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Was the Catholic Church’s Sex Abuse Scandal Caused by… Alcoholism?

Richard Roche

William Van Ornum - published on 05/09/14

A statement from the Winona, Minnesota diocese said: “Bishop Quinn is disappointed that the Guest House Rochester will be closing but is very grateful for the years and years of service to the Catholic Church and our religious.”

In another denomination, within the past eight years or so, an infamous diocesan bishop acknowledged publicly his problem with alcoholism and the manner in which he sought out treatment. I don’t think this particular bishop’s name or his activities are particularly relevant – the main point is that he was brutally honest about himself having a problem. The church denomination, while not at all denying or glossing over the problem, gave him the support he needed to face this serious condition.

Somehow a public analysis and study of the presence of alcoholism within the priesthood and of the prelates in the hierarchy does not seem to me at first glance to be a step to take. The diagnosis of such a problem is extremely sensitive. Even making an effort to learn more about it could make those experiencing alcoholism much more sensitive to it being uncovered by someone else. They would hide the problem and go even further underground.

I don’t think shrill voices, blaming, or finger-pointing belong in such a process. The 1972 Loyola study may be impractical for 2014.

But the ideas I presented above would, I think, help better understand why there is “denial” and would improve “accountability”–two major words used by Cardinal O’Malley at the Vatican meeting, May 1-3, 2014.

Perhaps someone reading this now can think of even a small way to implement these ideas and quietly to help a Church leader who may have an alcoholic problem. In doing so, further progress would be made toward creating a long-term environment that is safer for children.

William Van Ornum is professor of psychology at Marist College and director of research and development/grants at American Mental Health Foundation in New York City. He studied theology and scripture at DePaul University.

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