JEROME REILLY - Ireland Sunday Independent
A LEADING campaigner on sexual abuse of adult women by the clergy says she has been contacted by ten women from the Republic including a nun who were sexually exploited by their priests.
And Margaret Kennedy says what is portrayed as an "affair" between women and their priests is often just sexual exploitation and misconduct by a clergyman in a position of power over a vulnerable parishioner. It's nothing like the cosy love affair depicted in the 1983 melodrama The Thorn Birds where a young woman has a passionate relationship with a young Catholic priest played by Richard Chamberlain. The sexual exploitation often happens to women in distress, suffering from depression or facing some crisis in their lives who go to their priest for help or seeking spiritual direction.
"Other women have been attacked, grabbed, kissed or fondled without consent. Some women were in the parish, not seeking individual help, but the priest simply honed in on them for special attention," she says Ms Kennedy has spent more than six years researching her PhD "Clergy sexual exploitation and abuse of adult women". The interdenominational study looked at 56 cases, including 25 by Catholic priests, 25 by Anglican priests and the remainder from other denominations.
Ms Kennedy, who is Irish, says the 10 women from the Republic were among more than 200 who have subsequently contacted her since she founded MACSAS - Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors UK. She says that in reality these women are "clients" of the priest like all people in a congregation and the priest is the "professional" person. Professionals have no business engaging their clients in any sexual activity. This is sexual misconduct, not an affair, not love.
"Women often feel loved, even feel 'in love', but the basis of the relationship invariably is exploitation. It is quite bizarre that bishops call this misconduct an 'affair' and often ignore the breach of celibacy. Nothing seems to happen to these priests, they are moved to another parish to decimate more women's lives."
She has identified a complex repertoire of tactics used by the clergy to get sex.
"One of the methods is therapeutic deception; making the woman believe sexual contact is curative for their distress, such contact is usually gradual and insidious. This ploy is often used where the woman is abused in childhood. In fact, many of these victims have been abused in childhood or came from emotionally arid homes or marriages and are very vulnerable in the presence of a god-like priest."
Ms Kennedy says that in one case, an Irish nun was told she needed to become sexually mature. The priest simply dropped his trousers to "teach" her (sic) about male genitalia and she was made to hold the penis of her spiritual director who added, 'you may feel you want to be raped. The nun was frozen with fear and powerlessness. She simply obeyed."
Usually the approach is more subtle. "They say things like: 'I will help you trust men again', 'I cannot harm, I am a man of God', or 'if you can do it with me you will get better' and so on," she says. Another trick is spiritual deception; making the woman believe sex is a gift from God. "The clergyman says: 'God wants it to happen, God allows it, God told him to do it', etc.