Click here if you don’t see subscription options
James Martin, S.J.July 30, 2018

Why would Catholic priests and seminarians be so reluctant to report allegations of sexual harassment or abuse from bishops, priests or religious superiors? This question has been raised repeatedly in the wake of the allegations against Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who on Saturday resigned from the College of Cardinals. McCarrick is accused of abusing a minor as well as sexually harassing seminarians and young priests.

Based on my own experiences and many conversations with clergy and members of religious orders over the years, let me suggest six interrelated reasons for this reluctance.

First, there is a fear of being labeled as a “complainer” or “troublemaker” by others in the diocese or religious order. Sometimes simply raising concerns about the actions of a person in power (a bishop, seminary rector, religious superior, teacher or older priest), let alone reporting actual abuse or harassment, is enough to lead some in the institution to critique or even attack a person for “rocking the boat.”

There is a reflexive desire to protect the reputation of the institution to which one belongs.

Why does this happen?

The most basic reason is a desire to avoid “scandal” in an institution to which people have committed themselves and in which they take great pride. (This is the case not only in the Catholic Church but in other religious organizations as well as secular organizations that have faced abuse cases, for example, Penn State.)

Any case of abuse and harassment, particularly when made public, worsens the reputation of the church, diocese, seminary or religious order and diminishes a person’s positive feelings about belonging to the institution. There is, therefore, a reflexive desire to protect the reputation of the institution to which one belongs. This reflex may be intensified in a person in any official capacity, who, in a sense, represents the institution to the outside world. Those in authority are therefore sometimes especially resistant to hearing bad news about the institution.

The victim may be told, “Just stay away from him.” Or, more simply, “Get over it.”

But there is a simpler reason for the reluctance among some to report abuse or harassment: They understand that for those in charge, it will mean more work—of the most difficult kind. If it is a crime, it means reporting the priest’s actions to civic authorities; if it is inappropriate (but not criminal) behavior, it still means doing many tasks that few people want to undertake, including confronting the abuser or harasser and perhaps removing him from active ministry. All of this may lead to tacit feelings of “They will hate hearing this” among those who are harassed or abused.

Second, there is a fear of being told not to “take things so seriously.” Especially if the harassment has been continuing for years and is widely “known,” as it apparently was in the case of Theodore McCarrick, others who have been harassed or superiors who have known about it may wave it away or downplay it as something that “just happens.” Or the victim may be told, “Just stay away from him.” Or, more simply, “Get over it.”

Third, there is a fear of being dismissed when one reports it. Many years ago as a young Jesuit, I reported an incident of my being groped. (He had done this before to others.) One of my superiors responded, “I’m not hearing this from anyone else.” I told him, “You’re hearing it from me.” The priest in question was not removed from active ministry for several years.

Fourth, there is a fear of hostility from people with whom you work or, in some cases, live with. This is essential for people unfamiliar with the Catholic world of diocesan clergy and religious orders to understand. Unlike workplace harassment of the sort reported by those in #MeToo movement, priests and religious may not only work with but live with the people they are accusing. (In the case of a monastery, it might be someone you will live with your entire life: Monks take vows of “stability.”) Sometimes, victims of harassment or abuse also work and live with the religious authorities responsible for taking action—in a seminary, rectory, chancery or religious community.

There is a fear of hostility from people with whom you work or, in some cases, live with.

Living under the same roof with your harasser or breaking bread with the person you are asking to confront the harassment can be tremendously stressful. Thus, the person being harassed may say to himself (or herself in the case of women religious), “It’s not worth it.”

Fifth, there is a fear of misplaced sympathy for the abuser or harasser. One may hear comments like this: “He’s done so much good work. Why are you focusing on this one thing?” Or: “This happened years ago. He’s an old man now and not doing anyone any harm. Why are you putting him through this?” Many abusers or harassers are narcissists and skilled at shifting the focus from the abuse or harassment they committed to how difficult their lives are in the wake of dealing with lawsuits or their removal from ministry. In other words: “Poor Father So-and-So.”

Sixth, there is a fear of the reaction from others who did not report the abuse or harassment in the past. Other priests, seminarians or religious who have been harassed (or even abused) and who have not spoken up may feel an intense mix of emotions that sometimes translates into anger at the one now reporting. (As psychologists tell us, that kind of anger is more easily directed outward than inward.) That is, if other priests, seminarians or religious have been abused or harassed, the one who reports it, or even speaks about it, raises uncomfortable questions about patterns of non-reporting.

[Explore America's in-depth coverage of Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.]

Taken together, it is easy to see why some seminarians, priests and members of religious orders may be reluctant to come forward about harassment or even abuse at the hands of their diocesan or religious superiors, or other clerics in power. Most of this, as we see, is based on fear—fear within the institution and fear within the person.

Today, I am glad that many are beginning overcome that fear out of love for the church. Because, as the New Testament reminds us, perfect love drives out fear.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
sheila gray
5 years 10 months ago

Thank you for your deeply-considered article. As a survivor myself, who was abused by an RSCJ in 1969 in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, after 49 years of speaking out and being “cast out” by beloved teachers and classmates, I can only hope that some are reconsidering their actions and words... Survivors must “take the wheel” now and build healing centers for ourselves. I cannot believe I have lived long enough to witness such a complete turn around in the CC about all of it. Love is afoot in the Land again. Hallelujah

Skip Collins
5 years 10 months ago

Another question: Why would journalists at a premier Catholic magazine (James Martin, Thomas Reese, etc.) fail for many years to investigate serious abuse allegations that they heard about a senior cleric in the American church? We should acknowledge that many, many people with responsibilities, not just bishops, have utterly betrayed our trust. McCarrick is a pathetic, narcissistic monster. The bishops are self-serving, craven, and spineless. The Vatican is fearful. Francis is inept. Finally, the Catholic press is cynically uninterested in discussing their own failings in this mess.

All American cardinals should offer their resignations. The editors of all American Catholic publications who did not do their duty to seriously investigate allegations they were aware of should also resign.

Sunny Donoghue
5 years 10 months ago

Well said. Any answers, Fr. Martin?

Linda Gatter
5 years 10 months ago

Skip, maybe try listening with a little compassion instead of lashing out in anger. James Martin already explained in his article why these things are so hard for many people (I would guess, nearly everyone) to report. Hasn't something similar to this happened to you -- maybe not sexual harassment, but what about a school bully? A teacher who treated you or other students badly? A colleague at work who you know is acting unethically? These things have happened to nearly all of us. Did YOU report them all? Really? In my life, I *did* sometimes, but sometimes I *didn't*. The truth will out, with or without anger, but the truth will succeed far more quickly without attacking people because attacking creates a climate of fear, and fear prevents people from coming out.

Skip Collins
5 years 10 months ago

Anger is not incompatible with compassion. I am angry with McCarrick and with every other bishop who knew, should have known, or suspected that McCarrick was unfit for his job and did little or nothing. But it goes even further. The hypocrisy has spread far beyond the episcopacy. For all of his hand-wringing about bishops, victims, clericalism, and homophobia, I have not read anything by Fr. Martin that suggests the slightest self-awareness of his own complicity in enabling McCarrick (and I suspect many other prelates and priests who live double lives) to continue to damage the Body of Christ. Do I understand and sympathize with this cowardice? I certainly do, because, as you suggest, I share the shame and guilt of not doing enough to expose the lies.

Danny Collins
5 years 10 months ago

Good question. One of the things that sickens me is that Fr. Martin seems to convey the idea that the serial abuse of young seminarians by "Uncle Ted" was waved away by the episcopacy as something that “just happens.” Everybody knew. Fr. Martin knew. America Magazine knew, but they considered him a close friend of the magazine and honored him as their homilist for their 100th year centenary mass. Fr. Martin painted a very sympathetic picture of him in his article about how something like this could happen, and ignored the fact that McCarrick molested adolescent boys in his younger days when he didn't have power and only switched to molesting young adults after he gained power over seminarians. Worst of all, there is no acknowledgement that McCarrick created child molestors. He set the pattern of molesting those whom he had power over, and then released these young priests into the diocese where they acted out what they learned in molesting the young male altar servers who were in their control. Few priests have come forward to admit that they were molested by McCarrick. Of the few that have, at least one has said this about McCarrick.

McCarrick was a sexual predator who created other sexual predators and released them on the children of your diocese.

Fr. Martin and America Magazine knew about the beach house (i.e., McCarrick's predator factory) and continued to honor him as a friend and man worthy of honor.

Robert Lewis
5 years 10 months ago

Where do your defamatory charges against Father Martin come from? Can you prove them? If not, what you've written is actionable, because it's libelous.

Skip Collins
5 years 10 months ago

Fr. Martin has been one of the leading Catholic journalists in this country for a long time. He and many other journalists who had good reason to suspect that a wicked man was moving up the hierarchy, should have done more to bring this to light. Fr. Martin's words:
"The revelations of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s disgusting predation of Catholic seminarians and young priests over the course of many years makes for truly disturbing reading. Over the past few years, I had heard stories about Cardinal (then Bishop and Archbishop) McCarrick’s summer home, where he would invite (or suborn or force) seminarians to share a bed with him, massage them and invite them to call him “Uncle Ted.” But at the time they were unsubstantiated rumors, and I knew no one with any first-hand knowledge. (Otherwise, I would have reported them.)"

Sheila Connolly
5 years 10 months ago

Do you understand how the job of a journalist works? They can't just report rumors; they need at least one victim to go on the record. Without that, they are legally not permitted to print "hearsay," and they can be sued for libel if they do. The Catholic Church has deep pockets, and it had plenty of journalists nervous. With a victim to go on the record, they could have gone to press -- without one, it was impossible.

Skip Collins
5 years 10 months ago

Yes, I understand journalistic ethics. But there was plenty that Fr. Martin could have done ethically with his extraordinary access. First of all, "public figures" are not given as much protection from defamation as are private citizens. Unless public figures are able to prove that a journalist acted with "actual malice”—knowingly printing false information, or acting recklessly as to whether it was false or not—they cannot recover damages for defamation. Without committing any libel, Fr. Martin could have further publicized the already public statements of Richard Sipes and asked for responses from McCarrick and the dioceses that reportedly made settlements. He could have made inquiries from sources with inside information. He could have informed Vatican officials of the obviously credible allegations and demanded answers. For God's sake, he is the most prominent journalist covering the Catholic Church in America. Is it too much to expect him to do his freaking job? It was already out there in the open.

Fr. Martin wrote:
"I had heard stories about Cardinal (then Bishop and Archbishop) McCarrick’s summer home, where he would invite (or suborn or force) seminarians to share a bed with him, massage them and invite them to call him “Uncle Ted.” But at the time they were unsubstantiated rumors, and I knew no one with any first-hand knowledge. (Otherwise, I would have reported them.)"

As a manager in a mid-sized company, it has been drilled into me that I have absolutely no discretion when it comes to reporting anything that might indicate sexual harassment in my workplace, including any "unsubstantiated rumors." I am required to report. I understand that "report" in this case means to inform the proper authorities, not publicize in the media. Apparently Fr. Martin does not feel he had any obligation to do even that. So far, he has not indicated even the slightest awareness of his own failure in this mess.

Mark Silverbird
5 years 10 months ago

Mr. Skip Collins, "a big" thank you for your continued comments. I have a letter dated Feb. 12, 2018, that is evidence and proof of a man/priest who was staying in my home in Oct-2017 to June-2018, turning out to be a pedophile of over 50 plus 11-16 year old boys over a 20 year period. When I tried to bring this letter to the attention of the hierarchy of the Catholic church, everyone ignores it. The further cover up is in all those who refuse to do anything about this letter. I say that "Everyone of these people should be ousted" from the Catholic church, because they are not the solution, they are "ALL" part of the problem/cover-up. This poisonous snake sitting in the seat of Peter is hiring other poisonous snakes to administer that poison to the laity.

Charles Gallagher III
5 years 10 months ago

I was assigned to investigate clergy sex abuse in Philadelphia sixteen years ago and participated in issuing a Grand Jury Report that exposed abusers & their enablers! Finally this Pope has decided to focus on the enablers. It is about time! It is my informed understanding that what transpired in Philadelphia can be discovered in every large diocese in the American Catholic Church. Hence all bishops know what they have done & should resign; Pope Francis should accept these nation wide resignations to truly cleanse the Church of these failed leaders! Otherwise and sadly the Church will continue to die in this country!

Carolyn Disco
5 years 10 months ago

Charles Gallagher is a true hero who worked with DA Lynne Abraham to expose the rot in Justin Rigali's and Anthony's Bevilacqua's administrations. Jim Martin's lists of fears: of complaining, scandal, of being dismissed, to "get over it," hostility from colleagues, etc. --- are they not at heart the taste of cowardice? Nowhere, nowhere does the victim truly matter. Such is the narcissist clerical culture. Who and what are they witnessing to? Jesus Christ? Hardly. It's all about them. It's an abstraction, the passion of the church and they dare consider themselves the victim. The bleached language in the American bishops/cardinals statements about McCarrick (how awful, we need to strengthen policies, yada, yada, yada) are limp repetitions heard for years. Grow up, fire every Vatican official who was warned about McCarrick immediately and name them. Wake up, Pope Francis, and learn that Chile is everywhere. It's been 16 years since 2002 and this is where we are? For shame. Our disgust and fury should not be dismissed. Read this DA's response to Rigali's corrupt deceit in his rebuttal of the grand jury's findings. Do you really want such slick drivel by a cardinal to speak for the Church of Christ? And congratulations to Gallagher again for his integrity.


Lindsey Gibbons
5 years 10 months ago

So I had to read your comment several times just to make sure I read it correctly. Please correct me if I misunderstood your point, but as I read it you label victims of abuse as cowards. Many victims choose not to speak up because of fear. In today's world, surely you have witnessed the treatment of victims who come forward. They are put under the microscope more than those accused.

Carolyn Disco
5 years 10 months ago

Oh, mercy, Lord, blaming victims was never my point. As an activist and advocate for survivors since 2002, I am well aware of the fear factor, the shame factor, the grooming, the trauma bond, the emotional manipulation, the near suicide of victims and the lifelong impact of abuse. I am ashamed I left any impression to the contrary, Erin B. Writing late last night took more care than I appreciated. I need to reread my comment and correct any such inference.
Meanwhile, the cowards to me are those who see no evil, abandon every principle of decency to protect their own power and reputations, the "get over it" crowd, the Vatican personnel who were warned about McCarrick and perhaps recalled his prolific fundraising skills at the Papal Foundation (follow the money is a truly wise maxim); what NH's attorney general called in 2002 as part of its state investigation conscious ignorance, willful blindness and flagrant indifference to the danger clergy posed to innocents in their paths. Sorry, I have my doubts about prelates who proclaim "I had no idea." Why didn't they, if they are such skillful, rising, aware leaders? Cluelessness and denial should not be assets among hierarchy, though sometimes I wonder after reading their depositions and statements.
The settlements with priests and seminarians abused by McCarrick have been online for about the eight years I’ve been aware of them, if memory serves. Read for yourselves at Richard Sipe’s website, the former Benedictine and current expert witness who treated so many victims and perpetrators. Scroll down to bold type for quotes from settlement documents: http://www.richardsipe.com/Comments/2008-04-21-McCarrick_Syndrome.html This is what McCarrick got away with for maybe 50 years plus?
So, when will we get fewer smooth statements and more direct action? The curia successfully blind-sided policies in the last few years to hold bishops/cardinals accountable. No wonder Marie Collins resigned from O'Malley's child protection panel he headed.

Lindsey Gibbons
5 years 10 months ago


Thank you for the clarification. I apologize that I made you panic! I clearly needed more coffee this morning.

Phillip Stone
5 years 10 months ago

May I venture an alternative perspective.
Fear and the love of money are both major themes in the New Testament.
Many actions and failures to act are founded on one, the other or both.
My life is replete with actions and omissions rooted in fear and each and every one required repentance.
Of course each of them was an expression of cowardice on my part. In like manner, the failures and omissions under discussion are indeed acts of cowardice.
I hope you other Catholics here share with me the revealed conviction that we all share FALLEN human nature and are ALL sinners and are ALL deserving of its dreadful punishments and disgrace and place our hope in the salvation brought about by the courageous consent of Jesus to human life, death by crucifixion and resurrection obtaining for us release from the curse of the fall and reconciling us to the Heavenly Father.

Perpetrators, victims and bystanders - we are all in the same boat needing to respond to grace by acknowledgement of our own wrong-doing and accepting healing and reconciliation and leaving vengeance to the Father.

None of us will make the slightest bit of difference to the sin nature of our fallen humanity, that is socialist heresy, but we do have some power to manage institutions and processes in such a way as to minimise occasions of sin and providing fewer opportunity for predators of various hues.

A couple of thought experiments from a doctor of 50 years experience.

Abolish seminaries. Grow presbyters and bishops within our day to day communities. No isolation, no quarantine, no hot-housing of pseudo-piety or superiority.
They are not aristocrats or superior human beings, their calling is a call to service not a mark of special favour or reward for goodness. Monastic life I leave aside.

Have confessionals completely glass in full view of others. Conduct spiritual direction in unlocked areas prone to entry of others without notice or with CCTV properly administered. There is no INALIENABLE RIGHT to privacy, it is a decadent distortion of modesty and discretion which can be honoured and handled without allowing for "dirty deeds done in darkness".

Henry George
5 years 10 months ago

I would like to ask some difficult questions:

It appears that Jesuits at America heard about McCarrick long before the scandal broke.

Did they tell anyone, I guess at the Vatican, about what they heard ?

If not, why not ?

Will they now please resign their positions at America.

My nephew attended a Seminary and brought to the attention of the Rector, his Vocation Director and his Bishop that one of the Priest/Professors had a habit of getting drunk
and putting his hands on seminarians...
He was told it would be taken care of.
That following Summer, my nephew was notified that he was being dropped by the
diocese and thus no longer a student at the Seminary and it would be best if he did not
visit the Seminary...

Five years later the Priest is still there.

Why is that ?

Every Bishop, every Rector, every Vocation Director should be forced to resign by the Pope.
Then the Pope himself should resign.

5 years 10 months ago

The 2002 book "Goodbye Good Men" by Michael S. Rose, is rife with events that took place in many of our US seminaries like the one you describe -- effectively running out good orthodox men and keeping the offenders. It is a painful but necessary read to see how we got here.

A Fielder
5 years 10 months ago

Seven: members of religious orders are totally economically dependent on the order. Being dismissed or leaving in protest will have drastic economic consequences, the older you are the harder it is to start over with nothing. Most other priests also have no professional credentials outside of church ministry. You give your whole life, and then you belong to the leadership.

A Fielder
5 years 10 months ago

Also, jesuits don’t want to be accused of “interfering with a man’s life.” In some places, seminarians and priests who date “need” the freedom to do so, in the name of “discernment.” If you don’t report a brother, he won’t report you. Better date a friend than a minor child or parishioner. Sad but true. This is even more complicated in multi cultural contexts. It’s well known that most diocesan priests in African and some other place keep mistresses.

Phillip Stone
5 years 10 months ago

Are you using "date" as a euphemism for having an affair?
Are you likening the normal allure of young men for young women to perverted appetites for same-sex eroticism or paedophilia or alpha male dominance driven polygamy?
Are you saying "one man, one woman ... till death do us part" is merely a cultural dictum?

Do you have inside knowledge that this is a Jesuit norm?

A Fielder
5 years 10 months ago

Phillip, good question, yes and no. Based on my own experience at an international Jesuit theologate, there are two kinds of “dating” in the seminary. Some men fall in love and test out their call to marriage in the seminary while continuing to prepare for the priesthood. Others just take the same freedom to discern as license to seduce and have fun. This is true for gay and straight men alike.. in my experience straight Americans are more honorable. The foreigners have different cultural norms. I also believe that predatory behavior is not limited to gay men. A straight man can be a sociopath too.

A Fielder
5 years 10 months ago


Kristeen Bruun
5 years 10 months ago

Many years ago, I reported sexual acting out by a pastor. When I went to apply for a job at another parish, I found I had been blackballed by the archdiocese as a troublemaker. The pastor who was interviewing me for the new job called the pastor in question, who told him, "Everything happened just as she said it did." So I got the job. The pastor who was acting out had issues but he had more integrity than the chancery crowd did.

A Fielder
5 years 10 months ago

Kristen, I’m so sorry to read about your experience. I’m glad it worked out as well as it did for you. I too have been led to believe that some religious orders know who the whistleblowers are and blacklist those people. I don’t know if it’s true, but it is certainly freigtening to consider that a woman will always be vulnerable to the power players in the clergy.

Lisa Weber
5 years 10 months ago

Anyone who has been a whistleblower knows quite well that abuse is not reported because the price the whistleblower will pay is too high.

Chris Johnson
5 years 10 months ago

Court OKs harassment suit

NCR Staff

When Sr. Elizabeth McDonough tried to sue The Catholic University of America in 1996, claiming sex discrimination in her failure to get tenure, a federal court dismissed her case. In order to determine whether the nun was as qualified as her male peers to teach canon law, a secular court would be required to review “competing opinions in religious disputes,” a violation of the First Amendment, the court declared.

In a case some legal experts regard as similar in principle, a U.S. appeals court made a different decision on Dec. 1, allowing former seminarian John Bollard’s sexual harassment suit against the Jesuits to go forward.

Religious organizations are not free to engage in sexual harassment under the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, an appeals court judge has ruled in the Jesuit case. The ruling was handed down by Judge William Fletcher of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

Bollard, who claims he was subjected to unwanted sexual advances over a period of five and a half years, is seeking $1 million in damages.

Fletcher’s decision has dismayed Douglas Laycock, a constitutional law expert in Texas, who regards it as “a disaster” -- a green light for courts to interfere in decisions that rightfully belong to the church. “There’s a saying that hard cases make bad law,” he said. “If this guy [Bollard] is telling the truth, it’s a hard case.”

Gerard Bradley, law professor at the University of Notre Dame, disagrees. The lawsuit in question -- John Bollard v. The California Province of the Society of Jesus -- describes an unusual situation and is set up in such a way as to preclude broad application of the judge’s ruling and a breach in the church-state wall, Bradley said.

“In general I don’t think this case will be a precedent for a large number of cases,” he said.

In previous sex discrimination lawsuits by church employees, courts have routinely applied the “ministerial exception” to laws forbidding sexual discrimination and harassment under Title VII. That exception, granted under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, gives religious organizations wide latitude in selecting their ministers and interpreting their doctrines free of court interference.

Paul Gaspari of San Francisco, attorney for the Jesuits, said in court papers that selection, retention, assessment and discipline of clergy is a “core religious act” that should remain free of court interference. Gaspari did not respond to telephone inquiries from NCR.

Bollard’s suit is the first sexual harassment suit by a former seminarian against the Jesuits. The appeals court was not asked to determine whether Bollard was harassed, but rather whether his suit could go to trial without interfering with religion or church doctrine. Bollard is not asking to be reinstated as a Jesuit -- a key element in the appeals court’s decision. Bollard left the Jesuits in 1996 without being ordained.

Bollard’s story is widely known from his appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May. Between 1989 and 1996 he trained for the priesthood at the Jesuit’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in San Francisco and at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. His idealistic image of the priesthood was shattered, he said, when he began receiving cards from Jesuit superiors depicting sexually aroused men -- images he considered “shocking,” he said.

Bollard also told interviewers on “60 Minutes” that during his seven years as a Jesuit, at least 12 priests made unwelcome sexual advances and invited him to cruise gay bars. At first, he refrained from reporting the advances, he said, out of fear that he would jeopardize his future with the order. When Bollard did take his complaints to the Jesuit provincial in California, Fr. John Privett, they were brushed off, he said. He said Privett gave him a coffee cup that bore the words “no whining” and asked him to sign a paper releasing the Jesuits from legal liability. Bollard refused to sign.

In his suit Bollard contended that he left the Jesuits because his life in the religious order had become intolerable. According to his attorney, Mary Patricia Hough of San Francisco, Bollard had been approved for vows and was scheduled to take them during the year he decided to leave.

Individual Jesuit defendants in the suit include Privett along with Jesuit Frs. Andrew Sotelo, Thomas Gleeson and Anton Harris. The Maryland and Oregon Jesuit provinces are also named as defendants.

Judge Fletcher said the so-called ministerial exception did not apply in Bollard’s case because he was not seeking reinstatement -- therefore the case was not about a religious organization’s right to choose its ministers. Nor, Fletcher said, had the Jesuits claimed that their alleged behavior in the Bollard case was a religious practice subject to constitutional protection. Fletcher noted that indeed, the Jesuits had condemned such behavior as “inconsistent with their values and beliefs.”

“There is thus no danger,” he wrote, “that by allowing this suit to proceed we will thrust the secular courts into the constitutionally untenable position of passing judgment on questions of religious faith or doctrines.”

“Moreover,” Fletcher added, “this is not a case about the Jesuit order’s choice of a representative.” According to allegations in Bollard’s complaint, Fletcher wrote, “the Jesuit order has enthusiastically encouraged Bollard’s pursuit of the priesthood.”

“The Jesuits most certainly do not claim that allowing harassment to continue unrectified is a method of choosing their clergy,” Fletcher said.

Because the Jesuits had provided neither a doctrinal nor a protected-choice rational for their alleged actions, and had, in fact, expressly disapproved them, “a balancing of interests” strongly favors application of the law in Bollard’s case, Fletcher ruled. A jury would not be asked to evaluate religious doctrine or the “reasonableness” of the Jesuit’s religious practice but simply to make “secular judgments about the nature and severity of the harassment and what measures, if any, were taken by the Jesuits to prevent or correct it,” Fletcher said.

Notre Dame’s Bradley said he is not surprised at divergent opinions from church-state scholars.

“I myself would say this is a plausible opinion,” he said in a telephone interview. “To say it’s wrong for civil judges to ever get involved” with inappropriate behavior by members of religious organizations “is overstated,” Bradley believes.

Laycock, however, said, “If we take this opinion seriously,” Bollard is “carving out an exception” to the ministerial exception. “The logic of this lawsuit says that someone had a right to be a priest and was deprived of that right.” Laycock, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin, believes Bollard may have a legitimate claim against individual Jesuits who harassed him but not against the order itself.

“The guys harassing him are the wrongdoers here. The search for a deep pocket defendant” -- that is, the Jesuit order -- “should not be allowed to turn the decision about clergy over to the courts. That’s where all this leads.”

Laycock fears that Fletcher’s decision will prompt future litigants to declare that their dismissals by churches were for other than religious reasons -- sex, disability, age, for example. Ultimately it will mean that “judges and not churches will decide who can be clergy,” he said.

Legal experts said it is likely that the Jesuits will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hough said an appeal must be filed within 90 days.

Bradley considers it unlikely that the highest court will hear the case. “My guess is that the Supreme Court will take a voucher case next term,” he said. “That would be enough church-state headache for one term.”

National Catholic Reporter, December 17, 1999

Henry George
5 years 10 months ago

What is sad is that Jesuit Superiors knew what was going on and did nothing about it.

luciano tanto
5 years 10 months ago

...porque es homosexual, es su derecho, y está de acuerdo. solo que está obligado a la hipócrita clandestinidad que le impone la santamadreiglesia.

J. Calpezzo
5 years 10 months ago

Roger Mahony.

5 years 10 months ago

Here is another great insight as to why by Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka, entitled: "Why don't the priests blow the whistle?"

Phillip Stone
5 years 10 months ago

Thank you Mario, that presbyter Palka is knowledgeable and insightful. And paints a dismal picture of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Joan Sheridan
5 years 10 months ago

I find this very sad

Matt Teegarden
5 years 10 months ago

Fr. Martin: As you allude to, the essential structure of the Church makes it prone to abuse--again and again.

john abrahams
5 years 10 months ago

Cdl. Theodore McCarrick was our chaplain at CUA the early 60's. He was a bright light among us--especially bringing the Hispanic Undergraduates into community with the larger student body. First time I heard a homily delivered in Spanish at the central 11 a.m. mass, Gibbons Hall, was delivered by Chaplain Fr. McCarrick. I just received word from Alma Mater
CUA that the University is taking back its honorary degree bestowed upon
the Cardinal in 2006. I, for one at 78 and a Roman Catholic priest still in good standing with Holy Mother Church, kindly ask the Powers-That-Be
retreat from tearing Us apart. As Paul VI uttered: "The smoke of Satan is within the Church." There is a less hideous way of clearing the air better than our present Bread & Circuses. Don't you think? "No, let the heads roll," you say watching / reading every tasty morsel of flesh.

john abrahams
5 years 10 months ago

I attempted but was blocked out because I crossed decorum's line but not truth.

john abrahams
5 years 10 months ago

I attempted but was blocked out because I crossed decorum's line but not truth.

Peter Schwimer
5 years 10 months ago

Dear Fr Martin
Generally I like your well thought out articles. But I am not so sure about this one. Do you really think that victims do not report because they do not want to make their superiors work harder? Surely you jest. It's more likely that they have been threatened with expulsion or harassment. I suspect that the real reason victims did not report is because they knew that their complaints would not be acted on.

I do agree that that superiors in Catholic institutions would rather protect the institution than the individual. It's difficult supervising large numbers of people. But it isn't impossible. And yes it does mean hard work and lots of paper. Every lay person understands that if they don't like the job, they move on. It may be time for religious superiors to move on.

Richard Barbieri
5 years 10 months ago

Many years ago, a Jesuit mentor of mine said “We Jesuits have been attacked because we refuse to be more severe on people than God is.” When I read some comments here I can’t help but think of Jesus’s response to those who would stone the woman caught in adultery. To me those who have standing to comment here are those who either suffered abuse, or reported abuse, or those who saw abuse, failed to report it, and now wish to confess their own failings. Anyone else is throwing stones in an uncharitable way. (I speak from having been a victim and a reporter, for which I seek no credit whatsoever. I will always wonder if I could have done more.)

bill halpin
5 years 10 months ago

Interesting criteria for standing.
I’d include anyone trusting they participate in the body of Christ and wish to explore and care for the wounded and broken.
Our interconnected and embodied faith seeks clarity and accountability. Finding and expressing voice is foundational.

arthur mccaffrey
5 years 10 months ago

#7= guilt and anxiety--did I do anything to provoke this intimacy? Was I giving out wrong signals? I know I tend to be a go-along-to get -along guy, I am not a boat-rocker--oh God I hope and pray I did not in anyway encourage this guy to hit on me!
#8= shock and trauma-- being abused against your will leaves a very bad
stain on the soul and psychic grief that you can't find words to express or tell anyone about. The reason we don't hear many of these stories of harassment for a long time after the event is that most victims suffer in silence for a long time, not trusting their own judgement but yet reluctant to tell someone else for fear of not being believed. Credibility is a big
issue for victims--it is even worse for victims in an institutional setting like a seminary where nobody wants to stand out for the wrong reasons.
...and Mr Martin, your article was fine up until your last sentence--people are not overcoming fear for love of church--they are overcoming fear IN SPITE OF the Church. Please put away your trade union card for once and try looking at the world thru a different lens. Most of us lead lives that are not church-o-centric like yours..... I would prefer to advise damaged victims to overcome fear out of love of self, love of friends, love of family, love of whistle blowers like Barbara Blaine of SNAP, or even love of the good attorney who took on their financial settlement case as a pro bono, and fought hard to eliminate the Church's gag rule for all settlements where they would try to force the victim never to disclose the facts of the case as a condition of payment. So, love of church?--c'mon, really? stop looking over your shoulder when you write good stuff-- or do you have "a reflexive desire to protect the reputation of the institution to which one belongs."?

Patty Bennett
5 years 10 months ago

Until we stop the politically-correct LYING AND PRETENDING, this will never end.
Homosexuality IS a disorder. We must not pretend we don't know that.
While we love people who are afflicted with same sex attraction, we must not approve of homosexual activity. It is mortally sinful; it will send one to Hell.
No matter WHAT the lavender-dominated psychologists VOTED, it IS pathological and IS proof-positive that there is SOMETHING WRONG. It isn't healthy; it isn't safe; it isn't normal. They cover for each other and gang up on those who dare to disagree with them. That's something ELSE that "everybody knows", but is afraid to say!
I care about them, and I feel sorry for them, and I'll be kind to them, but that doesn't mean I approve of what they do. We must not promote it. We must obey God rather than man.
Just as alcoholism is a temptation sin, to drink in a disordered way--to excess, so is homosexuality a temptation to sin, disordered sexual activity. We can't avoid the truth in order to avoid hurting someone's feelings. We all must struggle AGAINST
our predominant fault--no matter what it is, NOT cave in to it! Embracing the truth is the ONLY thing that will ultimately help.
Christ tells us the TRUTH will set us free. We need to decide whether we believe Christ, or trendy, politically-correct nonsense.
When I was young, we were taught to never, never, NEVER criticize a priest. I understand the reason for this. However, the tragic side-effect is that it's one of the things that enables horrific abuse (Maciel and McCarrick)

Phillip Stone
5 years 10 months ago

All this talk about a disorder, all reference to a person by their prevailing behaviour changes the context and muddies the waters.
Doing sex acts actual or virtual with a person of the same sex is committing a sin or sinning.
Getting drunk enough to interfere with the exercise of good behaviour once or repeatedly is just the same.
Uttering something knowing full well that it is far from the truth once or repeatedly likewise.

The above activities are also normal throughout human history and across all cultures and persons of any age.

Calling any of the above pathological without qualification is mistaken.

Let us just say that there are about seven ways to offend against justice and love : murder, theft, lying, sexual activity outside matrimony, gluttony and covetousness; just one collection amongst many other ways of listing like "seven deadly sins" and the like.
Experience confessors and psychiatrists know that most people can avoid habitual offences against about five of the above, one with difficulty and one seldom. Some call it a prevailing passion.

We are all in the same state but one of the unfortunate consequences of there being different patterns of weakness in different people is that self-righteousness allows us to look down on and condemn repeat offenders of some commandment that we ourselves have no problem keeping.

We must not mix theories. Calling something pathological allows for the idea to creep in that it is a sickness, that sickness is not voluntary nor deserved and so whatever is being discussed is taken outside of the realm of morality and so needs treatment rather than conviction, confession, absolution and remedial penitence.

Atheistic psychology has been at pains for 150 years to destroy all the language of morality and replace it with language of normality and pathology, explicitly denying free will.

Eugene Palumbo
5 years 10 months ago

Given the work they've done over the years, Charles Gallagher and Carolyn Disco speak with authority. For that reason, I was especially struck by their comments:
"It is my informed understanding that what transpired in Philadelphia can be discovered in every large diocese in the American Catholic Church." (Gallagher)

"Chile is everywhere." (Disco)

Eugene Palumbo
5 years 10 months ago

Given what you wrote about her, it seems to me that someone's got to stick up for Carolyn Disco. I fail to see how you could say to her, "as I read it, you label victims of abuse as cowards." She never even came close to doing that, so it's sad that you left her feeling obliged to say, "Oh, mercy, Lord, blaming victims was never my point," and "I am ashamed I left any impression to the contrary." In fact, she never left ANY such impression, and had nothing to feel ashamed about. She said cowardice was associated not with the victims, but with those who had the fears listed by Jim Martin. And who had those fears? Martin makes that clear in the very first sentence of his piece:
"Why would CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND SEMINARIANS be so reluctant to report allegations of sexual harassment or abuse from bishops, priests or religious superiors?" (emphasis added)
And as if all of that weren't enough, Disco goes on to say, "Nowhere, nowhere does the victim truly matter." Do those sound like the words of someone who's labeling the victims as cowards?
I'd say nothing could be clearer than who Disco is criticizing - and it isn't the victims.

Eugene Palumbo
5 years 10 months ago

J. Brookbank: Thanks for your comment. I agree with your point. My point is not that Carolyn cannot be questioned or challenged -- you'll notice I never said that -- but rather that there was no reason to question or challenge her in this particular case because, as I tried to explain, her meaning was clear: she did not (Erin's words) "label victims of abuse as cowards."

I also agree with you that "Carolyn has done amazing work" and is a gift -- a great gift -- to us.

Thomas Savio
5 years 10 months ago

Failure to report could be a sin of omission.

Cam Rathborne
5 years 10 months ago

What this and the other examples of sexual abuse that have been revealed over the past year, seems to indicate, is that the hierarchy of the Church has become rotten. A culture of abuse on this scale cannot have existed independently, without the knowledge of others in positions of power within the ecclesiastic hierarchy. The others that have kept quiet are complicit in the abuse and should be held to account. The Church needs to lift the veil. It should open its records and expose all abuse that has happened in the past. A fresh start is needed. Drastic action must be taken so as to regain the position of moral exemplar, which the Church should naturally hold.

Danny Collins
5 years 10 months ago

Another question, why isn't America Magazine giving voice to the victims of McCarrick and interviewing them about things like whether Cardinal Farrell and Tobin knew about the abuse? They seem ok printing denials of knowledge by McCarrick's enablers, but they won't give voice to the victims.

The latest from america

The head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication has defended his department's use of expelled Jesuit priest Marko Rupnik’s artwork in its official materials.
Colleen DulleJune 21, 2024
A conversation with Rachel L. Swarns, the author of "The 272: The Families Who were Enslaved and Sold to Build The American Catholic Church"
JesuiticalJune 21, 2024
Spanish Jesuit Luis María Roma, who died in 2019, was recently discovered to have abused hundreds of Indigenous girls while serving as a missionary in rural Bolivia, and to have documented his acts in a diary.
Members of Coro y Orquesta Misional San Xavier perform the opera “San Francisco Xavier” at the Church of San Xavier in the town of San Javier, Bolivia, on April 23. 2024.
The opera ‘San Xavier’ provides a glimpse of how Jesuits evangelized with music—a key dimension of the 1986 film “The Mission.”