Church Secrecy Helps Abuse Proliferate: Expert
Because Sex Is a Taboo Subject, Neither Victim nor Abuser Can Get the Help They Need, a Trial Is Told.
By Peter Geigen-Miller
London Free Press [Canada]
September 25, 2003
Secrecy about sexual abuse by Catholic clerics has resulted in victims not receiving the help they needed, an expert on church law testified yesterday. Rev. Thomas Doyle, recognized as a top American expert on canon law, told a London civil trial that sex was long a taboo subject in the church, not to be discussed in seminaries or from the pulpit.
Doyle said he has been involved in helping victims of abuse by priests for nearly 19 years and has seen the harm caused by maintaining secrecy.
One consequence is victims did not receive the pastoral care they required to help them deal with the impact of abuse on their lives, Doyle said.
Another result of keeping the problem buried was priest perpetrators have not received the medical help they needed to deal with the problems that led them to abuse, he said.
Still another consequence was a proliferation of abuse by clerics in the absence of public scrutiny of the problem, he testified.
Doyle, a member of the Dominican order ordained as a priest in 1970, testified at the civil trial in which John, Ed and Guy Swales and their family are suing Rev. Barry Glendinning and the Roman Catholic diocese of London.
The Swaleses are seeking damages for pain and suffering they say resulted from abuse by Glendinning when he taught at St. Peter's Seminary in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Glendinning pleaded guilty in 1974 to gross indecency involving five boys and one girl and was placed on probation for three years.
Besides being an expert on church law, Doyle is an active officer in the U.S. air force. His next posting will be in North Carolina.
Under questioning by London lawyer Paul Ledroit, who represents the Swaleses, Doyle said he believes the reason for keeping sexual abuse quiet was to protect the authority of the church and the income that comes from parishioners.
Knowledge of abuse could threaten the ability of the church to impose a strict moral code on its members, Doyle said.
It could also affect income, because members might ask why they should give to the church when it does not practice what it preaches, Doyle told Superior Court Justice John Kerr.
Doyle said policies and procedures for dealing with sexual acts by clerics were provided in a 1962 Vatican document.
The document imposed a more extreme level of secrecy on church officials involved in formal abuse proceedings, he said.
The penalty for breaching secrecy was instant excommunication. The sanction could be lifted only by the pope, Doyle said.
"Quite frankly, that's about as heavy-duty as you can get."
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