Three Reasons Catholics Still Struggle with Abuse

A front page article, last week in USA Today, attempted to tell us why the Catholic Church still struggles with sexual abuse. Having watched closely and worked with survivors in two very fine organizations for years, I propose that there are at least three reasons.

The first, which I came to understand from Andrew Greeley many years ago as "the clerical culture," is referred to in a quote by passionate advocate Anne Barrett Doyle, sister of Father Tom Doyle who received SNAP's first-ever award for advocacy this year, honoring him for more than thirty years of courageous, persistent service as a powerful spokesman.

His sister explained the persistent refusal to act with compassion by describing one characteristic of this culture as "an entrenched infrastructure of secrecy."

Lawyer Michael Dolce offered a second reason that keeps so many survivors from seeking compensation for their life-long injuries:  the Church has fought efforts to reform state statue-of-limitation laws. The Church is fast losing that battle, fortunately, with big efforts in play to reform the nine states still holding out entirely, according news given by Marci Hamilton today on CBS This Morning. Of course, that's only here in America. There's work to be done world-wide!

I was privileged at this year's SNAP conference to hear Father Tom voice what I have long believed to be the primary reason the Church still struggles, a reason not even mentioned in this article. The same reason that the largest Protestant denomination, the one of my heritage, the Southern Baptist Convention, still struggles.

Standing by, having just personally spoken to Father Tom, as three of us visited in the aisle at the close of the conference, I took note of the unusually sad expression on this humble servant's face as he shook his head, looking downward: "They call themselves Christian when they do not even know what Jesus was about," he said.

I nodded along with a gentleman from Europe who was struggling with story after story told by survivors coming to him, struggling to understand how things could have gone so far awry.

Humbled to even be in the presence of this hero, I said nothing. Simply nodded. Yet, the words that immediately came to mind are the same I've said many times myself in the past three decades: words Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus, written in Revelation 2:4. "You have abandoned the love you had at first."

Some might go so far as to say that those in the clerical culture, as well as those who support this culture, never knew Jesus to begin with.  I prefer to believe it's possible to be very much in love with the idea of Jesus and to even show signs of following for many years before abandoning or losing "the first love," becoming puffed up with power, and behaving like a corrupt politician who constantly declares himself to have done no wrong.

One only needs two or three of these guys, gathered together, to start an epidemic. And when the women and men who stand on the periphery of such a structure behave as helpless followers, defending and still supporting nonsense in the name of "keeping the peace," despite all evidence, then we have a pandemic. Massive Collusion. No matter what denomination we have before us.

1. The entrenched, clerical culture stands against internal justice, and
2.  They fight against legislation that would allow justice to take place in the courts because
3.  They and the majority of their followers have lost their First Love.

That's the complete answer why any faith group still struggles with abuse and any other form of oppression today.


Miller's website has been a source of enlightenment for survivors and advocates since 1997. Author of six books, three specifically on the topic of collusion with abuse in the faith community, including her 2017 release, Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (available also in Kindle form). 


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