Taking on the Catholic Church
Sexual Abuse, Coverups Go Back Centuries, a Priest Contends
By Frances Grandy Taylor
July 24, 2006
More than 20 years ago, the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a lawyer assigned to the Vatican Embassy, tried to warn the Vatican that it was facing a potential scandal involving children and allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Since then, the priest has worked with 2,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse and testified on behalf of victims in 200 court cases.
A new book co-written by Doyle, "Sex, Priests and Secrets Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse," makes a case that sexual abuse has been a problem in the Catholic Church since its earliest days - even the fourth century.
Papal decrees were issued in an attempt to regulate the sex lives of the clergy, the authors say. "In days when priests were allowed to marry, we find laws telling them to avoid sex; when celibacy became mandatory for the clergy, we find laws against concubinage. We also find condemnations of homosexuality in the ranks of the clergy; the sexual abuse of minors; and the solicitation of sex by priests in the confessional."
"I knew it went back decades; I just didn't know how far," said Doyle, who recently retired as a U.S Air Force chaplain. "There is evidence that the bishops tried to stop these things and discipline priests, but there is (little) mention of any discipline against those who cover it up."
To write the book, Doyle joined with Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk who has investigated hundreds of sexual abuse claims against priests, and Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who became a psychotherapist specializing in treating mental health issues of priests and bishops for almost 30 years.
"Sex, Priests and Secret Codes" is the first of three books that the three plan to do together.
In modern times, Sipe said, there are cases of sexual abuse of minors dating from the 1920s. "In reviewing depositions with bishops, they said over and over again, `We knew nothing,' but the truth is that it was officially ignored," said Sipe. Documents from 12 different grand jury investigations indicate it was well-known, he said. "It's undeniable."
The book includes letters sent between bishops in 1963 who discuss the search for a diocese to place the Rev. Bernard Bissonette, who was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy named Thomas Deary. The priest was sent to New Mexico for treatment.
The Rt. Rev. Vincent J. Hynes, who was bishop of Norwich at the time, declined to take Bissonette back into the Norwich diocese because "it would be impossible for me to give him an assignment where his past faults would be unknown. I therefore do not see how I can ever accept him back in this diocese."
"If Father Bissonette can find a benevolent bishop, I would have no objection," Hynes wrote, "but in conscience I could not give him a recommendation." Over the next 30 years, Bissonette went on to abuse children at nine parishes in New Mexico, Michigan, and Minnesota, according to BishopAccountability.org. Deary committed suicide at age 44 in 1991.
Bill Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says he takes issue with the book's premise that there has been longstanding knowledge of sexual abuse by priests.
"I don't think anybody in the church knew the extent of this until recent times," Ryan said. "This is something that also exists in society, and most people didn't know or talk about these kinds of things until recently."
Ryan said the Catholic Church has taken steps to weed out priests with sexual problems and prevent them from entering the seminary.
"What is much more important is that since the church has become aware, (USCCB) has taken steps to address it and make sure it never happens again," Ryan said. In response to the sexual abuse crisis, the USCCB passed the Charter for the Protection of Young People in 2002, which created a series of programs intended to regulate the handling of sexual abuse complaints and monitor compliance.
Sipe says these "self-audits" have enabled bishops to hide information from the public. "Los Angeles is now the epicenter of this - the Cardinal (Roger Mahony) has fought all the way to the (U.S.) Supreme Court to keep secret the names of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse of minors."
"The system (of secrecy) is still active, because these people are still being produced by the system," Sipe says. "And it's not just an issue of what to do with these priests, it's also about the bishops and what they need to do about themselves."
The case of Mahony and accused pedophile priest Oliver O'Grady is examined in a documentary called "Deliver Us From Evil," by Amy Berg. It features both Doyle and Patrick Wall speaking about the historical trail of sexual abuse by clergy. The film is scheduled to be released this fall.
Doyle's work to expose the church's sexual abuse problem has brought him into major conflict with the church's hierarchy. Recently he was fired from his position as chaplain just months before he was to retire from the Air Force.
"I have been penalized continuously - the church lawyers do their best to destroy my reputation," he said. "My ministry is the victims of sexual abuse ... I have contact with victims and their families every day."
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