|Sifting through Scandal
Author Examines Church's Role in Abusive Priests
By Maria Cortes Gonzalez
El Paso Times
January 25, 2008
A just-released book criticizing the way the Catholic Church has handled abusive priests for decades is gaining national media attention.
The book, "Sacrilege, Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church," might also get local readership. The first chapter, "The Rectory Boys of El Paso," tells how the city had its own abusive priests in the 1940s with some graphic details from court affidavits.
"It happened in El Paso É and there were several cases in El Paso," author Leon J. Podles, a former federal investigator, said in a telephone interview. "I talked to one victim who was from Las Cruces."
Podles had a Catholic education, attended a seminary for a time and has written other books on religion, such as "The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity."
The Rev. John Stowe, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, said the diocese has acknowledged that there were abusive priests in the past. He added that the diocese issued a "public apology" on Ash Wednesday a few years ago.
Podles said he wanted to expose El Paso and other cities where the abuse happened because people still don't have any idea of the extent of the abuse.
"When I started working on it, I had no idea how bad it was and how extensive the crisis was," said Podles, who began his research in January 2002.
The crimes against minors went beyond fondling, he said. And they weren't a few isolated cases such as those publicized in New England.
"There were scores of abusers, even in one city,"
Podles said. "And for decades, they were transferred from one parish to another."
Rosario Madrid, a lifelong Catholic, said it was horrifying to know that children have been abused by some priests. But she said the church was taking action.
"It may not be made public, but I think the church is doing something" to remove those priests, she said.
Madrid added that it's people, not the church, who behave wrongly.
Podles said he wanted to publish the book to encourage national reform so that it doesn't happen again.
"People have to face what happened," he said. "Bishops are still not being honest, but it goes back to the Vatican. The Vatican hated bad publicity É and if (bishops) wanted to keep the pope happy and get promoted, they had to keep bad publicity from public notice. So they kept sexual abuse hidden."
That's what the author says happened in El Paso.
Then Bishop Sidney Metzger knew about abusive priests, such as the Rev. Lawrence E. Gaynor, and tolerated it instead of taking legal action.
Gaynor, who was at several parishes in El Paso in the 1940s, is credited with starting St. Pius X Catholic Church. He spent time in a treatment center in Jemez Springs, N.M., in 1958.
Stowe said that in the past, it was a practice to move offending priests to some other parish after some kind of counseling or treatment. But that no longer happens.
"We know much more now than we did in the 1960s," he said.
Stowe said the diocese also has tried to reach out to victims and promote healing in their lives.
"The diocese has on several occasions called for anyone who has been abused by priests or any diocesan or church employee to come forward," he said. "Those appeals have been made in the media and in the churches."
He said the diocese has also established safe environment programs so that people know what behavior will not be tolerated and will report any problem behavior rather than keep it quiet.
Stowe said the diocese is proud of the present chapter of St. Pius X parish, which is flourishing with ministries and a fine example of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council.
"I think it is more powerful than the abusive behaviors that are alleged to have gone on there in the past," he said.
Victor Arias, a longtime parishioner of St. Pius, is not concerned that his church's current image will be tarnished by the publicity in the book.
"The people at St. Pius are motivated by their religion," he said. "And you can see it when you go -- it's a good church. I don't think (the book) is going to affect its image."
María Cortés González may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6150.
About the book
• "Sacrilege, Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church" ($22.95) is published by Crossland Press, Baltimore.
• Author Leon Podles is president of the Crossland Foundation, whose major focus is the sex-abuse crisis in Catholicism.
• His book tells how the Catholic Church has failed sexual-abuse victims through cover-ups. He also says therapists, police and the press have failed the victims.
• Podles includes a chapter on El Paso and how it had some abusive priests in the 1940s. He includes graphic details from court affidavits about the abuse the victims endured.
Church counseling services, 2D
• The Catholic Diocese of"El Paso's Catholic Counseling Services: 872-8424.
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