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In midst of scandal, nuanced book yet to come

by William J. Bausch
Twenty-Third Publications, 113 Pages, $10.95


Breaking Trust is a flawed book written last Holy Week, before the sexual misconduct scandal had run its course. It has 12 chapters plus two appendices and a postscript. The last three chapters were added when further developments and the U.S. bishops’ Dallas meetings made the additions necessary.

Fr. William Bausch is a church historian and prolific author. The first two chapters capably summarize the early history of the scandal. The next two chapters reflect on the consequences of the scandal for the church and offer some mitigating considerations. They are complete, but little more than extended lists. Chapter Five clarifies the difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia ably enough, but then things get muddy.

Pedophilia is called a disease, but not treated as such in the remainder of the book. Adolescent abuse is judged to have “less impact” than child abuse. An adolescent victim perhaps would not agree with that notion.

Though Bausch writes that he is making precise what is included in the term sexual abuse, in fact the term covers sexual misconduct broadly throughout the book. The next two chapters offer contextual background about other churches, worldwide sexual abuse, abuse by women and the connection between abuse and homosexuality. This latter connection Bausch draws rather too tightly.

The book comes to a crescendo in Chapter Eight with Bausch’s calling for optional celibacy. Bausch writes that some 20,000 heterosexual priests left the church in the late 1960s and 1970s, so now the church is out of balance, with the gays increasingly dominating the clergy.

Married priests would meet the peoples’ rights to the sacraments, ease the burden of today’s overworked celibates, lessen the percentage of homosexuals among the ordained and decrease abuse of males. Though this line of reasoning is less than compelling, it is surprising that nothing is said about the ordination of women. Chapter Nine is a somewhat maudlin Holy Week reflection that might better have remained private. In the last three chapters Bausch takes the bishops on briefly but bluntly, then proclaims that the laity are galvanized for action. The laity’s holiness and calls for accountability, transparency and change will reshape the church’s future, he asserts.

The appendices deepen previous material. The postscript summarizes the Dallas meeting.

I admire Bausch’s courage, but wonder, given our bishops and the curia, if his sense of the future isn’t a little too sunny.

He offers a competent summary of the sexual misconduct scandal and the wide array of issues surrounding it. The book’s value lies in having all that material in one place. He also grasps well the church’s political scene. The book suffers, however, from its being conceived as a study guide and from its being written and published too early.

Human sexuality is a sacred reality, and an emotionally charged one as well. Sexual abuse is even more so. The same is true of church life, as well as moral and administrative irresponsibility within it. The questions at the end of each chapter tend to trivialize all of it. While they would lead a discussion group to summarize the material and express opinions, the questions implicitly make light of the sacredness and emotional charge of the subject matter. Discussions would surface intense feelings, but neither the questions nor the material offer adequate guidance or direction for the depth and breadth of feelings a discussion of them would surface. A moderator with these questions would have very full hands indeed, and discussion participants inevitably would be left with disappointed expectations.

Segments of this book would have been written differently if, for instance, Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s story or the amazing complexity of sordid tales we continue to hear had occurred before it was written. For its impressive breadth, the material suffers as well from lack of reflection. To compare repeatedly the sexual abuser with the alcohol abuser could be read as insensitive. Then, after that, to compare the sexual abuser to Judas -- twice -- could be read as more insensitive still. Is pedophilia a disease or is it not? We have far more yet to learn about the implications of that before we can presume judgment.

The book also reads as if Bausch was struggling with his own mixed feelings of betrayal by brother priests and compassion for them. We are usually better at writing about something when we are not in the middle of it, but have already passed through. The book would have improved all-around from more time and reflection.

If one is looking for a decent summary of the early events and issues around the sexual misconduct scandal, Bausch’s book is worth having as a reference. I strongly suspect, however, that more complete work, with greater nuance, will be forthcoming, perhaps even from Bausch.

Fr. Michael Papesh is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in St. Paul, Minn.

National Catholic Reporter, September 6, 2002