In the Vineyard :: March 18, 2016 :: Volume 16, Issue 6

Before Spotlight – Some Background Memories
(part 2 continued)

By Thomas P. Doyle

A couple weeks later I was in Montreal visiting my sister and received a phone call from Bishop Levada.  The conversation was short. He told me the plan was shelved. I was stunned and asked why and was told that another committee had been appointed to take care of it and it would not look good if we appeared to be at cross-purposes with them. I was too flabbergasted to argue or debate. I couldn’t get ahold of Law or Krol to find out what had happened. A few days later I managed to connect with Bishop Bevilacqua and poured out my frustration on him. 

In the meantime, the three of us regrouped. We had a couple hundred copies of the manual printed and took about a dozen to Bishop Quinn in Cleveland and asked him to take them to the planned meeting of all the bishops at Collegeville in June 1985 and try to lobby our plan with them. He agreed but we never found out whether he got anywhere or not or if he even did anything. The collected bishops had a one-day executive session about clergy abuse at which their General Counsel, the auxiliary bishop of providence and a psychologist from Chicago gave presentations. Mike Peterson, Ray Mouton and I were not only not invited and knew very little about the proposed agenda. We were intentionally excluded!

After it was over I spoke with several prelates, including Cardinal Krol, Bishop Bevilacqua, and Archbishop Laghi. Laghi asked why Peterson and I were not there. Krol and Bevilacqua both said the only worthwhile speech was that given by the psychologist and both said the other two speakers were useless.
By mid-spring I started to really comprehend what was going on. I had noticed at the Nunciature that other than Archbishop Laghi, no one else seemed to be too interested in the Gauthe case or in the other reports that were coming in. A couple of the priests on staff told me that we don’t air our dirty laundry in public, an obvious warning which I picked up at the time. The archbishop had a weekly meeting with the secretary general of the bishops’ conference and he shared with me one day that whenever he brought up the topic the sec-general was either disinterested or irritated.

The bishops’ conference leadership were actively trying to find a way to effectively spin the sex abuse problem into oblivion. I knew there was a resentment towards me and definitely a resentment towards Ray Mouton. They didn’t mess much with Mike Peterson because as director of St. Luke’s he knew where a lot of the skeletons were hidden. They were engaging in a cover up … THE cover-up. Bishop Bevilacqua told me that contrary to what Levada had told me and contrary to a press release from the Bishops’ Conference there was no other committee. Nothing was going to happen.

Ray, Mike and I weren’t sure where to go now that it was obvious the Bishops’ Conference had shut the door. A number of the bishops who recognized the seriousness of the problem engaged us to give seminars and workshops to their priests. We also received some requests from provincials of religious communities.

The Bishops’ Conference issued a few statements about sexual abuse of minors starting in 1988 and some were quite good but everything was voluntary and nothing they said or did made the slightest difference. If they had made a difference its doubtful there would have been the flood of lawsuits that was on the way. They told the public that they could not act on our proposals because every bishop is independent. They referred to the Crisis Intervention Team as a “Swat Team” which, besides being incorrect was also ludicrous. They also announced publicly through the office of their General Counsel that the whole plan was a scheme on our part … Ray, Mike and I … to sell our program to the bishops and profit from the growing problem. Besides being a completely libelous assertion it also told us that they were threatened, so much so that they had to resort to slandering the very people who were trying to help them. In their case the truth didn’t make them free. It made them mentally constipated.

Cardinal Law and I spoke a few times about the turn of events and he assured me it was beyond his control which I believed then and still believe. Law was on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Conference leadership at the time. He was also a newly minted cardinal and caught up with all the celebrations at home in Boston. January 1986 came and I left the Nunciature. Mike Peterson, Ray and I continued to collaborate on trying to find newer and better ways to cope with the sex abuse plague which by then was noticeably gaining ground. We were on our own. Several bishops were genuinely interested but the National Bishops’ Conference could have cared less in spite of their PR statements to the contrary.
In December 1985 we sent every bishop in the US a personal copy of the Manual which included copies of several articles chosen by Mike Peterson that explained much about the sexual disorder that compelled men to violate children. Cardinal Law had sent us a check to help cover the costs of putting together the final version and sending out the copies.

In November Mike went to Rome to talk to some people in the Vatican about the problem and returned after a week very dejected and discouraged. The people whom he saw, and all were mid-level flunkies, did not take it seriously and blamed our U.S culture. It was our problem and we had to deal with it.
Not long after he returned the bishops had their annual meeting in D.C. Michael rented a suite for a hospitality event to which he invited all the bishops to come and discuss the problem of clerics sexually violating minors. Out of about 300 bishops present, 12 showed up.

My relationship with Cardinal Law drifted into the mist as I expected it would for no other reason than the vast differences in our stations and what he told me were the crushing demands of being the archbishop of Boston. He invited me to Boston to spend a weekend with him which was very enjoyable but included no substantial discussion of clergy sex abuse. We continued to drift apart save for annual Christmas and Easter greetings.

By 1986 I was in the Air Force but I continued to be increasingly involved in the sexual abuse issue and my involvement I am proud to say, was totally supported by my Air Force superiors. 
By March of 2001 I knew something was cooking in Boston. Kristen Lombardi, a very bright young journalist it turned out, contacted me and asked for help with a series she was writing about the cover-up of Fr. John Geoghan by the Boston Church establishment, especially Cardinal Law. By then I was beyond being shocked, but what I learned about this horrific debacle and Bernard Law’s complicity made me very, very sad. I can say the same about Cardinal Bevilacqua whom I had known longer and much better than Bernard Law. When I saw how he was dealing with sex abuse victims in Philadelphia my emotional response was that he had turned into some kind of red robed monster and was certainly not the man I had admired and trusted.

The next step after Kristen Lombardi’s series in the Boston Phoenix was the Globe. The Spotlight Team connected with Dick Sipe because of his book, Sex, Priests and Power, and he in turn put them on to me. The Phoenix was small and had no clout or power. The Boston Globe was another story altogether. Marty Baron had the prophetic insight to zero right in on the core of the problem … the system, and he had a team of highly dedicated, competent reporters. I was concerned that the Boston Catholic establishment would stonewall the reporters and put pressure on the Globe’s management to back off. The people at the Globe still remembered when Cardinal Law called down the power of God on the Globe because they covered the Fr. Porter mess in Fall River.

As it turned out the divine salvo that Cardinal Law had ordered came alright but the target was the Church and not the Globe.

I had a head’s up that the story was coming out on January 6 and I anticipated something big. But I was overwhelmed by what I read. At the same time my cynicism told me that there would be a major flurry of attention for two weeks or maybe even a month and then all would quiet down and we’d be back in the doldrums. After all there had already been major media coverage of a couple other explosions, e.g., the Rudy Kos trial in Dallas and the exposure of widespread sex abuse of minor seminarians at a Capuchin seminary in Wisconsin and a Franciscan seminary in Santa Barbara. None were powerful enough to make a lasting difference. But I was dead wrong about Boston and for that I will be forever grateful to the Higher Power. “Spotlight” unleashed a process that would change the Church in the U.S. and in the world.

I have often thought of my relationship with Bernard Law and Tony Bevilacqua and wondered. I think in the end the three of us changed. I lost my naiveté about what I was seeing in the governing dimension of the Church and with my naiveté I lost the emotional security that came from being a part of that system. I knew I could survive without it. I can’t speak for what happened to them but I grieve at what the institutional church and the monarchical clerical culture did to all three of us. It had captivated me for awhile but seeing the sexual abuse nightmare up close and personal blew my trust in the clerical world and the hierarchical government to smithereens. I think it had the opposite effect on Bernard Law. He was so deeply entrenched that he absolutely identified “Church” with hierarchy and faith with power.

I think though that the single most important factor in my life was meeting the victims and their families. I will be forever haunted by the stories of unimaginable sexual violation. But the most gut-wrenching and soul-jarring moments were those shared with mothers and fathers, listening as they described what it was like to learn that their little boy or little girl had been sexually violated and if that was not horrific enough, by a priest.

I know Tony Bevilacqua never met with victims. He told a grand jury that it would not be an economic use of his time. Bernard Law met with a few but by then it was way too late. A polite encounter at the archiepiscopal mansion doesn’t count for truly meeting the victims on a level playing field. Maybe if Bernard Law had really gotten to know the victims and their families he might have might have come to see the presence of Christ in them instead of in the archdiocesan bureaucracy.

If you would like to read the original proposal Fr. Doyle references in this essay, click here.


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