In the Vineyard :: March 4, 2016 :: Volume 16, Issue 5

Before Spotlight – Some Background MemorieS (Continued)

By Thomas P. Doyle

My involvement goes way back, eighteen years before the volcanic eruption in Boston on January 6, 2002.  I thought of what went on in those intervening years and of all the survivors, attorneys, journalists and supporters who drudged along, many like myself, wondering when or even if the issue of clergy sex abuse would ever get the recognition and attention it demanded.  We were up against the institutional Catholic Church.  The largest religion in the world and also by no strange coincidence, the largest corporation.  It often seemed like we were trying to move Mt. Everest with a bulldozer, and a small one at that.

I thought of Bernard Cardinal Law, thrust into center stage as the arch-villain, overseeing a crew of mini-villains who had been trying to contain the plague that burst forth that Sunday morning. 

I was surprised, angered, hurt and bewildered by Bernard Law’s increasingly bizarre responses to the crisis he was unsuccessfully trying to control.  Why this cold, bureaucratic reaction?  Because eighteen years earlier when the horror of sexual abuse by clerics surfaced in Lafayette Louisiana, Bernard Law was clearly part of the solution.

I was working at the Vatican Embassy at the time and was still a firm believer in the institutional Church and a naïve believer that once the bishops realized the real nature of this nightmare, they would go into high gear and do the right thing… a group and as individuals.  I was dead wrong on both!  My job with regard to the Gauthe case from Lafayette was simply to manage the file.  I prepared letters for the nuncio’s signature and kept him up to date with information.  What had started as a series of confidentiality agreements with nine families in exchange for monetary payments -- hush money -- ended up to be the event that blew the lid off the widespread cover up of clergy sex abuse that had existed for decades.  One family pulled out of the agreement and sued the diocese.  Once that started the District attorney filed criminal charges since the abuse was within statute.  That’s when things really changed.  The media got ahold of the story and in spite of the Church’s efforts, the lid was off and it was staying off.

The Vicar General of Lafayette was the man I always communicated with. I’d ask for the bishop and get the VG.  I finally gave up and worked with that.  He told me they had sent Gauthe to the House of Affirmation which was a useless endeavor.  I connected the good monsignor with Fr. Mike Peterson, a psychiatrist who had founded and ran St. Luke Institute.  Without getting into too much detail, Mike put me in touch with Ray Mouton, the attorney the diocese was paying to defend Gauthe on the criminal charges.  Ray it turned out, was a brilliant lawyer, a Cajun who knew the territory down there but above all a man with principles…and three children.  He came to Washington and told me the diocese was hiding about 6 other sex abusers.

As soon as the Gauthe case became public reports of sexual abuse in other areas started to surface.  A major case was developing in the Providence R.I. diocese at the time. 

My job at the embassy brought me into regular contact with bishops.  They all knew what was going on and they were especially shaken by the widespread publicity.   One bishop, Dick Keating from Arlington, remarked one day that any time three or four bishops get together the topic of conversation inevitably ends up being clergy abuse. Newsweek published a picture of Gauthe in his jail cell!  In my conversations with bishops it became clear many were honestly worried about what to do.  What I did NOT know at the time is that there were also more than a few who were worried that the strategy they had been using might blow up in their faces. The common game plan was to admonish the priest and then send him to another parish where generally the same problem would start up again.

Ray, Michael and I decided to put together a memo or “White Paper” for the bishops in an effort to help them deal with cases as they encountered them.  Actually this was the result of a suggestion I received from one of the bishops. I presented the idea to several more bishops whom I considered friends and in whom I had trust. They all agreed it was a great idea and offered to help.

My main source of support and the man I went to for guidance more than anyone else was Bernard Cardinal Law.  I had met him when I first went to work at the nunciature.  He was bishop of Springfield, MO at the time.  He was intelligent, personable, down to earth and not at all pompous. He and I hit it off from the start.  When we discussed the sex abuse issue, which was fairly often, he recognized the urgency and the need to do something.  The other three prelates I relied on for support and guidance were Anthony Bevilacqua who was bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, Cardinal John Krol and Bishop Dick Keating from Arlington. 

Ray, Mike and I were conferring daily on what later became known as the “Manual.”  We ran every section by the nuncio, Archbishop Laghi, and the four bishops.  Law was archbishop of Boston by then but not a cardinal.  We were also conferring about the on-going drama in the Lafayette diocese so that I could continue to keep my boss, the Archbishop, abreast of the almost daily developments.

In addition to the manual which was divided into sections and set up in a Q & A format, we also put together an action proposal called a “Crisis Intervention Team.”  The idea was to have psychologists, attorneys, experts in insurance and media issues and pastoral care specialists available around the country.  If a bishop had a report of sexual abuse by a priest he could immediately call the coordinating office for the intervention program which would be at the bishops’ conference headquarters in Washington and that office could put him together with volunteer experts from his geographic area.  The very first move was to reach out to the victim and the victim’s family for pastoral care purposes.  We wanted to isolate the abuse and the abuser from the “church” and let the people know that the “church” was concerned first and foremost about them and would do anything to help them.  In other words, we wanted the victims and their families to know they they were the Church. I recall in one of our discussions we were trying to figure out who would be the best person to make the initial outreach to the family.  We unanimously agreed it was NOT to be a cleric of any kind.  The bishop was to be a key player in this stage but his presence to the victims would depend on their level of comfort.

This strategy was to be available to bishops but not in any way mandatory contrary to the misrepresentations of the Conference spokespersons at the time.

We also planned on a special research committee to work with the bishops.  It would have bishop-members but also a team of experts who would provide the very best state-of-the-art information on every aspect of sexual abuse from the causes for the abuser’s behavior and how to handle him to the effects on the victims and how best to help them.

Cardinal Law was solidly behind the plan and promised to gather support from among the bishops.  Likewise, Cardinal Krol and Bishops Bevilacqua and Keating also were solidly behind it.  I recall a meeting  Mike Peterson and I had with Cardinal Krol at the National Shrine.  I had sent him a draft of our “manual.”  After we sat down and chatted a bit it was time to get down to business.  He pulled the manuscript out of his briefcase and held it up and said “If I had asked a bunch of experts to come up with the best possible plan on this problem, this is exactly what I would expect.”

By then it was clear that the leadership of the bishops’ conference was not supportive of any of our efforts.  We had sent copies of the manual over to the USCCB but they told the media there was nothing in it they did not already know.  This included, I suspect, our prediction that unless something drastic was done and done soon the lawsuits would multiply and it would cost the U.S. Church one billion dollars in ten years. 

 Sidebar: I recall an archbishop telling me around that time that I should not get too excited about this problem because “nobody is going to sue the Catholic Church.”



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