When is it sexual abuse?

When is it sexual abuse?

Last week, I blogged about a priest connected to Boys Town who was removed for abuse which he said was just strict discipline, although the news article never said what that discipline was. Now we know. Apparently, the priest would take misbehaving boys behind closed doors, pull down their pants, and spank them.

That is definitely not prudent, although in the 1980s when it was done, it may have been looked upon differently. An psychologist advising the bishops on sex abuse says it was definitely not prudent.

    The boundaries for appropriate corporal punishment should be clear, said Dr. Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, a psychologist and sexual abuse expert who was chosen by American bishops to speak at their conference in Dallas last year.

    “The old days, in the ‘50s, you would hear about kids receiving corporal punishment—the Christian Brothers were famous for rapping kids on their knuckles. But it crosses the line of when you start having to disrobe, and it becomes, by definition, sexualized in some way.”

    “And the fact it’s not in public is a problem. Corporal punishment was administered in public and was open in the classroom for everyone to witness. It wasn’t done secretly,” Frawley-O’Dea said.

Okay, what he did was wrong. It crossed the line. But should it be actionable in court? Should someone be able to win a lawsuit for millions of dollars against the diocese for this? I don’t think so. Unless it was specifically sexual and the bishop was told about it and did nothing, I don’t see how the whole diocese can be held responsible. Contrary to popular notions, I don’t think every case of corporal punishment qualifies as child abuse. I probably won’t use it on my own kids, but I also am not one of those people who thinks it can never be used in any circumstance.

I won’t pass judgment on all the allegations made against the priest, but some of it just doesn’t pass the smell test for me. Maybe when more details emerge it will be different.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli