Writer on priest abuse to speak in N. Naples

By Janine Zeitlin
Naples Daily News
February 15, 2006

When Jason Berry started digging into the case of a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse in Cajun country two decades ago, he found a thread common in scandals he has written about in the years since.

Cover-ups, secrecy and a divide between the people and church governing powers were discovered, said Berry, a 56-year-old journalist, in an interview from his New Orleans home.

"What these many abuse cases are about are two intertwined stories. One is about a pathologically driven priest and the other is about a bishop whose idea of power is based on complete fidelity to the system," he said. "Each one of these stories is about a conflict between monarchy and democracy."

Berry co-wrote "Vows of Silence" and was the author of "Lead Us Not into Temptation" — two lauded books probing sexual abuse by priests and how the Catholic Church responded.

Voice of the Faithful, a national group formed to respond to the scandals, is hosting Berry at a 7 p.m. public talk Thursday at St. John the Evangelist Church, 625 111th Ave. N., in North Naples.

Peg Clark, head of the group's local chapter counting more than 350 members, said Berry is the most knowledgeable lay person on how the Catholic Church reacted and continues to respond to the abuse.

"He has the breadth and depth to awaken people," she said.

A New York Times review praised "Vows of Silence" for casting light on why abuse took so long to expose. Berry's resume notes he's been interviewed on CNN, "Oprah," ABC and "Nightline."

Despite decades of reporting on the scandals, Berry says he still attends Mass almost every Sunday. Reared in a devout family, he attended Catholic schools from grammar school to Georgetown University.

The reporter leaned on biblical and religious teachings in times his "own moorings were tilted" in 20 years of writing on the subject.

He believes the Catholic Church can change to help prevent future abuse and one route is more transparency in the higher ranks and less split between the people and the hierarchy.

"I'm certainly not out to destroy the church, not that I could. But I want to be the one person in that movement toward progressive equilibrium and it's not going to come by people stressing lockstep obedience," he said.

Berry is hopeful Pope Benedict XVI will address the crisis in the priesthood better than the late Pope John Paul II — whose "denial was as deep as the Atlantic," he said.

Another way to thwart cases is by rejuvenating the priesthood and motivating more young Catholics into the priesthood by ridding the requirement for celibacy.

"Men are not being drawn to the priesthood like in the years before 1960 and countless numbers have left. And at the same time, a disproportionate number of gay men have gone into the priesthood," he said, noting the number of teenage boys victimized by priests.

He's not ready to quit reporting on the topic until change is made.

"I would like some personal sense of closure to see the pope meet with a delegation of abuse survivors," he said. "I think it would a long way toward bring the church into some arena of reality on this."

Berry has worked 33 years as a journalist, author, historian and documentary producer and is currently working on a book about New Orleans and brass band funerals.

For more information on the talk, call 417-3077.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.