Julie Hanlon Rubio – « Masculinity and sexual abuse in the Church »

Julie Hanlon Rubio « Masculinity and sexual abuse in the Church »

1. Introduction

As a Catholic lay woman who forms priests alongside lay men and women for ecclesial ministry, I have experienced the latest round of revelations of clergy sexual abuse from a unique vantage point. The week I arrived to begin my new job at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was released. Six months earlier when I interviewed for the job, I had presented a paper on intersections between the #MeToo movement and the emerging #ChurchToo movement. The year has been marked by events related to the scandal: the first heart wrenching conversation at our faculty retreat in August; our school’s day of lament and prayer in September; an emotional town hall meeting at a local parish; talks and panels at universities across the country; the release of lists of credibly accused Jesuits (including a priest that had been a SLU colleague and close friend of my family from childhood). It has been a difficult year to be Catholic, even for those who have long histories of being in a complicated relationship with the church. But this year has also brought me closer to priesthood than I have ever been in my life, and I cannot deny that the young scholastics who will soon be ordained fill me with hope.

In this context of despair and hope, I delved deeper into research on clergy sexual abuse, and it became clear to me that all of the most popular explanations lacked the gender analysis which is indispensable to understanding both abuse and its cover-up. The conservative narrative stresses the need for priests to recommit to sexual purity so they might better enact their roles as fathers or shepherds. The liberal narrative stresses the problematic nature of celibacy and, often, the priesthood itself. The moderate narrative privileges accountability and transparency as antidotes to clericalism. I argue that because clergy sexual abuse is gendered, transformation requires attention to how problematic conceptions of masculinity deform the relationships of celibates just as those of non-celibates. I will move through the argument in three parts: gender as a lens for understanding sexual violence, clergy sexual abuse as inextricably tied to masculinity, and ‘undoing masculinity’ as a practice of resistance to an ecclesial culture that enables abuse.

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