VIEW FROM THE EYE OF THE STORM
[There is no place I would rather be today than here with you —
seasoned veterans of the trials and turmoil of sexual abuse by the
trusted. You have weathered part of the storm. You have held on;
you are working to save others. Many of you, magnanimously, are
trying hard to help the system that has spawned your abuse.
You are not alone. With us here are some of your staunchest and
most steadfast advocates; Jeff Anderson, Jason Berry, Gary Hayes,
Barbara Blaine, David Clohessy, but unfortunately not one bishop.
With us in spirit are Tom Doyle, Jeanne Miller, Tom Economus...
Welcome to the eye of the storm. From this vantage of tranquility
I invite you to consider with me the meaning of the devastation
we have already witnessed. To anticipate the tsunami the future
holds. Especially let us contribute to the understanding of the
dynamic that makes abuse possible where it must never be allowed
The Perfect Moral Storm
The Catholic Church in the United States, and perhaps worldwide,
is involved in a crisis of monumental proportions. There is no escape
for us - we are in it, but we did not cause it. We know it, but
we cannot control it.
Perhaps the Church is not yet as aware as you and I are that this
conflict is the perfect moral storm. Three independent but interrelated
forces - Sex, Money, and Moral Authority - are colliding with hurricane
force to threaten the long established assumptions and operations
of the church.
Certainly our experience forces us to question the Church and its
operations. But we are together here because we stand against abuse
of minors, the vulnerable, and all believers always and everywhere.
Many responsible lay men and women have raised questions about
the financial accountability of the Church. I know money has to
be a concern. I know the amount of cash settlements in only a small
proportion of abuse cases in which I have been a consultant, but
that figure is over one hundred million dollars. And I am only a
bit-player in this great on-going conflict.
In this conflict bishops have risked their credibility and damaged
their authority across the board, not just in sexual matters. Vast
numbers of Catholics simply do not trust the power structure of
I will concentrate on the sexual dimension of the conflict.
Let no one say that we are anti-religion, anti-Catholic, anti-clergy
or anti-celibacy. We are not! We know that there are good priests.
We know the church does good works. We offer our efforts for the
betterment of that Church many of us call our spiritual home.
However, when a patient is facing cancer, those trying to cure
do not stand around, praising the fine eyesight, good hearing and
sound heart. It is crystal clear that if those who care fail to
treat the main disease, those well-functioning systems and the whole
organism will be lost. And the Catholic Church has cancer. And that
cancer is its culture of deceit. Sexual abuse of minors by bishops
and priests is but one symptom of the disease process.
Sexual abuse of minors and the vulnerable by clergy - our primary
concern - cannot be isolated in reality from other sexual activity
of bishops and priests who are self-guaranteed to be sexually abstinent
— sexually safe. Much of the trust, reverence and moral authority
granted to Catholic clergy are predicated on the assumption that
they are celibately honest.
In your 1992 conference in Chicago, you could already identify
that sexual abuse of minors was merely the tip of an iceberg that,
if explored, would lead to the power structures that support the
behavior. No agency has been more effective in exposing that structure
than the Boston Globe. What is more, you knew that if abuse
of minors by priests were adequately explored, other non-celibate
activity was bound to come into question. How is celibacy really
practiced by those bishops and priests who profess it? That topic
is no longer avoidable for consideration and research.
In your 1994 Collegeville conference, you faced the fact that wherever
abuse by a priest occurred, some superior "gave permission," either
through easy forgiveness or by some sexual activity himself. Proof
is being produced daily, reluctantly.
Today, we trust say that sexual abuse in the Catholic Church does
not proceed from the bottom up — from candidates for the priesthood.
Sexual corruption is conferred from the top down - from men in power.
Abuse would have no standing or durability if this were not so.
Experience — fact — proves it. The complete extent of the pattern
has yet to be exposed.
Today we are prepared to identify and explore another element that
keeps sexual activity a corrosive element within the church — its
culture of deception. This ethos attempts to cover the network of
sexual secrets and liaisons at the pinnacles of power. Understanding
this culture comes very close to identifying the core of the sexual
This culture of sexual deceit denies in word what it knows to be
true. It covers what it does. This culture teaches what it does
not believe. It affects the lives and welfare of everyone, not just
II. THE CULTURE OF DECEIT
Sex, more than any other reality, exposes the Church's culture
of deceit. By what right do I claim that such a culture exists?
What evidence do we have?
Church history is the strongest witness for the prosecution.
We must realize that Catholic clergy do constitute a culture apart.
Ordinary men, yes. Representing a wide variety of personality types,
yes. But they form a mono-sex culture. Besides, each is educated
in a required curriculum. All are united by one doctrine. All serve
under the same discipline.
In the United States, with a population of 285 million people,
fewer than 50 thousand men constitute this group. Fewer than 400
bishops control uncounted billions of dollars in assets. The church
forms a formidable base of influence.
Does this culture do good works? Unquestionably! Does it wield
great power? Untold.
A pope — Gregory XVII — in 1832 said, "The idea that defect, shadow,
or other misfortune could ever cause the church to stand in need
of restoration or renewal is hereby condemned as obviously absurd."
The church will endure. The culture of the clergy can, and is,
sexually corruptible. (And reformable.) Elements in the culture
support that corruption.
Secrecy is primary among these elements. Secrecy and accountability
When a man is created a cardinal he kneels before the Pope and
takes a vow in Latin. He promises fidelity to Christ and the gospel.
He vows obedience to the pope and unfailing communion with the Roman
Catholic Church. Then comes the one practical directive at the heart
of the commitment. I quote:
" ... never to reveal to anyone whatever has been confided in me
to keep secret and the revelation of which could cause damage or
dishonor to the Holy Church."
The criterion for secrecy is not charity. It is not justice. The
statement is the opposite of a vow to tell the truth in defense
of God, Chinch or humanity. The criterion for secrecy is harm, dishonor,
or scandal for the Church. (How do they define church?)
In the past ten years I have worked with over 40 lawyers, most
of them Catholic. Repeatedly, I have been chagrined as they registered
their dismay and disappointment that so many clergy — bishops and
priests — lie. Many have asked me for some explanation. "How come?"
Is there an explanation for this kind of behavior they never expected
from a bishop?
After reviewing many documents and depositions, I have to agree
that some bishops lie. I have tried to explain it in terms that
they are resorting to a rationalization in moral theology, called
"mental reservation." Namely, one can prevaricate if the person
asking the question has no right to know the true answer (or truth
would do incalculable harm). I have also observed a frequent clerical
subterfuge: subsuming under the rubric of "confessional" (sacramental)
information that does not deserve to be in that category.
Another explanation is that the clergy identify themselves so closely
with the organization that they cloak themselves with its supernatural
stature; they submerge what should be their own conscience into
an ethic that values their own "reputation and corporate good above
Certainly there has to be some rationale for the way victims of
abuse and abusive clergy have been treated. Unfortunately, even
these sincere attempts at charity will not adequately explain or
cover the multitude of sins committed by bishops against the truth
of sexual abuse by clergy. Many bishops state in depositions that
they were never aware of any problem before 1985 (the date of the
Doyle, Peterson, Mouton Report). However, in 1992, the then President
of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States
Catholic Conference, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, and I quote, that
report "presented no new issue of which the NCCB was unaware or
presented information that required some materially different response."
A direct example of the cultural attitude: when Bishop John Ricard
was Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore, one of his priests chided him
for a misstatement. The bishop defended his action: "Look, Father,
I only lie when I have to." He is not the only bishop to utter those
The Public Relations Lie
This attitude is woven into the fiber of response from the Church
about sexual violations. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for
the Catholic Conference in Washington DC., stated on national TV
(ABC Feb. 02) that she believed that "99 & 44/100s percent of priests
keep their celibacy." When the interviewer, incredulous, asked if
she really believed that, she staunchly affirmed, "I do." Did she
believe that? That would make her grossly uninformed or deluded.
Did she not really believe it? What would be her justification for
I am well aware that the line between personal information and
public exposure demands delicate deliberation. An account from the
Desert Fathers (4th century) tells about a famous Abbot who violated
his celibacy. He felt that he could not confess his sin publicly
lest he dishearten his disciples — and give scandal. So he prayed,
fasted vigorously, isolated himself from all communication, even
refusing to participate in any public spiritual activity for one
It may be difficult for moral leaders to expose their sexual foibles
or reveal facts about the sexual network of knowledge and association
in their power circle. However, public confession has not harmed
the spiritual witness of St Augustine.
But "public relations" are not an excuse for the Church to lie
when the fate and welfare of so many are at stake - to say nothing
of its own integrity.
A sad, and as yet unsolved, chapter of the sexual abuse saga in
the United States is the story of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. This
man probably did die a saint, as his close friends attest. Without
doubt, he did many wonderful things for the Church in America.
In the media flurry that surrounded the allegation of sexual abuse,
an impertinent reporter asked the Cardinal, "Are you living a sexually
active life?" A simple "no" would have been sufficient. But the
Cardinal said, "I am sixty-five years old, and I have always lived
a chaste and celibate life."
However defensible in the arena of public assault, I knew that
the statement was not unassailably true. Years before, several priests
who were associates of Bernardin prior to his move to Chicago revealed
that they had "partied" together; they talked about their visits
to the Josephinum to socialize with seminarians.
It is a fact that Bernardin's accuser did not ever retract his
allegations of abuse by anyone's account other than Bernardin's.
If, as reported, three million dollars were paid in handling the
scandal, certainly there are still informed people in Chicago who
know at least part of the story. And the story is complex. It holds
repercussions far beyond Chicago and one allegation.
I speak of this only as an example — a clue — to a mystery. This
should not be sensational. Rather, it should be an occasion for
the Church to divine an important pattern of its sexual operation.
The principle players must speak for themselves. But getting to
the heart of the Church's sexual crisis is like solving a mystery.
And it is important for her integrity that truth not be stifled
by silence and subterfuge.
There are clues beyond victims. There are clues beyond documents.
You who courageously have been willing to tell your stories provide
many clues about the culture of deceit. Unfortunately, other clues
have had to be wrested from unwilling testimony and uncooperative
There have been a few heroic priests who have given witness to
how the sexual system of the church works. One courageous bishop
said years ago what we all know now — that one reason the American
bishops have been slow to deal with sexual abuse of minors is because
some of them have been involved themselves.
The Lie of Feigned Ignorance
Court documents and press releases abound from bishops that assert,
"I did not know" ... "Things are different now" ... "We know more."
Which bishop only recently learned that sex with a minor — or any
one else for that matter — is non-celibate behavior?
When did bishops learn that it is reprehensible — dangerous, immoral
— to ply youngsters with alcohol? Have any only recently learned
that exposing children to pornography is more than simply poor pastoral
Who, even in 1950, did not know that sexual activity with a minor
was a crime?
Some bishops may not have been aware of the extent and the intensity
of the damage sexual violation by a priest causes.
Some bishops may not have been aware of the progress psychiatry
made in understanding abuse as an addiction.
They did not need to. Fidelity to their stated responsibility as
guardians of the celibacy of priests and the care of souls were
adequate guidelines for action. Respect for civil decency and law
are not suspended by devotion to secrecy.
Under what circumstances will the Church reveal the real number
of abusing clergy? What will it take for the Church to account for
all the financial costs of their neglect? What toll are denial and
opposition to the revelation of celibate failure taking on moral
authority? Can it afford to be honest? More importantly, can it
afford not to? What will it cost all of us to maintain opposition
to the exposure of facts?
Father Steven Rossetti, a good priest concerned with the problems
of clergy, was asked by a group of six victims of Father James Porter,
"What will it take for the Church to change?" He responded without
hesitation, "The church will not change until it is threatened with
Perhaps he was correct.
The Lie of Positive Affirmation
Cardinals and bishops have announced that their goal is transparency
and accountability. Noble ideals. Worthy goals. Fine words. The
hierarchy has proudly asserted that they pledge "complete cooperation"
with legal authorities.
But talk to district attorneys. Consult Attorneys General. They
say that bishops simply do not cooperate. Bishops fight turning
over documents every inch of the way, by every means possible. One
district attorney said the fight goes "page by page." They are fighting
to cover up. Their energy is expended to secrete, not to reveal.
Transparency and accountability proclaimed by bishops are words.
No, let us name them for what they are — lies. Part of the culture
III. THE GENEALOGY OF ABUSE
Why is the fight so furious? Why is the struggle to keep FACTS
buried so vigorous? Important clues exist in the genealogy of abuse.
I have bean able to trace victims of clergy and bishop abuse to
the third generation.
Often, the history of clergy abusers reveals that the priest himself
was abused – sometimes by a priest. The abuse may have occurred
when the priest was a child, but not necessarily.
Sexual activity between an older priest and an adult seminarian
or young priest sets up a pattern of institutional secrecy. When
one of the parties rises to a position of power, his friends are
in line also for recommendations and advancement.
The dynamic is not limited to homosexual liaisons. Priests and
bishops who know about each other's sexual affairs with women, too,
are bound together by draconian links of sacred silence. A system
of blackmail reaches into the highest corridors of the American
hierarchy and the Vatican and thrives because of this network of
sexual knowledge and relationships.
Secrecy flourishes, like mushrooms on a dank dung pile, even among
good men in possession of the facts of the dynamic, but who cannot
speak lest they violate the Scarlet Bond.
I have interviewed at length a man who was a sexual partner of
Bishop James Rausch. This was particularly painful for me since
Rausch and I were young priests together in Minnesota in the early
60s. He went on to get his social work degree and succeeded Bernardin
as Secretary of the Bishops' National Conference in DC. He became
Bishop of Phoenix.
It is patently clear that he had an active sexual life. It did
involve at least one minor. He was well acquainted with priests
who were sexually active with minors (priests who had at least 30
minor victims each). He referred at least one of his own victims
to these priests.
What was his sexual genealogy? What are the facts of his celibate/sexual
development and practice? Did those who knew him know nothing of
his life? Perhaps so! But he was in a spectacular power grid of
bright men. He was Bernardin's successor at the US Conference. Bishop
Thomas Kelly at Louisville was his successor. Msgr. Daniel Hoye
and Bishop Robert Lynch, among others, took over his job.
Let me be perfectly clear. I am not saying or implying in any way
that these men were partners in "crime" with Jim Rausch. But I am
saying that anyone who sets out to solve a mystery has to ask people
who knew the principal, "What, if anything, did you know or observe
about the alleged perpetrator?"
After all, the Church's hardened resistance to dealing honestly
with the problem of sexual abuse on their own has compelled the
civil authorities to move in, ask the questions, investigate allegations.
The Church in America has been its own worst enemy – creating mysteries
and doubts, rather than clear answers that inspire confidence.
Even bishops innocent of sexual violations themselves, by their
silence, concealment of facts and resistance to effective solutions,
choose to be part of a genealogy of abuse and reinforce a culture
One reason the work of the Boston Globe has been so effective
is because they have sought out the facts. Every member of the original
five-member Spotlight Investigative team is a Catholic. (Not anti-Church,
not anti-Catholic, not anti-celibacy). Their agenda was a search
for the data – facts – beyond emotion or prejudice.
IV. THE TASK AHEAD
The stated goal of your conference is to help victims of clergy
abuse. (You are victims, not alleged victims.) You have come here
to learn ways to help yourselves and your families. But also, you
want to understand and help solve the bigger problem. You can. (You
No one can expect you to approach these tasks without emotion.
You are burdened with the grief of loss and betrayal. You are understandably
angry - furious.
Saint Augustine said that anger is the beginning of courage. Let
us turn our anger and indignation into a transforming courage. You
have already been partners with the courage of the free press that
has told your stories. Let us take a cue from the factors in those
stories that have had power — FACTS.
The Church has tried and is still trying vigorously to keep facts
Church lawyers in deposition have asked me, "What should the Church
have done to deal with the problem of abuse?" My answer is constant:
"Tell the truth."
You can generate a great deal of good if you insist that your lawyers
in settling your case do not agree to seal the facts of your case.
Push for exposure of the records of all abuse cases in your diocese
or religious order.
Support the work of grand juries, district attorneys, and public
officials investigating abuse by clergy. See to it that church investigations
are as assiduously conducted.
Support bishops and priests who have proven that they can operate
outside the Scarlet Bond of secrecy.
One horrendously abused victim said, "The bishops are cowering
behind their crosiers, trying to impress the unsuspecting and gullible
with the flash of their pectoral crosses and empty sounding apologies."
This is too harsh a generalization, but it does speak to the growing
distrust many Catholics have for church authority at this time.
Apologies, no matter how heartfelt, will not stem the course of
the storm. Only a shift in the winds of the clerical culture of
denial and secrecy will do that. That will come; if not from within
the system, it will come from without. That is the nature of this
A tragic element to the storm around us is that good clergy are
submerged in the culture of deceit. Forces beyond their control
buffet and harass them. And yet, they are supposed to be the captains
leading us to shelter from the storm. Where are their voices? Their
orders cannot be heard unless they are shouting facts.
But the next round of the storm is going to be harsher, bigger,
more dangerous, and powerful. Facts beyond fear ... facts beyond
vested interests ... facts beyond scandal ... facts beyond our personal
stories ... facts - the sacred truth - are the only safe harbor
for all of us, including the clergy.
Let us batten down our hatches in safe harbor.