The Malta Independent 23 April 2019, Tuesday

Temperance and intemperance

Michael Asciak Sunday, 2 September 2018, 09:34 Last update: about 9 months ago

The Catholic Church (and Protestant churches) is going through a tough patch at the moment due to the lack of sexual temperance exhibited 40 or 50 years ago. To be sure, these sexual issues occur everywhere in civil society but obviously one does not expect them in the Church due to a higher moral code in these circles, but they are there for all to see. To be fair I am not so surprised for several reasons. The Church is made up of human beings and human beings often make mistakes even of the moral order, that is they commit sin therefore the Church is made up of sinners. This issue will not destroy the Church, as it has been through much worse in its long history and is led by Christ himself but it presents an opportunity for recollection and renewal. That human beings committed to celibacy sin with respect to lack of sexual temperance is an issue hardly greater than those lay people who are committed to chastity, married people that is, who often sin too, and we all know there is much of that going round.


Many heterosexuals, homosexuals and all the degrees in between may have their own issues with continence to one degree or another. If an immoral relationship has occurred between consenting adults, its gravity depends on the circumstances and the degree to which one hurts other people. However if the immoral relationship occurs between non-consenting adults or with children, then the gravity of the situation does not stop with the individuals concerned but also involves the authorities, and this is where often there is also a failure. An immoral sexual relationship between adult partners one of whom is non-consenting becomes an issue for civil or church authorities. However, these are often not easy to prove because they have taken place between adults of the legal age of consent and the issue of consent here is not always easy to prove or disprove especially when many years have passed and the motives are not clear to discern on either side.

Adult sexual predators may opt to groom young individuals from an early age and then present themselves in a sexual manner to the unsuspecting when the age of consent and adulthood sets in especially in institutional settings. In this case, non-consenting adults, often still sexually and mentally innocent, are very confused by a long-time trusted adult figure suddenly abusing their relationship now that they have attained the age of consent. Leaders of institutional settings for young adults, like seminaries, police, army, colleges, universities, hospitals, prisons, residential schools, and all youth organisations, have to be careful to protect such individuals and should be given effective training in how to recognize and immediately deal with these cases.

With children, it is a very different issue. Usually, paedophilia occurs between an adult and either pre-pubertal or early post-pubertal children. In late post-pubertal/early adulthood, a sexual relation is not considered paedophilia any more but is another type of abuse similar to adult abuse but often involving grooming which as I explained already is another danger to beware of. Paedophilia has nothing to do with homosexuality at all. The dynamics are different often being in the mind of the adult abuser who still sees himself/herself as a child due to his or her developmental issues or the lack of them. Normal adults usually develop a natural aversion to having sexual intercourse with children, not so paedophiles. Because of their upbringing and/or possibly because of epigenetic override, paedophiles do not develop this aversion. They see themselves as the same mental age of the children they abuse. Paedophiles have to be kept away from children, because their lack of temperance results in hurting innocent young children. The fact that often they were not, is a failure of the authorities whether ecclesiastical or civil. The paedophilia scandal in the Church is not so much just the failure of the paedophile but also, rather, the failure of the authorities, the bishops in this case, to set their moral priorities right and protect the children involved. Shifting paedophiles from one place to another, as seems to have been the accepted praxis at the time, simply shifts the problem around rather than deals with it.

In my 40 years in medicine, I have seen it all. The crises in the Church are the crises of a society that was not sensitive enough to the problem and was not ready to protect its innocent children, or adults for that matter. That many of these cases occurred 40 or 50 years ago, leaves space for hope as nowadays more people are aware of these issues and know how to deal with them. The State need not be complacent. The issues in the Church have been and to an extent are still occurring in state and private institutions. I have had my fill of seeing students leave courses, or failing exams in the past, because of sexual predation. In my case, doctors and nurses lost to their respective professions because of sexual predation and no action ever being taken even after the civil authorities concerned were alerted. I have had my fill of seeing civil promotions given or denied because of sexual predation and no action taken. I have had my fill of people being abused sexually and their abusers protected or promoted. The sexual revolution brought with it an easier way to communicate with others sexually. What it did not do is bring the education with it to protect others from getting hurt. This lack of temperance, this lack of a cardinal virtue, this cardinal sin, is both a shortcoming in individuals and a much bigger failing on the part of the respective authorities concerned.


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