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Priest offenders and the saga of the Paracletes.

There are some little told truths that deserve a hearing. One of them, surely, is the other side of the clergy sexual abuse problem.

In Rome recently, I talked with Fr. Liam Hoare, superior general of the Paraclete Priests and Brothers, the religious order founded in the United States in 1947 "for Christ in his priests." It is a dark day in the history of that congregation and a time for hard questions. So I tried to ask them and got what I felt were pained but honest answers.

The problem is that the Paraclete Center in New Mexico has been treating pedophile priests, many of whom returned to public ministry with no warning to the public and with at least some danger of relapse. The question is, how professional was the center itself and what did the staff tell the bishops and superiors of the congregations to whom these men returned?

There are two points of special interest, I think, at a time when many religious congregations are going into new ministries: First, the Paracletes saw a need and set out to address it. Second, they tried to meet the problem within the existing theology and structures of the church.

In 1947, the center dealt almost exclusively with clergy alcoholism from the point of view of spiritual direction and subsequent reconciliation. Where psychological therapy was needed it was provided for by contract from secular therapists in the area or in the area from which the priest came. The Paracletes concentrated on the spiritual rejuvenation of the man.

It was a happy time for the order. They dried men out and started them up a sober road again to a new commitment to their priesthood, a new sense of life and a new kind of spiritual depth. The success rate of the center soared.

Then, in the mid-1960s, Hoare says, they found themselves, like the society around them, inundated with "an unprecedented number of cases of sexual addiction" for which they knew they were not professionally prepared. At that period, the order itself undertook a kind of ministerial refounding.

They sent their men for degrees in psychiatry and psychotherapy. Their staff, they felt, was trained and competent. Additionally, they referred "cases of sexual addiction" to local hospitals for psychiatric treatment. They then made recommendations about the man's future ministry, based on the advice of the experts.

This was one of the first programs of its nature in the country, secular or religious. It was a new field with new problems and little data to build on.

The point is that when few others were even admitting a problem, the Paracletes identified it and set out to deal with it professionally and responsibly. By the 1980s, Hoare said, almost three-quarters of the men recommended to the center by bishops or major superiors were being admitted for sexual issues. The church was harboring a time bomb held very close to the vest.

The cry, of course, is who knew what? And when? And what did they do about it? And why? The Kinsey Report was barely 30 years old in 1977. The essential preparation of the Paracletes was in philosophy, theology and pastoral care. The church itself had little respect for psychiatry. The basic theological response to everything was to try harder, to be more disciplined, to firm the will, to ignore the body, to scourge the soul, to transcend the human.

"We were the M*A*S*H unit of the church in the middle of a war," Hoare says of his order. The only problem is that no one declared it. The war was fought in five-month residence periods and then back on the lines. Celibacy, after all, was a gift to be imposed. A little firmness of will would surely confirm it.

What did the Paracletes tell the bishops when a man finished the program? According to Hoare, the regime was clear; the question of responsibility was apparent:

1. Adult development issues, the problem of psychosexual arrest and the general inability to identify and verbalize feelings, the Paracletes told bishops, affect a man's ability to minister pastorally.

2. The screening processes of seminarians had to be updated to identify these problems.

3. The psychological and social development of the person is as important to priesthood as academic acumen.

4. Academic brilliance may often be a guise for personal underdevelopment and should not be substituted for it.

5. Every priest that came out of the program should be reassigned, if reassigned at all, where he would not be alone; where therapy and spiritual direction were ongoing realities; where the issue was known at least to the director of the house in which they lived; where they would be able to do nonpastoral work (computer science, prison ministries, institutional chaplaincies or adult team ministries), where it would be understood that the person was to return to the center no less than once a year, preferably twice, for continuing care, for five years.

"It was in the closure contract," Hoare said. Servants did not recommend a return to ministry for all priests. "It was the duty of the Servants to recommend nonreturn to ministry because of the possibility of high risk," Hoare said. But the problem was largely ignored by others and the time bomb blew.

As a result, claims are being made in lawsuits against the Paracletes: "This has kicked us in the heart. And when you are kicked in the heart, you can't speak." The Paracletes now live under a cloud for "daring to can the issue by name."

It is easy to turn on the Paracletes at a moment like this. Why didn't the fixers fix it? But the situation is more complex than that. There is more than enough blame to go around. Secrecy, silence, the theology of priesthood and its indelible character, the shortage of clergy, the ignorance of the issue, the massive ecclesiastical denial of the sexuality questions of the church, and the high cost of misogyny all conspire to obstruct. The problem may well be not so much the ineffectiveness of the "treatment" as it was the unspeakableness of the problem.

But we go right on dealing with other just as serious issues the same way, refusing to discuss them, refusing to recognize them, relegating them to the categories of "tradition" and "obedience": the woman's issue, the shortage of priests in a sacramental church, the questions of life and war.

The timer is ticking again. Will we never learn?
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Title Annotation:clergy sexual abuse; Paraclete Center of New Mexico
Author:Chittister, Joan
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 30, 1993
Words:1084
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