Stories to look at the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by clergy  from several different viewpoints

On the National Catholic Reporter website this week, beginning 17 July, is “a series of stories that will challenge our readers to look at the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by clergy from several different viewpoints: from the perspective of a victim/survivor, from the perspective of a convicted offender, from the perspective of a family member of a victim, and from the perspective of professional advocates and watchdogs.”

On 20 July the story of Gilbert Gustafson, ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1977, is published in a long interview (over 5,500 words) with Luke Hansen SJ.

Gilbert Gustafson pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of a minor in 1983, and served four and a half months in jail and 10 years’ probation. Gustafson admitted to abusing four boys between 1978 and 1982. He was not criminally charged in other cases.

Two brief extracts:

In the course of the interview Gustafson speaks about coming to recognise the reality and truth of what he had done.

What are the major components of your 30 years of recovery?

I have thought a lot about it. In 2002, with the help of my therapist, I distilled the process of recovery.

There are four significant dimensions to recovery. Without them, recovery is not at all complete, even though recovery is obviously ongoing. One keeps recovering; one doesn’t recover. (It’s like addiction. You’re always going to be an alcoholic, but you’re a recovering alcoholic.) I will always be attracted to boys, ages 11 to 15, but I can be in recovery.

The first component is external accountability. In my case it happened when the archdiocese confronted me with the letter from my victim. It happened when criminal authorities convicted me and enforced prohibitions on my behavior. It happened with media attention. External accountability is absolutely critical. As I said earlier, I don’t think I would have stopped the abuse without it. If a person has a fixed attraction and true compulsion, then I don’t know how the person can stop without external accountability.

The second part is internal responsibility. I have to own the fact that this destructive behavior is my fault. Yes, I was abused, and it set things in motion. Yes, I lacked ability in communicating feelings and dealing with anger. But I did what I did, and I must be held responsible. My victims were not responsible. The responsibility is all on me. I was in the position of power. I was the one who was active. Nobody else is to blame. It’s great to learn about what caused it — the third phase — but until I say, “I stand responsible for my behavior,” I don’t think recovery can happen.

The third component is therapy or internal change, which can take years. In my case, I had to learn about how anger and sexuality had fused, and I had to undo it. My extraordinarily talented therapist had to get down to the roots — through a lot of imaginative work and deep reflection and regular meetings — and unlatch that. A big part of it was learning about penthos: how to be sad about what I did, rather than angry at myself; and how to feel authentic guilt, rather than destructive shame. It took time.

The fourth phase is the fruit. It is about incorporating what I have learned and living a transformed life: to be more truly who I am, to live out of my goodness, and to be of service to others. It is like the last part of the 12 steps. The program isn’t about your recovery alone; it is also about taking the gift into the world. Until that happens, there’s a huge element missing in the recovery process.

Perhaps also of interest is the following exchange:

In 2005, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis settled a lawsuit with Anne Bonse, who said that you abused her on multiple occasions between 1977 and 1982, when she was between the ages of 5 and 10.

I did not abuse her, and I made that clear in the settlement.

Did you abuse any girls?

No. My four victims were boys.

The other stories in this series on the NCR website could also be worthwhile reading.


Pádraig McCarthy

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  1. Kevin Walters says:

    Gilbert Gustafson response to his final question in the interview

    Based on your experience, what are some of the lessons for the church today?

    Church leaders, particularly the bishops, should consider the same four steps of recovery that I have experienced.

    First, they must submit to external accountability. In the case of an accusation of abuse, the requirement to immediately contact the police — and submit everything to them — is important. Civil lawsuits also hold them accountable and judge them in a very public way. It is painful, but it is critical for them to behave in a new way. It’s very humiliating, but the church must be humiliated if it is to become authentically humble.

    Second, just like the offender, church leaders must say, “We are responsible.” They must accept it as absolutely true and embrace whatever consequences flow from it. Church needs to be church and not a corporation. To the degree that we protect our assets in the legal system, and in any way do additional harm to the victim, we’ve stopped being church. The call of church is to pastor, be a good shepherd, to care for the sheep. The church has to be church.

    The third realm is internal change. As I did in therapy, the church needs to examine what’s underneath our behavior. I had to learn about patriarchal models of power, clericalism, elitism and entitlement. In the leadership and institutional life of the church, what’s really driving us? Can we honestly say that every decision we make is to care for souls, or are we building financial assets and legal bulwarks?
    If, over time, the church is in that process of change, then it can live as a transformed institution in the world. It can become a model for dealing with sexual abuse — and perhaps a catalyst for our society to look at sexual abuse.

    I mean: For the love of God, what are the stats? It’s happening in families, extended families, schools, associations, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCAs, camps, among police. All of it. It’s endemic in our society.
    Nobody chooses the humiliation forced by external accountability. But once you accept it as a gift and make the change you really need to make, you become a witness to the world.

    Isn’t that what the church is called to be?

    As an institution, we can bring healing and salvation to the world. For alcoholics, the most important work is to another alcoholic, right? The church as an abusive institution could be a transformative agent against abusive behavior in society.

    So in the light of this: Is an act of humility too much to ask?

    Please consider reading my post in the link below

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Bernard Whelan says:

    The first two components identified by Gustafson as necessary for personal recovery, are going to have to be adopted by the institutional Church if it is ever going to enter on its own process of recovery from its complicity in the enabling and covering up of the abuse of children.

    Accountability: the long-established maxim that no one can judge the Pope was formally rendered as Church teaching in 1302, by Pope Boniface VIII in the bull Unam Sanctam. Gradually it became to mean effectively that neither the Pope, nor the institution of which he is the head, could be held to account by any individual, or by any other authority. In recent times, some accountability has been forced upon the Church by outside agencies, most recently through the questioning of Australian bishops in case study number 50 of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. But until the Church voluntarily establishes a strong and independent system by which it renders itself (and all individuals within it, up to and including the Pope) fully accountable to the People of God, and to the world, its recovery will not have not begun.

    Internal responsibility: in spite of the many apologies which have been given for the failings of individuals, or of collections of individuals such as the Irish hierarchy, there has never been any acknowledgement of the responsibility of the Church itself for the abuse. Essentially, the Church’s attitude remains one of denial of institutional responsibility.

    The most egregious example of this occurred in an interview which Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, at that time Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, gave to The Tablet, in the wake of the 2014 report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning the Vatican’s handling of sex abuse cases. Asked whether he would accept that the response of the Holy See on the issue of child abuse has been inadequate, Archbishop Tomasi gave a very elegantly worded reply in which he endeavoured to say nothing at all; but close examination of his words reveals that what he actually said was:
    a) that the Church did not know that covering up child abuse was bad for children;
    b) that to the extent that any blame was to be attached to individuals, those individuals were “the men and women of the Church”, that is to say the lower echelons, the men-only hierarchy being totally blameless;
    c) that even these lower-level individuals, however, were not at fault because they had been influenced by something which Archbishop Tomasi labelled “public culture.”

    Again, as long as such complacent denial of responsibility persists the Church’s recovery remains something for which we are waiting in vain.

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    Extracts from a summary Article of the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by clergy from several different viewpoints. See link below

    The clergy’s task is unfinished in confronting sex abuse

    Before another synod is conducted about families, or young people or evangelization, or any other aspect of church life, we need a synod on the clergy culture. Church leaders, after wide consultation with their peers and with respected experts, should meet in Rome. There need be only one topic on the agenda and that topic, in the form of questions, should be distributed to all the priests and bishops in the world..

    The central question:
    What caused us, members of the Catholic clergy culture, to arrive at the point where we could devise a rationale that allowed us to walk away from the incalculable suffering of the community’s children in order to protect those members of the clergy culture who caused the suffering?
    Those outside the clergy culture have pondered that question, unanswered, for more than three decades. The only ones who can provide an authoritative answer are those within the culture itself.
    To do that, leaders of the community will have to put aside all of the rationalizing, equivocating, relativizing and shading of the truth that has provided a measure of comfort. Answering the question, finally, will require an intense and unsparing examination, the kind about which they provide others with instruction, that leads to a level of truth-telling that, in turn, places one starkly reliant on God’s mercy. We’ve all been there.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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