Matthew Hanley, The Catholic Church and the Global AIDS Crisis; Dr Pravin Thevathasan, The Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis (Catholic Truth Society, 2011). Reviewed by Mary Shivanandan (John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and Family).
These two booklets, of 72 and 70 pages respectively, published by CTS in London in the series “Explanations,” provide a study in seeming paradox. One is a defense of the Catholic Church in the wake of the sex abuse crisis, where grievous wrong has been done to innocent victims by priests unfaithful to chastity, and the other upholds the Church’s teaching on chastity as the only effective response to the global AIDS crisis. How do you explain the seeming paradox to a secular culture which values permissive freedom above all other considerations and responds to the global AIDS crisis with the unrestricted distribution of condoms? These “explanations” are likely to satisfy the Catholic reader but are not to persuade anyone steeped in the secular view of sexuality. The readership of the Catholic Truth Society is primarily those who are already believers or seeking the truth in the Catholic Church. It is with such readers in mind that my review will direct its remarks.
In The Catholic Church and the Global AIDS Crisis, Matthew Hanley details the failures of the prevailing “safe-sex” ideology and the absolute refusal of its proponents to take seriously the scientific facts, concerning both the spread of the disease and the ineffectiveness of mass distribution of condoms to contain it (pp. 47-9). “Political correctness has not made for good health policy,” Hanley charges (p. 7). Not only has the scientific data been ignored, but it has been manipulated to conceal the fact that certain types of sexual behavior place the person at greater risk than others. Lack of circumcision and multiple partners have made the disease more deadly in Africa. Hanley provides convincing statistics on the success of the strategy of confining sex to marriage, pointing out that since condoms were reintroduced in Uganda, AIDS has been on the rise again (p. 63).
He makes no bones about the scorn that greets the Church’s insistence on abstinence and the consequent necessity for behavioral change. His depiction of the two opposed philosophies is excellent. While his main focus is on Africa, where the success of the Church’s approach and the failure of condom distribution has been demonstrated, he does not shy away from dealing with countries like Thailand, where the condom approach is said to be successful. At the end, he emphasizes that the Catholic Church is the largest provider of care to AIDS patients worldwide (p. 68). All in all this is a hard-hitting defense of the Church’s emphasis on chastity and a devastating critique of the utilitarian approach using condoms.
Dr. Pravin Thevathasan, a consultant psychiatrist of 15 years, who has counseled both sex offenders and their victims, has a more difficult task in recounting both the failures of largely homosexually oriented priests, who abused their position of trust in the community, and the bishops who, in some cases, relied on the advice of psychologists to transfer the priests after treatment from one parish to another. He does not minimize the grievous suffering of the victims nor make excuses for pastoral negligence (pp. 3, 4). Instead he puts the whole problem in a wider perspective, noting that the greatest number of cases occurred from the 1960s to mid-1980s among a relatively small number of priests (between 2 and 4 percent in the United States); this being a time when the culture, partly as a result of Alfred Kinsey’s faulty sexual research and the climate of the burgeoning “sexual revolution,” was more lenient towards all forms of sexual behavior than it later became (pp. 8, 9). He notes that the problem was not confined to the Catholic Church, and is not a problem of a celibate male priesthood – suggesting that anti-Catholicism may be at work in singling out the Church’s failures.
The reader will find here well-informed discussions of the nature and profile of the abuser, an analysis of the “therapeutic culture” which misled bishops and warped seminary teaching on morality, Church documents that condemn as grave sin the abuse of minors, and individual cause célèbre cases, including the charges against Pope Benedict. Thevathasan ends by quoting Pope Benedict: “The Church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, ask for forgiveness but also seek justice” (p. 66).
Dr Mary Shivanandan is professor of theology, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Catholic University of America.