Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Elinor Kapp, I think the old canard is all yours

Someone called Elinor Kapp taking umbrage at Ruth Gledhill's reasoned and reasonable analysis of the Church's response to sex abuse in the past, opined thusly in a letter published in Monday's Times:

Sir, I was deeply saddened by your article “Paedophile priest sent for therapy by Pope was allowed to carry on working” (Mar 13) and particularly by Ruth Gledhill’s repetition in her analysis of the old canard that in 1980 “What is often forgotten is how little was known of paedophilia”. On the contrary, within the children’s professions by that time we all knew that the majority of abusers would manipulate in whatever way they could do to deny wrongdoing and continue their behaviour. It was also made clear that all cases known to professionals must be reported to the authorities, to avoid exactly the collusion that tragically appears to continue to operate in the Roman Catholic Church.
Elinor Kapp
Child psychiatrist

I'll give Elinor Kapp the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she expressed her views in genuine ignorance of the historical record. Maybe she is unaware of the debate around decriminalising, indeed destigmatising adult-child sexual relationships in such prominent pillars of the liberal establishment as the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) now Liberty in the 70s and early 80s.

In contrast to her assertions, that by 1980, "within the children's professions we all knew that the majority of abusers would manipulate in whatever way they could," Philip Jenkins, in his magisterial work, Pedophiles and Priests cites a revealing letter published in the New York Times in 1993:

'A decade or so ago, the state of the art on incest was limited to the work of a half-dozen professionals ... who bravely researched and treated and pondered the forbidden ancient tabloo. Enlightened treatment for victims was limited to a few women therapists. The courts, presided over by male judges, coddled perpetrators. The police, disbelieving and demeaning, further damaged victims.'

Jenkins commented:

This exaggerates the suddenness of the change and there were far more than half a dozen professionals by 1980 but developments were rapid. The first signs of reviving concern appeared in 1977, with congressional hearings on the 'sexual exploitation of children' through abuse, prostitution and pronography ... It was about 1980 that a causal link was asserted to exist between childhood sexual abuse and multiple-personality disorder in later life, a linkage that emphasised still more sharply the devastating effects of childhood trauma; 1980 also brought the first published account of ritual child abuse."

Something also needs to be said about Kapp's suggestion that collusion in sex-abuse "appears to continue to operate in the Roman Catholic Church."

In point of fact, ever since the Bishops Conference of England and Wales and Conference of Religious accepted the recommendations of the Nolan Report in 2001, the Catholic Church in England and Wales has had some of the toughest child protection standards around. Any priest accused of sexual impropriety with a a minor is immediately put on administrative leave and the statutory authorities are notified of the allegations. So unbendingly strict is her approach to child welfare that as this 2002 piece by Tara Holmes points out, some experts have voiced concerns that the Church's child welfare policies are in breach of canon law.

Father Francis Marsden, a theologian and leading newspaper commentator in the United Kingdom, is adamant that procedures outlined in the Nolan Report violate both canon law and natural justice. He argues that the Catholic hierarchy is now "overcompensating" for past failures in its handling of pedophile priests. Father Marsen says:

The Nolan Report has recommended a process that does't follow canonical norms. The process of investigation has to fit in with canon law. But in the present climate, a priest is guilty until he's proved innocent.
Father Marsden's comments follow a case in his own Liverpool archdiocese in which a priest was removed from his parish without warning by the vicar general and child protection officers. The accused cleric was returned to his parish a month later after the allegations turned out to be false. His family was so outraged by his treatment that they threatened to sue the archdiocese for damages, and even to take their case before the European Court of Human Rights.
In a sharply worded attack on the new policies, which appeared in his regular weekly Catholic Times column, Father Marsden said: "We all want to stamp out child abuse, but the pendulum has swung too far. The bishops and COPCA need to work out protocols which protect all innocent parties, priests included."

Father Marsden argued that the Nolan committee had "zero authority to make laws for priests." He explained:
Only the Holy See has the right to alter canon law. Nolan's guidelines have only the authority of a local bishop who chooses to introduce them into his diocese. Where Nolan's rules clash with canon law, the bishop is acting ultra vires--illegally--should he attempt to apply them. A priest who knows his rights can simply refuse to comply with illegal demands.
Father Marsden said the Code of Canon Law contained "nothing about 'immediate administrative leave.'" He also observed: "Although neutral in theory, Nolan-style 'administrative leave' can in practice destroy a priest's reputation and apostolate."
Father Marsen argued:
No diocesan official or child-protection officer has any right to arrive unannounced and order a parish priest out of his presbytery. The processes which must be followed in such cases are laid down in the Code of Canon Law, in the Penal Process section (1717-31).

I don't know whether these procedures have been subject to change since Holmes' piece was published - in 2007 the Church appointed yet another independent commission to look into child protections policies chaired by Baroness Cumberledge and in fairness Cumberledge recognised the difficulties between Nolan on the one hand and canon law on the other - but the case of the Liverpool priest dovetails with a similar case I have heard about which took place in London a few years ago. There too, the priest was summarily whisked away from his pastoral duties and put on administrative leave while a police enquiry took place over a period of months resulting in his being totally exonerated and a much lengthier Church investigation was carried out. When he was finally returned to his parish without a stain on his name, his parishioners, who felt he'd been unfairly treated, welcomed him back with a standing ovation.

So from whence comes Elinor Kapp's notion that the Church appears still to be colluding with child abuse? It must refer to Richard Owen's story in The Times about Father "H" and reports of child abuse allegations in religious run schools in Germany. She appears to have confused accounts of historical abuse with contemporary incidences of clerical malfeasance and accusations with convictions. She is by no means the only person to have done so. Cynical opportunists have done such a thorough job of smearing the Church, that any attempt to shine the torch of reason on this complicated subject typically results in charges of excuses being made and other people being blamed for the Church's dirty deeds. One must allow for the possibility that one is just another useful idiot. On the other hand, maybe just maybe the Whore of Babylon is such a convincing pantomime villain in the popular imagination that its one people find it impossible to discard.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Times has been a disgrace lately, but then it's always been anti-Catholic. And while I don't mind Ruthie Gledhill, she really needs to cut down on the coffee. Especially when she gets a press release from Titus Oates - they're caffeinated enough already.

3/17/2010 6:29 AM  
Blogger Fr Ray Blake said...

Another issue Kapp doesn't grasp of course was the Freudianism of most psychologists, at them time, which tended see children as already sexualised, guilt ridden, hysterics, full of repressed fantasies who couldn't be trusted to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

It is only with the sidelining of his views that victims are taken seriously.

3/17/2010 4:13 PM  
Blogger Elinor said...

I am sorry to have upset people so much, but I stand by my comments. In the 70's and 80's I was working as a very ordinary child psychiatrist, outside London. I and my colleagues worked increasingly closely with the police and Social Services, steadily learning more about the problems of identifying and dealing with cases of Child sexual abuse and the Church could have had advice if they had chosen to seek it. Red Maria is right that procedures were put in place by the Catholic Church in England later on and of course that is a good thing. It did not seem that this was taken on board by the Vatican and it becomes apparent that neither the previous, nor the present Pope revisited the earlier cases, as they could have done when increased knowledge became available about the intractable nature of paedophilia. In Ireland and Europe the hierarchy have continued to block pastoral care and justice for the victims, until the recent events have blown it all open. So, no Maria, I do not see this as an evil plot by atheists and protestants to smear the church and nor do the Catholic friends with whom I have discussed the matter. Freudian psycho dynamics played a part in problems of recognition of sexual abuse by some psychoanalysts, but mainstream child psychiatry is not so much in thrall to Freud as, for example, the USA. elinor kapp.

4/24/2010 12:02 PM  

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