Catholic peculiarities in abuse

Catholic peculiarities in abuse

Study: Catholic structures can promote abuse © Corinne Simon (CBA)

For a long time, the Catholic Church spoke of individual cases with regard to abuse. The newer research shows: Obviously there are structures, which can promote abuse.

When the debate about abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany got underway eight years ago, Jesuit Father Klaus Mertes was the first to speak out: There are special conditions in the Catholic Church that favor abuse of children and young people, he said.

Pope: clergy are not untouchable

In the meantime the voices, which see this in such a way and call for changes, are increasing. Pope Francis declared that "to say no to abuse is to say no emphatically to every form of clericalism" – a clear rejection of an attitude that ames clergy are in an untouchable position.

The study on abuse in the Catholic Church, to be presented in Fulda on Tuesday, comes to similar conclusions. In addition to clericalism, the researchers looked at the celibacy of priests and the attitude of the church toward homosexuality.

Their conclusion: first, neither homosexuality nor celibacy per se are risk factors for sexual abuse of children and adolescents. According to the study, the church's attitude toward homosexuality as well as celibacy nevertheless harbor problems.

Study: Celibacy as a solution to inner psychological problems

For example, the commitment to a celibate life could seem to candidates for the priesthood with "an immature and repulsed homosexual inclination as a solution to inner psychological problems," the study says. This brings in addition even the prospect of a close living together exclusively with men at least during the priest training. Particular structures and rules of the Catholic Church could have a "high potential for attracting persons with an immature homosexual inclination".

Because the church officially rejects homosexual relationships or practices, there is a danger that corresponding inclinations have to be lived in a hidden way. And literally: "In the case of a corresponding disposition of a priestly candidate or priest, a complex interaction of sexual immaturity, repulsed or denied homosexual inclinations in an ambivalent, partly also openly homophobic environment could, in the case of unfavorable risk constellations, lower the barrier to sexual acts with male children and adolescents".

This, according to the researchers, offers another explanation for the preponderance of male victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Dependency structures between clergy and laity

The scholars also take a position on clericalism, defining it "as the effort to give a religion secular power beyond its religious-spiritual sphere of influence and to give religious dogma political validity and weight".

They conclude that "priests with a clerical understanding of ministry tend to dominate lay people in interaction and create asymmetrical dependency structures between themselves and lay people". The extension of this "unfortunate identity strategy" and the abusive exercise of the power conferred by office and ordination can, in extreme cases, also promote sexual abuse or lead to sexual abuse.

By Birgit Wilke

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