Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

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Since 2002, the Roman Catholic Church has been in crisis over the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the cover-up of those crimes by bishops. Over 11,000 alleged victims have reported their experiences to the Church, and more than 4,700 priests since 1950 have been credibly accused of sexually victimizing minors. The Church has paid over one billion dollars to adults who claim to have been sexually abused by priests and there is no end in sight to these lawsuits.

Celibacy, homosexuality in the priesthood, the infiltration into the priesthood of secular moral relativism, too much liberalism in the Church since Vatican II, damaging rollback of Vatican II reforms by conservative prelates—all have been suggested as causes for the crisis. This book, however, begins with the premise that, because the pattern of abuse and cover-up was so similar across the world, there is something fundamentally awry with Church traditions and power structures in relationship to sexuality and sexual abuse.

Specifically, in chapters on suffering and sadomasochism, bodies and gender, desire and sexuality, celibacy and homosexuality, the author concludes that aspects of the Catholic theology of sexuality set the stage for the abuse of minors and its cover-up. Frawley-O'Dea also analyzes the American bishops' lack of pastoral care and tendency towards clerical narcissism—the belief that the needs of the hierarchy represent the needs of the wider Church—as central factors in the scandal. She balances this criticism with a discussion of the backgrounds of the bishops presiding over the crisis and the challenges they faced in their relationships with the Pope and Vatican officials.

Drawing on twenty years of clinical experience, she imagines the dynamics of sexual abuse both from the victim's point of view and from the priest's, and she probes why the Church hierarchy, fellow priests, and lay people were silent for so long. Finally, Frawley-O'Dea examines factors internal to the Church and outside of it that drew this scandal into the public square and kept it there.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dr. Fraley-O'Dea is social scientist, concerned with what happened, why it happened and what the consequences are and she presents her findings dispassionately, clearly and with the solid support of extensive scholarly research. The results are of value to professionals as well as laypersons and should be of particular interest to Catholics and to those charged with the welfare of children."
Out in Jersey

"...a must read".
Sex Roles

"In this excellent and passionate discourse, Frawley-O'Dea faces head on each of the fundamental sense of perversion as they apply to the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy...Frawley-O'Dea has produced a fair, broad, well-supported, passionate work. Those involved in the treatment of sexual abuse victims may find parts of Perversion of Power a useful learning experience. More generally, anyone concerned with healthy religious behavior and belief, genuine human spirituality, and religious reform will find the book a worthwhile read." - PsycCRITIQUES

"Frawley-O'Dea . . . argues that Catholic theology and doctrine . . . may have set the stage for the abuse. This is important reading . . . Essential. "

"Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist who has worked with victims of sexual abuse, examines the Catholic clergy sexual-abuse crisis in this well-documented compendium that incorporates her analysis of what went wrong. "
Publishers Weekly

"The book is well-documented and researched as well as provocative and challenging. Although readers may not agree with all Frawley-O'Dea's conclusions, nevertheless the book must be classified as a must-read for church leaders and the hierarchy."
—Newsletter of the National Federation of Priests' Councils

Publishers Weekly

Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist who has worked with victims of sexual abuse, examines the Catholic clergy's sexual abuse crisis in this well-documented compendium that incorporates her analysis of what went wrong. The co-author of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abusespeaks both as a professional and as a Catholic whose relationship with the church was affected by the crisis. She now attends an Episcopal church.) Contributing factors she identifies include Catholic teachings about the status of bishops and acceptable sexual behaviors, the church's tendency to valorize suffering and its dualistic view of body and soul. Controversially, she also points to what she calls "the Irish Factor," noting that over half the hierarchy were of Irish heritage and thus "freighted with the status insecurities and sexual repressiveness endemic to that culture," leaving them "psychosocially unprepared" to confront the problem. Yet as the only mental health professional to speak to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the 2002 meeting where the crisis was first discussed significantly, Frawley-O'Dea believes that the zero-tolerance policy for any priest credibly accused of sexual misconduct was, in hindsight, "unpastoral." She warns that improvements to screening future priests will not eliminate abuse and urges Catholics to remain vigilant in holding their leaders accountable. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826515476
  • Publisher: Vanderbilt Univ Pr
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist, was the only mental health professional to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their seminal 2002 Dallas meeting on the sexual abuse crisis, and she was one of the clinicians speaking about sexual abuse to the Conference of Major Superiors of Men that year. Frawley-O'Dea is co-author of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and co-editor of Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims. She is the former Executive Director of the Trauma Treatment Center at the Manhattan Institute of Psychoanalysis.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2012

    Want to read this book.

    I just completed 'Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church.' It was an often too vivid, but real account of crimes/abuse of Children by priests in the Catholic, and other, Churches too. The public should be aware of these crimes because they permeate our culture where ever children or vulnerable adults gather. Not just in churches. Now I must read Perversion of Power too. So sad that this occurred but the authors document WHY it happened. But most of the criminals went free and often live on monthly stipends from their church. And they live in the public. Public Beware- for the protection of children.

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  • Posted August 31, 2009

    Its the best book for anyone interesting in understanding the issue of sexual abuse of children by people who they trust.

    I have read most texts or books which discuss the sexual abuse of children either by clergy or educators. Some are helpful some are essential, this is the latter. The author writes in an interesting manner but it is obvious she is an academic, and her credentials bear this our. She makes the book relevant to these times because she is not afraid to use the language necessary to get a point across. Like other books written in this field it is painful at times to read what happened to many children and how the institutions responsible for their safety tried to either minimize the harm done, hide it, or even try to blame the children or their parents. This is necessary reading for teachers especially since they are the persons most in contact with these vulnerable individuals. It can also help those who are asked to attempt to provide justice to those harmed, such as lawyers, the courts and the politicians.

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