'Code of Silence' Among Priests Shields Abusers
Hundreds of Clergy Victims As Children, Many Experts Believe
By Michelle Nicolosi
September 23, 2004
When the Rev. Lawrence Minder told his congregation last month that he had been abused by a priest 30 years ago, the Bothell priest became one of a handful of Roman Catholic priests nationwide to break an unspoken vow: Thou Shalt Not Accuse Fellow Clergy.
Though parishioners at St. Brendan Catholic Church were startled to hear that their pastor had been abused by a fellow priest, many experts believe Minder is one of hundreds of Catholic clergy who were sexually abused by priests when they were children.
Afraid of the personal and professional consequences of reporting their abuse, many keep their allegations to themselves - even though the men who abused them are often still practicing priests dealing with children on a daily basis.
"There's this code of silence - you don't criticize another priest. You don't tarnish the image of the church," said the Rev. Gary Hayes, a priest in Kentucky who says he was abused by a priest when he was 15.
Hayes, 52, was one of the first priests to go public with allegations that he'd been abused by a priest. He said he has met or heard of about 50 priests who say they have been abused by priests, and he suspects there may be "hundreds" more.
Priests who point fingers at other clergy "don't make any friends in the church, I'll tell you that much," said the Rev. John Bambrick, a New Jersey priest who said he was also abused by a priest when he was 15.
"I know guys who came forward, and it was disastrous. Priests shun you. It gets to be very, very messy - I think a lot of guys don't want to get caught up in that mess."
Bambrick said he knows of about 20 priests who have been abused by priests. He and Hayes have started a support group for priests abused by priests called Jordan's Crossing.
Seattle's most notorious priest accused of sexual abuse - the Rev. James McGreal - allegedly said he was abused by a priest. Snohomish psychiatric nurse Maryalyce Stamatiou said McGreal made the admission in a 1987 meeting with her about his alleged abuse of her brother.
The Seattle Archdiocese has received allegations of abuse against McGreal from 40 accusers - more than any other priest in the archdiocese, said spokesman Greg Magnoni. The archdiocese settled with 16 of McGreal's accusers last year and this year for $8.6 million, Magnoni said.
McGreal - who is now living in the Midwest in a facility for priests accused of sexual abuse - could not be reached for comment. Magnoni said he had not heard about McGreal's alleged admission; he said personnel information of this nature is confidential.
Peter Cimbolic, a psychologist who specializes in treating priests, said he has treated 15 to 20 priests who have been abused by priests. He said most have not come forward because they don't want to cause trouble for themselves, for the church and for the priests who abused them.
Often, they believe their abuse was unique - and that their abuser is not victimizing others, he said.
Cimbolic echoed Hayes' perspective.
"There has been a code of silence, an unspoken code not to ruin the reputation of men in the priesthood, not to cause problems within the society of priests. I think that's a real phenomenon," said Cimbolic, who was previously vice provost at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is now provost of Bellarmine University in Kentucky.
Richard Sipe, a therapist and author who said he has reviewed more than 2,000 clergy abuse cases as a consultant, expert witness or as a therapist, agrees "this is not rare."
Sipe said priest abuse of boys who then go on to become priests creates a cycle that is partly to blame for the high incidence of sexual abuse of children by clergy.
"There is a clerical genealogy in some of these cases: A priest abuses and he was abused and the priest who abused him was abused and etcetera, etcetera," said Sipe.
Studies show that most victims of child abuse do not go on to become abusers themselves. But research suggests that most abusers were abused when they were children.
There are no studies looking at how many of the 44,212 active Catholic priests nationwide have been abused by fellow clergy, but Sipe says he's seen it in many of the cases he has reviewed. "I would say that's a common experience," he said.
Many experts believe 10 to 16 percent of men were sexually abused as boys. Priests likely are abused as boys at rates similar to the general population, said the Rev. Stephen Rossetti, president of the St. Luke Institute in Maryland, a residential treatment programs for priests and other church figures.
While some believe clergy abuse of priests is fairly common, Rossetti does not.
"It happens, but I don't think it's very common in terms of numbers," said Rossetti. "I don't see a lot of it."
A recent review of the personnel records of 4,392 clergy accused of abuse, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, found that 47 said they had been abused by priests. Researchers warned that number may be low because "unless a priest self-disclosed his own prior abuse or it had been specifically raised as an issue, there might not have been an indication of abuse in Church files."
One Midwestern priest who asked not to be named said two priests abused him when he was a boy in the 1950s. Both priests took him on trips and spent the night in the same motel bed with him, snuggling up to him and touching him.
He said he hasn't come forward because his abusers are dead. "I don't see what good would come of that," he said. If his abusers were still working as priests, he'd likely report the abuse, he said.
He said he has informally surveyed fellow priests to see how common his experience is. Of the 10 or 15 priests he asked, most said priests abused them when they were younger, he said.
"I thought my case was very unique," he said. But then "I have said to different guys I know, 'Were you ever abused?' And quite a few said yes. I was surprised. I think it's very widespread."
Of the 187 priests in the Seattle Archdiocese, Minder is the only one the archdiocese knows of who has allegedly been abused by a priest, said Magnoni.
Minder wrote in a Sept. 8 letter to parishioners, "Despite what public perception may be, there are many priests who have suffered bishops seem to have ignored the needs of clergy in their own ranks who suffer the same needs as other victims of clergy sexual abuse."
The Seattle Archdiocese - and most dioceses around the country - has not specifically called on priests sexually abused by clergy to come forward with their allegations and to name their abusers. Magnoni said the archdiocese has no special outreach for abused priests; he said clergy are aware that the archdiocese has a hot line that abuse victims can call if they have an allegation to report.
Minder told parishioners at three Masses over one weekend in August that he was sexually abused about 30 years ago by a priest, and that his alleged abuser had been allowed to continue working as a priest.
Bambrick and a number of other priests who said they were abused by priests said the same thing happened to them: Instead of firing the priests they named as abusers, church officials allowed them to transfer to other dioceses.
Minder told parishioners he planned to resign because the Seattle Archdiocese asked him to undergo a psychological evaluation and to give officials access to his medical records.
"I could not tolerate a level of disclosure to the archbishop as an employer which violates standards laid down by federal law protecting the confidentiality of medical records," he wrote in a Sept. 8 letter to parishioners. Minder has not returned calls for comment.
Archdiocese officials later said they do not need to see Minder's medical records - but they do want to be kept aware of Minder's condition and progress. Ultimately, Minder agreed not to resign, and to take a leave of absence instead.
Minder did not name the person who allegedly abused him nor the diocese that handled the claim, but according to two people at the Yakima Diocese, Minder lodged an abuse claim against a priest there.
Minder alleged he was abused by the Rev. Richard Scully as a teen, said attorney Russell Mazzola, chairman of the Yakima Diocese's lay advisory board. Minder wrote to the diocese about the matter in 2003, and it was referred to the lay advisory board, Mazzola said.
It is unclear when Minder originally made his allegation.
The Amarillo Diocese in Texas hired Scully in 1989 after the Yakima Diocese sent him to a facility in Jemez Springs, N.M., that treats sexual offenders. According to The Dallas Morning News, the Yakima Diocese settled two claims filed against Scully. The Amarillo Diocese stripped Scully of his ministerial powers in the spring of 2002, after receiving some non-abuse-related complaints about him, according to Harold Waldow, a vicar in the diocese.
Minder left for the Mayo Clinic last week for a physical and psychological evaluation. He is struggling with painkiller and alcohol-use issues, and is receiving ongoing care for those issues, said Magnoni.
The Seattle Archdiocese has not received any allegations of abuse against Minder, who wrote in his Sept. 8 letter to his congregation that many abused priests "have not gone on to abuse children but have served faithfully and well and are good and reliable priests."
Minder wrote that his decision to share the details of his abuse "was a necessary risk. I believe a great deal of good can come when priests who were abused by other clergy can feel free to step forward, disclose and get help."
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