Part 2, Why Many Catholics Still Won’t Leave the Church Even Though Sex Abuse Scandals Explode: Family and Institutional Grooming

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

Part 1, “Introduction”       Part 3, “Signs and Wonders”

“Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll show you the man.”

Ignatius Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits


In the parlance of sexual crimes, the concept of “grooming” refers specifically to training a victim, in this case a Catholic child,  for the purpose of preparing him or her for a sexual relationship. This grooming often includes interactions with the child’s family, friends, and neighbors as well.Consider: 1 John 2:22
Who is the liar, if it is not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son.

The following Editor’s Note from “Grooming: How Child Molesters Create Willing Victims,” by Laurie A. Gray, © 2010, reprinted in National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA) explains how this works in any situation:

It is our experience that the “grooming” a child is only half the story. Many pedophiles are extremely clever, often charming, patient people, frequently thought of as among the most valued of community members. That’s because they spend a lot of time grooming the parents, friends and neighbors of the children around them, just as they groom the kids themselves. It’s not unusual for pedophiles to pick careers and / or volunteer positions that will deliberately place them in close proximity to the youngsters they crave. They’ll then proceed to impress (or “groom”) the adults around them by becoming the most reliable on-call volunteer, the most generous friend, the most giving neighbor or the favorite relative. Their presentation makes them seem to be completely sincere, among the most trustworthy and valuable community members. Parents of molested kids will often be shocked at their own naivety, but pedophiles are as clever as can be in grooming the adults around them, too.

In the case of such crimes against Catholic children, I would add two additional mechanisms used by both pedophile clergy and, in a sense explained below, by the institutional Church itself (though perhaps more as an unintended consequence of extra-biblical religious teachings*) that aid in grooming the child and his or her trusted loved ones in very powerful ways.

The first mechanism is the collection of core beliefs surrounding the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

The Better to Groom You By: “Fathers Know Best”

The most powerful way, in my view, of grooming young Catholic pedophile victims is by inculcating in them (and all Roman Catholics) that priests, “brothers,” bishops, and others on the spiritual hierarchy know more than the “laity,” thus by implication are more trustworthy and more spiritually knowledgeable and “holy.”

For in that religious system, such a notion provides an important foundation built up through the centuries, quite a different foundation from the biblical description of offices and ministries in the Christian church, as explained in the first foot note. It serves to reinforce a level of trust in the abuser that underlays the spiritual and psychological set-up for sexual abuse in several ways.

At the top of the list, figuratively and literally, is the trust that is built up for the Pope, who is revered as speaking directly as if he is God if he speaks “ex cathedra” on “matters of faith and morals”. This special ability of the Pope, promulgated at the First Vatican Council in 1870, is also known as his presumed infallibility.

So as a good Roman Catholic one would be far less likely to question the higher-ups.

Or to suspect them.

Gray discusses the five-stage process of grooming any child for sex:

“1) Identify the possible victim;
2) Collect information about the intended victim;
3) Fill a need;
4) Lower inhibitions; and
5) Initiate abuse.”

In her discussion of each aspect of grooming, Gray indicates explicit or implicit “participation” by family, friends, and/or neighbors who unwittingly (and tragically for them as well, when the truth emerges) “help” the pedophile gather information on how best to gain everyone’s trust by observing how the others interact and treat the child (or neglect the child) at home–church and/or school.

Why include church and school as well, particularly in the case of Catholic children?

I add this circle of trusted ones that may well include parish and school personnel because through “participation” in those spheres there may be more of an institutional bonding (as in the foundational teaching of infallibility noted above and its mental, emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual ramifications in this hierarchical religious system), and such teaching makes it even easier for the criminal clergy to molest and rape children.

“Just trust us,” may never have to be overtly expressed because it is covertly impressed and reinforced by Church teachings, example, and all of the other mechanism, including clothing, and special powers, pomp, circumstance and many other Catholic mechanisms the hierarchy alone has the power to specify, dogmatize, and mandate.

For one small example of such conditioning to revere–and trust–priests in particular as “above,” or more spiritual than, the laity, consider the following.

As an eighth-grade girl in Catholic elementary school, I was often “chosen” to “lay out the priest’s ‘vestments,‘” before morning Mass. The specifics and importance of his special garb are explained in the 3,800 word link, above. There are at least six parts of this wardrobe which varied by day, Sunday, Holy Day, and/or Season in the Church (such as Lent, for example) depending upon the priest’s status in the church and the ceremony to follow.

It had to be done in the exact order of how the priest was to don such vestments, the priest even “blessing them,” as I recall, first.

We were instructed to handle each item with great and suitable respect, and to fold each in very specific ways.

It was a special honor for a young girl to lay out the priest’s vestments…there may have even been some kind of earned Catholic “grace” that went along with the activity, for there are many activities in the Roman religious system that “earn” one such grace (versus what the Bible teaches about grace which is “unmerited favor” bestowed through faith in Jesus’ once-for-all-time sacrifice on the cross).

Next on the list of trust nurtured by the Catholic institutional practices and doctrines, is the kind of trust implicit in the Sacrament of (Catholic) Confession.

Certain teachings of Catholic confession exacerbate the shame and guilt manipulated into the victim and also prevent him or her from exposing the crime–even to trusted loved ones.

For my previous observation of the power of the Roman Confession to manipulate small children, what I would call “soft trauma bonding,” with the focus on the fear aspect (that can also be used in the case of grooming for sexual abuse) I offer in-depth explanations from my seven part discussion in my series, “Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism“.

But to the “shame” aspect of bonding young Catholic children to their abusers through the rite of Confession, I would add another aspect of confession-related bonding that keeps the child in bondage: the “sexual feelings/physiology” aspect.

Consider the following.

The Better to Groom You By: “Confession”

In my research, children younger than seven (at which age Roman Catholic children are thought to have achieved the “age of reason,”)  are not usually the victims of pedophiles in the Church. The lion’s share of the testimonies from survivors in this group concern their elementary school years.

Parish school children, in particular, are more easily accessible–and, to my point about Confession, there are more ways to “groom” them for sex crimes, especially after they have received the “Sacrament of First Confession” which begins with instructions about sin as interpreted by the Roman church and much of which is taught in the Scriptures.   It’s the add-on teachings and presumptions I address here, and elsewhere.

This instruction normally starts at that age of reason. In my own upbringing, First Confession was held, by tradition, at the end of second grade.

Of course, Catholic school education has changed somewhat in recent years, and Catholic “confession” is rarely, anymore, conducted in small, dark, booths to a priest behind a curtain or grate that provides at least some privacy. But the core  beliefs and mandates concerning Roman Sacrament of Confession** remain what they have been.

So to the”pleasure” entanglement, if there is one, of Catholic children in the sex crime used by the pedophile via, I would argue, aspects of the Roman Catholic teachings on, and practice of, confession, consider the following.

The explanation of how these aspects combined with the fear surrounding “making a good Confession” can further ensnare Catholic victims and involves layers of mental, emotional, institutional, and psychological grooming in several ways. I will give just one small example from instructions given me on how to make a good Catholic Confession that includes one’s “approval” of the sin, aka pleasure in it, as well as the duration of the sin.

One afternoon all of the ninth graders at my Catholic high school were called into the room where Father Scott, our principal, was pacing the front of the room with a scowl on his face.

It was very unusual that he would conduct a class. We wondered if we were in for some kind of reprimand.

What he was there for was an explanation of sexual sin, specifically, French kissing (which few of us, as we later commiserated, knew about or had heard of at the age of fourteen). He went into detail on that “sin” and others, related, such as “necking” in cars (as foreplay at that stage used to be called), stopping occasionally to put gross (in our young, innocent minds, anyway) special, negative emphasis on certain words and actions.

He took questions afterward from the one or two brave enough to ask them, the first question (likely the first one on the minds of any of the sexually active boys and girls who knew what this was) being, “Father, how long can you kiss before it turns from a venial to a mortal sin?”***

For the un-initiated into the traditional teachings of Roman Catholic sin, there are gradations. Some sins (venial) net only Purgatory time (non specified..a week? decade? millenia?) but one can eventually get to heaven, particularly if you are fortunate enough to have relatives pay for “Masses” or “offer up prayers for you” etc., to take some of your time off. Other sins result in Hell for eternity.

Oh, you can also do certain “Novenas” yourself, while you are still alive, as a kind of get-out-of-Purgatory-sooner insurance policy, not mention earn some kind of indulgence (6,780-word current explanation found there) in a variety of other ways for the same purpose. But I digress.

Although the instructions on this aspect of sexual sins were withheld from minds of seven year-olds as likely age-inappropriate, the idea of pleasure, read, “participation” involved in sin was implied in our early training.

I mean, logically, what little kid would commit a sin if he or she really didn’t want to? Thus, he or she also must have enjoyed it. In other words, the priest on the other side of the curtain would have reassured you that committing some sin “by mistake” was not really a sin. We understood this at a young age.

So, back to the topic of “institutional grooming” of young Catholic children for becoming the victims of clergy criminals, can you see how the shame of “feeling pleasure” in the sexual crime would also make the child think he or she was also to blame?

Or, even worse, they might even sense their culpability by not stopping the crime. At six. Or seven. Or eight. Or nine…

Of course, the details of sins would be slowly laid out in age-appropriate instructions, but the core of the instructions even for a child would render down to:

  • Don’t do this (maybe a time specification was also involved pertaining to when a venial sin turned into a mortal sin),
  • Don’t think this,
  • Don’t imagine this,
  • Don’t repeat this,
  • Don’t touch this****, and perhaps the most psychologically lethal when it comes to the clergy criminals’ exploitation of small children for molestation and rape,
  • Don’t question this or him or her or them or the Church if, by explicit or implicit means of “grooming,” you understand your own culpability (read, you didn’t stop it or took even a few seconds’ pleasure in it).

According to the literature, it is not uncommon for any pedophile to convince his or her victim of shared blame when it comes to the point of having groomed the child to where the child is experiencing some pleasure in the sex acts, and this shame binds the victim even tighter.

But in the case of carefully trained and indoctrinated little Roman Catholic children, I believe they are bonded and horrified in yet another way.

Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church also relate how the priest might also assure them that if they confess this “sin” of “participation by pleasure,” you might put it, to–guess who? the very priest who has committed the crime–the child could be “forgiven” by God. And won’t go to Hell, or Purgatory.

Some older children, especially the boys, who could serve as “altar boys,” might have even been invited to serve the priest in that capacity later on so as to perhaps earn some indulgence, or grace, or forgiveness, or accrued penance by so doing (similar to how the girls might earn some spiritual bonus points by simply laying out the priest’s vestments).

These aspects of Catholic sex crimes, especially perpetrated against children who, now adults, are the primary group exposing and suing certain clergy criminals, are what in my mind and from my experience and research indicate can be of the most traumatic and of gravest life-long impact.

But of course all crimes against children are grave and particularly heinous in their circumstances and ramifications…

Do you see how complicated and complex the Catholic “grooming”for sex crimes can become especially against small children?

Of course, on the fear aspect of such soft trauma bonding (“soft,” here, as implied by Roman Catholic teachings and traditions as opposed to overt assaults) some also relate that they are threatened to keep it all secret because, well, in such an all-encompassing system, who would believe them anyway?

Consider the Catholic hierarchy push-back on the whistle blowers even today.

And to the “pleasure” part of grooming, besides the usual reasons in any case of pedophilia grooming and practice, Catholic victims might now also have had several ways to be able to keep it secret and maybe even be forgiven by God, Himself through the priest criminal who, after all, they likely already had been instructed, would have this power.

And no little kid, despite what hardship he or she may have to suffer here, wants to burn for who knows how much time in Purgatory, or forever in Hell.

This we also realized early on. It’s a big theme as part of instructions for First Confession, or used to be…

Thus, given the institutionalized reverence for, and unquestioned trust of, the “spiritually superior Catholic hierarchy” and teachings presumed to be “as if God spoke them,” can you see how Catholic children are further shocked, horrified, shamed, and silenced?

Given the extensive explanations–and exposes of–the bonding mechanisms wrapped up in Catholic erudition and tradition, is it so hard to understand what goes on behind Catholic Church doors that enables the criminal clergy to victimize children?

Is it any wonder, then, many children even as adults remained–remain–silent?

Especially if they came from a “good Catholic family.”

Especially if the perpetrator was/is adept at using–and twisting even more–the extra and non-biblical Catholic teachings and traditions to bond his victim to him.

Especially if the child was already groomed to cave to the shame-based teachings and implications of the Roman Catholic version of Confession…

And is it any wonder so many good, sincere Catholics are so outraged, just now, over the massive cover-up attempts still going on with regard to the clergy sex abuse scandals?

But, sadly, is it also any wonder that those who are yet entangled in the mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bonds of all in Roman Catholicism that deviates from classic, biblical Christianity, are even more inclined to “fight harder for the Faith,” even going so far as to believe what the Pope recently declared, that the whistle blowers are really only Satan’s tools?…

Or, worse yet, sincere Catholics may even separate themselves entirely, now, not only from the blatantly obvious mismanagement of not only the institutional Church but also from its carefully inculcated teachings and traditions, to enter a wilderness of spiritual options, or no options at all, due to believing, as good Roman Catholics are taught, this is the only “authentic” expression of Christianity.

In other words, they may have been carefully taught and thus firmly believe the Roman Catholic religious system is the only way to God.

Which is not truth.

And that, I fear, will lead them even further from the Gospel.

The Better to Save, Heal, and Deliver by: Jesus Christ, the Only Way, Truth, and Life.

Many have likely not delved as deeply as some of us have over the root causes of what makes sex crimes against Catholic children–in that religious institution so impressively cloaked as it is in the world’s biggest, wealthiest, most “intellectual” and culturally appealing religious system–so particularly evil.

However, and most importantly, the news of such crimes that is exploding globally just now might still trigger anger, denial and/or depression in many sincere Catholics, even if they don’t explore the reasons some of which may be buried deep in the psyche, especially for cradle Catholics in whom much was gleaned before the age of seven, and this might plant the poisonous seeds of bitterness for those who stop the recovery process there.

But, having worked through at great length and over time, with much prayer, research, and mostly, education regarding classic, Bible-based Christianity and how much of Roman Catholicism deviates from same, let me encourage you. 

But certainly not only me!

A quick search in any library, book store, or Internet search engine will reveal, all told,  thousands if not millions of research and experienced-based references for further study, affirmation, and most of all, encouragement. Innumerable personal testimonies such as mine along with scholarly treatments and psychological papers are now available.

Above all, there is hope in Jesus Christ.

This used to sound very trite–and much too simple for me, the very well-trained, educated, inculcated, mind and emotion-controlled cradle Catholic.

I mean, really? Saved just “by faith”?

Step inside any Catholic church for powerful, multi-sensory “reinforcements” of Roman Catholic themes and memes.

Peek inside any Missal that explains the Catholic Mass, tucked in the pews so as to be a handy reference for innumerable explanations of the voluminous rules and regulations involved in just this one Catholic activity alone. (But don’t stay there too long without a Bible in hand for comparison.)

But it’s true. John 3:16 reinforces the doctrine of faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

And may I encourage you, if you are a Catholic struggling with the revelation of clergy sex crimes and their cover-ups just now, to draw near to Jesus, the real Jesus, Who not only hung on that cross you likely have a representation of up near the altar in your Catholic church but also rose again from the dead sealing the efficacy of His sacrifice on that cross for you, once and for all time.

Be assured that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

If you have once received Him as your Savior and continue to follow Him as your Lord, He is still that “burden that is light,” and that “yoke that is easy.”

Even in the midst of the pain and suffering of the crimes now being revealed globally, but perhaps most tragically, personally, Jesus is here, now, to save, deliver, and heal.

Perhaps even as you read this, He is “knocking at the door” of your longing, perhaps even your broken, heart.

You can trust Him.

The provision for you, defined here and noted above, is still in full force and operation: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16) in all of its simplicity and its profundity.

Jesus loves you. Receive that love. Read the Bible. Pray for wisdom and guidance. Meet with others of like mind and spirit.

I have full confidence that you, too, can come out of the Roman Catholic religious system fraught with many extra and non-biblical teachings and traditions that draw one away from the Gospel founded on God’s love to a religious system focusing on fear–an institution that “soft trauma bonds” innocent victims to itself and to some representing it who prey upon and groom Catholic children for sexual crimes.

The peace Jesus promised and gives us, is also real.

As I often say–as do millions of others who have come out of Roman Catholicism–if God can bring me out, a cradle Catholic wholly invested in the Catholic hierarchy’s claims to supremacy, God-status and power over all for many years, He is more than powerful to save, heal, and deliver you, too.

And He is patient.

It took me a full six years of intense “recovery” even after my salvation “in Christ alone.”

But who knows?

Perhaps your deliverance and recovery will be much shorter, or even miraculously brief.

To this, I pray.


*For just one good discussion of how the formation of a biblical hierarchy in non-Catholic Christian churches differs from the establishment of such a hierarchy in the Catholic church, read here. But a search reveals many such comparisons, of course.

**The definition of Roman Catholic Confession linked above includes over 20,800 words to fully develop, much of which is a refutation of critics who base their objections on sola scriptura as opposed to Roman Catholic dogma and tradition.

The bulk of Roman thought on confession stems from  “The nineteenth ecumenical council opened at Trent on 13 December, 1545, and closed there on 4 December, 1563. Its main object was the definitive determination of the doctrines of the Church in answer to the heresies of the Protestants; a further object was the execution of a thorough reform of the inner life of the Church by removing the numerous abuses that had developed in it” (from the “New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia,” Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary). At least there were some reforms “executed” at that time.

By the way, the “Immaculate Heart of Mary” teaching stems from a papal decree in 1854 asserting Mary’s “immunity from original sin (in her) person … at the moment of the creation of her soul and its infusion into her body” versus Scripture teaching that …righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22-24, NIV).

***For those of you reading this who may still wonder, well, it varies…there are other aspects of the varieties of sin involved here. As you can imagine.

****For yet more clarification on why Catholic children are perhaps easier to groom for sex crimes by clergy, there is yet another teaching of the Church that may apply. This is the notion developed by Roman Catholicism that is taught young children and reinforced into adulthood, called”Sacramentals.”

Sacramentals, which include but are not limited to the following:

Virtually, in the mind of a child and adult, a Sacramental could be anything in, on, or around any thing, person, “practice,” etc., deemed so by decree. We were even taught that to mishandle (or God forbid, strike out at) a Catholic priest, nun, brother, bishop, or anyone else in authority over us, was tantamount to some kind of venial sin, perhaps even mortal. Which one didn’t matter, the suggestion was enough to prevent us doing so. Even if we were attacked. Even if we were touched in some other way…

We had been carefully trained, or groomed, in the parlance referenced, here.

Thus, for the young victims of clergy sex crimes, yet one more method of resistance was nullified.

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8 Responses to Part 2, Why Many Catholics Still Won’t Leave the Church Even Though Sex Abuse Scandals Explode: Family and Institutional Grooming

  1. Cathy says:

    The RCC in Now Business As Usual!
    I believe the Scandals will Multiply but the Vatican is hoping the Scandal will Die Down.
    The Catholic possesses Extreme Faith in their Church which should be Faith in CHRIST!

    Liked by 1 person

    • pbn says:

      Hi, Cathy,

      Sadly, I think you are right about many Catholics putting their faith in the Roman religious system rather than in Jesus Christ. But perhaps this current crisis will help many who may be on the verge of leaving do so, and this will bring them to Christ.



  2. I saw Angie’s video. That bit about being as cunning as serpents intrigued me too. Matthew 10 is highly relevant for our times, the whole chapter. It’s like a little manual for disciples. I suggest reading the Beatitudes straight afterwards.


  3. Thank you again Phyllis. You have set it all out masterfuly, the rigid system that keeps Catholics in line and facilitates clerical abuse. I’m constantly reminded of the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus exposed them for their hold over the people, their man-made rules and their hypocrisy. Catholicism is more cult than church. It appears to be led by a bunch of miscreant shepherds leading their flock astray. The remedy lies with the people in the pews, not their supposed leaders. It will be interesting to see how the current crisis develops. Colin.


    • pmb says:

      You’re welcome.

      RE: the “grooming” aspect of victimization, I am often reminded of the expression “the Devil is in the details” when thinking about the layers and levels of nuance, suggestion, and assumption when it comes to how people manipulate others into some kind of abuse bondage.

      To use a related expression that addresses both pain and pleasure aspects, a perpetrator knows how to use the “mean/sweet cycle” to manipulate his or her prey into submission.

      Most people are immediately outraged by the “mean” things criminals do to trap their prey, but it’s actually, I think, the “sweet” things they use, that is, those strategies that attract as opposed to alienating the victim so that the perpetrator can obtain compliance, that are the worst.

      Those mechanisms are the most insidious, the most evil because they web a victim, especially young children versed in a shame-based religious system such as Roman Catholicism, into taking on some of the blame and all of the shame. And when their entire faith community has been corralled and controlled into trusting the hierarchy because, well, it’s “the only way to God,” where does the child go for help?

      When it comes to abuse perpetrated against children in a religious system replete with extra and non-biblical rules and regulations that can be used to keep a child in line along with myriad ways to “do penance” and “earn grace,” the evil doers have so many more ways to manipulate their victims.

      Jesus had a lot to say about that, too, i.e., how the religious rulers “tie up heavy, cumbersome burdens and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4).

      However, there is another expression that I much prefer, “God is in the details.”

      I prefer that because God is so much “smarter” (after all, Who is the Creator and who, as in the Father of all Evil, is the created?).

      And He is continually hearing and answering prayers of all who seek deliverance from evil, whatever form it takes, including burdensome religious systems and those in the systems who use them to commit crimes.


      • Yes Phyllis, God is in the detail through the Holy Spirit, which is more powerful and penetrating if people pause from their busy-ness long enough to absorb it. Paul writes about human ‘wisdom’ and the power of God in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. Jesus says in Matthew 10.16 that he sends his disciples out like sheep among wolves, ‘so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.’ As I read it, he’s employing irony to illustrate how we are to outwit our enemies, play them at their own game but without succumbing to evil ourselves. ‘Blessed are the gentle; they shall have the earth as inheritance.’ Children, innocent and vulnerable, are easy prey to evil men. Jesus condemns those who would corrupt a child (Matthew 18.5-7), so all the more egregious are the crimes against children perpetrated by the clergy.


      • pmb says:

        Interestingly, our Sister in Christ Angela of the Yeshua Said My Name YouTube channel addresses the “wolves among sheep” topic in her most recent video, here: and she encourages us to speak out.

        I love it how God confirms His messages.

        Carrying on, in Him.


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