Tom Doyle OP was the ultimate insider as an American canonist, a prelate on the way up the food chain. Very early on he warned the US hierarchy about the gravity and the ticking time bomb of the sex abuse scandal. He was assured that his warnings would reach John Paul ll.His persistent defense of the abused cost him him canonical career but probably saved his priesthood.
In an NCR article worth reading he laid out the whole sorry mess of episcopal denial and the institutional circling of the wagons by largely JP ll bishops, the grey men whose prime loyalty was to the church and not the victims. As we now now this became the worst scandal of the Catholic Church since the Reformation and cast a cloud over JP ll’s whole pontificate. Many sites have reprinted his comments which gives a more balanced approach to John Paul’s term as pope.
Doyle pulled no punches and stated quite boldly:
The past 30 years have led me to the opinion that his sainthood is a profound insult to the countless victims of sexual assault by Catholic clergy the world over. It is an insult to the decent, well-intentioned men and women who were persecuted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during his reign, and it is an insult to the memory of Pope John XXIII, who has the misfortune being a canonization classmate.
Here is Doyle’s conclusion written on Holy Thursday of this year.
This was in 1985, not 2002. It is hard to believe that this pope, who was supposed to be one of the smartest men alive at the time, could not have understood the gravity of significant numbers of priests raping and violating little children. The excuse that he did nothing because of his “purity of thought” is as ridiculous as the excuse that he wanted to preserve the priesthood for which he held such high esteem.
Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul’s press officer, said Friday that he didn’t think the pope or anyone else understood the gravity of the crisis. Other than the fact that this assertion is also ridiculous, a number of people in the church did understand the gravity: the mothers and fathers of the children who were violated and even the general public, who were clamoring for action even back in the mid-’80s.
Navarro-Valls said after 2002, Pope John Paul immediately began taking action. Other than making nine recorded public statements, all of which were sufficiently nuanced to be innocuous, and calling a meeting of the U.S. cardinals to tell them what everyone already knew, he did nothing positive.
He did, however, do a few negative things. He was ultimately responsible for short-circuiting the investigation of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. He refused to investigate the accusations against Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna. He promoted the careers of some of the bishops and cardinals who intentionally inflicted horrendous damage on victims and expended vast amounts of donated money to stonewall the process of justice, e.g., Cardinals Bernard Law, Roger Mahony and George Pell, to name but a few. Perhaps the most egregious nonaction was completely ignoring the pleas of thousands of victims, many of whom wrote directly to him. Victims and victims’ groups bombarded the Vatican with letters and requested audiences or at least recognition by the pope, especially at the World Youth Day celebrations. Not only were their requests ignored, but not one ever even received an acknowledgement of the receipt of their communication.
The sexual abuse scandal of our era has been the Catholic church’s worst nightmare, and it has been going on for 30 years. The enormity of it all challenges the English language for words that can accurately describe it. The spectrum of large numbers of priests, bishops and even cardinals from around the world sexually violating children, one of the vilest crimes imaginable, challenges the capacity to grasp the enormity of such evil. Yet it not only happened, but it was enabled by those who have professed to follow the Gospel and lead others on the same path.
On Sunday, the institutional church will accord its highest honor to the one man who, more than any other alive, could have ended the nightmare and saved countless innocent and vulnerable victims. But he did not. It was not a question of he could not, but he would not.
The red book on my shelf may be a relic, but it is also a reminder of the very dark side of the institutional church, a side John Paul helped reveal.
Thomas P. Doyle is a priest, canon lawyer, addictions therapist and longtime supporter of justice and compassion for clergy sex abuse victims.