Canon N.

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A Case Study of Sexual Abuse
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While the children outwardly gave the impression of being healthy human beings, the first-born son bore like a night shadow the heredity of the marriage contracted outside the church. He had often confessed, but as he explained to me during his visit to Rome, I was the only human being with whom he could speak outside of sacramental confession, without hesitating, like a human being to a human being or like a wounded, lost son to a father. He also became the victim of an unworldly confessor, to whom on the eve of his ordination as a priest he, with great hesitation, had laid open the state of his soul in the general confession of his life. This time it was a Jesuit, the spiritual director of the seminary in question, and so a member of an order that gazes into the world more deeply and more realistically than other religious orders do. He could not free himself from this frightening, perverse drive despite confession and spiritual struggles; he was afraid of the priesthood.

The confessor comforted him that everything would take care of itself through the grace of a priestly vocation. And so hands were laid on him. Given all these circumstances, would it not have been a holy duty to woo him away from an occupation so full of sacrifice? What would the early Church have decided in this case? It is a disaster to help such men into the sanctuary, because supernature can only to a certain degree conquer nature. With Bible verses (“I can do everything in him who strengthens me”) one doesn’t come close to the modern medical knowledge of the human organism. One could say, that questions in regard to heredity did not at the turn of the 20th century occupy the ecclesiastical authorities who make decisions when it is a question of the preparatory testing of candidates for marriage and ordination. However would a frank admission of physical impossibility have done any good in opposition to the opinion of many moralists that in the mental realm there is no true heredity and that nature under all circumstances can be overcome through prayer and the reception of the sacraments?

In any case even on the eve of his ordination this unlucky fellow, overcome by the volcanic power of his strange heredity, fell into his vice. Since his father was no longer available to talk to, he was ashamed to admit his tendency to his mother, who was very pious. One can hardly blame him. It is well known that children talk about their sexual experiences with no one less than with their parents and siblings. Only once did he muster the courage to hint at something to his mother: “Mother, why has no one ever spoken to me about the deep things of human life? Must I have an emotional and physical breakdown?”

He tortured himself with ascetic practices, with the murky guilt feelings and the pangs of conscience of the Middle Ages, without being able to achieve peace of mind, because always, like muddy torrents of thunderstorms, the lower drive and the unchained instinct intervened. The confessors whom he consulted held the horrors of hell before his eyes, unimaginable possibilities of punishment, which he knew from Dante’s imagination. But nothing helped. He lifted himself up, only to fall again, until a boy brought him before the court with unrestrained accusations.

An expression of abysmal melancholy was in the eyes of this unhappy priest, in whose life alternated the knowledge of guilt, self-recrimination, and ever-repeated vows of continence. With all this he was a thoroughly active personality, full of hard work in pastoral care, religious instruction, organizations and societies -- a creative, young man. Wherever he came as a priest, new life awoke in the parish. No one could have suspected in the least that he had to carry along such a shocking tragedy for over twenty years of his priesthood, because he cleverly wore a mask that completely hid his inner affliction. He led a strange double life

As he, like a Mary Magdalene at my feet, with a stream of tears admitted his guilty life, I thought of Christ, who was deeply shaken and affected in his innermost being by thoughts of the rotting Lazarus. As John has reported to us, Christ spoke scarcely a word about it. Until then I knew the poor man only out of the cold dossier of his order and of the proper ecclesiastical authorities, who are responsible for the handling of criminal offenses by religious and clerics, especially homosexual offenses, style named crimen pessimum, “the worst crime,” referring to the Old Testament expression.

In the files of his order I found only a short biography of this religious, with detailed reports of the young man with whom he had intercourse because they shared the same tendencies, until some circumstances, above all an attempt at extortion at the monastery, brought everything into the open. The judgment of his religious superiors and the decision of Rome were included. It read in the accustomed formula: “Return to the lay state with retention of the requirement of celibacy and without any hope of a later resumption of priestly duties, especially any pastoral work.”

The longer I looked at this wounded man, the more I said to myself: “You poor brother, what is a religious to do in the world under these conditions? You certainly do not need any more penance from the church. One who has so atoned and so wept has long been forgiven by God.” But men are hard in judgment about such strange characters. The files are quickly closed over the fate of a life. If he has erred, he did penance for it exceedingly, yes, too exceedingly through the pains of remorse over his life which had failed as the result of a physical-psychological abnormality. He sought salvation in religious life and not in that acceptance with which Antiquity regarded these murky border regions of illness, heredity, and human weakness, from which in most cases there is no escape, except by suicide.


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