Sunday, March 28, 2010

He Spoke Truth to Power, but Vatican Wouldn't Listen

By Rubén Rosario

Editor's Note: The following article and interview with Tom Doyle (pictured at right) was published in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press. It is essential reading.

Last Sunday, I went to a suburban east metro Catholic church I sometimes attend. The elderly priest gave a traditional Lenten homily based on the biblical tale of the adulterous woman and Jesus’ words, “Let ye who have not sinned cast the first stone,”

It was all well and good until, right before the benediction, the priest implored the congregation to pray that the health care reform bill be defeated by Congress because it contained federal funding for abortion. I will wager a week’s pay the guy did not read the entire bill. So much for separation of church and state.

There was also no mention of how the Catholic Church’s priest abuse scandal has spread across Europe and into Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany in recent months.

But it did not escape me that this was the same priest who refused to shake my bare hand during the height of the swine flu scare a few months ago. He would do so only through his robe.

“Be not afraid, Father,” I told him after I politely grasped his garment-covered hand as I walked out.

I confess all this now as a back-handed way of introducing the Rev. Tom Doyle, 65. Four decades ago, the Sheboygan, Wis., native went through “priesthood boot camp” in Winona, Minn., and ultimately became a top official in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

As a canon lawyer for the Vatican’s embassy in Washington, Doyle seemed on a smooth and seamless ascension up the diplomatic and legal ladders of a church he believed with all his heart and soul was the paragon of morality.

Then something profoundly disturbing transformed Doyle from trusted and idealistic church insider and defender to church pariah and loose cannon.

While at the Vatican embassy, he became deeply troubled by a high-profile case in Louisiana involving a pedophile priest. Instead of defrocking the priest or calling authorities, local archdiocese officials decided to hide the crimes and transfer the child predator from one parish to another, where he abused again.

Doyle thought this was against everything the church stood for. So did a now-deceased fellow priest as well as a former criminal defense attorney once hired by the church to defend a suspected child molester in the clergy.

On their own initiative, the trio assembled a 100-page report warning church officials to come clean about the abuses and respond to the needs of the victims rather than protect abusive priests from secular prosecution or protect – at all costs – the church’s status and image.

The report, sent to virtually every U.S. bishop, was largely ignored.

A quarter of a century and an endless string of child abuse scandals later, the report, titled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem,” has proved prophetic.

Blasphemer. Traitor. Heretic. Doyle has heard it all. Still an ordained priest, he is all but barred from serving Mass or being involved in public ministry without church approval.

No doubt Doyle has a big ax to grind with the church. But since Jesus himself broke bread with sinners and outcasts, I felt it appropriate to talk with Dolye and take his pulse on the 25-year-old report he helped write, as well as the ongoing crisis.

Rubén Rosario: Tell me about the 1985 report and its impact.

Tom Dolye: At the time, my main function at the embassy was running the legal process for the selection of bishops. As far as the report itself, it was an attempt to help the church and also reach out to victims.

We encouraged (the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) to address this on a voluntary basis. They rejected all of it. They told the media at the time they had policies and procedures in place. They had nothing, and I knew that.

Rubén Rosario: What else?

Tom Doyle: I had the backing of some powerful bishops who thought it was a good idea. There was a letter sent to me from an attorney for victims that alerted us to the potential that such abuse would result in a class-action lawsuit against the Catholic Church. The lawyer who wrote the letter surmised the church would likely pay out claims in excess of $1 billion.

Rubén Rosario: What was the response?

Tom Doyle: I remember an archbishop said to me: “Tom, calm down about this. No one is ever going to sue the Catholic Church about this.”

Rubén Rosario: And here we are, well over $2 billion in payouts so far and counting.

Tom Doyle: Exactly, as well as more than 4,000 civil cases.

Rubén Rosario: Do you think the church has done enough to deal with this problem in an in-house or public way? Are they there yet?

Tom Doyle: No. They are nowhere near that. All of this points to the governmental system of the Catholic Church. The closed clerical club that is concerned more about itself than it is about these children who have been abused by priests. The reason for the cover-up all along has been to protect the bleed of money. But, more importantly, it’s to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church.

Rubén Rosario: Has it backfired?

Tom Doyle: It has. They don’t get it. I think there’s an attitude in the Catholic hierarchy of which I was once a part of – of definite superiority.

Rubén Rosario: What are the lessons here?

Tom Doyle: What we’ve learned over 25 years in that the Vatican has stayed mostly hands-off until forced to on this. They first said it was an “American” problem. That has been debunked. They then said it was Western secularism and materialism aided and abetted by the anti-Catholic press. That has been debunked.

Rubén Rosario: What has been the overriding problem?

Tom Doyle: This issue goes right to the subculture that runs the Catholic Church, At no time have they been willing to look (at the larger issue). They’ve prosecuted priests (in-house and in secret) by the hundreds since 2002. But not one bishop who has been accused of sexually abusing children himself has been subjected to any kind of penal process. All they have been asking to do is resign, and then they go and live a fairly comfortable retirement,

Rubén Rosario: We both do still love and want to believe that this church is the ultimate direct and most holy and upright product of the teachings of a man believed to be the divine son of God. So what does the modern-day church have to do to regain its reputation and restore confidence and trust on this child abuse issue?

Tom Doyle: To begin the process of restoration, I believe that the current pope needs to stand up and make a public apology. Not that those mistakes were made in the past – they always do in the past tense and there’s a subtle message there that this is in the past and not now. The pope should say: “I’m sorry for what I did in my negligence to allow this to happen. I’m sorry for what I did fire bishops when I knew they were covering up.”

But I don’t believe that will happen in my lifetime.

Rubén Rosario: Why?

Tom Doyle: Because to protect their own self-identity, they will cling to the premise that they are appointed by the Almighty and are the vicars of Christ and the essence of the church. They believe this will dissolve their power. It’s all about control, and it’s all about power.

Rubén Rosario: You spent a month counseling or meeting with scores of alleged clergy abuse victims in Ireland. How did that go?

Tom Doyle: Yes. I cannot put into words the anguish and the pain of what these men and some women went through. Once I gained their trust, I apologize. I tell them how sorry (I am that the church) covered up. And every time, without exception, many with tears in their eyes, they said to me: “You are the first one from the church who has ever said that to me.”

Rubén Rosario: So you apologize for a church that once you believed in but that has basically relegated you to outcast status?

Tom Doyle: Yes. But I do this because I know how important (a church apology) is to these people.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or

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