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Catholic church dumping sex-abuse priests, unleashing them onto the public

“If, indeed, a person is a true predator, the institutional church still has an obligation to maintain some vigilance over him. When an abuser is not kicked out, at least there’s some monitoring and maintenance and therapy.”

— Rev. Thomas Doyle, an early whistleblower on priest abuse, and now a prominent advocate for victims

[UPDATE:: I added information about a movie on the topic of the church and its handling of its molesting priests, Twist of Faith, below.]

Well, here’s one way to solve the billion-dollar payout problem. This story, from the Wisconsin State Journal, reports on the case of two priests in a diocese there that are currently suspended while waiting to go on trial on abuse charges. The larger issue, covered well here, is the fact that the Vatican is defrocking priests at record numbers to avoid additional legal liabilities by these sick men. The church knows they will molest again, and it has no legal obligation to monitor or track them. Whatever happened to MORAL obligation the public, Pope Ratzi? These sick ex-priests could be moving into a neighborhood near you, with a “clean slate.”

At a time of heightened national concern about the need to track sex offenders, the Catholic Church in America has begun cutting loose dozens – perhaps hundreds – of priests who have molested children.

The church had already suspended the clerics after finding the child-abuse allegations against them to be credible. Now, as it defrocks them, expelling them from the priesthood, the men are quietly re- entering civilian life with only the barest notice to the public and no ongoing oversight by the church.

Nor is law enforcement certain to be watching them. In most instances, the statute of limitations in their cases expired years ago. This means they face no prospect of prosecution for past sex offenses. Only convicted sex offenders’ names appear on public sex offender registries checkable by neighbors – and few of the defrocked priests were ever charged or convicted.

To critics, the church is washing its hands of a problem it helped create by failing to alert police to the abuse reports years ago, when they were first received.

Rev. Thomas Doyle, quoted above, is a canon lawyer who served at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. He, along with two others, warned bishops in 1985 about the mounting problem of the crisis, in a comprehensive report on sex abuse and the clergy. The report identified sexual abuse as a compulsive, lifelong psychosexual disorder, not a moral weakness. The report was buried. Doyle has also said that abuse costs could eventually exceed $1 billion — and it has.

The complete lack of moral compass by the Church, in unleashing these sick individuals out to molest again, is an outrage, but what takes your breath away is the number of priests in the queue to be defrocked, and the lengths to which the Catholic church will go to take care of the “backlog.” If only it had been as proactive in addressing the problems of the abused children in the first place! G_d damn!

The Rev. Thomas Reese, an expert on church governance and former editor of the Jesuit magazine America, noted that defrocking ends a diocese’s legal and monetary risk. “The lawyers are saying, ‘If you keep him and he does it (molests) again, your liability is big time,’ ” said Reese, who recently quit the magazine amid Vatican complaints that its contents were too freewheeling.

Petitions to laicize American priests have poured in to Rome in the last few years in such numbers – estimates range from 400 to more than 1,000 – that the Vatican brought in a team of U.S. canon lawyers to help process the backlog. Galante said he seeks to expel abusive priests in their 60s or younger, who have a chance of finding other work.

“Or, if they’re a real predator,” he said, he seeks laicization regardless of age. [Thanks a lot.]

Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the church should stay involved. “The last thing society needs is for these men to blend back in and achieve anonymity,” Allen said.


Tony Comes, a Toledo, Ohio fire fighter, was sexually abuse by a priest as a teen, and when he came forward as an adult, the diocese treated him (and those that also came forward) like pieces of trash.

I highly recommend the film Twist of Faith, by Kirby Dick, which we saw when we were in NY in early July. It’s now playing on HBO as well as in theatres, so if you get the channel, please tune in. It’s a painful but powerful companion piece to that dreadful story above.

When he was a teenager 20 years ago, Tony Comes says a Catholic priest in his Ohio hometown sexually abused him. Humiliated and ashamed, Tony carried the secret with him into adulthood, even as he married, had two kids and became a firefighter. He shared the truth only with his parents and wife. But when Tony recently learned that the same priest now lived down the street, he decided to take action — even if it meant going public.

The criminal behavior of the church in this film is just disgusting. Tony comes forward and tells his bishop about the abuse, and the bishop tells him that he’s the only one that has made a complaint against this particular priest. It later turns out that the bishop knew about others. And once this story broke in the news, the floodgates of molestation survivors opened. From the HBO interview with Comes:

There are thousands out there just like me. And there are perpetrators out there who live and work amongst us who, due to the statutes of limitations — we cannot challenge legally, we can’t force to become registered sex offenders. Our hands are tied.

It re-victimizes every person who’s been abused to be called a liar, to be told that we don’t deserve an apology, to be told that we don’t deserve our day in court, to be told that we have to jump through hoop A, B and C in order to continue to receive counseling paid for by the church.

And the saddest part is that I’m not the only one. Because when it was happening to me my biggest fear was that had I stood up it could have been prevented from happening to someone else. And I believed the Bishop when he told me, No, you’re the only one. And to find out within twenty-four hours Matt Simon’s name, and another victim’s name that is still John Doe, it crushed me.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding