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the other victims

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 22, 2004

Two recent articles (here, and here) on the sordid history of former Palm Beach Bishop Anthony O'Connell discuss his abuse of students while a seminary instructor, rector, and spiritual director, and foreground some under-emphasized aspects of the Crisis.

Though it appears O'Connell used charm rather than threats to seduce his victims, he had the authority -- as rector -- to expel any student on his word alone. Moreover, since he sat on the diocese's personnel board, seminarians knew his power to punish extended well into their future. The combination of explicit carrot and implicit stick -- dangled before the eyes of 13-16 year olds -- was disastrous.

For obvious reasons, most of what has been written about sexual abuse in seminary life centers on those victims who succumbed to seduction. But apart from Rose's Goodbye Good Men, little has been said about the men who raised objections and were expelled as a consequence. In some instances, seminarians rejected straightforward sexual propositions and were tossed out on a spurious pretext. More often, perhaps much more often, some preliminary scouting and screening was done in order to identify potentially cooperative partners. O'Connell's victims, e.g., tell of "counseling" sessions in which they were encouraged to relate their fantasies to him. Who knows how many honest men balked at this first hurdle -- however it may have been rigged in their particular seminaries -- and were dismissed for reasons of stubbornness or rigidity? ("Candidate shows uncooperative, know-it-all attitude toward formation. Unsuitable for ministry.") Bingo. Now he's married and teaching high school English somewhere.

Worse, there must have been seminarians who saw the staff hitting on the vulnerable and good-looking and either were not alarmed, or else kept quiet so as to stay on the career track. When you think of the social justice rhetoric that all but replaced moral theology in most seminaries -- stressing power imbalances, structural inequalities, the exploitation of the weak by the strong, etc. -- you realize that the men were being schooled in a profound moral duplicity, a process of moral self-gelding almost without parallel. They're the guys who learned to get along, the guys with the nice smiles.

If your son were in the seminary, you'd want him to develop into a prayerful and compassionate man, and you'd also want him to respond to a sexual proposition from his superior by breaking his jaw. Yet how many men were likely to pass through the system with both their faith and their manhood intact?

Chances are your parish priest is a nice guy. He can't understand why the commandant of Treblinka should be denied the Eucharist, maybe, but he visits the sick and always remembers anniversaries and pleads for healing. But for every one of these cheerful geldings, I'll wager, there's a (now married) layman whose moral gutsiness caused him to get booted from the seminary or to quit in disgust. That the Weaklands and Ziemanns and O'Connells have despoiled the Church of these men is an injury they, and their serving brethren, have yet to answer for.

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Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: BostonBlackey - May. 23, 2004 5:44 PM ET USA

    In my seminary days there were dozens of stories from my fellow seminarians of instances where they were propositioned by priests (usually in the confessional).

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - May. 22, 2004 11:33 PM ET USA

    Diogenes, And what of Goodbye, Good Priest: The legions of priests who spoke up and were summarily banished to woebegotten parishes in the middle of nowhere, or hounded and harrassed and cutoff from ministry by those with forked tongues? A worthy successor to Michael Rose's book, should he be interested in writing it.

  • Posted by: Mike128 - May. 22, 2004 6:46 PM ET USA

    The victims of those sexual deviates in priest's clothing have surely been in a living hell since their experiences. The fact that most of the deviates have not been punished or disciplined in any way is a crime calling out for justice. The stench of their sins lies like a cloud over the whole Church. In reparation to God the Father and the purity of His Son, Jesus, perhaps a balance can be restored by the practice of chastity of the eyes, minds, and desires to some degree, by us Catholics.

  • Posted by: - May. 22, 2004 6:12 PM ET USA

    Charles: Support for them can and must be provided. Already something is beginning to take shape. Please contact (or have those concerned of whom you are aware contact) [email protected] May our Lord bless this effort !

  • Posted by: - May. 22, 2004 5:22 PM ET USA

    Bravo Dionysius!

  • Posted by: Charles134 - May. 22, 2004 4:45 PM ET USA

    Not everyone who's been booted from the seminary (or two) ends up happily married and gainfully employed. Some wander for years wondering what the hell happened to their vocation and where they should go from there. The "good-bye good men" guys don't just vanish; they're still around and a lot of them are rather shell-shocked. There's very little (by which I of course mean none) support available for this group.

  • Posted by: - May. 22, 2004 2:21 PM ET USA

    RIGHT ON ! If only more would join you in facing the world of reality. Machiavellianism still reigns, but in ways even more subtle. I hear those who call it the "Ghost of the Roman Empire," those who say the heirs of the Borgias are still with us ! Other than organizing a Crusade to liquidate them, what options have we but fasting and prayer ?

  • Posted by: - May. 22, 2004 1:34 PM ET USA

    Eventually the whole truth about Fatima will come out and we will all see that Our Lady predicted the apocalyptic upheavals through which the Church has passed in the last 40 years. We will also see how easy it would have been to avoid all this suffering if men of God would have acted upon unchangeable supernatural principles in the governance of the Church. Instead, by turning to sociology and geopolitics and psychology, truly immense harm has been done to souls.

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