At the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002, Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea urged the nation's Catholic bishops to lead "the revitalization and restoration of souls" damaged by sexual abuse.
A decade later, Frawley-O'Dea painted a far less-hopeful portrait of the Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse during a 45-minute talk Thursday at Canisius College.
Frawley-O'Dea - a Charlotte, N.C., trauma psychologist and author of two books about the church's sexual abuse crisis - spelled out how a culture of "clerical narcissism" resulted in a diminished capacity for empathy for sex abuse victims, particularly in church hierarchs more concerned with status and the accoutrements of their offices than with leadership and pastoralism.
"There's a sense that morality comes with the status, rather the morality is something you've got to keep working at," Frawley-O'Dea said during a 20-minute question-and-answer session that followed her talk.
Frawley-O'Dea was the lone psychologist to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June of 2002, as they huddled to develop a response to the sex abuse crisis that engulfed in the church in the U.S. The Dallas meeting resulted in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document that is supposed to guide all dioceses in the handling of allegations of sexual abuse.
In her talk to the bishops, Frawley-O'Dea spelled out the effects of sexual trauma abuse on victims and urged the bishops to enlist the help of trained counseling professionals in providing healing within the church and in relationship to survivors of abuse.
Frawley-O'Dea ultimately went on to write two books in 2007 exploring how the church's scandal happened: "Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church" and "Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims: The Sexual Abuse Crisis and the Catholic Church."
She has also become a frequent contributor to the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly newspaper focusing on issues in the Catholic Church.
She described the scandal as "not about the sexual crimes, per se," because those crimes unfortunately can and do happen in other situations where adults are around vulnerable children.
The scandal, more accurately, is the hierarchy's collusion and cover-up to protect priests, very much to the harm of victims - estimated as more than 50,000 children from 1950 to 2004, according to a study performed by John Jay College.
Since the massive scale of the scandal came to light, bishops, cardinals and even the pope have issued plenty of apologies, said Frawley-O'Dea, but "not one of them has said, 'This is my fault.'?"
"If it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a community to abuse one," she said.
During the question-and-answer, one priest said Frawley-O'Dea's psychoanalytical approach to the problem did not offer a pathway to change it and as such was "just an attack against the Roman Catholic Church."
The priest said the crisis was part of a "rampant sexualized society" and that abuse was prevalent in families, schools and in other religious groups. Any positive changes could come only "through theological reflection," he added.
Frawley-O'Dea said her critique was not an attack on the Catholic Church or the Catholic faith, but on "the institutional structure of the church."