Monday, April 05, 2010

Expert treatment of paedophile priests circa 1980

The latest Pope Benedict brou-ha-ha has featured a surfeit of moral outrage, from people who I am sure otherwise see public expressions of morality as on a par with corporal punishment in schools – something one is (of course) intrinsically unable to even imagine doing oneself, but is presumptively latent, and on hair-trigger setting, across a large swathe of the population otherwise. Personally, I am all for atheism in principle, if only it didn’t involve so-much goddamn tub-thumping, and so little doggedly clinging to empirical stalks of fact. For magnificently replacing the mainline opiate of the masses with a stealth-drip shovel-load of codeine tablets – take a bow, Christopher Hitchens.

Two particular stalks of probable fact have been given surprisingly little consideration: (i) the therapeutic and medico-legal treatment of paedophile priests between 1970 and 1989 (the high-water years of offending, other than in specialist (not boarding schools) institutions*), and (ii) the comparatively low rates (AFAICT) of paedophile offending by GenX men who were sexually abused as boys. The latter admittedly involves several assumptions and speculations, and really needs a lot more research before it can be rationally discussed. I am quite confident, however, that a strong correlation exists between male Xers (born between 1/7/62 and 31/12/76) and child victims of paedophile priests, and that adult male GenXers are not currently over-represented as paedophile offenders. I stress here that I am not, in any way, minimising the harm that was done to this child victim cohort. On the contrary, as I have frequently blogged before, Xers in general, particularly men, have some striking, sui generis indicators of poor mental health. This post is otherwise not much about Xers’ adulthoods, however – but by shining a much-needed spotlight on the expert treatment of adult paedophile priests c.1980, I hope some incidental glimmerings may emerge of how the same system, at the same time as it purported to “fix” adults, uniquely and comprehensively “broke” – or at the very least ignored – a 15-year cohort of children.

In hindsight, it hardly needs to be said, whatever the expert treatment comprised, (i) it generally did not work (i.e. prevent further offending by the patient), and (ii) would not be considered today, other than as an adjunct to a custodial (presumably) sentence following first-resort criminal proceedings (and such treatment, even today, is of doubtful efficacy anyway). But to be fair to the Catholic hierarchy, if they were following lay/“civilian” best practice at the time, a fair measure of blame and moral indignation can surely be shifted to the relevant experts.

Unfortunately, my “spotlight” here doesn’t illuminate much specific data. It certainly appears that some kind of “treatment” was very common in the interlude between a paedophile priest being moved out, and in to the next location, Father Peter Hullermann’s case being a seemingly shocking example of how indecently short (he resumed duties a few days after treatment began) this interlude could be. Not known by me, but all important, is the relative scientific value of the “treatment” at the time. At one extreme, “treatment” could be a euphemism for a cynical PR-exercise: burying the problem as quietly as possible, all done 100% in-house. At the other extreme, the Catholic hierarchy would be placing their utmost good faith in outside experts. However, because the latter has never been overtly pleaded (AFAICT), by those who it would surely most exculpate, it appears quite improbable. Much more likely, then, is that the “expert” treatment received by paedophile priests c.1980 was of doubtful or nil scientific value, even at the time. That said, this is a topic which could certainly use some detailed further investigation, and an open mind.

The case of Father Peter Hullermann provides a useful postscript here:

Father Hullermann resumed parish work practically on arrival in Munich [where he was to undergo treatment], on Feb. 1, 1980. He was convicted in 1986 of molesting boys at another Bavarian parish” (same URL).

Umm, that’s actually quite a long gap, as far as the offending patterns of paedophile priests go, unless the 1986 charges cover conduct back to about March 1980. But no, it appears they relate to the Sep 1984 – June 1985 school year. Somewhat surprisingly, then, Peter Hullermann’s “treatment” actually may have worked, at least for a while. Other reasonable alternative possibilities, however, are that there are unknown/unreported offences from the intervening years, or that he was kept on a tight leash, such as working in girls’ schools only (penultimate URL), during this period.

More saliently, the 1986 charges also resulted, inter alia, in Peter Hullermann’s treatment – I have omitted the quotation marks this time because its medico-legal bona fides are clear: Hullermann’s sentencing package was an 18-month suspended sentence with five years of probation, a 4,000 marks fine, and an order to undergo therapy. Laughable today, of course, but hard to lay solely at the feet of the Catholic hierarchy.

And as to why all this came out only recently, it should come as no surprise that we have the undeservedly only slightly-famous Xer from central casting to thank, or blame:

“The case that has raised questions about the future pope’s handling of a pedophile priest in Germany came to light three decades after it occurred, and then almost by chance. It happened when Wilfried Fesselmann, an early victim, said he stumbled on Internet photographs of the priest who sexually abused him [at age 11], still working with children. Fesselmann, who had long remained silent about the abuse he suffered in 1979, said the pictures stunned him and spurred him to contact his abuser. Thus began the convoluted process, which included an extortion investigation against Fesselmann for the emotionally raw e-mail messages he sent the church in 2008 demanding compensation, that ultimately put Pope Benedict XVI in an uncomfortable spotlight. After the police investigated him for blackmail, Fesselmann did not discuss his charges [which were dropped in 2008, after several weeks of investigation] publicly until last month . . . [Meanwhile, charges against the priest for what he had done to Fesselmann were ruled out as ‘clearly past the statute of limitations, [so] no investigative proceedings against the priest were started.’]

Fesselmann, now 41, an unemployed father of three . . . [and] a large man with a gentle manner, . . . was no stranger to public attention. He has written two books on living well off the German welfare system, and he has appeared on television many times”.

Xers in adult life have never played by the book, for which we have often paid the price, as per the obscene – but sadly, also quite predictable – attempt by the German state to cast Wilfried Fesselmann as criminal perpetrator. The secular system – never mind the Catholic church – has failed Xers since birth with a comprehensive malice. Our reaction to this has only barely begun to be expressed.

* In these specialist, non-boarding school institutions, offending peaked in, or possibly before, the 1960s, in large part because such institutions closed soon thereafter.

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