Retrograde motion–the observation that Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn occasionally backtrack in their movement against the background stars–was an early problem for the theory (simply illustrated above where the Earth is the red dot in the middle) that the Earth was the center of the universe. The problem could be solved if each planet was on its own sub-track, an epicycle. The planet and its little circle would continue on its way around the Earth. But when it was tracking in the opposite direction from its usual motion, Ptolemy and other ancient astronomers claimed it was just because epicycle movement “backward” overcame its usual progress in the heavens. This web site illustrates it extremely well.
In the decades before and after 1600, Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, had a simpler explanation: no epicycles, and all the planets orbit the sun, and the various subtleties of their apparent motion can be explained–and predicted–mathematically. (Galileo, of course, found moons orbiting Jupiter just as the ancients correctly surmised that the moon orbits the Earth. That finding helped move along the eventual acceptance of his fellow scientists’ insights.
What do these guys have to do with clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up by the bishops? I liken the Jay Study and recent commentary on it to the situation of medieval astronomy, before Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. Like the ancients we see the planets move through the sky. Also like the ancients we also misdiagnose what we see. The smart ones among us invent contrived explanations (loneliness, homosexuality, the 60’s) for what we witness among people who should be paragons of holiness and virtue.
At the recent dotCommonweal thread I commented on the Frawley-O’Dea assessment of the Jay study. It strikes me many Catholics aren’t completely satisfied with seeing epicycles explain clergy abuse and bishops covering up. There should be a simpler, yet more subtle explanation here. It’s more than the 60’s. It’s more than loneliness. It’s more than a loss of a sense of sin, or homosexuality, or seductive teens. Certainly, one priest (at least) lost his way in the 60’s, one gay priest happened to abuse children, some adolescent somewhere has seduced a priest, some lonely guy turned to child porn and a real kid, and maybe all of them sinned in spite of “knowing” the right and the wrong of it all.
But it doesn’t explain why twenty, thirty, fifty percent or more of bishops covered it up. It doesn’t explain why significantly large numbers of priests preyed on children.
My own sense–and you longtime readers here know this is my soapbox–is that sex abuse and its institutional cover-up has a strong whiff of addiction. Maybe you can explain abusive clergy as lonely guys pining away for self-satisfaction, but what about bishops? I wouldn’t be naive enough to think every instance of abuse and cover-up can be explained away by sexual addiction and codependency. But at the very least, persons expert in addiction should be consulted in any serious study.
We know that the demands of ministry–and I speak of both laity and clergy–are prime environments for many of us to gain weight (my hand is up), indulge in alcohol or drugs, have affairs or be tempted by sex, or act out emotionally through anger, controlling behaviors, intimidation, passive aggressiveness, etc..
Speaking for myself, I didn’t become forty pounds overweight because parishioners were too demanding, or the priest was unfair, or because I didn’t get the down time I wanted. Or that I was lonely. Or that the meanies in the culturewar were bugging me.
I have to concede I have a predilection to addictive behavior. I have to watch myself carefully. With God’s help, I will never be overweight again. But I can own up to the situation for what it is, and I don’t have to blame the fast food industry, promoters of HFCS, my family of origin, or the time demands of parish liturgy.
Getting back to the Church’s crisis, sexual abuse in many cases may be a result of an addictive inclination, immaturity, emotional upheaval, and a lack of support for a healthy lifestyle that combine in various ways to subvert vulnerable people. The assessment from Jay and other researchers that it is hard to predict who will be an abuser indicates multiple possible factors. That leads me to think this whole mess is something a lot closer to how and why people become addicts. One simple system. A host of subtleties we scarcely understand.
This tack should be more seriously examined. And until future studies include experts in addiction as part of the task force, I will read future work on this with a dollop of doubt–at least in terms of grasping the whole picture.
The Jay Study strikes me as akin to primitive science. Ptolemy’s epicycles explained planetary motion, but in a somewhat contorted way. It wasn’t until Copernicus forwarded the notion that the planets orbited the sun–not Earth, and Kepler refined laws of planetary orbits, that the intricacies of what we observed in the skies was largely and logically explained.
I think we’re in a similar situation today. We’re about as advanced in the understanding of sex abuse and cover-up as medieval astronomers were in their field. There are reasons why clergy abuse and their bishops cover up. We just don’t grasp the whole picture yet. My hope is that the Copernicus and Galileo and Kepler of psychopathology has been born already and somewhere is piecing together the strands of this. If not, I fear we’re going to continue to languish in the Dark Ages, to the detriment of the Gospel itself.