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1985 Report: Church Knew of Priest Abuse

Dec 30, 2002 | Portsmouth Herald

Evidence exists that bishops in the Catholic Church were warned about the reality of priest sexual abuse 17 years ago and chose to disregard it.

A document written in part by a former canon lawyer for the Vatican clearly details sexual abuse by priests and offers methods of dealing fairly with both priests and their victims.

The document, commonly referred to as the "manual" by church lay people who are aware of it, was written in 1985. Attempts were made to introduce it at the National Conference of Bishops that same year.

One of its three authors, the Rev. Thomas Doyle, believes that had the manual been taken seriously then, much of today’s scandals would have been avoided.

The three men wrote the manual after they became involved with a sexual abuse case in 1984 involving the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe of Lafayette, La. They learned through their dealings that the problem was much more widespread than they had first thought. They decided the problems had to be dealt with and tried to do that through the manual.

The three men were the Rev. Doyle, secretary-canonist of the Apostolic Delegation; the Rev. Michael Peterson, M.D., founder and director of St. Luke Institute, Suitland, Md.; and F. Ray Mouton, a civil attorney from Lafayette, La.

Doyle has been working with victims of priest sexual abuse since the early 1980s. He has worked with many of the victims in Massachusetts and in New Hampshire as well as with church groups like the Durham chapter of the Voices of the Faithful organization.

The document was buried by the church, said Doyle, and he was quietly drummed out of his job at the Vatican for his efforts, the priest says.

In a phone interview, Doyle said the three men were slandered.

"I was flabbergasted. The bishops called us a SWAT team looking for gain," said Doyle. "They did not want outsiders in their business. I was not actually fired, but I was eased out the door."

Doyle currently serves as an Air Force chaplain at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

"I do believe a lot of this recent scandal would not have happened," he said. "They basically ignored us. I am not upset because they turned their back on me personally, but I am upset about the thousands of men and women who had their lives ripped apart. A lot of those people could have been saved, spared or at least treated properly."

On a local level, Doyle said Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law was aware of the manual, and was at one time a friend of Doyle. He also said New Hampshire’s Bishop McCormack is guilty and should resign.

"One victim in New Hampshire told me that for every 10 documents that name Law, another hundred name McCormack," Doyle said. "What he has done is a felony. Add to that the presumed moral guilt of allowing child rape. There is no valid human excuse for his actions.

"I don’t care if Jesus is speaking to him personally; his first concern as a priest should have been the spiritual welfare of the victims, not preserving the status quo."

The 1985 document clearly recognized that children were being abused by priests. It outlined the lawsuits current at the time and predicted that criminal and civil lawsuits on a large scale would follow if the church didn’t act to curb the abuse, instead of covering it up.

The document was not intended to crucify priests for their abuse, but rather to remove them from the populace and get them help, while also healing victims instead of hiding the truth. It placed the responsibility for acting on the heads of the church.

Two actions were proposed: to form a blue-ribbon committee to look at the problem nationwide; and to create a crisis-intervention team.

The crisis team would have consisted of religious and lay people skilled in dealing with sexual abuse. Doyle said victims would have been treated fairly and compassionately, and the offending priests removed from positions where they would have contact with children.

Doyle said the three were able to predict what was happening after Mouton discovered that the Lafayette case went much deeper.

"He found that the church was covering for seven to eight more priests," Doyle said. "I was a company man. We wanted to present a manual of what to do, to help. We knew the secret, clandestine ways of the past were not going to work. There were cases beginning to pop up all over the country. The press was learning of this and it couldn’t, shouldn’t be hidden. The manual is just as valid today it’s right on target."

In fact, the only thing new today, according to Doyle, is the intense public press and interest.

"The Boston Globe published the actual documents on their front page," said Doyle. "I believe that brought the issue to a critical mass, but it has existed for a long time. Little did I know that it would go from bad to worse."

The abuse uncovered over the past year is not unique to Boston, Doyle said.

"The bishop says it’s only a small number, but I think perhaps it represents a larger percentage than sexual abusers in the general population, yet probably 75 percent of the bishops are guilty of conspiring to cover it up, and that’s where the problems arise."

Every day he has contact with the victims, he said "people so full of anger, self-hatred and fear (all the way) up to the survivors beginning to come back to life.

"Even the words used, words like ‘boundary violations’ and ‘improper touching’ are wrong. We are talking about rape; we are talking about parents who went into shock when their young son had rectal bleeding and the doctor told them what had happened, when they discovered their beloved priest had violated their child."

When the parents went to the rectory, Doyle said, they were victimized again by the bishops they had been taught to respect.

"In their black robes they would come out to talk with you, talking down to you, telling you it is probably not true and asking you not to hurt the church," Doyle said. "Finally, parents went from being stunned to anger and they got lawyers. Still the bishops do not get it."

Doyle said bishops are sheltered from the world, and from the victims. He said they are used to dealing with the heads of society and have no concept of the victims and do not want to meet them.

"Victims have been subjected to a line of fear by the church," Doyle said. "They have been embarrassed, threatened, cajoled and intimidated. We tried to flip the response into a need to focus on the victims."

Doyle said he believes that things in the church will change, but slowly.

"The bishops are beginning to realize that the old ways of dealing with lay people will not work anymore," Doyle said. "These guys have hidden behind a persona that they created themselves, and every time they spoke with victims it was to lie.

"They must begin to have quality contact with the victims, must get to know them and their pain before this can move toward a healing process."

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