“The church is facing a crisis that it hasn’t faced perhaps since the Middle Ages”

Pastors in Marin County meet with parishioners over latest abuse scandal developments

St. Anselm parishioners (image: Christina Gray/ Catholic San Francisco)

In Marin County, the pastors of St. Anselm Parish in Ross and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mill Valley sensed that communication and community were needed in the days following the Pennsylvania grand jury report that lifted the veil on seven decades of child sex abuse.

They invited parishioners to separate group “listening sessions.” Catholic San Francisco sat in on one of them at the St. Anselm parish hall in Ross Aug. 29.

For two hours, about 25 parishioners including the pastor candidly shared feelings and theories about why the church they love is in crisis again and about what, if anything, they might be able to do about it.

This was a “call to arms” for laity who believe they might be able to help “save the church,” said pastoral council chair Joan Mann Thomas.

“The church is facing a crisis that it hasn’t faced perhaps since the Middle Ages,” she said. “The outcome could be very much the same if the laity does not react,” she said.

The format for the gathering was unstructured and unmoderated except for an opening prayer and statement by Father Jose Shaji, St. Anselm pastor, and two readings, including a passage from Psalm 37.

Initially, talk centered on identifying the “root cause” of child sex abuse among clergy.

“Why this happened, there are a lot of theories on this, but I think we’re afraid to call it by its name,” said Mann Thomas. “There are sexual predators in every institution in the land. We just seem to have an overabundance of them.”

One man wondered whether normal sexual development was stunted by those who entered the seminary at a young age and formed by others with the same lack of development. Another believed the problem was “all the homosexuals in the priesthood.”

“I don’t have any facts and figures to base this on,” said Joe Burke, “but there are obviously, I mean I think, many gays in the priesthood and that is one of the main underlying causes if not the cause of the problems of abuse.”

“I disagree with what Joe said,” said Arleen Hansen, turning to face him. “I have a gay son and he is not a pedophile.” 

The hazards of priesthood celibacy and clericalism were also considered, and Father Shaji, a priest for 26 years, offered a personal perspective.

“When you come out of the seminary, you believe that you are superior to everyone else,” he said. ‘I am a priest, I am consecrated, I am above you.’ This can give you a feeling that nothing and nobody can touch you.”

He said he also believes the priesthood can be attractive to people who are “not comfortable in the world” for a number of reasons. “I don’t know how to put it, but some people come to hide in the priesthood,” he said.

A visiting priest from Africa who is a student at the nearby San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo said the media was “bombarding” people with news about abuse in the Catholic Church that he felt was out of proportion to reality.

“I was shocked to find that it is just 1 percent of priests who have this issue,” he said, calling media saturation of the sex abuse scandal, “the activity of the evil spirit trying to destroy the church.”

Father Shaji mentioned the late Richard Sipe, a former Catholic priest whose studies of the sexual behavior of Catholic clergy were referenced in the movie “Spotlight.” Sipe concluded that between 6 percent and 9 percent of clergy have been sexually involved with minors and that only about half of priests are celibate. Other studies dispute this figures.

In 2002, the U.S. bishops commissioned a comprehensive study of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and deacons across the country. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice report published two years later covered a 55-year period between 1950 and 2005. It reported abuse rates among clergy in the range of 3 percent to 6 percent.

According to Father Shaji, it was Sipe who linked the failures of celibacy among church leaders to a system of secrecy and hypocrisy in which the abuse of minors could take place.

Catholic San Francisco spoke to Father Pat Michaels after he invited his parishioners to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish hall in Mill Valley on Aug. 27 for the same purpose. More than 35 parishioners took him up on it.

“One of the things that really came out of this is how powerless people feel,” he said. Participants spoke about struggling with the idea of leaving the church, or about “sending a message” to bishops by withholding financial support, “all efforts that demonstrate whatever power we think we have.”

An Aug. 17 letter from Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone asking the faithful to share in “acts of reparation” for the sins of the church was largely lost on the group, said Father Michaels, even making some angry.

“Many Catholic adults don’t understand that Jesus suffered and died for us and that suffering for the sake of each other’s sins is a part of our tradition,” he said. Only one person in the group beside himself knew that and “she is a convert.”

Full story at Catholic San Francisco.


  1. As bad as the abuse of children is, in my opinion, the REAL CRIME is the Bishops’ cover-up for the so called ‘good of the Church.’ That cover-up is what has so many laity incensed and having little confidence in the current Bishops as a group.
    Are there any reliable sources on what percentage of priest predators are homosexual? The figure of six percent of priests as predators seems to cover all predators, not subdivided by sexual orientation.

    • Mike M, I think it is important to keep the story straight. The number of homosexuals in the priesthood is not related to most of the instances of child abuse by priests. Those who commit the crimes against young boys, about 80% vs. young girls are not gays but have other psychological sicknesses. We need to keep the two issues separate in order to have a serious discussion. Homosexual priests are one issue and priest who prey on young men and women is another, at least according to the research I’ve read.

      • Remove the wool covering your eyes, Bob. The problem is homosexual priests. THe problem is homosexuality. What you’ve read has been propaganda, not research. Homosexuality itself is a problem, not neutral. As if homosexuality is okay but pedophilia isn’t. And it wasn’t pedophilia, anyway, it was ephebophilia, which is clearly homosexual because the targets being groomed were post-pubescent males.

        • St. Christopher says:

          “Bob One”: You could not be more incorrect. The problem in the Catholic Church is a large homosexual clergy, a clergy that has been welcomed, encouraged, nurtured, and protected. Are all homo-clerics predators of young boys? No, but all predators of young boys are homosexual.

          And, forget the issue with “preying on young girls.” This is a canard that is not the true issue at all. Certainly the Church, and other religious entities, too, have had sexual crimes throughout the centuries. However, in the Catholic Church, the issue to be confronted is homosexuality.

      • Steve Seitz says:

        Bob One,
        Can you please cite your sources.

    • Even if you assume that “male victim+homosexual predator” that data is not available. Here is the best I could find for you:
      19% of those who abused more than once abused only males between ages 13-18.
      Most of the priests had only one incident. I cannot find the data on those.
      It is complicated by those who abused both children and teens and by those who abused both male and female.
      Another complication is that 3% of the priests abused 26% of the victims. You could probably contact the John Jay institute to the data that they were working with. I cannot find it online.

  2. St. Christopher says:

    “mike m”: the “true” issue of faithlessness in the Church is its large homosexual clergy. Homosexual clergy equates to a good number that practice sex and a large number that lust after young boys. The cover-up is very bad, but secondary. Forget the issue of who is and is not a “predator.” The issue is homosexuality and its attempted acclamation by homosexualists within the Church. Fortunately, normal Catholics see right through this as God’s Natural Law is written on their hearts. Much literature exists that more than 50% of Catholic priests in the USA are/were homosexuals.

  3. Many of these people are founders or part of the MOC (Marin Organizing Committee), a community organizing group. It is reflective in separate “listening sessions” and “sharing their feelings”. Their many comments about the “child” sex abuse crisis are not supported by the evidence of the John Jay Report of 2002, which surfaced that 81+% of all the cases were due to homosexuality. The bishops told the investigators “to review the data — the homosexual issue could not be reported”. Guidelines were established for priests. Bishops, at their request were to be exempt…

  4. Bob One I am trying to keep the issues separate. However, I have not seen a reliable source which says, of the 6% of priests who are predators, what portion are heterosexual.

    • mike m. the survey given to the diocese about an incident does not include a question on the sexual identity of the priest.
      Many assume that if a priest had a male victim, he is homosexual and that is not necessarily the case.
      Abuse is about power not sex.
      I see no reports where the data is analyzed according to how what percentage of identify as heterosexual. The only data I can find is that 5% of the priests abused female teens exclusively. I cannot find data on what percentage abused only female children. This data is for those who had more than 1 allegation. The majority of priests only had 1 allegation.
      When data is combined to make statistics in reports, information is lost.
      I have not found the raw data online.

      • mike m, I tried bishop-accountability website but did not find it there either. The first account on its website is a female who was victimized by 7 different priests. I have heard of males being abused by more than one priest as well.
        Analyzing what is on their website would not tell you the sexual identity of the perps but you could go through and count how many priests molested girls vs boys vs girls and boys. It’s accuracy will not be great, though.
        Maybe when dioceses release files, a college research team will analyze it.

  5. “The church is facing a crisis that it hasn’t faced perhaps since the Middle Ages,”

    Welcome to 50 years ago.

    • It is a “crisis” manufactured by the media.

      • Anonymous @ 10:27am – when thousands of victims come forward and billions are paid out – uh yeah, that’s a crisis. The secular media will be free to do the job the hierarchy has been unwilling to do, get the facts and name names. They will enjoy perhaps a little too much, the black eyes to the Church, but the predators must be held to account.

        Would that this whole saga truly be fake news, but alas, sadly it is not.

  6. I remember reading a well-researched article in the LA Times back in 1981 about how the rampant “gay plague” had claimed hundreds of victims. The article stated that the vast majority of the victims were … wait for it … Catholic priests! I remember immediately grasping the implication: the Church had been struck in Her very Heart. It must have been a deliberate infiltration that began decades earlier … pure demonic genius.

    Fast-forward to the early 2000s crisis and the resulting “safe parish” initiatives. The sodomists were still busy destroying Christ’s Bride from within.

    Now today, 50+ years and counting. Nothing has changed.

  7. Linda Maria says:

    I read “Good-bye, Good Men,” by Michael S. Rose, several times. Plus– I think there are far too many problems since Vatican II– and lack of clear and correct catechesis, and daily correct practice of the Faith!

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