By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Two outspoken advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse were in Arizona this weekend, leveling heated criticism against leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.
David Clohessy and the Rev. Thomas Doyle spoke about sex abuse in the church in a presentation sponsored by Call To Action, a liberal Catholic organization. The event, which was Sunday afternoon at Tempe's Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, drew an audience of about 100 people. The mostly older audience included a number of individuals who said they were victims of clergy abuse.
Clohessy is the national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Doyle is the Dominican priest and canon lawyer who authored a 1985 report on sexual abuse for the Catholic Church. In the 1980s, he predicted that legal settlements for abuse cases would eventually exceed $1 billion dollars, a prediction that has since come true. Since the sex abuse scandal broke nationally in 2002, Doyle has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the church's handling of the scandal.
In his presentation on Sunday, Doyle had blistering criticism of the church hierarchy and of "clericalism," a reference to Catholic clergy at the expense of faithful lay Catholics. Clohessy criticized what he sees as the Catholic bishops' continuing failure to root out sexual abuse in their dioceses and their failure to reach out to abuse victims in a just and compassionate manner.
Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops drew up the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults at a 2002 Dallas conference, Clohessy likened the Charter to a baseball game in which the bishops drew up the rules of the game, decided who could play, and handpicked the umpires. "Now they've decided they won," he said. The "so-called reforms" of the Charter, added Clohessy, are like "speed limits with no cops."
Citing current examples of mismanaged allegations in the five largest dioceses in the United States New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston Clohessy scoffed at the idea that the U.S. bishops adequately addressed the problem of clergy sex abuse in 2002. "If the problem before was ignorance, what's the problem now?" he said.
Clohessy was particularly critical of Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Archdiocese who is the vice president of the USCCB. Two Chicago priests have recently been removed from ministry, and one of them has been arrested on criminal child molestation charges. Clohessy characterized some of George's statements about the situation as "lies" and said those statements have been disputed by two individuals within the archdiocese.
Doyle criticized the institutional structure of the Catholic hierarchy. He believes it is incorrect to refer to sexual abuse within the Catholic Church as the "sex abuse crisis." Because of its long history in the church, he said, the abuse is an "integral part" of the institutional church. Doyle said he has spent years researching the history of abuse in the church and claims that church documents provide evidence that abuse problems date back to the fourth century.
"This horror story is still going on," he said.
21st century monarchy
Doyle argued that the Catholic church is a 21st century monarchy, suffering from the "disease of clericalism." "Our governmental system is deficient at the core," said Doyle, who added that Jesus never said anything about establishing a church with an institutional structure like the Catholic hierarchy. "You know," he said, "religion is not given to us by God, it's given to us by us."
Doyle singled out comments made by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in which Chaput said efforts to remove the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases has the potential for "dismantling and pillaging the Catholic community nationwide."
Doyle suggested perhaps the church hierarchy should be dismantled. "Dismantle the structure and allow the Body of Christ to stick its head out," he said.
Comments about Jesus garnered Doyle some enthusiastic applause from the audience. "He's the center of this whole endeavor, not the pope," said Doyle. "He cared about love, he cared about compassion," he added. "The only time the Lord got angry is when he went to church."
Eliminating statute of limitation laws for sexual abuse will help curb institutions that have covered up abuse within their ranks, said Doyle. Although he admitted other institutions and other churches have also covered up abuse by their members, Doyle called the Roman Catholic Church the most "egregious offender" among institutions.
"This is all documented fact," he said. "This is not my opinion."
Reduce the power
Doyle and Clohessy also argued that the Catholic Church is a powerful institution that only responds to pressure from other powerful forces.
Clohessy said Catholics, the general public, legislators, prosecuting attorneys, and the media need to "reduce the power" of bishops by keeping the issue of sexual abuse of alive and in the public eye.
He urged his audience to work to eliminate statute of limitations laws pertaining to sex abuse crimes, pressure dioceses to appoint independent law enforcement professionals to their sexual abuse review boards, write letters about the issue to church officials and newspapers, and make the "climate more welcoming" for victims to come forward.
"The only way this institution can be fixed," said Doyle, "is if we fix it." Catholics have to stop "enabling" clericalism and start interacting with Catholic clergy on a level ground of equality and mutual respect, he explained, characteristics of the early Christian community.
Clohessy and Doyle did single out Paul G. Bootkoski, the bishop of the Metuchen Diocese in New Jersey, as one bishop who has impressed them with his efforts to reach out to victims. Bootkoski initiated contact with SNAP and voluntarily provided information to a New Jersey prosecutor, said Clohessy.
If other Catholic bishops are truly sincere in reaching out to victims, Clohessy said, they will include SNAP contact information on their diocesan Web site, they will publish a list of abusive priests on their website, and they will visit every parish where abusive priests have worked and encourage parishioners to come forward with any relevant information.
Clohessy challenged bishops to be obedient to Jesus' parable of the lost sheep in which the shepherd leaves 99 sheep in order to find and bring back the one lost sheep.