Margaret Bergen talks to Jason Berry, author of a book on paedophilia amongst American priests which is taking the country by storm LEAD us not Into Temptation is a book that few will buy but many will discuss that is because the sexual abuse of children is an ugly topic at the best of times. When it involves Catholic priests it is sickening.
The author, John Berry, is an investigative reporter from Loiusiana, a practising Catholic and a "loving critic" of the Church.
The facts are these: between 1984 and 1992, 400 Catholic priests in North America have been reported for sexual molestation of children. Most of these have had more than one victim. Mr Berry's interest in the scandal began nine years ago when a case emerged in his own backyard.
Fr Gauthe, parish priest in the village of Henry, Louisiana, was accused of sexual molestation by two families. The boys involved had all been altar boys in his parish and had spent time with Gauthe on parish-sponsored camping holidays.
In conversation with the author it emerges that he feels the Church has failed in its mission: "If Catholicism is based on the idea of mercy, and the fundamentals of justice underlie this, and the Church does not confront the issue and bring justice to the victims, then the Church has failed."
Berry talks of the tension of the Church as a monarchic institution whose bishops have never had to subject clerical culture to the checks and balances of secular society. This leads to the Church's struggle to maintain its power to judge or not judge its own even when civil laws have been violated.
Berry's book is a saddening Ink: not just of a series of scandals but of a systematic response by the Church hierarchy, which continues to ignore the size and nature of the scandal. This, Berry thinks, is tied in with a combination of the Church's insistence on redemption and the forgiveness of sins, a refusal to understand the addictive nature of paedophilia, and "contemptible negligence".
The second half of his book is a discussion about the emergence of gay clericalism, which Berry maintains is part of the fabric of the American Catholic Church. His sources suggest that at least 40 per cent of American clergy is homosexual, and 30 per cent of these are practising. His thesis is that gay clericalism promotes an anti-heterosexual bias that finds if outlet in the seminary. From this seminary culture emerges a proclivity towards sexual molestation. Compounded by the Church's ironic insistence on celibacy, the men-only culture of the Church has been perverted.
Perhaps where the book fails to deliver is in that it does not go fai enough in suggesting a short term solution to the problem of gay clericalism. Berry proscribes the need for the introduction of a married clergy, together with a domestic theology to "refocus the institutional Church on the people of God" which is a long-term and perhaps ultimately unrealistic solution to the problem. A short term solution has to be found.
Berry suggests a nationwide agreement be made to remove clerics with a history of child molestation, and asks how many children have to be abused before a priest is considered unfit to serve.
He says that in writing the book he struggled with his faith, that he felt a "persistent deterioration of a sense of innocence that faith supports".
He found solace in the dignity of the families he met, wrestling with a a sense of betrayal but holding onto their faith. He makes clear that his book refers to a minority of priests. But if you only believe half of what is stated (and most of the cases are a matter of public record. with at least 12 of the priests mentioned serving prison sentences) Berry will have succeeded in highlighting the greatest crisis in the history of the American Church.
"Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests And The Sexual Abuse of Children" by Jason Berry (Doubleday US) comes to the UK in the New Year.