Don't Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys

by Michel Dorais, translated by Isabel Denholm Meyer
McGill-Queen's University Press, 210 pp., $65.00; $19.95 (paper)

The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality

by Eugene Kennedy
St. Martin's Griffin, 214 pp., $12.95 (paper)

History has a way of proving over and over the truth of the grim line in Lucretius (1.101):

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. (“How suasive is religion to our bane.”)

We are regularly told, with regard to the scandal of child abuse by priests, that pedophilia affects a minority of men in all walks of life, that the occurrence among priests is extraordinary neither in kind nor in frequency. But the intrusion of religion into the picture does affect its character and probably its rate. For one thing, pedophilia outside the priesthood leads to abuse of little girls as much as or more than of little boys. There have been few reported cases of girls as the object of priestly molestation, even though—as Michel Dorais points out in Don’t Tell—boys find it harder to report their abuse, since it involves cultural biases against homosexuality, beyond just the experience of coercion. Where (as in Australia) the Catholic religious orders ran separate orphanages for boys and girls, frequent molestation was reported only in the former institutions.

Priestly pedophilia is also set apart from other varieties by the fact that the seduction technique employs religion. Almost always some form of prayer has been used as foreplay. The very places where the molestation occurs are redolent of religion—the sacristy, the confessional, the rectory, Catholic schools and clubs with sacred pictures on the walls. One of the victims of Father Paul Shanley, of the Boston archdiocese, says that his ordeal began in the confessional, when he confessed the “sin” of masturbation. The priest told him that masturbation could be a “lesser evil” and that he would help him work out his problem. He did this by taking him to a cabin he kept in the woods, where the priest taught the boy how they could masturbate each other.1 This pattern occurs over and over—a conjunction of the overstrict sexual instruction of the Church (e.g., on the mortal sinfulness of masturbation, even one occurrence of which can, if not confessed, send one to hell) and a guide who can free one of inexplicably dark teaching by inexplicably sacred exceptions. The victim is disarmed by sophistication and the predator has a special arsenal of stun devices. He uses religion to sanction what he is up to, even calling sex part of his priestly ministry. One victim of Father Shanley says that he represented his sexual predation as an act of “healing.” According to a gay weekly, Shanley had made the same claim in a public speech.

In the archdiocese of Milwaukee, a thirteen-year-old was putting on his cassock in the sacristy before serving as an altar boy at a funeral Mass. The priest who was about to say the Mass, Richard Nichols, came over to him before going out to the altar and fussed with the cassock, saying he was making him look better. After the Mass, the priest came up behind him, plunged his hands (which had just consecrated the eucharistic host) down…

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