A Letter from Father Tom Doyle

By Tom Doyle
May 9, 2004

......There is no adequate way I can express my gratitude for the support and encouragement have received. I realistically expected there would be a response once news of my situation became public but I have been overwhelmed and honestly humbled by the messages I have received from so many of you. All along, I have never wanted to be the center of focus nor portrayed as a hero or revolutionary leader. I am neither. The heroes of this nightmare are the many men and women who have survived incredible abuse and victimization and have continued to fight for justice for themselves and for others. My motivation and commitment, and my source of hope on those many occasions when I wanted to walk away from it all, has been my relationships with survivors.

Knowing what you have endured and continue to endure has taught me what true inner strength and commitment are all about.

he church leaders who have created this nightmare are being called to account....perhaps too slowly for some, but it is happening. Nearly 20 years ago when Ray Mouton, Mike Peterson and I first waded into this cesspool, we had no idea what would happen. Now as I look back I am amazed at the changes that the persistence of survivors has made. None of this is to say that we re on the home stretch. Far from it. But at least the survivors and their supporters are a force to be reckoned with. If we weren't a force, there would have been no Boston 2002, no Dallas 2002, no National Review Board, no John Jay Survey and no worldwide exposure of the duplicity and moral bankruptcy of the system that created this mess and has allowed it to fester and grow for ages.

Getting it all out in the open was a greater triumph than most realize.

Let me provide you with some background on what happened to me and why I have tried to keep it quiet....and what will happen now. For the most part the news reports were accurate with a few elements that were a bit off-center.

As many of you know I have been in the Air Force for 18 years. The Air Force and my own religious Order, the Dominicans, have been totally supportive of my efforts on behalf of victims. Many have asked why I have been so obsessed with clergy sex abuse and why I have not distanced myself. The reason is simple: I got to know the victims.....the flesh and blood people

whose bodies have been assaulted and whose souls have been slaughtered....the victims, many of whom have risen from the ashes to fight on. Through them I began to lose my naivete about the institutional church which I had been a part of for so long. After seeing the hard evidence of abuse, cover-up, lying, manipulation and re-victimization in the hundreds of cases I have worked on, it was impossible to either stand by, frozen in some neutral zone, or worse, walk away and do nothing.

What I have seen and heard these past 19 years has made me profoundly ashamed to be associated with the institutional Catholic Church and with the clerical world. There are millions of wonderful, Christian Catholics and there surely are hundreds if not thousands of priests who are authentic, compassionate and honest ministers of the gospel. I know many and I admire and support them. I also know that the clergy in general and the hierarchy in particular have either done nothing to relieve the agony of the church or worse, they have been part of its creation.

The fact that there are decent, honest lay and clerical members of the church does not, in itself,

make this problem less of a nightmare. The only thing that has worked successfully has been the action from the outside.....the dogged work of the survivors, the exposure by the media and the court battles led by the many attorneys who have been part of this campaign.

I have been contacted several times by Archbishop O'Brien, the Archbishop of the Military Services and my ecclesiastical superior in the chaplaincy. He has questioned things I have said in writings or speeches. He has not been pleased that I have been critical of bishops. In particular he took issue with portions of the speech I made at the VOTF convention, July 2002 which he deemed heretical. I was threatened with revocation of my endorsement then because he felt

that I was not suitable to serve in the military archdiocese. This never happened and I had no

communication with him until I was fired in September 2003.

The news reports from last week were essentially accurate. I composed a Canon Law opinion on certain aspects of a policy letter sent out by the Archbishop. This opinion took the form of a confidential memo, addressed to two of the chaplains at the base, both of whom were directly involved in restructuring the chaplain ministry at that location. The goal of this process was to re-apportion the various chaplain duties to make best use of time. Since chaplains are responsible not only for members of their own denomination but for all people who ask them for help,

the denominational duties such as liturgical services, must be balanced with other military related duties such as unit visitation, ministry to the sick etc. I stated in my memo that Catholics are not required to attend Mass every day nor is this a right set forth in Canon Law. It is a custom but not something that must be provided at all costs. I also stated that in cases of emergency when

all priests are called away the wing chaplain can authorize communion services.

Finally, I questioned but gave no opinion as to whether the church requires that a Blessed Sacrament chapel be provided at every military chapel. This memo was inadvertently left in a meeting room and found by a lay woman employee.

She completely misunderstood it and thought it meant that there would be no more daily Mass. Since she was so emotionally upset I decided to avoid trying to explain. I had intended to urge the head chaplain to send my memo and the restructuring plan to the Archbishop for his review but since this all happened the day I was departing Germany I did not get a chance to make this recommendation at the time but planned on doing it later via email.

The memo was faxed to the archbishop and within 24 hours he had revoked my endorsement. I did not find out until 3 weeks later while I was at my sister's visiting my family. I have had no direct communication of any kind with him. My Dominican superior wrote him twice and had at least one phone conversation. The archbishop did not speak with me directly nor would he

agree to speak to my Dominican superior or I in person. I arrived at my new assignment and was treated with terrific kindness and given total support by them Protestant chaplains there as well as by the base leadership. In short, there was no process, due or otherwise.

This all meant that I could no longer function as a chaplain but it did not mean I was out of the Air

Force. I have remained an officer fulfilling a variety of duties including substance abuse counseling.

It also did not mean I am out of the priesthood. I am not.

The archbishop's action did not directly eliminate the possibility of a military retirement but

it did have an indirect impact. To complete 20 years of combined reserve and active military service, I would have needed a waiver from the requirement that I leave the Air Force at age 60. Such waivers are rarely granted however, the exceptions are for Catholic chaplains because of the severe shortage. I had applied for a waiver and was fairly confident I would receive it. When I was removed from chaplain status I lost the possibility of getting the waiver and therefore lost the possibility of a retirement. It was not a certainty I'd have been able to stay, but a high probability. Each year there are fewer Catholic priests on active duty in the military. Although my career had been outstanding, the archbishop apparently thought I was unsuitable because

he erroneously believed I disagreed with him. In the Catholic clerical world, disagreeing with a bishop is obviously a greater sin than I realized.

The other issue that clouded the air was my endorsement by another denomination. I was faced with separation in January as a result of the congressionally mandated reduction in force. Since I

was no longer a chaplain I was included among the 4000 Air Force officers to be released. Every avenue to retain my status was tried but to no avail.

I was told that the only thing I could do would be to get another chaplain endorsement. I had 24 hours to explore this avenue and was advised by a fellow chaplain (not Catholic) to try it. I understood that this would not require renunciation of Catholicism or the priesthood but would serve as an administrative band-aid to allow me to finish my duties at Seymour

Johnson AFB and leave the Air Force as planned by early summer.

I wanted the extra time to be able to make a comfortable transition and not be rushed out the door. I also understood that such an endorsement would not mean that I had to function as a chaplain for any denomination. It was all done very quietly with no public notice and no change in what I had been doing. Thus I was able to stay on due to an administrative source of relief.

When the Military Archbishop heard about the new endorsement he interpreted it as an act of apostasy on y part and further interpreted it as a public acceptance of another denomination. None of this was accurate or true. I was threatened with some form of public action such as excommunication if I did not renounce the new endorsement. On the other hand canon

lawyers I consulted agreed that my actions did not amount to apostasy. I am not intimidated by any direct or indirect threats but I am tired of the hassles that all this has caused not only to me but to my Dominican superiors and to the Air Force. None of it is necessary from a pastoral point of view because nothing I have done has harmed anyone in any way.....

I had intended to keep all of this information private not because I was ashamed of anything I had done but because I did not want to detract from the real issue which is the on-going refusal of the hierarchy to deal honestly with the sexual abuse issues as well as the on-going re-victimization of victims in spite of the public promises to clean up the mess. This was not to be. The information was leaked to the New York Times last week and that started the ball rolling.

I will be leaving the Air Force in summer. After that I hope to continue working in substance abuse counseling and in hospice ministry.

Obviously I am not a hot prospect for work in any Catholic least not on this planet. More important, I have no intention or desire for any such work. The church is much, much bigger than the hierarchy or the clergy. For me it is primarily the victims and survivors, their families and friends.....and anyone else who has been rejected, ridiculed, marginalized or hurt by the institution.

Jesus Christ did not spend his time in an office or at the temple headquarters. He didn't have a canon lawyer or a file clerk following him around to make sure that the people he helped out were legally pure or had their paperwork in order nor did he get all hung up on whether they were orthodox or not. He loved first and asked questions later. I doubt that spirit can be found anywhere in the chanceries and pastoral centers today. I don't want to be in the medieval museum. I want to be out where life is.

All of the above is a concise version of what has happened.

One thing I will not do, now or ever, is shut down and retreat. I do not regret one word I have said on behalf of victims and survivors. There is much more to say and much more to do for the victims of sexual abuse and for the millions who want a living church where all are treated as Christ would treat them.

That's where I'll be.



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