Monday, December 27, 2010

Essential Reading: Tom Doyle's Response to John Allen, Jr.

On November 19, 2010, author and National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen, Jr. posted on his blog a piece focusing on the media's 2010 coverage of the clergy sex abuse crisis. In summarizing his take on this issue in his follow-up article of December 24, Allen notes the following:

Albeit in different ways, both [Catholic commentator George] Weigel and I suggested that coverage of the response to the crisis by the Vatican and Benedict XVI in 2010 was a mixed bag, sometimes missing important bits of context which would offer a more balanced perspective. Both of us also said the media isn’t entirely to blame – the Vatican’s underdeveloped communications capacity is part of the picture.

In his Dec. 24 piece Allen also acknowledges that he received a 21-point memo by Dominican priest Thomas Doyle. "He intended it as feedback for me," writes Allen, adding that: "In some spots it’s strong medicine, but it articulates convictions that are deeply held in some sectors of opinion, and which must be part of a serious conversation about where things stand."

Although he didn't publish Doyle's 21-point memo in its entirety owing to its length, Allen did share the following, comprised of "a line or two from most of Doyle’s points."


1. The overall impression of the article [Allen's November 19 article] is an apology for the Vatican’s response and for its communications with secular media. . . . The real subject is the widespread sexual violation of minors and the systematic, inadequate response of the institutional church.

2. Defenders of the papacy, as well as most if not all [members of] the curia and hierarchy, lack an essential credential for credibility: an understanding of the victims and their families, especially parents.

3. By my estimation [Benedict XVI] has met with approximately 20 victims in the U.S., Great Britain, Malta and Australia, with an average of one minute or less with each victim. These encounters were carefully planned and the victims carefully chosen. This hardly qualifies for gaining any level of “understanding.”

4. None of the criticism of media stories about cases involving the Vatican provided any evidence that the facts upon which the stories were based, were erroneous. . . . These were but a small sampling of many other priests guilty of sexually abusing minors whose cases were delayed or buried in the Vatican.

5. I seriously question George Weigel’s credibility as an expert on clergy sex abuse. Weigel’s current remarks about the crisis of 2002 are at variance with the numerous statements he made at the time, statements that defended Cardinal [Bernard] Law and tried to shift the focus from what it was, sexual violation of children and cover-up, to cultural and theological issues.

6. Weigel’s claim that Pope John Paul II received deficient information through Vatican channels doesn’t hold water. . . . I prepared an extensive report in 1985 that was personally given [to John Paul II] by Cardinal [John] Krol. I also recall giving a detailed briefing to [a top Vatican official] in May 1985. . . . I am quite certain that since that time much more information has found its way to the Vatican.

7. Defenders of the Vatican, including you, regularly fall back on the standard defenses: the Vatican does business in a way Americans don’t understand; the Vatican wants to let the U.S. solve its own problems; the Vatican uses a unique form of communication which Americans don’t ‘get.’ . . . If it wants to be understood, the Vatican should abandon its convoluted language and have someone help them learn how to speak directly and to the point.

8. Appealing to the fact that the incidence of abuse among Catholics is no higher than other groups makes as much sense as one of the Wall Street financial giants trying to save face by claiming, ‘Why pick on us when we cheated no more than the other banks down the block?’

9. It’s misleading to say, ‘The Catholic Church is arguably the safest environment for young people and adolescents in the country.’ First off, there are no data to support this. More importantly, all of the procedures and programs have been put in place after the Boston revelations of 2002. [They] were put in place because the bishops were forced to do so.

10. The question of reliable sources is most important. This crisis began in 1984 and continued to simmer, with occasional events of major magnitude such as the James Porter case of 1993 and the Kos trial in 1997. . . . Very few people are still on the playing field who were involved at the beginning and have continued involvement. . . . I have never been contacted by defenders of the institutional church, no doubt because I am written off as totally biased. This tag is unjustified because I have struggled from the early days to understand and accept the institution’s response.

11. The accusation that [plaintiff’s lawyer] Jeffrey Anderson is in it only for the money is based on subjective opinion and certainly not facts. The number of victims Jeff has helped ‘pro bono’ is unknown because there have been so many. Jeff has given away huge sums of money to organizations that help children and to individuals in need. He is sometimes flamboyant and passionate, but he is committed to bringing justice to victims and a safe environment for children in the future.

12. Over the past 22 years I have worked with over two hundred attorneys in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and Australia, all of whom represented victims in civil suits. I vividly recall one attorney telling me that he had served in just about every capacity in the legal system, from public defender to State Supreme court judge, and had been both a defense attorney and a prosecutor. He remarked that he had never encountered an organization as duplicitous and manipulative as the Catholic Church.

13. Benedict is not a great reformer. I believe he is personally shocked and possibly even devastated by what he has seen, [but] his responses have been very limited. They have concentrated on the canonical prosecution of accused priests, but they have remained mute about the core issue, namely the lack of accountability of complicit bishops and the lack of penal measures against bishops who have themselves sexually abused minors.

14. The response to the crisis by the late John Paul II is indeed a serious stain on his legacy. . . . John Paul’s personal theology of priesthood is that of a highly mystical state consisting of an ontological change at the time of ordination, which he often referred to as a joining with Christ. What this amounts to is the belief that it is acceptable to sacrifice the spiritual and emotional welfare of innocent children for a theory that would return priests to their theological pedestal.

15. I have had firsthand experience with hundreds of victims, if not thousands, and second-hand experience with countless others. I have not once learned that a bishop’s first response on receiving a report of alleged sexual abuse was directed at the welfare of the victim.

16. The secular media are not anti-Catholic, nor are they biased against the hierarchy. They do not set out to make the institutional Church look bad. The institutional Church needs no help at that . . . [I]t has done a thorough job on its own.

For further essential reading, see:
John Allen on Tom Doyle and Benedict re. the Abuse Crisis: Classic Centrist Balancing Act, Going Nowhere - William D. Lindsey (
Bilgrimage, December 27, 2010).

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice posts:
"Not Products of Divine Revelation But of Human Invention": Tom Doyle on Clericalism and Its Trappings
He Spoke Truth to Power But Vatican Wouldn't Listen
Fr. Thomas Doyle: "There is Something Radically Wrong with the Institutional Catholic Church"
Paul Lakeland on the Scandal of Sexual Abuse
SNAP Responds to Archbishop Nienstedt
Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Victims: “You Can’t Get Healing in a Court of Law”
More on the Statute of Limitations

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