To the editors:

The May 24 issue of the Reader headlined “The Sins of the Fathers” regarding “Pedophilia in the Priesthood” is an indication of the dysfunctional systems model operating in the institutional Roman Catholic Church, especially regarding issues of intimacy and human sexuality. I fear, though, that the plea and challenge your article presents will go unanswered and unheeded by the institutional Church.

It seems to me that the issue is not pedophilia so much as it is one of incest. Pedophilia may be the conditional disposition of some individuals, but when this disposition is inflicted upon a child or children over whom the pedophile is in a position of trusted caretaker, the issue needs to be addressed as incest.

The Church keeps telling us that we are a family, and incest in a family is usually an indication of a deeper problem. A profile of an incestuous family might exhibit this family dynamic: poor communication patterns, unhealthy alliances, inadequate methods of handling conflict, dependency, and an inability to deal with sexual issues and intimacy. In my experience, this profile mirrors the Church very clearly, and just as clear is the evidence that it has not shown itself adequate in dealing with these dysfunctions.

The Church can choose either to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution, but by its stance of silence, it has indicated a preference to continue to be part of the problem. Our children have the right to expect more from us than that.

Most experts agree that the best way to help incest victims is to deal with the situation as soon as possible after it occurs and, if the perpetrator is an immediate family member, to get professional help for the abuser as well as for the abused. Since most incest victims have poor self-images, hold themselves somehow responsible for the abuse and cannot understand how a loving God could allow this to happen to them, the Church has a responsibility to help them process and integrate this experience into their ongoing spiritual journey. This means shedding the dualism of separating body and spirit and dealing with the whole human dimension.

It may be that within the institutional structure the abuser is as much a victim of this dysfunctional system as are the abused. The Church may have removed the abuser from the situation where the abuse occurred, but by remaining silent on this issue, the Church is perpetuating the emotional abuse and keeping those it has abused in the role of victim rather than enabling them to become survivors–for this we must be held accountable.

Twelve-step programs abound for various addictions, maybe one should be developed for the Church in order to facilitate its recovery from the dysfunctional family system out of which it operates. When so many addictions exist in a family (so many priests are alcoholics, workaholics, sex addicts–the list goes on) it is time we all took notice and addressed the root issues causing these multiple addictions. We, the laity, are not completely blameless either; we have been the caretakers, the enablers of the addictive system, thereby allowing the soil to grow fertile for the illnesses which have grown up around us. We are, after all, only as sick as our secrets.

If something is not done soon, those of us who want to be in healthy relationships will have to seriously evaluate whether or not we need to sever our relationship with an institutional Church, which perpetuates so much dysfunction. I suspect that this is already happening at a grass-roots level where small base communities are forming in order to be church.

Linda E. Dunn