Abuse and Cover-Up: Refounding the Catholic Church in Trauma

by Gerald A. Arbuckle

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


According to the introduction this book draws particularly on the insights of cultural anthropology and scripture; however, no previous knowledge of these subjects is needed. A major mission of cultural anthropology is to heighten our awareness of culture that is its power and complexity. When complicated cultural situations are naively interpreted, people will inevitably be hurt. We need the help of cultural anthropology to prevent this from happening. In reading this book, the reader will be wiser than before about the church’s contemporary trauma and how to move forward. We need culture-conscious individuals in the church, who can objectively see how the church becomes trapped in cultural forces that foster abuse of power and cover-ups, this suffocating the Gospel message.

Included in the study of Child Sexual Abuse is the in-depth analysis of the Catholic Church’s responses over recent decades to the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people. Because the analysis is so thorough and globally relevant, the chapters draw at times on its findings and recommendations to illustrate theoretical points. The first three chapters of this book seek to respond to this question: “What moral blindness has made a church so renowned for its benevolence so reluctant to root out and punish all the child abusers in its midst, and even willing as the evidence clearly shows to move them on to greener pastures with unsuspecting flock?” The remaining three chapters answer the question “What practical steps must be taken to make the Church refocus on the mission on Christ and become more transparent and accountable in its governance?”

Sexual abuse is an exploitation of power. Though power permeates “our thoughts, our ambitions, our social interactions, and our society… it is curious how little we know about it. Since power is a word that has succeeded in meaning very different things to different people, we need to look closely at what the term stands for. Power is not necessarily malevolent. It is the darker aspect, the abuse of power, which gives power the exercise of force over individuals or particular cultural or social groups by other individuals or agencies. Unfortunately power is commonly assumed to belong only to individuals. Long-established cultures can be said to have lives of their own that are independent of the individuals that belong to them. Cultures contain power and authority independent of individuals. The incontrovertible fact is: “Culture is very much about power”.

Clericalism “is the idealization of the priesthood, and by extension, the idealization of the Catholic Church…linked to a sense of entitlement, superiority and exclusion, and abuse of power. “Clerics and others who become entangled in clericalism assume they have the specialized status and knowledge to subjugate laity for their own status advantage. Clericalism assumes that only the clergy, with specialized knowledge, are able to decide what is good for the People of God and how they should behave. An overemphasis on the priest as alter Christus (another Christ) means he has secret knowledge that cannot be questioned and powers to define his superiority over lay people and to control them. This led to the popular view that the clergy are the church’

For Jesus, it is not enough for his followers to hear what he says.They must act on what he is teaching them! “But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that House” (Luke 6:49) The lesson of the story is as valid today as in the time of Jesus. Reforming the church through refounding demands rock-hard foundations: ongoing radical structural reforms inspired by profound conversion to the person and mission of Jesus Christ: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb12:1-2) The challenges presented in this book’s chapters are clear to the wise. The anthropological evidence is overwhelming.There is no room for cover-up.Yet the more we become truly pilgrim people, the more we will rediscover the inner power of God’s energizing love. “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain”(Phil 1:21)

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