Let’s talk sex: seven questions


Last night I did a brief interview with Paul Clarke on UTV and  came away (as I often do from broadcasts) feeling deeply dissatisfied with my contribution. And as so often happens, it wasn’t what I said that left me banging my head on the steering wheel, it was what I hadn’t said.

The topic was the latest revelations about the hundreds of children whom Brendan Smyth  abused before he was ordained a priest and throughout his life as a priest. His is a notorious case and one that has done cruel and irreparable damage to the lives of so many. But the focus on Smyth and the damage he and other priests have done to the Catholic Church and the children they violated  raises, I think,  more general questions, some of which I  think I have the answer to and some of which I don’t.

Before starting let me take the precaution of  repeating myself in case anybody is hard of hearing: CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE IS A UNIQUELY HORRIBLE CRIME THAT PREYS ON AND WOUNDS INNOCENT CHILDREN. IT. IS. VILE.

Right, now some questions.

1. Are Catholic priests more likely to be child sexual abusers than  clergy in other churches?

The answer  is no. The Catholic Church is  the only Church which has released data on the subject, but surveys and studies in the US at least indicate that this cruelty is not confined to Catholic clergy. The president of the US’s National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children: “I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, fro traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others”.

2. Are Catholic priests more likely to be child sexual abusers than men in the general population?

The answer is no. Both groups report as being in the 4%-5% range.

3. Is the Catholic Church the institution where children are most likely to be sexually abused?

The answer is no. As the past few years have seen, child sexual abuse occurs in many institutions and places: in Rotherham, in Westminster, in the BBC,  in Kincora – the list goes on.

3. Has the Catholic Church covered up sexual crimes by its clergy?

The answer is yes. To its shame. And as a result, people like Brendan Smyth have been able to abuse and abuse again and again.

4. Is the Catholic Church unique in this kind of cover-up?

The answer is no. All big institutions, in matters grievous and less grievous, cover up when under threat from outside. You think there weren’t people in the BBC who knew that Jimmy Savile or Rolf Harris or Dave Lee Travis were abusers and said nothing? You think there weren’t people in Westminster who knew the massive abuse happening there and said nothing? Or in Kincora? They all knew. But they kept quiet or covered up. It’s what institutions do. To their shame.

5. Where is a child most likely to suffer sexual abuse?

In the home. In somewhere between 68% and 75% of cases, the child has been sexually abused by a near relative – a brother, a father, an uncle.

6. Is it true that child abusers can’t help themselves and inevitably re-offend?

The answer is I don’t know. The general perception among the public appears to be that they will inevitably re-offend. The complication with this, if it is true, is that paedophilia begins to sound like a disease, over which the paedophile has no control, rather than a voluntary action for which he deserves punishment. In other words, if he is a victim of his own obsession, he belongs in a hospital rather than a prison. You can’t attach blame to people for something they cannot control. On the other hand if they can control  their urges, why do we assume all paedophiles will reoffend?

7. Is paedophilia the only sin of which the Catholic Church is guilty?

The answer is no. Although you’d be forgiven for thinking it was, judging by media coverage. It’s as if the present-day media are guilty of the narrowness of vision which the Catholic Church had when I was young: sexual offences are deemed the only ones worth mentioning, the only really bad thing.

18 Responses to Let’s talk sex: seven questions

  1. neill June 23, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    Good Blog Jude.

    I think we are all to blame we have let far to many powerful organisations run without proper scrutiny and without anywhere near enough check and balances and in many ways submitted ourselves to them.

    The old adage is true power corrupts absolute power……

    • Jude Collins June 23, 2015 at 10:11 am #

      Thank you, neill (thinks: now I’m worried). The trouble with discussing this topic is that people have knee-jerk reactions. Mainly involving calling you a clerical abuse apologist, in my case. Sometimes I despair.

  2. Iolar June 23, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    Suffer, poor little children

    The late Dr Noel Browne tried to promote progressive legislation for mothers and children in Ireland. The Archbishop of Dublin objected. Dr McQuaid’s objections were threefold; the first concerned ‘morality’, the scheme intended to discuss family planning with women, which Dr McQuaid believed was the remit of the Church. Secondly, Dr McQuaid rejected the increased role of the State in the life of the individual, which he described with some exaggeration as a step towards totalitarianism. Finally, he objected to the fact that the scheme proposed no means test.

    We know now, that when priests and bishops were preaching one type of morality from the pulpit, young boys and girls were being raped and subjected to various other forms of physical and sexual assault.

    We know now, efforts were made to prevent Brendan Smyth being ordained , however, his ordination as a priest went ahead, a move which put hundreds of children at risk of potential sexual abuse. We know now, he sexually abused unknown numbers of children.

    In an unprecedented move on 15 June 2015, the Vatican announced its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, would stand trial on charges he paid for sex with children.
    Wesolowski, 66, who had the title archbishop during his five-year post in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, was recalled to the Vatican in 2013. He was later the first person to be arrested inside the Vatican on child abuse charges.
    Criminal charges were filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul Minneapolis on 19 June 2015 for its handling of a priest who molested children, with a prosecutor saying church leaders “turned a blind eye” to problems with the priest.
    Ramsey County prosecutors charged the archdiocese as a corporation with six misdemeanour counts alleging that it failed to protect children. The charges stem from the archdiocese’s response to the case of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, who was eventually sent to prison for molesting two boys. Attorneys for several victims who sued the archdiocese, alleged that church officials waited too long between the time they confronted Wehmeyer in 2012 and the time they informed police, which they say gave Wehmeyer time to destroy evidence.

  3. neill June 23, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    Be plenty worried…; )

  4. ANOTHER JUDE June 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    You forgot this question Jude.

    8. Do the media single out the Catholic Church when discussing sexual abuse and do they turn a blind eye to other religious and political organisations? Note, a story broke a few weeks ago about some two thousand acknowledged sexual abuse cases within the Methodist church, it hasn`t been mentioned since. Is it because of their anti Catholic bigotry?

    The answer is YES.

  5. Belfastdan June 23, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    During the height of the sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church the media and to a large extent the BBC, rightly so, gave a great deal of coverage to the subject. This was not only in the news programmes, but the Church and the priesthood in particular was subjected to open contempt and ridicule by “comedians” in the so called satirical programmes.

    Now it has been belatedly discovered that people in other faith groups, the media, politics, entertainment and the establishment have been involved in wide spread sexual abuse going back decades, but his has not merited the same level of investigation and invective that was directed towards the Catholic Church.

    Look at how many people within the BBC admitted to knowing that something was not quite right with Saville, Stuart Hall et al yet nothing was ever done about it. And listen to the lack of calls for heads to roll and investigations to begin into what was a long history of turning a blind eye in that organisation.

    Aas for the establishment, Greville Janner too far gone to stand trial or maybe old Greville would be inclined to spill the beans if too much pressure was applied?

    And to conclude just look at the circling of the wagons when HRH randy Andy was mentioned in the same breath as one of his (among many) dodgey friends. Now there is a story waiting to be told.

  6. Perkin Warbeck June 23, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Sherlock Holmes had a phrase for it:: ‘the dog that did not bark’.

    Les Francais, also: ‘ l’esprit de l’escalier’ / ‘the spirit of the stairs’.

    And now with a stunner of a nod into the far corner of the net, Esteemed Blogmeister clinches the hat trick with: ‘banging one’s head off the steering wheel while on the way home’.

    Bravo agus bualadh bas, boss !

    Mind you, twill be a time and a long time surely, more than unlikely to be till the the Long Nights after Samhain itself, entirely, before we down here South of the Black Sow’s Dyke,and saving your presence, get to consider your seven questions put in the Six Counties, much less attach an answer to them,at all, at all, sir.

    As we who are fans of DruidShakespeare do so like to be saying in our articulate and exhilarating Hiberno English of the Free Southern Stateen, bejapers.

    For, one must understand, there is an immutable law of reportage down here, known as the ‘3% /97 %’ rule. A sort of hangover from the glory days of Section 31 days when we even had the Angelus Bells in the crosshairs of our sight if not our sound.

    Translated into the patois of the plain people of Paddyland this emerges as: ‘ Catholic clergy guilty of 3% of A.V.O.C.A. / deserving of 97 % of publicity’.

    Hence already we have had wall to wall, even on the blanket coverage on RTE by shocked into whispering toned Tomm.ie Gorman, to be replaced, no doubt, later in the week, by his namesake Colm O. of Amnesty, be damned.

    Radio Gorman for the Gormless, one might put it.

    Heavens, how could one possibly have time to turn the spotlight or devote some primetime itelf to the 2,000 cases of A.V.O.C.A. in the Methodist Church on the Mainland.?

    It was the BBC, incidentally, which recently reported those casersof A Victim Of Child Abuse.

    Mind you, this is not to say that some folk (no names, no pack drill) do not nightly still go down on their bony and bonny (one hastens to add) knees to thank their lucky stars that even a cloudy character like Fr. S had such a silver lining after all.

    For starters, Albert R,, the cat and dog food magnate,did not make it to the Irish White House where one must, of necessity, be whiter than OMO itself. Him and his Peace Process, indeed. Talk about demeaning the office.

    Fr. Smyth therefore, in his own indirect way, can be credited with the utterly fasciinating sub-plot which is currently playing out Downunder here in the FSS.

    The title at stake is ‘Mother of the Nation’ and the protagonists are like refugees from the warzone of old, the pages of The Schoolfriend: the Two Mary’s.

    These two Ambassadresses of Ambition (note: an ambassadress is an ambassador is a dress) are equally keen to mount the podium of destiny and to intone and/or emote in the manner appropriate:

    ‘Mise Eire
    Sine me na an Chailleach Beara;
    Mise Eire
    Sine me na De Valera:
    Mise Eire
    Sine me na mala laimhe m’Aintin Maire’

    Translation from the leprechaun (to be b. ditched as soon as emoted/intoned) for the, erm, Mum Tongue::

    ‘I am Mother Ireland
    Older am I nor the Hag of Beara;
    I am Mother ireland
    Older am I nor De Valera;
    I am Mother Ireland
    Older am I nor the handbag of my Aunty Mary’.

    The latest shooting (civilised) across each of the other’s ribbon bows came when Mary 1 was being interviewed on Morning Ireland about the recent Encyclical thingy of Old Red Sox about the Reddening of the Climate or something spectacularly secular like that.

    In contrast to her first encounter with the Bishop of Rome when Mary 1 went, erm, baldheaded for her host in his own gaffe, this time she was the p. lady and even doffed her mighty bonnet trimmed in red, white and blue in deference. No booing the Bishop this time, I tell you.

    Then, out of the Left Field as it were, the following q. was sprung on Mary 1: what did she make of the snorter of a letter sent by Mary 2 to the New Yawk Times?

    So overcome with awe and possibly envy itself, Mary 1 for once was lost for sentences, word,even, very possibly syllables themselves and so, reverted to that old tried and trusted cop out:

    The Sob. The Single Solitary Sob itself.

    One wonders did Fr. B. Smyth take all the consequences of his dastardly deeds into consideration, not least the unintended ones?

    3 % of Perkie’s inner jury say he did,surely; 97 % say their name isn;t Shirley..

  7. Eddie Finnegan June 23, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

    Jude, your fine selfie headbanging ‘esprit d’escalier’ plus bout of steering wheel headbutting gave us seven deadly or virtuous questions that should be asked unashamedly in season and out, up and down the land and across all John Bull’s islands. (The North-South and East-West Dimensions, mar deirtear.)

    My 8th (or 9th) question, somewhat off-topic, would be: Will all the semi-detached or detached Catholics, media and others who have lived for years off the Murphy Reports (Dublin and Cloyne), the Brendan Smyth and related sagas, now pay a tenth part of that attention to the greatest abuse story of all – as set out by Pope Francis in his ‘Laudato Si” Letter the other day? It’s just possible that we may all have had hand, act or part in that abuse too – and maybe we could contribute something other than hot air to remedying it.

    [BUT FOR THE HARD OF HEARING, LET ME ECHO LOUDLY Jude’s de rigueur declaration above, without which preamble and peroration it is no longer possible to participate in any discussion in the enlightened days in which we live.]

  8. pointis June 23, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    Good blog Jude, one that challenges the moral fibre of all but the bravest amongst us!

    The vast majority of us are hypocrites, it is human nature!

    We allow bad things to happen, waiting to see if enough brave souls speak up before opening our mouths. And if they don’t we go on about our business.

    The group think at the minute is “once a paedophile always a paedophile” but the logic is highly flawed and based only on convicted paedophiles which negates those who may have paedophile tendencies but who do not offend or who have offended but were never prosecuted or caught.

    The parents of the young girl who was abducted and murdered in Wales have championed a programme for people with paedophile tendencies who would like intervention to prevent them ever getting to the stage where they would consider acting on their urges. In the current climate nobody is going to consider such a programme.

    I am all for sending convicted paedophiles to jail but this is not really going to protect our children from future attacks.

    Logic and scientific opinion would support such an intervention but how many of us endorse such a programme?

  9. paddykool June 23, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

    Jude, I know what you mean about your dissatisfaction with the television performance but I think you crammed in as much as you could in the short time allotted. You got your main points across in that this behaviour is not unique to any institution . Recently they’ve all been caught out . The big one being the BBC with all the deejay scandals and the dethronement of Esteemed Public Favourites and National Treasures such as Rolf Harris and the like.
    It is a fact worth noting , though that in world terms , Roman Catholicism is a huge religion. Other religions are pygmies in scale ,by comparison …and its roots have some depth and longevity …so it’s influence is huge and has been for a very long time. Certainly when we were growing up in the 1950’s , it had a massive influence locally and was literally beyond scrutiny . It was promoted like that from our early school days right through the rituals of Communion and Confirmation…I don’t believe we could even have conceived that there would be any untoward behaviour in the background.We were mostly innocent of those ideas until our teenage years when we began to spot the signs. We tend to judge these things with all the knowledge we now have at our beck and call…. which wasn’t actually available back then.Go back further a few centuries, where communications were even slower and many could not read and write and you have fertile ground for misuse of power .
    There are damaged and criminal individuals everywhere , of course and this particular priest is certainly portrayed by the the media, in every filmed reference, as someone near sociopathic in his behaviour…grinning insanely at his accusers. Communication has changed many social norms and the place of the church in Ireland has changed too.Some might say they do good and great work and of course , they do , but they have an influence and a powerful position which has been abused too.Institutions like the church , which preaches celibacy for its priests , is bound to get a percentage of sexually -odd individuals. There has to be an oddness going on in a teenage boy who joins the priesthood with the knowledge that he will never be allowed to have sexual relations for the whole of his life. To make a decision like at such a young age when most young men are busily trying to sow their wild oats, takes an extraordinarily different kind of mindset…a different sort of personality entirely…so it’s no real surprise that many priests have a sexual “oddness” about them. Of course paedophilia is one of the ultimate sexual oddnesses but for someone in a position of power such as a priest , it is like shooting fish in a bucket.That’s the kind of scenario a predator will gravitate towards. It’s the Jimmy Savile thing again , really.

  10. Gearoid June 23, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

    Excellent piece, Jude, which objectively puts the horrific reality of child sex abuse within it’s wider societal context while still acknowledging the disastrous handling by the Catholic Church of such cases within clerical ranks. This one meets with the highest standards of journalism and it is a credit to you.

    • Jude Collins June 23, 2015 at 7:02 pm #

      Gearoid – stop it I love it. You are too kind. But I agree – it’s past time that Catholic clerical abuse was put in the wider context of child abuse from every quarter.

  11. ANOTHER JUDE June 23, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

    There is a list of so called `comedians` and their anti Catholic bigotry means they will never appear on my 52 inch plasma!! Stephen Fry, Jack Whitehall, Al Murray, Reginald D. Hunter and a few others. Some of their stuff would cause an outcry if directed at any other faith group but hey, it`s only the Catholics and sure haven`t we a law barring them from ever being Head Of State?

  12. giordanobruno June 23, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

    So the percentage of abusers is the same in the Catholic Priesthood as in the general population. In other words being steeped in Catholicism,or any other sect, makes men better by zero per cent.
    Religion! What the hell use is it?

    • Jude Collins June 23, 2015 at 9:46 pm #

      I always find it interesting how heated people get about something they don’t believe in…But you’re in good company, gio – James Joyce for one.

      • giordanobruno June 24, 2015 at 10:58 am #

        It is simply an observation. If the religious are no better than the rest of us, God must not be very effective eh?
        “by their fruits ye shall know them”.

        • Jude Collins June 24, 2015 at 11:27 am #

          I never took you for a Bible scholar, gio….

          • giordanobruno June 24, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

            Misspent youth!