The Priest-as-Primary-Predator Myth

July 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Vatican attempts to rebut the scandal of Catholic clergy sex abuse by accusing the media of malicious intent have for the most part not been successful. “Just one more attempt at ducking responsibility” is the most common reading of such tactics.

It is the case, however, that matters Catholic, and, in particular, purported Catholic sex scandals, have been wildly popular on stage, screen, and in the news for a very long time, from at least the 19th century convent narratives of Maria Monk and Rebecca Reed,  to SisterAct, and the current revival of Nunsense on Broadway.

Thus, while it’s comforting to read the ongoing coverage in the US media of the “expanding” clergy sex abuse scandal as an expression of deep concern for sex abuse victims, there can be little doubt that such stuff also sells, big time. Consider, for example, Time  magazine’s May 27 cover story, “The Trial of Benedict XVI” ( the pope was,of course, not on trial). Or Thursday’s lengthy article in the New York Times  laying out for us that the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the current pope did an inadequate job of prosecuting accused priest perpetrators. Some news that.

I bring this up because on Friday, on NPR (WNYC),  Leonard Lopate interviewed Susan A. Clancy, the author of The Trauma Myth, a new book on child sexual abuse. As Jefferson A. Singer writes in a review in the June 18 issue of Commonweal magazine, the book is a rebuttal of the “the widely espoused  ‘trauma model’ of child sex abuse, a model that characterizes most abuse as a physically coercive act perpetrated against a terrified victim.” Based on ten years of research, Clancy, according to Singer, “proposes a different template:” child sex abuse as the “seductive manipulation, by a trusted intimate, of a confused, and compliant child.”  The dominance of the “trauma template,” according to Clancy, results in guilt, shame, and isolation on the part of the majority of victims.

Clancy’s argument, in the interview, is a fairly nuanced one; I would urge you to listen to her yourself  But certain parts of it seemed especially pertinent to the “widening” (as virtually all journalists put it) Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. First of all, because their experience doesn’t fit into the “trauma template,” the vast majority of abuse victims do not report their abuse. This is so because they do not realize, until years later, that it was abuse. According to Clancy, experts believe that 1 out of 5 girls and 1 out of 8 boys are actually victims of sexual abuse. Since reported cases of sex abuse make up only 10 percent of this number, it seems that there is a great deal more sex abuse occurring than it generally acknowledged, and much of it unrecognized until well after the event. (The average age of sex abuse victims is 10 years.)

Secondly, and Clancy describes this as “the worst part” of her findings, when victims whose experience falls outside the trauma template did report the sexual abuse to their families, in very many cases, the families refused to believe them, or blamed them for what had happened. A frequent refrain heard from interviewees was “And they continued to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner.” Many of those who call in at the end of the Lopate-Clancy interview confirm this part of her argument.

It is clear from what Clancy says that people closest to the victim are those most likely to commit the abuse, which is part of the reason for immediate relatives frequently refusing to acknowledge it (and virtually never calling the police). This, Lopate and Clancy agree, suggests a problem that is “endemic” to the structure of the family and of society.

Jefferson Singer’s Commonweal  review of Clancy’s book and the Lopate-Clancy  interview on WNYC make no reference to Catholic clergy sex abuse. But if you haven’t made any connections for yourself, let me suggest a few. First of all, many families don’t seem to react to reports of familial sex abuse very differently than the bishops and the Vatican did until  recently.  Not that this justifies their behavior–but the similarity is striking.

Secondly, if, in fact, there is vastly more sex abuse going on than we have been led to believe, and if, in fact, so much of it is in families that it suggests a problem in the very structure of that “foundation” of American society, what might be an effective way to draw attention away from such a problem? How about identifying child sex abuse with the Roman Catholic Church? Case in point: Jeffery Israely and  Howard Chua-Eoan’s absolute statement in their cover story for the May 27 issue of Time,

Church officials defensively point out that almost all the alleged crimes at the heart of the current crisis were part of a social milieu in which child sexual abuse was rarely prosecuted, if discussed at all. But nowhere was there a more systemic tendency to cover up the shame and scandal than in Catholic parishes and orphanages entrusted with the care of the young…

Really, fellas? Susan Clancy seems to suggest that there’s more in the American family…

By raising these questions, I do not mean to suggest that the sexual abuse of children is not horrific. (Nor does Clancy suggest this.) But Clancy’s research does reinforce a notion I have had for a very long time: you may need to keep an eye on Father Mike, but you’d better keep an eye on Uncle Fred as well, and maybe even more so.


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  1. Hello Marian and all,

    I am the proverbial gift horse and I am now gifting you with the Vatican’s worst nightmare, now realized.

    The Vatican is being set up for a much bigger fall than most are expecting. Here’s an early peak. Some amazingly damaging information about pivotal religious assertions is about to become widely available and understood. This child abuse scandal is merely proof of their absolute lack of veracity, before the real controversy is unsealed.

    Following is a link to a draft-preview of my upcoming new book for parties like yourself, who are more likely to make good use of the information.

    Please excuse the ads on this site, it’s a free file storage site and I’m not ready to post it to E-Book sites until it’s done.

    Finishing the Mysteries of Gods and Symbols

    Peace and Wisdom,



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