Writer Speaks of Pedophile Priests

By Nancy Swett
Hamptons Independents [Hamptons NY]
Downloaded March 17, 2004

David France, a former senior editor of Newsweek Magazine and author of a new book on the clergy sex scandal, was the guest speaker at a Voice of the Faithful meeting on Sunday evening at Polish Hall in Riverhead.

VOTF is an organization seeking change in the Catholic Church following revelations about institution-wide sexual abuse of children by priests since 1950.

France was in New York promoting his new book, Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal. He read excerpts from his book, answered questions, and signed copies.

The author said his direct exposure to the clergy sex scandal began when Neil Conway contacted him. Conway was the first priest to come out with the story from that side of the pulpit. He molested eight boys in the 22 years he was a parish priest before retreating into the woods, where he lived alone for 16 years as a hermit. When the victims’ stories began to break in Boston, he contacted France, then at Newsweek.

France told how Conway’s account shed light on the church’s cover-up. By withholding damning documents, denying allegations, and protecting abusers, top church leadership enabled decades of abuse of children and the destruction of their lives.

Abuse Scandal

France also discussed facts and figures revealed in the February 27 study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and commissioned by America’s bishops on the church sex scandal. As big as the scandal was believed to be before the report was issued, the report revealed the actual magnitude of the abuse to be even larger.

According to the report, 10,667 individuals made allegations of sexual abuse against 4,392 priests; about 4% of priests in the church between 1950 and 2002 are accused. The abuse continues today (see sidebar). In the majority of cases, abuse occurred over a multi-year period. Abuse was reported to church leadership before 1993 in a third of cases. The church has paid out over $572 million in settlements and professional fees. Over 80% of victims were males between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time.

There were 20 categories of dastardly deeds, including the most serious felonies. The abuse most commonly occurred in the priest’s home or parish residence, in the church, in the victim’s home, in a vacation home, in school, or in a car. Only 3% of all priests who allegedly abused minors were convicted, and only 2% have served prison sentences to date.

In Denial

In his book, France deals extensively with the Church’s condemnation of homosexuality, its denial of human sexuality, and the cover-up of all charges that threatened its leadership and position on Catholic teachings.

VOTF members in the audience asked France what he knows about Bishop William Murphy, now of the Rockville Centre Archdiocese and formerly from the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse scandal, Boston. France said Murphy, despite the results of a grand jury investigation, has maintained he’s done nothing wrong. “He’s been one of a handful who has been successful in keeping his track record from scrutiny. He’s trying to ride it out, and over the last two years, he’s done it successfully. He keeps documents hidden and fights civil suits with vigor,” France said.

“There’s no inherent relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia,” France said in response to a question. “According to studies, homosexuals are less likely to be pedophiles than heterosexuals. Predatory attacks by priests against teenage boys is a unique pathology in the Catholic Church,” he said. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of Catholic priests in America are gay, or about 15,000-17,000 of the 45,000 priests in America, he said. Not one of them has “come out” as gay, which he believes is an indicator of an unhealthy church environment. A good deal of his book is spent on the question.

“The majority of accused priests seem to be of Irish descent, but to my knowledge no studies have been done to explore what role culture plays in all this,” France said, in response to another question. Accusations of abuse are not unique to the United States. “There has been an explosion of allegations recently in almost every western country, including Ireland, of course, and in the developing world as well.”


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