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Pedophile priests should have confessed more

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 6, 2010 | 9:38 am

I’m working today on a Houses of Worship column for the Wall Street Journal, so it’s fitting that I thought this WSJ column from my GetReligion colleague Mollie Hemingway was worth mentioning.

To be sure, I have a soft-spot for Mollie’s line of logic. But her premise here—the headline: “More Emphasis on Confessing Might Have Helped”—should persuade most everyone willing to face the facts about the clergy sex abuse scandal:

Some reform-minded Catholics have suggested that required celibacy contributed to the problem, causing priests to exploit minors for sexual gratification. Some traditional Catholics say the Second Vatican Council’s window-opening reforms led to relaxed enforcement of old church rules that would have kept priests in line.

But church leaders on both sides have agreed on at least one of reasons that clergymen known to be offenders were able to continue their pattern of abuse: an over-reliance on psychologists who advised bishops that perpetrators could be treated and returned to parish ministry.

In its 2004 report on the U.S. clergy sexual-abuse crisis, the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People said that psychological treatment facilities must shoulder some of the blame for frequently recommending that abusers be returned to a parish after treatment. “Indeed, a few treating physicians actually told bishops that returning a priest-perpetrator to ministry was a necessary part of that priest’s recovery,” the Board found.

The report also blames bishops for withholding damaging information about troubled priests from psychiatrists and seeking out lenient treatment centers. The idea that a problem priest didn’t need to be removed from ministry but could be cured of his attraction to adolescents with a bit of group therapy and in-patient treatment was welcome news to some bishops.

So how did the church go from flogging child abusers to shipping them off for a relaxing stay at a treatment facility? The work of Dr. Francis Braceland, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association who was named a knight by Pope Pius XII, did much to ease some of the early anxiety the church had with the emerging field of mental health.

Read the rest here.

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