Predators of the Cloth; Betrayal of Trust
Church Often Works to Cloak Priests Who Molest Children
By Evan Moore
September 27, 1992
Tl Year was 1984 and Father Gilbert Gauthe's ugly little secret had just begun to emerge.
It was an unpleasant story that became more shocking as it unfolded. Gauthe, a popular young Catholic priest, was a pedophile, one who had molested scores of boys over more than a decade in southern Louisiana. He had traded boys with other priests and, even more damning, church hierarchy had turned a blind eye to his crimes.
But Gauthe was only a portent. Since then, hundreds of such cases have been reported, and the number of Catholic priests accused or convicted of child molestation has against the Roman Catholic Church across the country, and the church has paid an estimated $ 400 million or more to settle them. The Church itself has estimated such cases will tripled. Lawsuits have been filed cost $ 1 billion before the turn of the century. The effects have eroded confidence among both priests and the Catholic laity and the numbers continue to mount.
And the specter of a pedophile priest, an aggressive, predatory molester in vestment, rises again and again.
Eight years ago, Gauthe appeared unusual, if not unique. The 39-year-old priest was well liked in the deep Acadian community around Lafayette. His predecessors had been older men, pious, but not energetic. Gauthe was young, vibrant and charming. He drove a sports car, raced dirt bikes and played basketball. He organized sports teams, interested youths in the church and breathed life into the dwindling diocesan Boy Scout troop.
Then, he was exposed. Several parents, having learned their sons were molested by the priest, sought help from the church, then filed a lawsuit when they were ignored. Gauthe's deposition was taken and he admitted other cases, reaching back to 1971. Many were altar boys left in his care for spiritual guidance. Some were Boy Scouts in his troop. Most were seduced. Others were coerced with threats of hell.
Moreover, Gauthe was not alone. A spate of civil lawsuits and a criminal case against Gauthe showed he had traded boys with other priests, who had traded them in turn, and the ensuing litigation uncovered a festering bed of sexual depravity in the southern Louisiana clergy. Eventually two other priests in the diocese were charged with child abuse, five more had been implicated and at least 20 others were suspected.
To make matters worse, it became clear that Gauthe's superiors had been warned of Gauthe's deviant tendencies, even had evidence of some of his crimes and had admonished him for them.
Then, they had simply juggled him from one unsuspecting parish to another, allowing him continued access to children. They had known of other priests in the diocese and acted similarly, even spiriting one out of the country before he could be arrested.
Gauthe was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the civil cases were settled (at an estimated cost of more than $ 20 million to the church) and relief was mixed with dismay. It was hoped that what had happened in the Lafayette Diocese was an aberration, that it had been purged and surely would not occur again, that the Church would adopt a new, more enlightened policy, that things would be better.
But things would be worse.
"I thought that when we hit their pocketbook that hard it would make them clean up their house,'' said Paul Bencomo, a New Orleans attorney who represented several plaintiffs against Gauthe and the Lafayette Diocese.
"Obviously, it didn't. ''
Less than four years after the Gauthe scandal and less than 150 miles from the parish where he committed his crimes, a similar tale began unfolding. There, in New Orleans, Father Dino Cinel was regarded as a model cleric. He was a teacher, a respected historian who had taught at Tulane University for a decade and lived quietly in the rectory at St. Rita's, an old New Orleans Catholic church.
Then, in 1988, misplaced car keys destroyed his facade.
Cinel, who was traveling to Italy, had been driven to the airport by Linda Pollack, another Tulane professor, who called the rectory to say she had inadvertently locked Cinel's keys in his car. The ensuing search of Cinel's desk produced no extra keys, but the young priest who had taken Pollack's call was shocked when he found reams of child pornography there.
A further search of Cinel's quarters revealed magazines, photos, videotapes and ""how-to'' articles on child seduction.
Comparisons of some of the photos made it apparent that Cinel had been a contributor to the magazines.
Church officials' response was reminiscent of Gauthe. They defrocked Cinel, but kept him as an embarrassing secret. His cache of child pornography was not turned over to the New Orleans district attorney's office for three months and only then with a letter stressing that the church was in no way advocating that he be prosecuted.
Retired Archbishop Phillip Hannan said he suspended Cinel from his priestly duties immediately upon learning of the tapes and called the priest in Italy. Cinel, said Hannan, claimed the young men on the tapes were "street kids, paid prostitutes,'' and were adults.
"We gave them to our lawyers, who were in contact with (District Attorney) Harry Connick and they advised us to review them to determine if we knew who any of these people were and it took a long time to go through them,'' Hannan said.
"We could not identify any of them and we turned them over to the district attorney as soon as we were finished. ''
Even after receiving the material, Connick, a Catholic, took no action until a television reporter broke the story in the spring of 1990. Even then, it was six months before 60 cases of possession of child pornography were filed against Cinel. Those cases have since been thrown out. The state is appealing the dismissals.
Two youths subsequently sued, saying Cinel had not only seduced and molested them, but photographed them in sexual acts and sold the pictures to publications in Denmark. Those lawsuits went to trial Sept.14, but the diocese was absolved as a party and the cases have since been appealed.
In the meantime, Cinel was allowed to keep teaching at Tulane until he quietly left in 1989 to accept a new position at the College of Staten Island, part of the City University of New York.
There, based on a resume that bore no mention of his former priesthood or his pedophilia, he was hired as a ""distinguished professor'' of history with tenure, a position that pays $ 90,000 per year. He also married former professor Pollack. When school officials became aware of his past, Cinel was shuttled to an inactive position with the school's CUNY Press, which, at that time, had not published a book.
Then, in 1989, David Figueroa publicly accused Bishop Joseph Ferrario of Hawaii of molesting him. Even more damning, Figueroa contended Ferrario was one of a string of three priests he had sexual relations with over a 14-year period.
The first, he said, began when Figueroa was five and continued until he was 13. That priest died in 1972, said Figueroa, and was replaced by Ferrario, who kept up the sexual abuse.
Figueroa said he sought counseling from a third priest in 1978 and was molested by that cleric also.
In 1990, Figueroa filed a lawsuit against Ferrario, who had become a bishop, making him the first American bishop to be accused of such acts. That lawsuit is still pending, but the attention that case received was eclipsed later in the year, when Father Bruce Ritter, founder of New York City's Covenant House, a renowned shelter for runaways, was found to have had sexual contacts with youths dating back to 1970.
That was followed by a scandal in Newfoundland in which more than two dozen priests and brothers were charged with sexually abusing boys, many of them at a Catholic orphanage. The Archbishop Alphonsus Penney resigned in disgrace after he was accused of grossly mishandling the problem.
Finally, early this summer, the case of Father James Robert Porter came to light.
Porter had served as a priest in several southeastern Massachusetts parishes during the 1960s, then left the priesthood in 1970 and moved from Massachusetts to Minnesota. There, he married and fathered four children.
He never quite faded from the memory of Frank Fitzpatrick, however. Fitzpatrick had been an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in North Attleboro, Mass., more than 30 years before. He harbored a vague, unsettling memory of those days that became more detailed as time passed. Finally, he recalled being sexually assaulted by Porter. When the memory emerged, Fitzpatrick hunted down the former priest and tape recorded several conversations in which Porter admitted the act and numerous others.
Fitzpatrick then advertised in Massachusetts newspapers for others who could ""remember Father Porter'' and included the priest's picture with the ad. His quest resulted in more than 50 of Porter's victims joining forces this summer to seek prosecution of the former priest. Their lawyer, Roderick Macleish Jr. of Boston, said he now represents about 80 persons in the case and more victims continue to surface.
Last week, Porter was indicted with 46 counts involving 32 people in Bristol County, Mass. He was arrested at his home in Oakdale, Minn., and waived extradition.
The Porter case received national attention. It had its roots in New England, the garden of American Catholicism, far from the backwaters of Louisiana and close to Boston and New York. There were televised reports of meetings of victims and video tape of Porter flailing at cameramen. It piqued national interest, and it set the stage for a confrontation this month between Illinois State Atty. Jack O'Malley and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of the Chicago Archdiocese.
Earlier, O'Malley's office had sought charges against several priests for molesting children and the archdiocese responded cooperatively. They began investigating cases among the Chicago clergy and announced plans to set up a toll-free hotline and independent panel to handle complaints of sexual abuse by priests.
They drew up new guidelines that called for a more effective response from church hierarchy and issued a report that mentioned 20 cases of sexual molestation of children by priests in the archdiocese.
That was 14 more cases than the state attorney's office knew about. O'Malley responded by subpoenaing the archdiocese files.
And, as that legal battle continues, as Gauthe serves his sentence and as Porter faces criminal charges in Massachusetts, a New Orleans writer is about to publish ""And Lead Us Not Into Temptation,'' a book on pedophilia and homosexuality within the church that he has researched for seven years.
Jason Berry, author of the book, estimates more than 400 priests have been accused of child molestation since 1984 and their dioceses have paid more than $ 400 million in legal fees, out-of-court settlements and medical treatment. Berry says less than a third of those cases have been prosecuted, primarily because the church has hidden them.
"What I find staggering is the stupidity of the bishops,'' said Berry, himself a Catholic. "They simply don't do the morally correct thing and get these people out. ''
Others, many of them priests and former priests, agree. The Rev. and novelist Andrew Greeley has been outspokenly critical of church handling of abuse cases and likened the situation to "the S&L scandal for the Catholic Church. ''
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer formerly with the Vatican Embassy in Washington, was one of three authors of an extensive report on pedophilia within the clergy in 1985. Doyle termed the situation "the biggest problem the church has faced in centuries. '' He counseled bishops to deal with cases of child molestation by clergy immediately, to remove the accused from all contact with children and to help the victims in any way possible.
Doyle attempted without success to have his guidelines adopted as a universal policy. He said then that he believed the church had purposely ducked the issue. He is now an Air Force chaplain, having resigned his embassy post after his views became apparent.
A.W.Richard Sipe, a psychologist and a former priest, studied sexual disorders among clergy for years and concluded that "no more than 6 percent of priests at any one time are involved with minors, no more than the general population ... but the real problem is the fear of the problem among church leaders.
"To a great extent, they're naive. I remember using the word "pedophile' in a conversation with one elderly bishop and he thought it was some sort of bicycle. But the problem goes much deeper than that.
"They're terribly afraid, afraid of sex, afraid of the Pope and they can't bring themselves to discuss or deal with this problem. And you can't lead if you can't discuss. ''
Sipe believes celibacy and a growing dissatisfaction with it was the problem of the church in the 1960s, homosexuality in the 1970s "and this (pedophilia) is the problem of the 80s, and it's continuing.
"I believe the amount this has cost the church is now closer to $ 500 million. If you had a percentage of priests who had embezzled $ 500 million, Rome would certainly be dealing with it.
"The sad part is that this is coming out of the pockets of people who go to church on Sundays. '' Those people are disillusioned and angry. A survey of more than 1,000 Catholics in the United States and Canada, conducted by the Rev.Stephen Rossetti, another priest-psychologist, shows bitter disillusionment among both Catholic priests and the laity.
Rossetti's findings, published in September and October in "Today's Parish'' (by Twenty-Third Publications) show, not surprisingly, that there has been an ""erosion of confidence, decline in trust and a decline in morale among priests. '' There also is extreme anger among parishioners.
"Catholics are very angry, very sad and very disappointed,'' said Rossetti.
"I think the Catholic Church has deserved all the criticism it's gotten. They've simply ignored the problem.
"Pedophilia is clearly not just a Catholic problem, but we get more attention for several reasons. The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the U.S.and the most mysterious, because of celibacy.
"I think that's the mystique and when you cast something like pedophilia over it, it shocks. Plus, we simply expect priests to be better, expect more of their moral conduct and we're always going to.
"They're sacred symbols and this mixes the despicable with the divine. ''
When those symbols tarnish, the official remedy has been a turn of the head, said Rossetti. "They've used the "geographic' solution,'' he said. "They just moved them where they weren't known. ''
That solution has been applied in Texas, where there have been several cases, smaller in scale than the Gauthe or Porter scandals, but equally as devastating to the victims.
And, while reports and surveys and studies are being made, while a planned conference of Catholic Bishops is scheduled to address the pedophilia issue in November, while voices are being raised over an issue that for years has been kept hidden, one collective voice has only begun to be heard.
It is that of the victims.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.