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Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic ChurchGender, Power, and Organizational Culture$

Marie Keenan

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199895670

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199895670.001.0001

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Power and Gender

Power and Gender

(p.115) 6 Power and Gender
Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church

Marie Keenan

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter reviews literature emanating from both feminist scholars and from a growing body of research in the field of men's studies, sometimes also known as the study of masculinities. Feminist literature, combined with masculinity studies, have much to offer an analysis of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. By emphasizing power and powerlessness in relation to structured social relations, such as the position of a child relative to an adult, or the position of a child relative to a minister of the Catholic Church, feminists and masculinities scholars have highlighted the power dimension to a discussion that heretofore may have lacked such an analytical frame. More recent feminist theories and scholarship on masculinities have brought something new to this analysis, especially those aspects that suggest that individuals do not inhabit single categories, such as gender, but are much more complexly positioned in life, in relation to race, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical appearance, fitness, and mental ability. This recent feminist and masculinities literature gives rise to the idea that power relations are rather more complex than might have been originally suggested, when power was conceptualized solely in terms of domination or coercion.

Keywords:   child sexual abuse, men's studies, culture, gender, male socialization, power relations, feminist studies, masculinity studies, Catholic clergy

NO STUDY ON CHILD sexual abuse would be complete without attention been given to the literature that emanates from both feminist scholars and from a growing body of research in the field of men’s studies, sometimes also known as the study of masculinities. Comprising both dynamic and more enduring features, gender culture consists of practices, norms, values, symbols, rules, language systems, and institutions, in which we are both embedded and in constant and dynamic relationship (Fiske, 2002, p. 85). In essence, we are all born into a culture of practices and meanings that have been laid out by generations, but at the same time we are influencing culture through the dynamics of human relations. For feminists and masculinity theorists, gender, culture, and male socialization are directly implicated in male sexual violence. It is to these topics that we now turn our attention.

The feminist critique

The feminist approach to understanding child sexual abuse is to emphasize power and control, the role of patriarchy, and the gendered context in which the problem comes to be (Cowburn & Dominelli, 2001; Kelly, 1997; Herman, 1981; Mercer & Simmonds, 2001). The feminist analysis maintains that child sexual abuse is intrinsically linked to a system of male supremacy, and early feminists located the problem of sexual violence and sexual abuse firmly within the “normal” patriarchal family and the community of “normal” men (Herman, 1981, p. 177; Kelly, 1997, p. 10). Feminist theory suggests that a distinction cannot always be made between physical and sexual violence against women and children, and both are linked to male domination. Feminists argue that men’s violence towards women and children can be seen as an extreme expression of social control, often resulting from a sense of proprietary rights to domestic and sexual services, and a sense of entitlement (Cowburn & Dominelli, 2001, p. 401; Kelly, 1997, p. 10; Mercer & Simmonds, 2001, p. 171). It is the view of many feminists that the practices of male dominance and female subservience are being reinforced through social structures, which are essentially patriarchal, and more particularly through an (p.116) ideology that assumes that women and children are inferior to men (Cowburn & Dominelli, 2001, p. 401; Kelly, 1997, p. 10; Mercer & Simmonds, 2001, p. 171).

Feminist writings on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy generally make the claim that the institution of the Catholic Church is a system founded upon real or symbolic sexual oppression of the powerless; mainly women and children, and religious beliefs are used to underpin this system of oppression (Condren, 2002; Ranke-Heinemann, 1990). Feminists generally expand the domain of the abuse problems within the Catholic Church to include relationships between clergy and adult women (Fortune, 1994; Kennedy, 2003). Feminist theologians (Ammicht-Quinn, Haker, & Junker Kenny, 2004; Loades, 2001) locate sexual abuse and violence in the patriarchal structure of the whole society, and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are seen as patriarchal figures who are also participating in gender oppression (Ammicht-Quinn, Haker, & Junker Kenny, 2004, p. 132). The sexual abuse of children by clergy is conceptualized as a misuse of power and a breach of trust (Ammicht-Quinn, Haker, & Junker Kenny, 2004, 132).

The feminist analysis of sexual offending, however, is more varied than is generally appreciated, and the progression in feminist thought over time has been significant. Early or first-wave feminists placed the issues of women and sexuality, gender, and sexual violence on the public agenda, succeeding in challenging the patriarchal ideal and culture and bringing to the fore issues that had heretofore been considered private and taboo. This led to the development of services for women and children and to a proliferation of scholarly and other work on rape and sexual violence. However, as feminists fought hard to change social attitudes, the law, and social structures, ideological splits and tensions began to occur within the movement, and the earlier ideas, which were both liberating and exciting, were taken up by second-wave feminists in a manner that seemed to essentialize, or make as absolutes, some of the core thought and features. Rape and sexual abuse was viewed as a concrete expression of power that men had over women and children, and all men were thought to acquire attitudes and behaviors through culture, and through male socialization, that would directly facilitate sexual offending (Brownmiller, 1975). Child sexual abuse was seen as centering on the patriarchal nature of society and the commitment of the state to maintaining patriarchal relations of power (Waldby, Clancy, Emetchi, & Summerfield, 1989, p. 97). In 1978, following an anti-rape protest in Dublin, Ireland, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre in 1979, one of the leaders of the protest caused uproar over her reported comments when speaking at that rally: “The streets are ours. We are not looking for jail for men; we are not looking for castration for men. We are not looking for men at all” (Ferriter, 2009, p. 443). Other accounts suggest that she also said, “There were no men on this march tonight and that is why nobody was raped” (Ferriter, 2009, p. 443). The “gender war” had begun in earnest and the dichotomous structure of right and wrong, good and bad, innocent and guilty would play themselves out in the politics of sexual violence. Women were essentialized as good; men were essentialized as bad; and children were essentialized as innocent and good, to be protected by women from men.

The notion of power invoked in this thinking rests on the paradigm of power as domination based on force, which conceptualizes power as a possession and power as something that all men have and which they can exercise over women, either explicitly or implicitly (Lancaster & Lumb, 1999, p. 126). However, this view of power, which sees power as institutionalized in gender, while important, neglects to consider any other dimensions of power, (p.117) such as power as relational, power as complex and shifting, power that has an unstable existence, and power that is experienced as a result of autonomy, circumstances, opportunities, and knowledge (Ward, Polaschek, & Beech, 2006, p. 171). Other dimensions of power, such as power that is omnipresent in normative structures that regulate and constrain individual freedom, or power that can create consensus, were also excluded (Foucault, 1991). Fisher (2005, p. 13) argues that what happened at this stage in the evolution of feminist thought was that power as domination was recreated within the feminist movement itself. Women’s experiences were named and made visible as universalizing definitions of what it was to be a woman and proscriptions of what constituted women’s experience began to be applied. Issues of class and race were rendered invisible as women’s experiences were cast as all one and the same.

What can be considered as third-wave feminism has now begun to emerge, this time offering a critique of the metaphors and practices of dominance and power that were evident within the second wave, and offering critique of some of the therapeutic practices that emerged from such thought, in particular in relation to domestic violence and sexual violence interventions and work (Fisher, 2005; Lipchik, 1991; Pence, 1999). Third-wave feminists reject some of the earlier feminist perspectives and are skeptical of theories that posit universal explanations that are not sufficiently “self-critical” (Featherstone & Fawcett, 1994, p. 64). These feminists are concerned with identifying the effects of oppression more broadly, and they challenge the notion of gender and power as being fixed and stable. They challenge the essentializing of gender as comprising sets of attributes and characteristics (such as men are aggressive, women are passive), and they argue that the wide variations in attributes and behaviors within gender identity categories were not given due regard in earlier feminist work, which attached “stable and unitary meanings to them” (Featherstone & Fawcett, 1994, p. 73). Instead, third-wave feminists see gender as relational, with masculinity and femininity constituting each other rather than being distinct and oppositional.

Third-wave feminists emphasize the diversity of men and their experiences, attitudes, circumstances, and beliefs. Discourses that identify all men as bad and unable to control their sexual expression and feelings, and all women as good and virtuous, are rejected as theoretically unsound and politically unhelpful in this feminist analysis (Featherstone & Fawcett, 1994). These scholars take issue with the categorization of all men as potential abusers and argue for more elaborate explanations (Featherstone & Lancaster, 1997). They argue that individuals do not inhabit single identity categories that are determinant of behavior, but rather that individuals are much more complexly positioned in life, in relation to race, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical appearance, fitness, and mental ability. Third-wave feminists dispute the theory that sees sexual abuse as a simple representation of male power over women and children, and they reject the argument that men abuse because they are men, and to demonstrate the power they have over women and children (Lancaster & Lumb, 1999). Featherstone and Lancaster suggest that earlier feminists still have difficulty taking on board the implications of this thinking for understanding the complexities of men’s lives, particularly in relation to debates concerning violence and abuse. “The complexities of acknowledging that a man can be situated in varying ways in relation to the oppressor/oppressed axis, arguably disturbs the symmetry of the dichotomised analyses which have tended to develop” in relation to sexual offenders (Featherstone & Lancaster, 1997, p. 58). Power, like gender, has relational dimensions, and these later feminists question absolute (p.118) notions of power as being in the possession of an individual as only one manifestation of power. Power has other manifestations and dimensions.

More recent feminist works on sexual abuse are also critical of some psychological paradigms of explanation and treatment for being what they see as premised on universalist and overtly rationalist assumptions (Featherstone & Lancaster, 1997, p. 51). They argue instead that approaches that see perpetrators of child sexual abuse as a homogenized mass, rationally exercising power, are obscuring the complexity of actual men’s lives (p. 52). They suggest that therapeutic approaches that are based on views of abusing men as only rational agents, knowing fully what they are doing in all circumstances, usually ignore psychoanalytic and sociological influences on human behavior (p. 53). They argue that within rationalist frameworks, psychoanalytic understandings such as denial, resistance, projection, and repression have continually been dismissed (p. 54).

An important feature of the feminist literature on child sexual abuse is its positioning towards the concept of pedophilia, the term used to refer to men who have sexually abused a child, as described earlier. Feminists (Cowburn & Dominelli, 2001, p. 400; Kelly, 1997, p. 10; Mercer & Simmonds, 2001, p. 171) argue that current constructions of the pedophile in the popular press, as well as in certain medical and legal discourses, serve only to mask the relevance of gender in men’s sexual abuse of women and children. In Kelly’s (1997, p. 10) view, once feminists use the term “the pedophile” they move away from recognizing the gender dimension to sexual abuse, and from recognizing men who abuse as “ordinary men,” and move towards a view of them as “other,” a small minority who are fundamentally different from most men (p. 10). Kelly argues that by conceptualizing men who abuse as pedophiles, attention shifts from the centrality of power to ideas of sexual deviance and pathology. It is her view that the source of the problem of sexual abuse of children lies in the social construction of masculinity, male sexuality, and the family, and the problem does not reside in the realm of “abnormality” (Kelly, 1997, p. 11). Feminists (Cowburn & Dominelli, 2001, p. 401; Kelly, 1997, p. 10; Mercer & Simmonds, 2001, p. 171) also argue that medicalized discourses that focus on the pathology of the offender usually ignore the gendered context of male privilege over women and children. These scholars suggest that discourses that construct men around a polarized dichotomy of “normal” and “deviant,” in which ordinary men are thought to assume the role of protector while the deviants are portrayed as predators, represent an unnecessarily simplistic analysis of gender relations, and of the relations of power and dominance that are at play within the domain of masculinity itself (Cowburn & Dominelli, 2001, p. 4000; Kelly, 1997, p. 11; Mercer & Simmonds, 2001, p. 171).

In the weeks following the publication of the Ryan Report (2009) into abuse of children by members of the religious orders who ran residential facilities for children on behalf of the Irish State, an interesting drawing of swords took place between two senior churchmen and a feminist theologian in Ireland (Condren, 2009). This interchange is important for current discussion because of the feminist dimensions and because of the issues the female theologian raised. As will be discussed later, the Ryan Report made for grim reading regarding the depth and extent of the abuses of children that had occurred in Ireland from the 1940s, and it led to an outpouring of public anger towards the religious orders identified in the report (both male and female) as a very upset and angry Irish public took to the newspapers and the airways to have their voices heard. In the mix were the Archbishop of Dublin and a former Professor of moral theology at the Irish seminary in Maynooth.

(p.119) The Archbishop of Dublin (who was at the time awaiting publication of the Murphy Report into the handling of abuse complaints in his own dioceses, but for the most part referring to a period before he came to office) offered advice to the named religious orders through the pages of the Irish Times (Martin, 2009a). He suggested that they must truly try to answer the question that the Ryan Report had put to them: “What happened that you drifted so far away from your own charism?” He believed that the religious orders owed it to “their good members” to try to answer that question thoroughly, honestly, and in a transparent manner. He advised them that their credibility and the credibility and survival of their charism depended on the honesty with which they went about this soul-searching exercise. The Archbishop also admitted then that he himself had known about abuses in the Irish institutions that cared for children, but that he did nothing (like many of the people of Ireland). However, this admission did not stop the Archbishop from feeling able to give advice to the religious orders through the newspapers.

The former professor of moral theology, who was a student of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, also took to the airwaves. On BBC Northern Ireland’s Sunday Sequence program (June 6, 2009), he referred to the Religious, who were now being severely criticized, as “the dregs of society” who “never had a genuine commitment to celibacy.” This outburst shocked many people in Ireland, and although the retired professor later apologized, in effect the damage was already done. Condren (2009) a feminist theologian herself took to the newspapers, and she didn’t hold back. She suggested that both of these men represented a group of senior clerics who had in effect left “the unwanted, the unfortunate, the orphaned” children to the care of the now-accused institutions, and she was unhappy about what she saw as the men’s abdication of responsibility for the Irish Church in which such abuses could occur. She accused the senior clerical men of “baying for the blood” of those Religious who had given their lives to the care of the children, many of whom society had also rejected.

In relation to the religious sisters who were now under attack, Condren (2009) said that many religious congregations used small whips every week on their own naked flesh as a form of discipline, often under orders from their superiors. She asked the senior clerical men, whom she also referred to as “clerical hand washers,” what effect they thought such practices might have had on the sisters’ self-esteem. She argued that women in Ireland, including the religious women, endured a double, if not a triple, colonization when it came to their lives. She suggested a thin line often divided the religious women and those children in their care, who in different ways were both institutionalized and both abused. Condren asked the two senior clerics, “Did you protest against the teachings of a Church that refused women the right to control their own reproduction?” She challenged the men to have recalled to Ireland those clerics who dissented from Humanae Vitae and who were “silenced, demoted, exiled and impoverished” to the four corners of the world. Noting that most of the institutional abuse was taking place at a time when women were not even admitted to the study of theology, nor were they encouraged to develop theological competence, Condren asked the clerical men, “What chance did the Sisters of Mercy have of reflecting theologically on their vocations in the light of such exclusions?”, something the men were recommending in the light of the Ryan Report.

With these two men now appearing to place a watershed between themselves and the “unfortunate history of Irish Catholicism,” Condren (2009) accused the two men of (p.120) invoking a theology of sacrifice rather than a theology of liberation and of doing what “all the denizens of sacrifice” had done for generations. “You split between good and evil, sacred and profane, holy and damned,” she said. She accused the two men of climbing onto the moral high ground at the expense of generations of women and men, most of whom had generously offered their lives to those whom society had consigned to the margins. Condren said the moral high ground must be seen for what it is: “an escape from taking collective responsibility for the violence that permeated every facet of Irish life.”

Both clerical men took to the airwaves again following the publication of the Murphy Report (2009) (Prime Time, Dec. 1, 2009; Sunday Sequence, Dec. 13, 2009; Twomey, 2009, p. 17), this time to give advice to their Episcopal colleagues who were named in the Murphy Report as having failed to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. Neither man was involved in the handling of abuse complaints himself during the relevant period; the Archbishop of Dublin worked in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps and the former professor of theology lectured in the national seminary in Maynooth.

Masculinities perspectives

The phrase “hegemonic masculinity” was coined almost two decades ago by sociologists who were attempting to address some of the issues raised by feminist theories of patriarchy and related debates over the role of men in bringing about change (Carrigan, Connell, & Lee, 1985). Male sex role theory was seen as a limited one for this task, and role theory was also unable to account for the class (Tolson, 1977) and race bias (bell hooks, 1984) that other scholars were beginning to point to, when power is conceptualized solely in terms of sex difference (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 831). For some time also power and difference were concepts in the gay liberation movement, which developed a sophisticated analysis of the oppression of men, as well as oppression by men (Altman, 1972). The time was ripe for a new way of theorizing manhood, and the idea of a hierarchy of masculinities grew directly out of this matrix of thought. What emerged in the early version of the theory was the idea of hegemonic masculinity as “the pattern of practices (i.e., things done, not just a set of role expectations of an identity) that allowed men’s dominance over women to continue,” but that also allowed some men’s dominance over other men (Connell, 1987; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 832). The term was used, and still is, to distinguish the most honored way of being a man from other subordinated masculinities, which is enacted within the sphere of masculinities itself.

For Connell (1987, 1995), there is more than one form of masculinity, and when one form takes the hegemonic position others are subordinated. This is referred to as the gender order within masculinities (Connell, 1995, pp. 76–78). Although the masculinity in the hegemonic position may not be the most dominant in the statistical sense, it shapes gender practices around men’s expectations of how men should behave (Connell, 1995, p. 77). The problem is that hegemonic masculinities can produce an array of models of admired masculine conduct that do not correspond closely to the lives of actual men, thereby creating contradictions (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 838). These socially available models of masculinities provide models of relations with women and solutions to problems of gender relations. The theory suggests that hegemonic masculinity is not a fixed character type, but it is the masculinity that occupies the hegemonic position in a given pattern of gender (p.121) relations (Connell, 1995, p. 76). However, in the early theory, while class, race, and sexual orientation were seen to affect one’s positioning on the gender league table, and in turn how one’s identity is shaped, the patriarchal dividend, the advantage that men in general gain from the overall subordination of women, was nevertheless assumed to hold its place (pp. 79–80). The theory also suggests the gender order is not fixed and struggles for hegemony can occur, as older forms of masculinity are displaced by new ones, and a more humane, less oppressive means of being a man could become hegemonic. It also suggests that the gender order differs from country to country, culture to culture, and time to time.

In the 20 years that have elapsed since the concept was coined, a vast empirical literature1 has drawn on the framework of hegemonic masculinity to understand men in various aspects of their lives. The concept has also been taken up by sociologists and criminologists in their attempts to understand and explain sexual crime (Messerschmidt, 1993; Newburn & Stanko, 1994). Messerschmidt (1993) argues that a consideration of competing masculinities provides a better explanation of sexual violence than most common accounts, including the feminist critique. There is also growing recognition of the fact that masculinity cannot be studied as a singular gendered identity category (Brod & Kaufman, 1994, pp. 4, 5; Featherstone & Lancaster, 1997, p. 51; Messerschmidt, 1993, p. 64). Not only do race, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical appearance, fitness, and mental ability influence the diversity of men’s experiences and their attitudes and beliefs, but for Messerschmidt they also influence a man’s way of “doing” masculinity. He argues that men use the resources available to them to assert their gender bias and to show they are “manly,” and if the desired masculine outlets are unavailable, crime may become the means for such men to opt for the “gender alternative” (p. 64). “Crime by men is a form of social practice invoked as a resource when other resources are unavailable for accomplishing masculinity” (p. 85). Messerschmidt suggests that by analyzing masculinities, the social scientist begins to understand the socially structured and socially constructed differences among men, and is able to explain why some men engage in crime, including sexual crime.

There is some criticism of the use the term hegemonic masculinity in accounting for crime and violence (Collier, 1998; Martin, 1998). The problem is thought to rest with the negative concept of masculinity that is in play, which by force of a circular argument becomes the explanation and the excuse for the criminal behavior (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 840). Collier (1998) argues that the central problem rests in the fact that hegemonic masculinity theories excludes positive behavior on the part of men, behaviors that might work in the interest of women and children. However, despite the criticisms, Connell and Messerschmidt suggest (2005, p. 841) there is something to be thought about in the relationship between the socially available models of being man and the daily lives of men and boys, including the mismatches, tensions, and resistances. “It is men’s and boy’s practical relationships to collective images or models of masculinity, rather than simple reflections of them, that is central to understanding gendered consequences of violence” (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 841).

While the theory of hegemonic masculinity has endured for more than two decades, recent times have seen some of its features reformulated in the light of scholarly criticism. Retained is the idea that there is a plurality and a hierarchy of masculinities, based on an abundance of research that supports this idea (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 842). Also well supported in the research literature is the idea that the hierarchy of masculinities (p.122) is a pattern of hegemony, not a pattern of simple domination based on force. The research literature also supports the idea that hegemonic masculinity need not be the most common pattern in the lives of boys and men, but rather that hegemony works through the production of exemplars of masculinity (such as sports stars) that act as symbols of the ideal, despite the fact that most men or boys do not live up to them.

Similar to the developments within third-wave feminism, what has been discarded from the original concept of hegemonic masculinity is the idea that all masculinities and femininities can be seen in a single pattern of power that involves the global dominance of men over women (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 846). Instead, what is advocated is a more holistic understanding of the gender hierarchy, recognizing the agency of subordinated groups as much as the power of the dominant groups, and the relationship between them. This reformulation is based on the recommitment to the relational component that is inherent in gender. It also recognizes recent social changes and reconfigurations that are evident in women’s identity and practices, especially among younger women, which are being acknowledged by younger men. The focus is now placed on the mutual conditioning of gender dynamics and on the place of other social dynamics (such as race, class, physical ability, sexual orientation) in configuring the gender hierarchy, rather than on men’s practices per se. What is being reformulated here is a more complex and elaborate understanding of power than the earlier conceptualization of power as domination, located in an individual by virtue of gender. Similar to developments in third-wave feminism, a second form of power, a relational perspective, is being taken into account in understanding gender and power.

A discussion of power

Lukes (2005) offers a typology of power, comprising three dimensions, that suggests a more elaborate understanding of power than the simple unilateral conceptualization of power as domination, that is popular. In the first representation, power shows up as an overt act of coercion and domination and is seen to be an attribute of an individual or group who act coercively, by virtue of their status in the social structure (Lukes, 2005, p. 16). This is the view of power that is widely purported, and it is based on a structural analysis of social life. Such examples of this view of power might be seen in the following statements: “You are powerful because you are a man [gendered inequality] or because you are a bishop [and you are an agent of the Catholic Church, which is a dominant institution in the world].” In this view of power, power resides in the individual and the focus is on behavior.

The second view of power assumes that power lies in relationships and in the dynamic interaction between individuals and situations. The presumption here is that power manifests itself not only in coercion, but also in the suppression of conflict and difference within relationships (Lukes, 2005, p. 20). In a relational view of power the focus is on the functioning “agency” of both parties. This perspective leads to consideration of the dialectics of power involved in relationships. From a relational perspective, he who appears to be in the power position by virtue of social structural arrangements may actually be in the oppressed position when a relational analysis of power is undertaken.

(p.123) The third view of power locates power neither in individuals nor in relationships, but in the prevailing discourses (Lukes, 2005, p. 25). Discourses include both linguistic and institutional dimensions and are not merely abstract ideas or ways of talking. Discourses are intimately connected with the way a society is organized and run (Burr, 1995, p. 55). In this view of power, power is having the means to produce consensus. This view of power, which is based on the tyranny of the norm, obscures vested interests and the power relations that are involved in bringing about or “forcing” a consensus view. This third view of power leads to an interest in the strategies involved in marginalizing and alienating those whose views are seen as not “fitting” the dominant agenda, often by means of shaming, undermining, and excluding. These tactics result in a single discourse taking hold.

All three views of power must be involved in any analysis of a subject as complex as child sexual abuse.

Concluding comments

Aspects of the feminist literature, combined with masculinity studies, have much to offer an analysis of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. By emphasizing power and powerlessness in relation to structured social relations, such as the position of a child relative to an adult, or the position of a child relative to a minister of the Catholic Church, feminists and masculinities scholars have brought the power dimension to a discussion that heretofore may have lacked such an analytical frame. More recent feminist theories and scholarship on masculinities have brought something new to this analysis, especially those aspects that suggest that individuals do not inhabit single categories, such as gender, but are much more complexly positioned in life, in relation to race, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical appearance, fitness, and mental ability. This recent feminist and masculinities literature gives rise to the idea that power relations are rather more complex than might have been originally suggested, when power was conceptualized solely in terms of domination or coercion. Lukes’ typology (2005) helps to elaborate the complexities of power and power relations.

The relevance of Lukes’ typology (2005) for a study of Catholic clergy who have sexually abused minors is that it may not be a simple case of clergy always and everywhere being in the power position, even if they were undoubtedly so in relation to the young people whom they abused. In relation to the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland, the “agency” of the Irish people has been emphasized in Ferriter’s (2009) recent work on the history of Irish sexuality, in which he suggests that the Irish were in part complicit in their own history of “domination” by the Catholic Church. It was not just a case of a dominant Catholic Church, always imposing its will; at times, a combination of social and economic conservatism coalesced with the newly emerging and more powerful Catholic Church in 20th-century Ireland. Power is complex, and that complexity is played out in the clerical perpetrators’ actual lives, particularly in relation to the oppressor/oppressed axis. My way of conceptualizing them is as both powerful and powerless, and it is this constellation and the complexities therein, rather than their power position per se (as men and as ministers of the Church), that is seen to contribute to their sexual offending. This issue is picked up again in Chapter 10.

While early feminist work, which sees perpetrators of sexual abuse as a homogeneous gendered group, rationally exercising power and control in the lives of women and children, acts (p.124) as a reminder of the importance of keeping power and gender in the conceptual frame of analysis, at the same time it fails to help us understand why some men abuse and not others. It also essentializes all men as bad and all women as good, and it blurs women’s power in the game of gender politics. In an important article on power and “the promise of innocent places,” Fisher (2005, p. 12), a philosopher with a background in the arts and in gay politics who now runs a program in Canada for responding to men’s violence against women, makes an illuminating observation: “practices of power work effectively because they promise us something: a productive ‘alternative’ space in life.” His experiences in life and work make him suspicious of the “promise” of “alternative” sites of social justice that are based in binary opposition to sites of “guilt-laden” dominance, because of the assumptions of “innocence” that may be dichotomously cultivated within these alternative sites. In unpacking the meaning of this, and how he came to formulate his thoughts on power and innocence in this manner, Fisher tells how, as a young gay man, he experienced gay men’s culture to be constructed as an “innocent” space of “safety, security and ‘victim-only’ oppression” as he came to terms with his sexuality. However, he argues that the construction of innocence in fact rendered invisible the fact that gay men have personal agency, and also the fact that gay men, just like other individuals who experience oppression in life, can also participate in the exact practices of dominance and power that we often see in larger culture (Fisher, 2004). In Fisher’s experience (2005, p. 13), the construction of gay men’s “victim-only innocence” did not prepare him for his subsequent experiences of gay men’s participation in social practices of power and domination, including sexism, ageism, homophobia, and so on. He includes himself in this description. Fisher’s work suggests that the casting of any one site as a site of victim-only innocence is problematic, (except in relation to child–adult relations), as it does not permit the holders of such victim-only innocent identities to view themselves as having personal agency. This is not to negate the importance of structured relations of power, as in adult–child configurations, nor is it meant to undermine the power relations that can be implicated in other social structures (class, race, gender, physical and mental ability, among others).

By definition children are innocent when it comes to sexual behaviors involving adults, which is defined as child sexual abuse. Fisher’s work (2005, p. 13) does not undermine this claim. Rather, he is drawing our attention to the folly of believing in “innocent spaces” in the politics of social justice, where power relations are always involved, even if they are rendered invisible by appeals to morality or to right action. Power relations and politics are always involved in larger culture. Just as power and power relations are involved in abuse, so too are power and power relations involved in the politics of abuse. The feminist and masculinities perspectives help us consider the operations of power in coming to understand how child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy came to be, how it was managed by the Church leadership, and how the politics of clerical child sexual abuse are being played out in popular culture.

The literature that is reviewed in this chapter also leads me to the conclusion that in relation to child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, clerical masculinity is under-theorized. In my view, by understanding clerical masculinities in the plural, and mapping out the critical distinctions within and between clerical masculinities, we may be able to get closer to understanding why some Catholic clergy sexually abuse minors and why others engage in other kinds of consensual and non-consensual sexual “relationships” while other men live the celibate commitment with integrity. As Sipe (2004) points out, celibacy is a valuable (p.125) part of spiritual life for many individuals, but at the same time forced celibacy as a policy is not unproblematic. By conceptualizing clerical masculinities in the plural I believe a potentially fruitful ground for further research opens up. In Chapter 10 I will develop the contours of an emerging theory in relation to those clerical men who were to become the sexual abuse perpetrators. Before doing so however I will first turn to the narratives of a group of Roman Catholic clerical men who had sexually abused minors and who participated in a research study with me, part of which I report on in the next two chapters. The narratives give the reader a sense of some of the men’s reflections on their lives and on the offenses that they had committed. (p.126)


(1.) See for example Skelton (1993), who used the term to understand teacher strategies and identities among physical education teachers; Messner (1992) and Messner & Sabo (1990), who used the term in their analysis of men and sport; Sabo & Gordon (1995), who used the concepts of hegemonic and subordinated masculinities to help understand men’s health practices and risk-taking sexual behavior; and Barrett (1996), who used the term in his research on the military.