Friday, December 28, 2007

Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes

As noted in other posts, the Roman Catholic Church has no trouble with meddling in civil law matters as is the case in Italy (see my prior post today) or in the USA where the Conference of Bishops has issued a statement attempting to sway Catholic voters ( to conform to the Church's agenda. In contrast, the Catholic Church has a real problem with ending its hypocrisy and cleaning up its own dirty linen. Specifically, from the Pope on down, no serious effort has been made to clean house and punish bishops, cardinals and others for their roles in the worldwide sex abuse scandal. Personally, I am baffled as to why anyone with a functioning brain and a sense of moral decency would listen to ANYTHING the Church hierarchy has to say unless and until this moral bankruptcy from the Pope on down is rectified.
In this regard, Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., a Dominican priest with a doctorate in canon law and five separate master''s degrees, and out spoken critic of the Church's failure to address this very issue, sacrificed a rising career at the Vatican Embassy to become an outspoken advocate for church abuse victims. Since 1984, when he became involved with the issue of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy while serving at the Embassy, he has become an expert in the canonical and pastoral dimensions of this problem—working directly with victims, their families, accused priests, bishops, and other high-ranking Church officials. Here are some highlights from a memorandum Father Doyle prepared in connection with he sex abuse scandal in Dallas, Texas:

2. Traditionally reports of the sexual abuse of children by priests were handled in a secretive, private way. The Church officials have always realized that public knowledge of such abuse would severely harm the Church's credibility, the image of the priesthood and in general result in serious scandal.
3. It is also important to note that traditional Church teaching had always held that a priest enjoyed an exalted position. To speak ill of a priest or to accuse him of something as heinous as sexual abuse was and still is considered by many to be sinful. Catholics were brought up with the notion that a priest represented Christ. Among devout Catholics it was simply unbelievable that a priest would sexually abuse a child. This attitude and the respect and fear engendered among the devout laity was used by Church officials in its attempts to dissuade people from pressing complaints against offending priests. It is well documented that many adults, once abused as children, hesitated to report the sexual abuse because they feared they would never be believed or worse, would receive punishment at the hands of their parents.


1. The problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests received widespread publicity in 1984 and thereafter, due to the case of a priest in Lafayette LA. The NCCB/USCC claims that it had no knowledge of the problem of such sexual molestation by priests prior to 1982.
2. In 1985 the NCCB was urged to initiate some form of action in the form of research into all aspects of the sexual abuse problem as well as the creation of a crisis intervention team. A document privately prepared by myself, F. Ray Mouton and Fr. Michael Peterson was offered to the NCCB in May, 1985. Several bishops who were attending the June 1985 meeting were given copies in hopes that the document would prompt some form of organized action on the part of the NCCB. Nothing happened.
5. There was sufficient information available to the NCCB by the 1970s to have justified the issuance of warnings and instructions to the lay Catholic community concerning the risk to children of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics. This included undeniable medical documentation of the long-term harm to victims from such abuse. There is no evidence that the NCCB/USCC issued any such warnings and instructions to the lay Catholic community. No such warnings and instructions have ever been issued.
6. There was sufficient information available to the NCCB by the 1970s to have justified modifications to the Program for Priestly Formation to assist in screening candidates for the priesthood in order to identify those prone to sexually act out with children. While bishops are arguably free to ordain any candidate for the priesthood they choose (provided those candidates meet the standards set forth by Canon law) the duty exists under civil law to protect children from known danger. This was not done.

In dioceses throughout the country, when cases of sexual abuse by priests have surfaced, recurring problems have occurred:
1. lnadequate investigation. In virtually all cases, rumors and/or complaints and other forms of notice of misconduct were received by Church officials but no investigation was conducted. This is clear from the records involving Fr. Peebles and Fr. Kos in this case. Regarding Fr. Hughes, there were numerous red flags involving his close relationship with Jane Doe, a young girl who was 12 and 13 years old at the time, that if properly investigated could have prevented the abuse. This is part of a common pattern of not investigating allegations or red flags indicating potential abuse.

2. lnadequate supervision. Priests accused of sexual molestation are often found to have had suspicions raised against them early in their careers and, in some cases, prior to entering the seminary, or even in the seminary. After receiving reports of sexually acting out, or rumors of such, in many cases there have been no investigation or supervision and priests have simply been transferred from one parish to another. In other cases, red flags indicating a potential for misconduct were ignored. There is evidence of inadequate supervision with regard to Fr. Robert Peebles, Fr. Rudy Kos, and Fr. William Hughes.
3. Reporting to civil authorities. It is rare that allegations of sexual abuse of minors are reported to civil authorities. There is evidence of failure to report in the cases involving Peebles, Kos, and Hughes.
4. lnadequate treatment of victims. Often, victims complaints have not been properly investigated, victims have been coerced into not making complaints, have been given false or misleading information, or have been urged to remain silent. In many instances, known victims received no pastoral attention from the Church, nor did Church officials take care to make sure victims received proper counseling. These actions continued even after medical evidence conclusively established the harm to victims of child sexual abuse. There is evidence of inadequate treatment of victims in the cases of Peebles, Kos, and Hughes. In addition, funds for counseling were not provided until the fall of 1995 (with the exception of payment for a few sessions for Jane Doe in 1991).
7. Sexual abuse of a minor is a specific crime mentioned in the 1917 Code of Canon Lawand again in the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983. It has been mentioned over the centuries in the law of the church for a reason: it exists, is a serious problem and has been acknowledged by church to be such. It is not something new that only cropped up with the initial publicity of the 1984-85 situation in Lafayette LA, and the national publicity which followed the Porter case in 1992. Because of the nature of sexual abuse of minors, the institutional church has attempted to keep the matter under wraps. It has consistently failed to provide adequate pastoral care and concern for the victims of such abuse and it has consistently failed to take responsible steps in dealing with individual priest-abusers.

8. The history of this problem would strongly suggest that the primary value for the institutional church has been its public image, its public security and the avoidance of any public knowledge of the extent of the problem.

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