Chaplain Addresses Abuse Phenomenon
Canon Lawyer Blames 'Clericalism' in Church

By Barbara Schlichtman
The Advocate [New Orleans LA]
Downloaded February 17, 2004

NEW ORLEANS -- The sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church is an age-old phenomenon caused by "clericalism" -- the mistaken conviction that clerics are better than other people, a canon lawyer said Monday. The Rev. Thomas Doyle spoke Monday night at Loyola University as part of the first public event in New Orleans sponsored by the city's affiliate of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. About 25 people stood up in the auditorium when Doyle asked for victims of abuse to rise.

Doyle is a canon lawyer, Dominican priest and critic of the church's handling of sexual abuse allegations. Doyle, a U.S. Air Force chaplain, said he has served as an expert witness in more than 700 clerical sexual abuse cases throughout the world.

He first became involved with the handling of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in 1984, when the Vatican asked him to monitor the Gilbert Gauthe case. Gauthe, a former Catholic priest, served 10 years in prison for sexually abusing children in Vermilion Parish and later admitted to abusing boys throughout his 13 years in the priesthood.

Doyle said the Gauthe case forced him to admit to himself that the problem is corruption at the top coupled with misuse of power.

Sexual abuse within the church is a phenomenon that has ebbed and flowed since the church became a political structure, he said. The Gauthe case was the beginning of the era that the church is in, Doyle said.

Until recently, church leaders had complete control, he said. But victims, survivors, the secular media and lawyers are forcing accountability, Doyle said.

Also, until now the church has not had to look at celibacy and its aberrations, he said.

The widely publicized problems in Boston didn't mark the beginning of the phenomena, he said. Boston is where it reached a critical mass and society saw the problem for what it is, Doyle said.

Talking about sexual abuse is not bashing the church or being evil, nor is it ungodly to criticize religion, Doyle said. When 4,500 to 6,000 priests are involved, the truth must be told, he said.

"It exists. It's real. It's a serious, serious disease," Doyle said.

Doyle maintained throughout his talk that sexual abuse within the church has always existed.

He distinguished it as a phenomenon instead of a crisis. A crisis, Doyle said, is something that happens and is dealt with in a short time.

"Clericalism" is the reason, beyond disturbed clergy, that the church has allowed its own functionaries to rape the most vulnerable in its own midst, Doyle said.

Doyle described clericalism as "magical thinking" and "craziness" that perpetuates the position struck by clerics that "if you are nice to me, God will be nice to you."


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