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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.63, No.4, 641 ~ 659, 2017
Narrating Clerical Sexual Abuse
Ruth Barton
This paper discusses the narrativization of clerical sexual abuse in popular film and television, with specific reference to Irish fictions. I argue that a combination of circumstances that are both historical (derived from the Puritan and Romantic traditions) and contemporary (arising out of concerns around the sexualization of children for commercial purposes and internet pornography) have led to a new Puritanism that actively censors imagery that depicts the child as sexual being. While this is understandable, even desirable, it diminishes the potential for considering why men abuse children. In the place of understanding, then, we have the counter narratives of the demonic priest and, even more disturbingly, the abuse survivor as deranged psychopath. I further argue that the figure of the priest has become a way of questioning authority, especially in Ireland where Church control was an inextricable element of state control in the twentieth century. At the same time, the collapse of trust in authority that has been one consequence of the financial crisis has given rise to a new search for moral arbiters that, in turn, has occasioned the rise of a new fictional trope―the good priest. While an interesting development in terms of the national narrative, this elevation of the priest to symbolic figure has distanced the clerical abuse narrative from the real events that it originally confronted. In this way, the child has been doubly silenced, once by society and a second time by popular culture.
Key Words
clerical sexual abuse, popular culture, new Puritanism, scandal, monstrosity
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