Throughout its history, the Roman Catholic Church has engaged in secrecy to prevent scandal, asserted the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest and canon lawyer who shed light on the clergy sex abuse problem in the mid-‘80s – before it blew up into a crisis.
“The policy of the Catholic Church in regards to sexual abuse is to maintain as much secrecy as possible,” Doyle said during a phone interview from his home in northern Virginia. “There may be less secrecy today but only because the church was forced to be more open and transparent.”
Without pressure from victims, the courts, the media and concerned laity, the church would’ve simply continued its centuries-old practice, he said.
Doyle – co-author of the just-released book “Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse” – will be in Spokane on Monday to talk about the crisis that has plagued his church. Sponsored by the local Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the lay Catholic group, Voice of the Faithful, his lecture will start at 7 p.m. at Garland Alliance Church.
Now a hospice chaplain and advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse, Doyle was once a rising star among the church hierarchy, serving as the canon lawyer for the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. But he lost his job soon after submitting a 1985 report detailing the severity of the problem of pedophile priests. While investigating the crimes of Gilbert Gauthe, a priest in Lafayette, La., Doyle also exposed a cover-up – how church officials had known about Gauthe’s molestations but never told parishioners as they moved him from parish to parish.
Although Catholics and priests now show more concern for abuse victims, the hierarchy hasn’t changed much, said Doyle.
“The bishops have lost their way,” he said. “They act more like executives instead of pastors. … They’ve hired high-priced lawyers and public relations firms so that it appears they’re doing the right thing, but the fact is, they’re brutalizing victims.”
Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – including its current president, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane – have repeatedly apologized to victims of sexual abuse and promoted numerous measures to create a safe environment for youth in the church. Most notably, American bishops in 2002 approved the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which addresses allegations of sexual abuse of minors and includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse.
Doyle, however, said that bishops have not uniformly followed that charter. “Some are honestly trying to do the right thing, but they’re caught in the web – many bishops can’t rise above the culture that they’re part of,” he said. When asked specifically about Skylstad, Doyle declined to comment, only to say that “he’s been part of the system for a long time.”
Doyle’s comments on the Spokane diocese’s bankruptcy were also limited due to his involvement – he’s been hired by claimants as a consultant on church law. Filing for bankruptcy, he said, was the diocese’s “attempt to avoid full disclosure.”
The diocese, for its part, has insisted that Chapter 11 bankruptcy was its only recourse due to the number of sex-abuse claims. The bishop also has said that filing for bankruptcy ensures that all victims are treated equally and fairly.
Although Doyle has received support from some priests and the leaders of his religious order, he’s been ostracized by many from the church’s hierarchy, according to news reports. In the fall of 2003, his archbishop fired him, ending his 18-year career as an Air Force chaplain. In recent years, he’s been hired as a consultant and expert witness for numerous clergy abuse cases. He also was honored with the “Priest of Integrity Award” by Voice of the Faithful.
After his decades-long struggle with the hierarchy and the fallout from the abuse crisis, Doyle said he often wonders why he remains Catholic. But he is soon reminded why by his hospice work and his relationships with other Catholics, including victims of clergy sexual abuse. “The church is not the institution,” he said. “It’s the people.”