Journalist, Author Is Heard on Clergy Sex Abuse at St. Peter's College

By Alexander Santora
The Jersey Journal [New Jersey]
April 10, 2004

The Catholic Church needs to institute a policy of separation of powers, like the U.S. government's executive and judicial branches, to fully address the problem of sexual abuse by priests, the first journalist to write about the scandal said during a talk at St. Peter's College this week.

To counter Vatican interference and control, journalist and author Jason Berry of New Orleans said the church would do well to set up a judiciary branch to investigate charges and mete out punishment for abusive priests.

Berry, speaking before a group of about 85 members of the controversial Voice of the Faithful organization, offered an example from his new book, "Vows of Silence: the Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II" (Free Press, $26.).

Investigations into sexual abuse charges by nine former Legionnaires of Christ leveled over several decades and around the world against the wealthy religious order's founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, were derailed by Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Cardinal Sodano, Berry said.

Maciel has denied the charges.

"The church needs an independent judiciary because the pope can intervene," said Berry, an alumnus of Jesuit schools who declared himself a practicing Catholic and said he had "a very benevolent experience of priests and nuns" growing up in Louisiana.

As a journalist, though, Berry began to follow the case of the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe of the Lafayette, La., diocese, whom Berry called "the first notably public pedophile priest." Gauthe was the subject of his 1992 award-winning book, "Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children."

The local bishop, Berry said, established a pattern of transferring priests suspected of sex abuse. Ultimately, he blamed the bishop and vicar general of the diocese, the No. 2 official, for allowing hundreds of children to be abused.

In his talk, Berry also faulted the two recent reports commissioned by the Catholic bishops of the United States. One chronicled the extent of the sexual abuse of more than 4,000 priests; the second made recommendations about why the scandal erupted and what needs to be done to prevent it from recurring.

The first, he said, was "a day late and a dollar short," and the second recommended "fraternal correction," whereby bishops monitor themselves, which he called a "myth."

Because bishops recruit and train priests, they are protected by the pope, he said.

Had Maciel, a Mexican native residing in Rome, been an American priest accused today, he would have been suspended under the zero tolerance policy adopted by the U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops in Dallas in 2002, Berry said.

Charges against him surfaced a decade ago when his co-author, Gerald Renner, a former journalist for the Hartford Courant and head of the now-shuttered Religion News Service, began to investigate the Legionnaires, who have headquarters and seminaries in Connecticut.

It took years to publish his stories in the 1990s because Legionnaire officials wouldn't cooperate, he said.

Renner, who also spoke Wednesday, said the Legionnaires, who operate 25 ultra-conservative private schools in the country, would hold seminarians captive when they wanted to leave the seminary.

David Cerulli, the New York City head of the Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests, greeted the 85 mostly older, out-of town members of the New Jersey chapter of Voice of the Faithful. He called for a national clearing house to track clergy sexual offenders and a national independent review board to monitor church actions against predator priests.

Few St. Peter's College staff or students were present at the event, since there was little publicity. VOF, formed in 2002 in the wake of the priests' sex abuse scandal in Boston, has been banned from meeting on church property by Newark Archbishop John Myers.

Though St. Peter's College is Catholic in the tradition of the Jesuit order, it is run by a predominantly lay board of trustees and is independent of the archdiocese.

The Rev. Raymond Schroth, the Jesuit community's professor of humanities at St. Peter's College, welcomed the VOF chapter, saying "No one who loves the church should pass up a chance to support VOF."


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