New York City priest, currently the bishop of a southern diocese, who was beaten up by a group of parish kids when he was stationed in their parish. The priest supposedly solicited a number of parish boys for sex. And, during the compilation of an article that appeared in New York City's Village Voice newspaper about my lawsuit, writer Kristen Lombardi received a number of reports of bishops who were sexually active.
More than a dozen bishops, archbishops, and cardinals have resigned or been removed from their posts for being abusers, concealers of crimes against children, or sexually active. A new movie, Deliver Us From Evil, features the transfer of a serial pedophile priest by his bishop time and again, despite the fact that he was accused of numerous crimes against children over a period of many of years. The bishop covered up so he could become a cardinal.
When I was fired from my ministry as a school administrator in 2003, it occurred three days after I testified before the New York State Legislature and called for the resignation of any bishop who has covered up, denied, or lied about clergy sexual abuse. At the meeting at which I was fired, it was made clear to me that I was in big trouble if I did not "tone down my language." Fr. Michael Madden, who resigned recently from a parish in Darien, Connecticut, and the priesthood after hiring a private investigator who uncovered graft, corruption, and sexual promiscuity on the part of the pastor, was told by his bishop that he made matters worse by doing what he did; namely, save the parish from bankruptcy and horrendous leadership.
A few days after I was fired from my ministry, I received a telephone call from the Midwest. The person told me not to worry about being fired by my bishop because his sexual history would be made public in due time. It was known by some in that area that this bishop had engaged in sexual activity with a consenting adult.
In addition, another high ranking cleric in the east engaged in sexual activity with a religious brother while they were stationed together in the same diocese. This bishop supposedly kicked the order out of his diocese when the religious brother tried to end the relationship. The "brother" is now the general superior of his order.
Fr. Ken Lasch, a pioneer in the movement for justice for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and a retired New Jersey priest, has written extensively on his website (fatherlasch.com) that a priest of his diocese, the best friend of the bishop, sexually assaulted a young man while in training at Lasch's parish. The abusive priest has had a lengthy history of sexual activity, but the bishop appointed him director of vocations for the diocese anyway. Thus, the message is clear from the hierarchy: breaches of celibacy are badges of honor and worthy of promotion.
In my home diocese, the bishop has chosen to surround himself with men who are sexually active. I reported to the highest echelons that one of the bishop's top lieutenants had been arrested for soliciting a male prostitute in a nearby city. I was told that the diocese does not respond to rumors. Another top lieutenant was asked by a female employee to help her with a marital issue. Instead of helping the woman, the priest commenced an internet cybersex relationship with the woman. He still occupies his position of power. Ironically, when I was called in on two different occasions and threatened with suspension for helping abuse victims, this priest attended the meetings and participated in further harassment of me.
Diocesan priests make two promises at ordination; obedience to the bishop and his successors, and celibacy. When bishops perceive that priests are not being obedient, they clamp down on them immediately. But when celibacy is violated, they tend to look the other way, deny, and cover-up. That is clear from grand jury reports from across the country and the bishops' own John Jay Study.
Why do bishops look the other way, deny, and cover-up for sexual activities of priests? The answer is simple: they are violators of celibacy themselves. And, very often they have reached their positions because they "slept around" or compromised their promise to live a celibate life. Violators recommend other violators for positions of leadership, and less than honest men (and women) join the hierarchy and further taint the organization.
In the middle 1980's, I was instrumental in founding an organization called C.U.E. (Catholic Urban Educators), a coalition of American inner-city Catholic school administrators and teachers which addressed the unique challenges and opportunities of Catholic inner-city schools. As principal founder and executive director, I gathered a representative group of educators to form the board of the organization.
Shortly after we formed our group, a religious sister and member of the board began sending me love letters that I thought, at first, were letters of encouragement and affirmation of my leadership. Fortunately, my spiritual director read them and told me to be careful: the nun was asking to have sex with me. When I made it clear to her that I was not interested, she barraged me with hate mail and maligned me to the other board members. I had to get out of the organization as a result.
At the beginning of August, 2006, the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, released the results of its in-house investigation of a former bishop and the diocese's handling of the clergy abuse scandal. A panel chosen by the bishop, George Lucas, concluded that Bishop Daniel Ryan had engaged in sex with males, that there was a culture of secrecy in the diocese that kept abusive priests shielded from accountability, and that diocesan finances were seriously mishandled. It is probable that the same results would be gotten from an investigation of any American Catholic diocese.
When I was in residence in a New Jersey rectory, the pastor hired a Filipino priest for part-time ministry. One night at dinner, we were discussing the abuse crisis and the role of bishops in the cover-up and denial. I mentioned that I thought the reason dioceses were not being transparent about the scandal is that the bishops were involved in sexual activity themselves. He responded by telling me that it was well-known that eighty percent of Filipino bishops are gay and many are actively gay.
He further asserted that actively "gay" bishops promote other gay clerics for leadership positions to help continue the cover-up of their own indiscretions and violations of celibacy. It makes perfect sense, and resonates with my experience. When I reported my sexual abuse by two religious brothers to a leader of the order, I was not aware at the time that the man to whom I reported the abuse was rumored to have been involved with another member of the order at the time.
CITI is an organization that believes "Celibacy is the Issue." There is much wisdom in their determination. Celibacy has created more problems in the Catholic Church than can be counted. The sexual abuse crisis by clergy was not caused by celibacy, but celibacy established the parameters around which many psychosexually underdeveloped boys and men, girls and women entered religious life or the priesthood to hide from intimacy and run away from sexuality.
The Bingo Report, a study of celibacy and its connection with the abuse crisis, concluded that the longer a man or woman lives under the vow or promise of celibacy, the greater the chance he/she will act out in inappropriate sexual ways. According to the results of the study, celibacy creates loneliness, loneliness creates isolation, and isolation creates pursuit of events and activities that take it away. Very often, celibates take refuge in sexual abuse of others, including children. Some are pedophiles, others are lonely. CITI believes that optional celibacy is one of the only ways the Church will help resolve its current problem of abuse of power, sexuality, and authority. It makes sense.
Many years ago, former Governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean, filmed an ad for state tourism in which, in his best New England accent, declared, "New Jersey and You....Perfect Together." Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for priesthood and sexuality. Unless and until sexuality is dealt with in healthy, legitimate ways in the Catholic Church, priesthood and sexuality will never be "perfect together."
My attorney, John A. Aretakis, and I are alleging many of the same arguments presently in federal court of the southern district of New York before Judge Paul A. Crotty.
© Matt C. Abbott
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