Q & A with The Rev. Donald Cozzens

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“I think the real culprit here is the clerical system. When you have an all-male, semi-feudal system that you perceived as empowered by God, this kind of elite system, it’s hard not to think of yourself if you’re in it, somehow you’re not like other men and then one of your brothers literally harms those he should be safeguarding, and you’re almost forced to put a spin on it.”

Q:

How do you feel about St. John’s Abbot John Klassen coming forward with new allegations and information about the restrictions against several monks during a time you describe as the “darkest moment of history at the abbey?”

A:

“I have come to have the highest respect and regard for the man. This is clearly a church leader that is, from my perspective in Collegeville, that is setting the pace for other church leaders and bishops. Instinctively, I’d like to tell the towns of St. Cloud and Collegeville: Trust this man.”

Q:

You recently were asked to speak to a group of Boston priests, who began meeting informally in the Fall of 2001 for priestly support and to bring issues to the attention of those higher in the church. The group has grown to more than 200 in recent months. What was it like to address them?

A:

“It’s cutting across conservative, moderate and progressive lines — these are committed and seasoned priests and pastors. They asked me to comment on the changing face of the priesthood — I was very gratified, it was very positive.”

Q:

Why is the term pedophilia imprecise when addressing sexual abuse in the Catholic Church?

A:

“Until recently, the media equated abuse of minors with pedophilia. From a clinical perspective, pedophilia is a psychopathology — the persistent and almost exclusive attraction to a boy or girl, often both. I think there is something compulsive to pedophilia. It is my understanding that those diagnosed with pedophilia cannot be cured, but it can be controlled, and that 95 percent to 99 percent of pedophiles are men. A diagnosed pedophile should not have access to children, ever, and the bishops know that.

But most of abuse done by Catholic clergy has been abuse against teen-agers, and 98 percent of those teen-agers are boys. It’s still criminal, it’s still immoral, to have contact with a 16-year-old boy or girl, and it still is ethically wrong. But the prognosis is more hopeful for what is called ephebophile. John Geoghan appears to be a pedophile, (James) Porter appears to be a pedophile and (Paul) Shanley appears to be a pedophile. ”

Q:

At St. John’s Abbey, a former abbot — Rev. John Eidenschink — admitted to abusing men who were preparing to become monks. How is this different?

A:

“Anytime you have someone in a superior position coming on to someone in a subordinate position, you can consider that sexual abuse. In other churches, it is not uncommon for a pastor to get involved with younger women. It takes real professionalism and maturity to become aware of the sexual chemistry in counseling and pastoral situations. The person in the helping role is responsible the situation stays appropriate.”

Q:

You once approached a priest with allegations who then confessed and went to the family to apologize. You described this as a positive experience, but also said the church’s legal counsel later advised against such actions because it set up the ground for a civil lawsuit. In response, you said, “I think they (laity) are best protected when they are approached as a church and not a corporation.”

Can you explain?

A:

“It’s always a temptation of any church — to react to crisis the way an institution or corporation might because churches have attorneys and chief financial officers. I’m not condemning it. It’s a reality. It’s the responsibility of church leaders to remember they are a graced assembly of God’s people. This whole crisis is so embarrassing for the church leaders and the Catholic laity are beginning to say there needs to be another approach and say enough. I think they’ll use the power of the pocketbook to get the attention of the bishops.”

Q:

Explain what you mean when you said there are no “evil men” covering up clergy abuse?

A:

“I think the real culprit here is the clerical system. When you have an all-male, semi-feudal system that you perceived as empowered by God, this kind of elite system, it’s hard not to think of yourself if you’re in it, somehow you’re not like other men and then one of your brothers literally harms those he should be safeguarding, and you’re almost forced to put a spin on it.”

Q:

Talk about homosexuality in the priesthood.

A:

“I’ve gone on record saying there is a disproportionate number of gay priests in the church today, and I say that respectfully to all those straight and gay. I think sexual orientation has no connection, whatsoever, to cases of pedophilia. Because the media has tended to talk about all abuse of minors as pedophilia, there is a danger that in the mind of the public abuse of minors is being linked to pedophilia and this, in turn, is being linked to priests of a homosexual orientation. When this happens, gay celibate priests fear they are being made scapegoats, and I think they have a justifiable fear. At the same time, when it comes to the abuse of minors, we have to ask what does it mean that three-fourths of the victims are boys? There may be more of a connection here, but we need to study the issue.”

Q:

Talk about celibacy in the priesthood.

A:

“Many people are linking the apparent sexual immaturity, or moral immaturity, (of abusers) to lack of celibacy of a priest. … Celibacy is a problem when it is made mandatory. … We already have a Catholic married clergy in Eastern Europe … I’m in favor of an honest and open discussion of non-mandatory celibacy and I think the time has come to change that discipline in the church.”

Q:

Should women be priests?

A:

“I’m going to pass on that one. It is clearly necessary for the church to take seriously the expanding of roles of women in meaningful, high levels of church leadership. It’s still mostly a boys club.”

30 May, 2002
Q & A with The Rev. Donald Cozzens, St. Cloud Times

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