The mindset of people in abusive organizations

One of the puzzling things about the sexual abuse problems that have been exposed in closed, secretive, and hierarchical organizations like the Catholic Church, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, and football programs is the fact that these abuses were so widespread and long-standing that they could not possibly have been kept secret from others in the organizations. So why did they not speak up? It is suggested that the reason is that the higher ups wanted to avoid damage to the image of the institution by a public scandal and thus tried to address the problem internally.

That is bad enough. But an even more disturbing possibility is that the silence may be because the abuse was not seen as that serious or worth reporting in the first place.

Take this recent interview with a prominent Catholic priest, the Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan friar from New York who appears often on EWTN, a conservative Catholic TV channel. His is an influential voice in the Catholic Church. He makes the extraordinary case that abusive priests should not go to jail for their first offense, that once caught they should get a Mulligan, a chance to do over. He even expresses sympathy for Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky whom he refers to as “this poor guy”.

Groeschel says that the common view that the perpetrators of sexual abuse are psychopaths preying on vulnerable victims is wrong and that in many cases the reverse is true, that the abuser is the real victim, because they may have been in a fragile emotional state and seduced by these cunning young predators.

Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.

Well, it’s not so hard to see — a kid looking for a father and didn’t have his own — and they won’t be planning to get into heavy-duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing, perhaps sleeping but not having intercourse or anything like that. It’s an understandable thing, and you know where you find it, among other clergy or important people; you look at teachers, attorneys, judges, social workers.

And I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.

As horrifying as these comments are, they do go a long way towards explaining why these organizations did nothing for so long. They may have not seen it as that big a deal.


  1. says

    I think the other point is that the Catholic church seems to divide sex into marital and non-marital, rather than consensual and non-consensual. From that peculiar point of view, raping a kid is no worse than hooking up – they’re both unmarried sex. They only see a failure of chastity, not a victim having nightmares for decades.

  2. 'Tis Himself says

    A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.

    Rape is rape, regardless of who supposedly does the seduction. Besides, what ever happened to priestly chastity?

  3. Margaret says

    They only see a failure of chastity…


    That also helps explain why they so often see the priest as the victim here: since he’s the one sworn to chastity, his loss is seen as bigger than the rape victim’s loss.

    Let me go throw up now. How do I scrub that out of my brain?

  4. Francisco Bacopa says

    I think that sometimes a child will act in a sexual way toward an adult. But to call this “seduction” is horrifying. The adult is responsible for setting boundaries in such situations and is not any kind of victim, and if they do what they ought to, no one will be a victim.

    What more often happens is that these abuser’s sick minds interpret pretty normal childhood behavior in an overly personal sexual way in order to feel less blameworthy about what they are doing.

    I also agree with #1 that having a system of sexual ethics based on “approved of by God” vs. “not approved of by God” dulls their understanding of key concepts like consent.

  5. mnb0 says

    I think group loyalty plays an important role. This seems to drown out basic moral judgment.
    A far more innocent, albeit annoying example is provided by liberal christians. They often complain that New Atheists depict christianity as a bunch of fundies who don’t know better than to read the Bible literally. The next remark is that those New Atheists are basically the same as those fundies. As such NA’s neglect their beautiful, rational, enlightened versions blah blah.
    Now I am personally OK with that criticism. What I think remarkable though is that these very same complaining liberal christians never ever go tell the fundies that they read the Bible in the wrong way. This is a weird inconsistency. It has made me lose my respect for those liberals.
    Sure there are exceptions like Kenneth Miller testifying against creationism, but you get the idea.
    Liberal christians like to attack NA’s but leave fundies alone – because of group loyalty.

  6. Gareth says

    Ignoring the quite horrific “well those kids were all literally asking for it, what was the poor priest/coach to do?” idea (which would probably make me punch the guy if he said that about a child of mine that had been abused), it was his final quote that got me:

    And I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.

    Right. The poor drunk bloke wasn’t intending to kill anyone when he drove home from the pub, he should get off that first homicide charge scot free, right?

    That “Reverand” makes me sick.

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