Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

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Vanderbilt University Press, 2007 - Religion - 320 pages
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Since 2002, the Roman Catholic Church has been in crisis over the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the cover-up of those crimes by bishops. Over 11,000 alleged victims have reported their experiences to the Church, and more than 4,700 priests since 1950 have been credibly accused of sexually victimizing minors. The Church has paid over one billion dollars to adults who claim to have been sexually abused by priests and there is no end in sight to these lawsuits.

Celibacy, homosexuality in the priesthood, the infiltration into the priesthood of secular moral relativism, too much liberalism in the Church since Vatican II, damaging rollback of Vatican II reforms by conservative prelates--all have been suggested as causes for the crisis. This book, however, begins with the premise that, because the pattern of abuse and cover-up was so similar across the world, there is something fundamentally awry with Church traditions and power structures in relationship to sexuality and sexual abuse.

Specifically, in chapters on suffering and sadomasochism, bodies and gender, desire and sexuality, celibacy and homosexuality, the author concludes that aspects of the Catholic theology of sexuality set the stage for the abuse of minors and its cover-up. Frawley-O'Dea also analyzes the American bishops' lack of pastoral care and tendency towards clerical narcissism--the belief that the needs of the hierarchy represent the needs of the wider Church--as central factors in the scandal. She balances this criticism with a discussion of the backgrounds of the bishops presiding over the crisis and the challenges they faced in their relationships with the Pope and Vatican officials.

Drawing on twenty years of clinical experience, she imagines the dynamics of sexual abuse both from the victim's point of view and from the priest's, and she probes why the Church hierarchy, fellow priests, and lay people were silent for so long. Finally, Frawley-O'Dea examines factors internal to the Church and outside of it that drew this scandal into the public square and kept it there.


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A Developing Pattern
Surviving Soul Murder
Teachings and Traditions Implicated in the Scandal
Suffering Submission and Sadomasochism
Embodied and Gendered Souls
Degraded Sexual Desire and Theologized Sex
Celibate Sexuality and Sexually Active Celibates
Secreted and Scapegoated
Where Were the Pastors?
Clerical Narcissism
Priests Laypeople and Culture
Perpetrators Priests People in the Pews
The Secret Is Revealed
Is Everything Old New Again?

The Catholic Hierarchy

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About the author (2007)

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist, was the only mental health professional to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their seminal 2002 Dallas meeting on the sexual abuse crisis, 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 co-author of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and co-editor of Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims. She is the former Executive Director of the Trauma Treatment Center at the Manhattan Institute of Psychoanalysis.

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