Beyond Anger

By Kristen Campbell
Mobile Register [Mobile AL]
October 16, 2004

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle's concerns about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church date back decades.

Today, the priest is one of the best-known critics of the church's handling of the scandal. He is among those scheduled to speak at a conference organized by The Linkup, a national victims' advocacy group, in Mobile later this month.

Doyle is often recalled as one of the authors of a 1985 report warning of an impending sexual abuse crisis within the church.

After years of serving as a canon lawyer at the Vatican embassy in Washington and as an Air Force chaplain, he is now spending his time speaking and writing. Doyle made headlines in April after he was fired by Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

According to the Associated Press, the stated reason for Doyle's ousting was "disagreement over providing daily Catholic Masses at military bases with few priests."

This week, Doyle said he thought that reason was "a pretext."

"But that's what happens if you're in the institutional church and you're a priest and you disagree with somebody up top and they can do something to you, they do it," he said. "And there are other priests who've spoken out publicly about the sex abuse issue, and everyone that I've known of -- everyone -- has in some way or other been punished by the institutional church...."

While here, Doyle said he plans to talk about "healing and about moving

beyond anger and the pain -- spiritual healing, especially."

Earlier this week, he offered his thoughts on his work with victims and the way in which the abuse scandal has rocked his church.

Q: Nearly 20 years ago, you wrote a report warning the Catholic Church of an impending sexual abuse crisis. What led you to write that report?

A: The experiences I had at the Vatican embassy led me to write that, which began with the Lafayette case, which was the first one to become a public issue....The public awareness then generated a rapid increase in cases at the time....And my conversations with a number of bishops and with others about the problem led the three of us to compose that report as a way to help bishops to deal with...what we predicted would be a rapidly rising number of sex abuse cases around the country.

Q: What sort of response did you receive then?

A: Well, at first, some individual bishops and some cardinals were very enthusiastic and very supportive.... But the response from the bishops' conference itself, from the bureaucracy of the bishops conference -- and that's not all the bishops, I think it's unfair to say that all the bishops turned us down, it was a small group who were in charge of managing the agenda and the programs of the bishops' conference -- they, for some reason or other that I never found out, rejected our efforts. And all we wanted them to do was look it over and consider it and maybe it could be helpful to them.

Q: How did you come to be an advocate for clergy sexual abuse vic tims?

A: ... I became an advocate for them when I began to meet them and listen to their stories, especially the fact that so many of them had gone to church authorities for help and had been rejected, intimidated...but never received the proper pastoral or legal help that they deserved. I mean I began to think that this was an unbelievable, horrendous problem facing the Catholic Church and the more I became involved, the more I saw how widespread and deeply rooted it was.

Q: Do you perceive your work with abuse victims as a part of your ministry?

A: Yes, absolutely.

Q: Tell me a little bit about that....

A: Well, I think I think the most important thing I've done is with individual victims or their families to help begin to find some peace of mind.... Somebody who is sexually abused by a priest, especially if that somebody happens to be a practicing Catholic, it tears their soul. It's not just physical abuse, but what's even worse is the spiritual abuse....

One of the things I always do when I meet new victims is spend time with them and ask them, when was the first time the bishop or his representatives reached out to them to offer healing and pastoral help. And everyone I've talked to said, 'It's never happened.' And so I always apologize to victims because I still official priest....And I've learned that that means a great deal to them....The last time I did it was just last week with a man in Oklahoma. So that's about the most important thing I can do is believe them, and be supportive, and allow them to express their anger, their frustration.

Q: How has that contact affect ed your spiritual life, your spirituali ty?

A: It's forced me in many ways to open up and become much less naive and childish about the institutional church.......It's taught me that to have a true spirituality for me, has to be grounded in something other than the institutional church and mine is. It's grounded very firmly in the mission of Jesus Christ. That's as simple as I can put it.

I mean, I read the Scriptures, what Christ did with rejected and disenfranchised people, and I consider it a privilege to be able to do a tiny bit of that with these victims.

Q: After The Boston Globe sto ries about clergy sexual abuse broke a few years ago, allegations of clergy sexual abuse surfaced around the country. And those were followed by a series of lawsuits. What do you see happening now?

A: There's still a lot of

lawsuits....I don't think the institutional church on the part of the bishops in general -- now some individual bishops, yes, but in general -- I don't think they have faced this problem....They're running from it. They're in denial.

Q: Why don't you think that some church leaders have really faced this problem?

A: ...There's still a defensive-

ness....There still is a lot of hostility among victims toward the bishops and their lay review boards because of the way many of them are treated. I think the bishops in many ways are afraid to...spend time and really get to know victims, speak with them.

Q: How have you seen the sex ual abuse crisis affect the Catholic Church?

A: It's the worst nightmare, scandal, that's hit the Catholic Church I would say in, since the Middle Ages, since the Reformation. Because it's not been simply sexual abuse, it's abuse of power and authority, that's the major abuse. Sexual abuse is the catalyst that showed us that the leadership did not know really how to exercise true religious leadership and they were concerned only about power. And they really, they were stumbling around. There was a lot of good will, I think, on the part of many bishops, but they didn't know what to do.

Q: What do you think caused the crisis?...

A: I think part of it is the unwillingness of the institutional church to seriously look at whether mandatory celibacy is the best way to have a clergy. Secondly, I think another thing that caused it was the response of the hierarchy. I don't think they really knew how to respond to it. They responded to it as an institution, in a very defensive, fearful way....

...And I think many institutions, whether it's a church or General Motors or Enron, the institution gradually becomes so powerful that it takes on a life of its own and can forget what it's all about. Enron forgot what it was all about. And in many ways the institutional Catholic Church has forgotten what it's about, what it's supposed to be about, namely, people, caring for people, not the survival of princes and an aristocracy called the clergy.

Q: You're quoted in U.S. Catho lic (a national magazine) as stating: "In spite of public statements by the bishops there still is no widespread reaching out to victims in a truly compassionate manner. Victims are still seen as the enemy by the bish ops." Do you still believe that's the case?

A: I think it's lessening, but I think in general there's a lot of truth to it.

Q: Why...?

A: The way the bishops oftentimes will see victims is simply plaintiffs in a lawsuit, and in many cases, I understand that. And I think one of the things that I'd love to see happening is some way found to break down those barriers of hostility....

Q: What would you like to see the laity do in response to the scan dal...?

A: I think a lot of the laity are still in denial about how serious it is....They see these people as looking for money, as angry. They see them as false accusations. They don't know. But gradually, they're learning.

I think one thing the laity, lay people can do is realize that they're not infants when it comes to their life in organized religion, they're adults and demand the right that they have to speak up, to speak their mind and to take part in the real life of the church, something more meaningful than just giving money and taking a seat on a committee here and there, but really being part of it.

And as far as the victims, support -- you know, public, verbal, organized support. That's important.


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