Archdiocese Should Review Rules of Penance

By Ana Menendez
Miami Herald
February 11, 2006

The headquarters of the Archdiocese of Miami enjoys the kind of security that would shame a medieval fortress. Thursday, Ann Brentwood tried and failed to breach the ramparts.

Brentwood, a member of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was trying to deliver a message to Archbishop John Favalora: Stop blaming the victim.

"It is really down and dirty and unfair and reprehensible," she said.

When a Catholic priest was arrested and charged with raping a boy, the Archdiocese initially responded with prayers. But the comfort of faith seems to go only so far in a soulless, litigious society. So a few days later, church leaders unveiled their legal strategy: The boy, who was 10 at the time, could be accountable for "his own negligence."

Is irony one of the deadly sins? The Catholic Church that so efficiently blessed millions of schoolchildren with everlasting guilt now hesitates before its own mea culpa.


Scandal has engulfed the church, but leaders seem to wish that business would continue as usual: Yearly carnivals, hassles over wedding venues, confessions for the rest of us.

In the meantime, victim support groups such as Brentwood's continue to grow. And websites spring up to track the cases. One of them,, keeps a database of 2,600 "priest perpetrators" nationwide. In South Florida, the Archdiocese has spent millions settling sex-abuse suits.

Yet instead of addressing the issue of abuse with courage or grace, the Vatican has launched a diversionary campaign against homosexual priests, drawing up a list of questions that might have pleased Pope Gregory IX: Are there homosexuals in the seminary? Are faculty members on the look-out for signs of "particular friendships"?

Experts on human sexuality tire of pointing out that homosexuality is not pedophilia. In going after gay priests, the church creates new victims while doing nothing to address its own complicity in the scandals that have rocked the institution.

In the latest case, John Doe No. 22 claims that Rev. Neil Doherty drugged and sodomized him almost 10 years ago when Doherty was pastor at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Margate.

At least eight others also claim that the priest raped them as children. The Miami Herald's Jay Weaver reported that a mental health counselor had urged the Archdiocese to suspend Doherty after an earlier alleged victim came forward. Instead, the archdiocese settled with the victim in 1994. By then, Doherty was at St. Vincent, where he met John Doe 22.


The church's response: The earlier allegations "were deemed not credible at that time." As for the shameful legal strategy in the case of John Doe 22, an Archdiocese spokeswoman called it a "routine legal response."

"It would never be our intention to blame a child," said Mary Ross Agosta. "The Catholic Church in general for years now has made public apology to anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse."

Expressions of remorse are worthless unless they're backed by real change. By shuffling accused priests around and then blaming a child for his own abuse, the church shows that it has a long way to go in accepting responsibility for the way its bishops handled thousands of complaints over the years.

"I had thought that with all the scandals, the Catholic Church had woken up," said Barbara Byrne, who lost her counseling post at Epiphany Catholic School last year after defying hierarchy to report suspected abuse. "What I find is that no, it hasn't."

What will it take for the Catholic Church to come clean after decades of covering up? When will church leaders disavow the culture of secrecy and shame?

They can begin today by admitting that they have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed, through their fault, through their fault, through their own most grievous fault.


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