Book Says Abuse by Priests Nothing New
Author Says Catholic Church Has Had a Problem for Centuries, Still Isn't Handling It Well

By David Yonke
The Toledo Blade
July 1, 2006

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a Catholic priest in the Dominican order, was asked in 2002 to do research for the church on whether its current leadership had ever had notice of sexual abuse of children by clergy.

"When I started the research, I found that it goes back to the fourth century at least, and that there is extensive evidence," Father Doyle said in a recent telephone interview from California.

The priest, who lives in Vienna, Va., teamed up with A.W.R. Sipe, a Benedictine monk-turned-counselor, and Patrick J. Wall, a former Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk, to write the hard-hitting expose, Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse (Volt Press, $29.99).

Rev. Thomas P. Doyle
Photo by The Toledo Blade

"One of my conclusions was that this is not a crisis that arises from time to time, but that clerical celibacy violations are an unfortunate part of the very life of the Catholic Church.

"Not only that, but my research shows another dimension, that the institutional church has never wanted to admit that celibacy was never 100 percent effective," Father Doyle said. "It shows the failure of the institutional hierarchy to respond in a really effective way to the issues."

The Roman Catholic leadership is set up in a monarchical fashion, he said, with "all power flowing from the top."

That setup failed miserably in dealing with such crises as the clerical sexual abuse scandal that has shaken the U.S. Catholic Church for two decades, especially since 2002, he said.

In the mid-1980s, Father Doyle wrote a memo to his church superiors warning them that "irreparable financial and spiritual damage" was imminent if they did not make a serious effort to deal with the problem of clerical sexual abuse.

"The church hierarchy has shown itself incapable, rather than unwilling, to respond to the clerical sexual abuse crisis since the 1980s," he said. "There is good will on the part of many within the system, but they've been so caught up or formed by a system that tells them that what is most important is the image of the institutional church, because that really is the church. And the destructiveness of that system to the church and its supporters certainly has been evident over the past 20 years.

"The institutional church has never responded, as an institution, in a pastoral manner to abuse victims. They've been defensive. They've been highly destructive to the people in the litigation process. The only reason the victims have gone to court is because the church system, the bishops and their staffs, were unwilling to respond in an effective way to men and women, young and old, whose lives have been devastated by clerical sexual abuse."

The frank-talking priest, who has five master's degrees, testified before the Ohio Legislature earlier this year in support of Senate Bill 17, which extended the statutes of limitations for victims to file lawsuits.

He said the statutes of limitation are "a major problem" in this debate because abuse victims are unable to come forward for years or decades. "That is simply the dynamic," he said.

Meanwhile, Catholic bishops across the country, including Ohio, have been organizing to lobby against extending the statutes of limitations because of the potential financial impact in lawsuits and settlements, he said.

"The bishops are well-organized. They have vast amounts of money to pay for advertising campaigns and expensive lawyers and lobbyists, which the victims do not have. And they're using it," Father Doyle said.

He said today's group of Catholic bishops "is the worst crop of bishops in contemporary memory" because their goal throughout the abuse crisis has been "to protect the institution as they see it. They have not shown any evidence of wanting to fully understand what happens to the people that are abused - their spiritual devastation, their concept of God and the church.

"The bishops are trying hard to convince the public that the crisis is all over. They're saying, 'Look at what we've done: We've set up the National Review Board, and diocesan review boards.' The only reason this has happened is because they were forced to do it by the victims and the public," Father Doyle said. "If they were not forced, they would go back to the way it was."

He said he has considered resigning from the priesthood, but his view of the church has changed drastically in the last two decades.

"To me, the Catholic Church is not primarily the bishops and hierarchy, but it's the people. The center of my church is Christ, not the Pope or bishops. I do not despise the institution. I'm a part of it in many ways."

He said he is not trying to create a revolution, but to get the church hierarchy to understand the impact of clerical sexual abuse on victims.

"Something is wrong when we put our own image and our security above the welfare of the victims," Father Doyle said.

The three authors of Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes detail the church's problems in dealing with clerical sexual abuse through the centuries and advocate a number of reforms, including making celibacy optional.

"If the church made celibacy optional, first off, it would change the very nature of the clerical subculture," Father Doyle said. "That would be the most important change. It would bring back married men, who generally have a whole different perspective on life than celibates do.

"It would add a lot of credibility to the priesthood. Optional celibacy is fine. Celibacy is not inherent with the priesthood. It's not mandated by Christ. There are married priests, and that's a fact," he said.

The Eastern Orthodox churches have married priests, he said, and Catholic priests in the Eastern Rite can be married. In addition, there are about 200 priests who transferred into the Catholic Church from the Episcopal Church after they were married and have been allowed to remain married.

"Celibacy has a strong relationship to control," Father Doyle said. "It sets up an aura of mystique. 'We are different, we are unique.' I don't believe any of that. And I think this past era has shown us that."

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