What to do with priest abusers

“Blessed are the invisible for they remind us not of the potential for cruelty in all of us,” says Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea in NC Reporter.  She presents an argument against “amputating” clerical abusers.  Out of sight, we lack them as there-but-for-the-grace-of-God examples.

We also cut loose predators into the general population:

Recidivism is a problem among sexual abuse perpetrators. . . .   Priests . . . may be at particular risk. One analysis of sexual offenders found that men who were unmarried and who abused boys that were not family members were somewhat more likely to re-offend than other perpetrators.

Further, we know that significant life stressors can induce psychological regression in which even men who stopped abusing begin again. A priest who loses his vocation, home, manner of dress, and circle of colleagues is at risk to regress and to re-abuse.

She proposes “a Penance, Productivity, and Provisioning Program for these men.”

The penance would be voluntary, as the price of remaining a priest:

. . .  in a containment and healing center administered and secured by secular professionals. . . .  these men would agree to live here for the remainder of their lives. They could not leave the center without a security guard accompanying them. There would be no TVs, computers, or phones in their rooms and reading material, like magazines, would be screened to prevent pornography from entering the centers. Each man would work with a therapist and/or spiritual director to develop an individual penance program, including prayer. Residents would turn over their assets, retirement funding or salaries to the centers to defray the costs of their care. [Italics added]

O’Dea means business.

They’d have to be productive:

Baking bread, tilling the soil, candle making and other crafts, teaching other residents are all possibilities. Some could generate income to help sustain the centers at less cost to Catholics. In addition, residents could make themselves available to researchers seeking to learn more about commonalities among abusive priests.

She also reaches into the history of the church.  So far, this is looking like a monastery.

Provisioning (?), they would be fully authorized to do sacramental ministry among themselves and

would receive room and board, medical treatment, psychotherapy, and spiritual direction according to individual plans. Bishops would commit to visiting their priests annually to extend pastoral care and to remain conscious of the role of sexual abuse in the lives of these men, their victims, and the wider Catholic community.

Bishops would have reminders they need to protect all concerned, including victims.  These priests would be buying into the highest spiritual, supernatural goals of the priesthood.

Even offenders who turned down this program, choosing rather to “be separated from the priesthood without salary or other benefits canonically possible to withhold” would remain the bishop’s responsibility, reminding them men that they are “priests who betrayed their vocations and should be making reparation.”

Amputate a limb and feel “phanton pain,” she would have the Vatican remember when it considers cutting off offenders, O’Dea says.

The “diseased” part is gone but suffering continues. Maintaining the abusing priest’s attachment to the body of the church keeps him, his victims, his crimes, and his needs visible to hierarchy covenantally required to hold all of that in their sights.

She packs an awful lot into that — and in this program of rehabilitation and renewal that seems truly churchly.

Who is she?

Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, a clinical psychologist, was the only mental health professional to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the sexual abuse crisis at their 2002 Dallas meeting, 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 coauthor of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and coeditor of Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims.

I read the latter book and recommend it.

Later: Reader John, who had monastery experience many years ago:

I would agree with Frawley-O’Dea but feel that not enough attention has been paid to sexual abuse by ministers of other denominations. I have heard from several persons who were victims. When a Protestant minister abuses he is held responsible personally, but a Catholic priest is in part protected by the diocese he serves.

Which has been part of the problem.  O’Dea wants dioceses to claim their own, accepting responsibility without simply protecting offenders in the sense John means it.

Later: Reader D approves:

I appreciated seeing this. It reminds me of the AA facility at Guest House in Minn. for priests, which is a 6 month or so (spa-like) treatment center, with clinical psychologists, classes on alcoholism, doctors, AA meetings, priestly camaraderie, etc.
This plan goes much deeper, is more rigorous of course and is for the duration. Sounds more Christian to me than turning them out into the world to fend for themselves or as predators.
A redemptive plan. She’s on to something.
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  • John Powers  On 07/29/2010 at 8:59 AM


    I don’t think there is anyone qualified to run sort of a boot camp for offensive Priests in general, and in the Archdiocese of Chicago, I know exactly what sort of person would be running this.

    Turning child abusers into candle makers strikes me as medieval, and not a very likely method of rehab.



    • Jim Bowman  On 07/29/2010 at 11:33 AM

      John, in the context of throwing bums out of priesthood, she delivers a challenge. I’m an Ezra Pound man myself, hence not thrown by medievalism objection. Anxiously awaiting alternatives to O’Dea, who has, shall we say, seized bull by horns.


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