Over the last week, I’ve been reviewing Marie Keenan’s book, Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church (Oxford University Press, 2012).
I’ve been surprised that her book has not received greater attention since its publication, given the obvious relevance of the topic. I think it deserves to be widely read – by Christians who are dismayed by the abuse, the general public, and those in leadership in the church.
Fr Charlie Burrows, an Irish priest with Oblate Mission Development based in Chilachap on Java’s southern coast, read my reviews with interest and has ordered a copy of the book to be delivered to him in Indonesia.
Fr Burrows was featured in a 2011 Would you Believe documentary on RTE, which focused on his four decades of service helping to create a sustainable development programme which has included building roads, dykes, schools, a maritime academy, and establishing banks.
In an email (reproduced here with his permission), Fr Burrows shared with me some of his reflections on seminary training, which Keenan examined and critiqued in considerable detail (see part 3 of my book review).
For instance, Keenan considers Irish seminaries “total institutions” which (p. 50):
“ … set the tone for clerical life which included silence and denial, an atmosphere of deference and submission, and an environment in which conflict and emotion were permitted to find expression only in covert ways.”
Further, Keenan outlined features of seminary life that seem “more enduring” (p. 147):
“ … women portrayed as temptress; few laypeople involved in the training; homosexuality carefully monitored; child sexual abuse never mentioned until the late 1990s; little real preparation for the complexities involved in establishing a healthy emotional life within the context of establishing and maintaining professional boundaries. “The Blessed Virgin Mary and prayer were to be the focus of female intimacy.” Hobbies and interests were encouraged to deal with loneliness, as were involvement in priestly fellowships and brotherhood, prayer retreats, class reunions, and spiritual direction. The men were encouraged to be honest with their spiritual directors, but the consensus view was that sexuality was not a comfortable topic of conversation.”
In his response, Fr Burrows had this to say:
Here (in Indonesia) I strongly oppose setting up Junior Seminaries.
I strongly advise parents to keep children in their homes until they have finished Senior High School i.e. ± 18 years of age as God – who is all knowing – made the family to be the best place to raise children. We have 9 Senior High Schools in the Parish to facilitate this (with ± 3000 students – 90% of whom are Muslim and attend Muslim Religion classes in School).
I give you a story.
Nearly 50 years ago we got an “Enlightened” Superior in the Seminary. One of his many statements was: “In an all male community, where there is no female presence, males become coarse and impolite”.
So to “uncoarsen” us he organized debates with trainee nurses in a Nursing School.
After the debate they put on tea and biscuits and animated conversation between trainee nurses and seminarians ensued.
At 9.00 pm the Superior, who also drove the minibus, announced it was time to return to the seminary and he returned alone to the minibus and waited ± 20 minutes. He then returned to the meeting hall and again announced it was time to leave. He again returned alone to the minibus and waited. This time he waited only 15 minutes, when he returned to the meeting hall and rather “coarsely” herded us down to the minibus.
On the way home, I affirmed that his belief that the absence of the “Female” made for coarseness in the male was very true. And if he had taken the opportunity to discourse with a “Female” he would have been more “Polite” in “escorting” us back to the minibus!
As he had calmed down by this stage, and had a sense of humor, he had a good laugh. After all, I had proved his point to be “correct”.
I believe that the absence of the “Female” in seminarians’ development and training is still severely lacking.
Read More …
Other Guest Posts by Fr Charlie Burrows
Reviews of Marie Keenan’s Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church