Vatican report: Vatican still ignorant about causes of sexual abuse

Dear Catholic News Service,

I am writing in response to your recent report about the visitation of U.S. Seminaries: CNS STORY: Vatican report: Most U.S. seminaries are generally healthy.

I am appalled that you would mislead your readers into the assumption that there is a connection between homosexuality and sexually abusive behavior.  If the authors of this report, or your article about it, were familiar with the excellent research taught in the Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs that have become part of Diocesan life since the scandals, then you would know that sexual abuse is no more likely to be perpetrated by homosexuals than heterosexuals.

As any survivors of sexual harrassment, assault, or abuse are painful aware, these kinds of abuses have very little to do with actual sexuality and everything to do with power.  The primary cause of sexual abuse is the lack of accountability for people who abuse their influence and power (real or perceived) in order to isolate, reward, and then manipulate vulnerable people.  We prevent sexual abuse not by theologizing homosexuals to damnation, but by first becoming aware of the techniques of abusers and indicators of abuse, then having the courage and will to change our institutions to prevent their use as places of access for abusers, and demand accountability.

The power structure of the Catholic Church taught priests that their services to the community were so valuable that their “indulgences” would be overlooked.  Unless our seminaries teach through actions as well as deeds that every member of a community is equally valuable, that everyone’s rights must be respected, that we are all mutually responsible for each other, and that all people (including priests and seminarians) WILL be held accountable for their actions, then abuses of all kinds will continue.

This is the ultimate lesson of moral decision making and religious formation: first, that no individual’s desires should be satisfied at the expense of the community–especially its most vulnerable members–and secondly, that transparency, just consequences, and continual self-reflection are necessary components of any healthy institution, whether it be a seminary, family, workplace, parish, or even the Vatican.  The way the Vatican and the CNS reporters interpreted and presented this information is completely misleading about the true causes of sexual abuse, and such misconceptions only serve to shield the abusive from accountability and obstruct the institutional transformation necessary to prevent further abuse.

Sincerely,
Meagen Howe
Farrell Ink


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