CWS Comment on Priestly Sexual Abuse

CWS Comment on Priestly Sexual Abuse

Catholic Women Speak does not campaign on any single issue, other than the right of women in the Church to speak honestly and to be listened to attentively and respectfully. We have decided to issue this public comment because we believe that it is right for us to take a collective stand on an issue that strikes at the very heart of all that we stand for and all that we believe as Catholics, as human beings, as women, mothers, daughters, religious and people of God. The comment has been endorsed by members of the group, though it does not of course claim to speak for every member.

Rogier van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross (1435) – detail

CWS member Mary Pezzulo has written a hard-hitting blog on the latest revelations of criminal priestly abuse in Pennsylvania. More than 300 Catholic priests have been found guilty of abusing more than 1,000 children in one US state alone, in some cases involving extreme forms of torture, pornography and humiliation. The Grand Jury Report can be read here. Meanwhile in the UK, a report issued by the Independent Inquiry on Sexual Abuse details decades of abuse at two prominent Benedictine boarding schools, Ampleforth and Downside, which was covered up in the interests of preserving the schools’ reputations. Other Benedictine schools are being investigated and there is undoubtedly more to be revealed.

The emergence of yet more stories of endemic sexual abuse and cover-ups in the institutional church points to widespread corruption in the ranks and institutions of the Roman Catholic hierarchy at all levels. We recognise that many good priests and bishops suffer intensely as a result of these revelations, but we also know that many collude in a regime of silencing, censorship and blind institutional loyalty. This has prevented a regime of abuse and its manifold causes being openly challenged and changed. This culture of denial extends from the most junior seminarians to the most senior cardinals, and it is exacerbated by clericalism with its abuses of priestly power and its expectation of obsequious obedience from members of the laity.

The underlying causes of these ongoing abuses and the collusion of so many senior members of the Catholic hierarchy are complex and multi-faceted. However, we believe that deeply rooted questions of misogyny and clerical attitudes towards women and girls urgently need to be interrogated, along with other aspects of priestly formation and church teachings on human sexuality and gender. Misogyny flourishes in all-male communities and continues to distort priestly attitudes towards many aspects of embodiment and sexuality. We believe that it constitutes a major contributory factor in the sex abuse crisis which is not sufficiently acknowledged.

Women are and always have been involved in sexual relationships with priests, and women and girls are often victims of sexual predation by priests. Not only that, but when children are sexually abused, their mothers also suffer intense anguish.

Stories of heterosexual abuse make for harrowing reading. In the Pennsylvania report, as summarised by Mary Pezzulo, there is the following account:

Father Thomas Skotek raped a young girl and then arranged her abortion. The bishop, James Timlin, sent a letter of consolation and sympathy, not to the victim but to the rapist.  

There is also an account of a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg who

abused five sisters in a single family, despite prior reports that were never acted on. In addition to sex acts, the priest collected samples of the girls’ urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood. Eventually, his house was searched and his collection was found.

In the mid-1990s, reports emerged about the widespread abuse of nuns by Catholic priests, particularly but not exclusively in the African Church, but these attracted little attention. More recently, religious sisters and nuns have once again been emboldened to speak out and the Catholic hierarchy is being confronted with accounts of the sexual exploitation, abuse and rape of women religious by priests, but yet again attention is being deflected by other scandals and issues. In India, Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar remains in post, despite the fact that a nun has complained to the police that he has raped and sexually abused her.

We are not naive enough to believe that this poison in the bloodstream of the Church we love and serve will be easily eliminated. We may only have scratched the surface of the problem so far, and there may be worse crises ahead. With this in mind, we call on all Catholics—priests and laity alike—to speak out and to refuse to collude by their silence in the deception and betrayal of Catholic life today, perpetrated by those who prey on the vulnerable and rely on the collusion and denial of bystanders.

The Röttgen Pietà (14th century)



  1. Paula Carthy August 15, 2018 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Excellent Tina. Thank you, Mary, also. Two very insightful articles. The culture of silencing and being silenced is still very present when one considers Tony Flannery’s position in Ireland, as well as the exclusion of LGBT+ and We Are Church groups from the Meeting of Families.

  2. Mary Hanrahan August 15, 2018 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    Thanks much clear I think.

  3. Kate Prendergast August 15, 2018 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    I support the whole tenor of this Tina…..

  4. Paula Carthy August 15, 2018 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    This is excellent Tina. Thank you

  5. Anne August 15, 2018 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    Clear and to the point. Furthermore, it speaks what many of us would like to say. Thank you.

  6. Mary Kennan August 16, 2018 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for doing this Tina.

    • Irene Nordgren August 16, 2018 at 11:02 pm - Reply

      I agree

  7. Dr Thérèse M Craine Bertsch, DSW, LCSW August 16, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

    This comment straightens the lens through which each of us, along with the feeble institutional church, must look and understand the undeserved power and protection of clergy that contributed to the violence perpetrated on the unprotected. The wounded deserve our ongoing protection and affirmation as well as our vigilance to take action to prevent any recurrence of such evil. We must pray to look and see the behaviors contributing to a culture in which this violent behavior is fermented, and each of us must resist, act, and transform! Never again. Thank you very much Tina and Mary for giving voice to our grief, shame, and outrage.

  8. MargaretC August 16, 2018 at 10:34 am - Reply

    This has been going on for so long yet the Church hierarchy has changed nothing. Any safeguarding measures have resulted from secular action via courts and legislation. Francis has started to put out spot fires (e.g. Chile, Adelaide) but when will a system not fit for purpose get the major overhaul it needs?

  9. Pamela Haywood August 16, 2018 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Courageously expressed- we need more people like you. These dreadful acts are not of God but of twisted men who purport to be men of faith. They are truly the devil’s disciples.

  10. Christina August 16, 2018 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you for giving words to voice my thoughts.

  11. Anabel Flaherty August 16, 2018 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Thank you!

  12. Anne Smith August 16, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    You are certainly speaking for me Tina. Thank you.

  13. Kimberly lajoie August 16, 2018 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    Tina thank you. as women we need to be able to hold our heads up high but in light of this it is difficult

  14. Sandra Philips August 17, 2018 at 12:00 am - Reply

    The Church will continue to have these problems as long as it promotes celibacy and a male dominated priesthood. A parish priest is an emotional and spiritual counselor. A priest does not have to be a celibate man to do this. Nor does the priest need to be a male.
    A family man and a woman are just as capable of preaching, counseling and supporting parishioners. If a religious cleric wishes to be celibate let them choose a monastic way of life. We need to demand this or leave the Church. Leaving the Catholic Church does not mean abandoning Christ. I did

  15. John Mossop August 17, 2018 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Thank you for speaking

  16. Valerie August 17, 2018 at 7:36 am - Reply

    Thank you.

  17. Barbara August 17, 2018 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Thank you Tina.

  18. Mary Evers August 17, 2018 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Another serious regret that I have is that these demonic behaviors are damned as if they are the sole domain of the Roman Catholic clergy. These horrendous actions exist wherever opportunity is found: in all religious denominations, in hospitals, in schools, in sports all way up to Olympic training…wherever children are left unprotected including and equally horrifying in their own homes and families.

    We need to accept the challenges before us to change the culture of silence, to be vigilant as parents and responsible adults and to report and follow up on violence no matter where it occurs.

  19. Irena Mangone August 17, 2018 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you very much Tina

  20. Jane Downey August 18, 2018 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Thanks for this Tina. From a personal perspective I am sure like many others although I consider myself to have a strong faith the recent revelations of abuse are so horrific that it seems hard to contemplate staying in a church that has stood by and even colluded in these actions. I hope Tina your words are heard and that it can penetrate the bastions of male Vatican power so that we have a more inclusive church and one that puts the needs of people before reputation.

  21. Murray-Hayes August 19, 2018 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    The pervasiveness of this blasphemy is the clearest reason for the ordination of women and the marriage of priests in the whole history of the Catholic Church. The Grand Jury has uncovered the original sin of the Catholic Church.

  22. Donna Becher August 19, 2018 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you. I wouldn’t change anything.

  23. Carol August 20, 2018 at 1:23 am - Reply

    I understood that most of the victims were young males.

    • Tina Beattie August 23, 2018 at 8:29 am - Reply

      I think there are more opportunities for abusing young males because there are so many all-male institutions in the church – here in Britain, Ampleforth and Downside were all-male schools when the abuse happened, and of course seminaries are vulnerable to sexual predators. However, I also believe that male on male abuse attracts more shock and outrage than heterosexual abuse, because there is still deeply-rooted misogyny in the Church and so the abuse of women and girls is regarded as less shocking or newsworthy. As our comment says, there is currently a bishop being investigated in India for raping and abusing a nun, and he has not yet resigned. Maybe we need more women and girls to speak out when they have been victims of clerical abuse, though that can be very difficult if it means reawakening trauma or risking blame.

  24. Anupama Ranawana August 20, 2018 at 3:45 am - Reply

    This is excellent. May i share?

    • Catholic Women Speak Admin August 23, 2018 at 8:24 am - Reply

      Please share widely!

  25. Katie Bloom August 20, 2018 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    I have noticed how eloquent all of the responses have been and am proud to join the voices of women who are clearly thoughtful, spiritual and angry. While I believe being blunt is way over rated and at times hurtful, I believe this ongoing problem has forced me to be so.



    Thank you Mary and Tina for your articulate and heart felt plea for reform.

  26. PAOLA CAVALLARI - August 20, 2018 at 10:45 pm - Reply


  27. PAOLA CAVALLARI August 20, 2018 at 10:46 pm - Reply


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