Trapped In a Closed World: Catholic Culture and Sexual Abuse

Author Kevin Peoples

was banned from sale in Victoria because of suppression orders forbidding comment on Cardinal George Pell. Although Trapped is not a book about Pell, he features significantly in chapters relating to his time in Ballarat as a seminarian and later as a young priest and consultor to the then Bishop, Ronald Mulkearns, who moved one of Australia’s most notorious paedophile priests, Father Gerald Ridsdale, from one parish to another while Pell was a consultor.

Trapped is both a public and personal story. It explores the multifaceted causes of individual clerical sexual abuse plus the Church cover-up driven by the Vatican. Trapped argues such failures are due to systemic cultural failures. The author’s personal experiences as a trainee priest dramatize the inadequate medievalist formation he and his fellow seminarians received in the 1960s and which he argues is one of the causes of clerical sexual abuse.

The clerical God the author, Kevin Peoples, first met in the in the isolated foothills of the Blue Mountains lived somewhere in space. A selfish God, aloof and cold, judgmental and petty, male and misogynist, this clerical God sought the author’s love to the exclusion of all other loves. Kevin demonstrated his love for this patriarchal God by obeying rules devised by his institutional leaders.

This clerical/misogynist seminary system was anti-life, anti-human and anti-Christian. Specially choses by God, spiritually transformed into superior beings on ordination, seminarians needed no one but the clerical God and his divine institution. Kevin argues they were trained for narcissism and many were slowly drained of whatever empathy they brought with them.

There was a psychological sickness at the heart of the seminary system. The sheer joy of being alive, of being called to share in the life of Christ, of being called to love, of striving to reach their fullest potential as persons, of growing to be responsible and independent people, of feeling part of a community—there was none of that. Rather, students lived in a cloud of suspicion. They dare not touch one another, enter another’s room or walk in pairs. They were forbidden to speak to the nine women who cooked washed and cleaned for them. Filled with a terrible fear of sex, the authorities operated their total institution cut off from the wider world as if at any moment an insane and sinful outbreak of homosexual sex could explode.

Trapped argues that the seminary system with its emphasis on intellectual and theological training at the expense of human development: emotional and social, spiritual and pastoral produced a form of clericalism which is one of the most important causes of child sexual abuse. Clericalism rests on a flawed notion of priesthood, a cruel and unnatural notion of mandatory celibacy and an outdated moral ethic with an obsession with sex and sin.

The seminary system produced too many psychosexual immature young men. The difficulties of living the celibate life was not taught in the seminary. Too many young priests entered the world as adult-children, vulnerable at any time, but especially so in the new sexual mores of the 1960s. Frustrated and ignorant of their own sexuality, unable to form mature adult relationships, too many were ill-equipped to cope with mandatory celibacy. Too many felt comfortable with children.

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