Readings: Mortal Sins

Every once in a while there’s a break in the bad news about the church. The good news for several weeks has been the election of Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina as pope. His is a kind and fresh face of an elderly man with a heart, and his symbolic gestures suggest that this new face may represent a new spring for the battered church.

But I was reminded Tuesday night that the bad news is still alive and well: in the old Bleeker St. Theater in lower Manhattan a very articulate panel of five men and one woman joined forces to discuss, for a crowd of over 100, Michael D’Antonio’s Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime and The Era of Catholic Scandal. The five panelists were also leading characters in the book, a narrative of the sex abuse scandal from 1984 to the present.

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Young, athletic, highly educated, ambitious and assigned to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., Fr. Tom Doyle saw himself on a career path to becoming a cardinal. Richard Sipe, a Benedictine monk and psychologist, loved the church but was uncomfortable with obedience. Patrick Wall, also a monk, was a “fixer,” skilled in helping the order deal with problem clerics. Jeff Anderson was a very tough lawyer known for representing troublemakers and for wild parties at which he drank too much. Barbara Blaine was a full-time Chicago social worker who set up a Catholic Worker house where she worked herself into exhaustion, until one day she read the ground-breaking Jason Berry article in the National Catholic Reporter on Fr. Gilbert Gauthe. Shocked, she recognized the symptons of abuse in the article also in the disturbed people she encountered daily in her work.

Tuesday night each one explained how discovering the ugly depths of the abuse epidemic transformed each one’s life and career into one of struggle, as they saw it, against an institution—though not necessarily a faith—that covered up the crimes of priests, that valued its own status and reputation more than it did the welfare of innocent young victims. Doyle, a canon lawyer, gave up his careerism, served as an air force chaplain, researched the sex abuse issue and reported his findings to the bishops. Sipe researched the sexual life of the clergy and found too few who actually practiced the rules of celibacy. Wall, offended by the immoral behavior of his colleagues, left, married and also researched sexual behavior. Anderson learned how to take on the Catholic hierarchy with lawsuits and also to deal with his own alcoholism. Blaine founded the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

What do these five hope for in the future? Sipe feels that the church, to save itself, must give up its obsession with secrecy. Wall urges that everything be done to rid us of child pornography, which played in part in every corruption case he knew of. Doyle, who told me afterwards that he is still a priest but has had to devote his whole ministry to this cause, wants the church to do what Jesus did, reach out to the victims. Anderson still sees himself confronting “absolute corruption.” The absolute best thing the church could do, he said, is to work women into its very top management. And Blaine wants to keep the pressure up to the point of bringing the legal cases against the church to the International Criminal Court.

These are all justly angry men and women who have been transformed by the experience of what they have witnessed, and we must sympathize with them. Their last request was that the audience write their congressmen to extend the statute of limitations so more molesters could be sued. In the 1980s I wrote frequently about this issue in the National Catholic Reporter and the Newark Star Ledger, where I recommended that the church rent Yankee Stadium for a world-class penance service. Meanwhile a New Hampshire priest, Gordon MacRae (nephew of a Jesuit), sent me a book-length manuscript from prison arguing that he had been unjustly convicted. Today, almost 20 years later he has a prison website still claiming his innocence, plus a team of defenders and list of articles, including from the Wall Street Journal, supporting him. I wish someone with the resources would research it and discover the truth. And we will always remember that Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., courageously opposed the “zero tolerance” rule where one offense removes a priest from ministry for life. It’s the same question that confronts Christians in the wake of the Boston Marathon: Can Christians show compassion for both the victims and the accused? Can they refuse and still call themselves Christians?

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MARK OCONNOR
4 years 7 months ago
'Tom Doyle saw himself on a career path to becoming a cardinal.' A dominican priest religious who says this was his ambition early on? Wow!! .... that's a religious with one hell of a narcissistic ego. And the others - like Fr Doyle no doubt they have done much good for victims but I can never see any sense in their extensive media and internet presence any recognition of their own limitations and failures? Before they are canonised as prophets of justice isn't there any room for analysis of their motivations also? The multi millionaire lawyer - pure disinterest? Ex celibate benedictines who now spend their presumably married lives talking endlessly about the sexuality of celibates with scant nuance? Catholic worker Barbara another Dorothy Day? I doubt it. I understand the church deserves penance and much reform...that point is taken....sledge hammers are everywhere at work.. But some practice of a hermeneutic of 'suscpicion' about the this type of panel may also be a good idea.
Rory Connor
4 years 7 months ago
The name "Patrick Wall" does have some resonance in Ireland. He figured in a press release issued by the Archbishop of Cashel, Dermot Clifford on 3 January 2007 regarding his efforts to have a previous Archbishop held responsible for the crimes of a paedophile priest. The press release was entitled "Claims against the Archdiocese of Cashel & Emly dismissed in California lawsuit concerning former priest Oliver O’Grady" and I quote some passages: "Over the last six months there have been stories in many newspapers and on the radio concerning the efforts of a lawyer in California to sue the Archdiocese of Cashel & Emly in a California court in order to hold the Archdiocese of Cashel & Emly responsible for conduct of a former California priest named Oliver O’Grady. On December 27, 2006, the California court found that, “There is no admissible evidence that Cashel & Emly knew that O’Grady had a propensity to molest children.” .......... "During the last six months many inflammatory accusations have been made concerning the knowledge and the conduct of church officials in Ireland concerning Oliver O’Grady. These accusations have been reported in many newspapers and on the radio. The source of most of these accusations is Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk, who is now employed by the lawyer who has pursued these claims against the Archdiocese of Cashel & Emly. Mr Wall has been a guest on radio programmes and has been quoted in most of the newspaper stories about this case. "The most inflammatory accusation made in this matter is that the late Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, the Most Reverend Thomas Morris, knew Oliver O’Grady was a potential abuser of children when he completed his seminary studies and was ordained before he moved to California. This accusation has been conclusively refuted by the court in California which has stated in its order dismissing the case that: “There is no admissible evidence that Cashel & Emly knew that O’Grady had a propensity to molest children and that the ordination of O’Grady would therefore give him a position of authority that would permit him to cause harm in other locations.” "The order of California court also found that Patrick Wall is not a credible witness concerning church procedures or doctrine. In two separate places in the order of the California court, the court states that: “The court finds that the testimony of the defense witnesses on matters of church procedures, doctrine, and Canon Law is more credible than that of Mr. Wall.” ......... http://www.irishsalem.com/individuals/accused/archbishop-thomas-morris/catholicbishops-pressrelease.php
ed gleason
4 years 7 months ago
Rory Connor writes 5 paragraphs about the USA convicted criminal Oliver O'Grady without mentioning Cardinal Mahony's coverup.,, that's a record
Rory Connor
4 years 7 months ago
If Mr. Schroth is interested in an alternative view of Michael D’Antonio’s book, perhaps he could look at David Pierre's review in The Media Report http://www.themediareport.com/2013/04/25/mortal-sins-catholic-michael-dantonio-book-review/ and in particular the following: "D'Antonio attacks Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, whom he erroneously identifies as the Bishop of Oakland, for remarks the bishop made in 2010 decrying the "rush to judgment without an honest look at the facts" and the "absolute hatred" with which people have attacked the Catholic Church over the abuse issue. "What D'Antonio entirely fails to mention, however, is that within a year-and-a-half after airing his belief, Bishop Zubik himself was the target of a very highly publicized but ridiculous false accusation of abuse. (The local public prosecutor even opined about the bogus charge, "I can assure you, based on 30 years of experience, I have never heard of a more convoluted, extenuated series of stories in order to justify the recollection of the now-made allegations against the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.")" Dave Pierre concludes that D'Antonio takes actions and comments made by Churchmen and deliberately quotes them out of content in order to demonise the Church. Is there really a valid reason why D'Antonio omits to mention the false allegation against Bishop Zubik?
Bill Mazzella
4 years 7 months ago
I believe zero tolerance should not extend to not helping the accused. The question has always been further abuse of children and exposing predators to them. But not to provide for the accused is to go from one extreme to the other. At the same time too many cases of cover-up still occur. Making vigilance a continued priority. Yet for Mark and Rory to impugn these five with questionable evidence is just as shameful in my opinion. These individuals were courageous when the rest of us were denying abuse. There record is sterling. The burden of proof is on those demeaning these true followers of the gospel.
Mark Burke
4 years 7 months ago
I was once a juror on a murder trial. The prosecution's star witness was someone who might best be described as a "crack whore." Despite this, we voted to convict, because the evidence was clear that the defendant committed the crime. If we demand purity of those who point out crimes, then we'll end up with no justice. Criticism of the characters of Fr. Doyle, Messrs. Anderson and Wall, and Ms. Blaine (who was herself raped as a child by a priest) does not make the disgrace go away: for decades, church officials (clerical and lay) failed to respond with care to people who had been raped by clerics and failed to punish the guilty and to take prudent, commonsense, measures to prevent these criminals from re-offending. D'Antonio's book lays this out clearly. There are some errors in the book. But, this doesn't make the work as a whole unworthy of our attention. If anything, the book is too long in narrative and personal interest and too short in analysis. We're still in need of a study that answers questions like: what's gone wrong with the culture of the priesthood when a bishop such as Rembert Weakland can say "Not all adolescent victims are so innocent. Some can be very sexually active and aggressive and often quite streetwise"? Or, when Cardinal Mahony can straightforwardly suggest that he didn't know rape damaged children because he was never taught it in social work school? Yes, there have been false allegations and some innocent priests have been destroyed. Cardinal Dulles was right to draw attention to the need for procedures which safeguard the rights of priests in judicial and administrative processes. This, though, was hardly an act of courage. Zero tolerance is absolutely necessary to protect children. Pace Fr. Schroth, it has nothing to do with a failure of Christian compassion. It's a prudent response to controlling the behavior of people who have shown themselves to be sexually dangerous around children. Of course, Christ calls us to compassion and forgiveness. But that no more requires we keep people in ministry than it argues against mandatory jail time for drunk driving. Today's newspaper makes the need for zero tolerance abundantly clear. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/04/with_approval_of_archbishop_pr.html Here, we have a man who confessed to sexually assaulting a young man and who underwent counseling and "rehabilitation," yet who is allowed to minister to teenagers. What rational person thinks this is a good idea? Would anyone be surprised if the priest in question were to re-offend? No matter their failings, we need people like Doyle, Wall, Sipe, and D'Antonio to continue to draw attention to this scandal. Clearly, ecclesiastical authority isn't going to police itself.
Judy Jones
4 years 7 months ago
I just finished reading "Mortal Sins" by Michael D"Antonio, it is an excellent book which explains in detail how some very brave people found each other while dealing with their frustration, feeling of betrayal, pain, and suffering of child sex abuse within the Catholic church system. This very informative book is real, it is powerful, and the victims and supporters will continue to fight the corruption within the church hierarchy which has caused so much harm. The brave victims who keep speaking up and exposing the truth, to get these heinous crimes of child sex abuse and the cover up of these crimes stopped, are to be commended for their courage. Until high ranking church officials are held accountable and punished, nothing changes and kids are still not safe. Child sex abuse thrives in secrecy and secret systems that allow it to continue to this day. Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. [email protected], "SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests http://www.snapnetwork.org/
MARK OCONNOR
4 years 6 months ago
I agree with zero tolerance to abuse. I agree with justice and compassion for victims. However - I think it is fair to include in the conversation the question of the motivations of fallible lawyers and support and advocate groups. especially because their rhetoric is almost totally obsessed with punishment and - let's say it clearly - revenge. They too are part of the problem. But like all zealots and ideologues the evil inside themselves is constantly projected outwards. Yes - I know they desperately want a bishop to be jailed.But when they lobby to get that want will it satisfy them ? Clearly no.That's just the start. Violence is a spiral. They are so full of self righteous indignation about the failures of others whilst continually painting themselves as totally 'pure' and only interested in victims - that more 'punishment' must be planned. Did some Bishops fail ' grievously?- Yes absolutely. . Should some resign and /or be asked to resign - Yes, absolutely.. However - that does that mean the whole Catholic Church must have on it imposed - for God's sake of all things - the USA secular model of 'crime and punishment' as the supposed way to healing? God forbid! Look at the disastrous polarised, individualistic and narcissistic state of USA 'culture' and its endless violence. We don't need more of that modeled in the Catholic church. Healing cannot come about through such revenge. The violence of the perpetrators cannot be healed by more violence.

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