Priests of Integrity Awards

Background |Criteria |Nomination and Selection Process |Award Recipients | Honorary Mention

Background

Since the inaugural event of Voice of the Faithful in July 2002, when Fr. Tom Doyle, o.p., was honored for his courage and dedication to addressing the abuse crisis and its coverup in the church, we have sought to honor priests who exhibit the same conviction. "Priest of Integrity" awards have been presented periodically at VOTF gatherings since then.

We acknowledge that recognizing a “priest of integrity” for public recognition is difficult, because so many priests of integrity work without any acclaim or expectation of acclaim. However, we believe that all are encouraged when we recognize specific acts that demonstrate the leadership needed in our Church. It honors both courage and authentic pastoral commitment. We are in great need of leaders who live their faith—and most particularly those who do so with compassion and courage, regardless of the consequences. By the example of such priests, we hope and pray that other priests will speak up, as well as the rest of us. To them we say, “We stand by you and thank you.”

Ultimately, the greatest honor we can bestow is to imitate their courage and compassion.

Criteria

A Priest of Integrity:

  • Is recognized by his immediate circle of faithful Catholics, and by the nominating committee, to have met objective and measurable criteria for nomination for this award (which means specific examples of actions are necessary, because it is those actions that are being recognized as honorable)
  • Fulfills his calling from God by living his life in the service of others
  • Is marked by a sincere faith, loyal to the vows and promises of the priesthood
  • Speaks and acts his conscience, proclaiming the truth with humility, courage and compassion without regard for his own future security
  • Models servant-leadership both in the context of his life and of his ministry
  • Gives credible witness to the truth in both speech and action
  • Strives to promote Christian dignity and the rightful position of the laity in the Church

 Nomination and Selection Process

A Priest of Integrity Award Committee is convened whenever it is deemed appropriate to present such an honor. For national awards, the committee sends out a call for nominations from affiliates and members well in advance of the national meeting date. Each nominee is recommended to the committee by a VOTF member or affiliate, who is responsible for sending information to support the nomination.

Note that we are well aware that most priests work faithfully and often anonymously in their ministries, but by this award we are acknowledging specific actions that demonstrate the leadership needed in our Church.

It is necessary for those submitting nominations to first advise the nominee and to confirm his willingness to be considered for this recognition.

After the deadline for receiving nominations, the committee is responsible for prayerful consideration and due diligence of each nominee, which includes checking with VOTF survivor advocates and support groups (including SNAP and Bishops Accountability), officers, trustees, and the executive director as well as others who are acquainted with the nominees. The selection of the recipient(s) is made by this committee based on all the above criteria, input, and prayerful discernment.

Award Recipients

2002:   Reverend Thomas Doyle, o.p.

For more than 20 years, Fr. Tom has been an advocate of victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse.   He co-authored the 1985 report that warned of pastoral, medical and legal challenges to the Church. He
continues to be a pastoral shepherd to thousands wounded by abuse, listening to them with compassion, and mediating Christ’s presence to them. He has testified as an expert witness and consultant in hundreds of lawsuits involving the sexually abused. Fr. Tom is unflagging in calling for just and inclusive participation by the laity in the governance and guidance of the Church.

2004: Reverend James Scahill

Pastor, St. Michael’s Parish, East Longmeadow MA, Fr. Scahill is a dedicated priest, a compassionate pastor, and a selfless advocate for all those wounded by clergy sexual abuse. He is a model of personal decency and spiritual conviction to the people he pastors, and despite enduring rejection by those who disagree with him, he has demonstrated profound determination to help build a healthy and holy Church that is true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and dedicated to the service of his people.

2005: Monsignor Lawrence Breslin

Monsignor Breslin was a priest of the Cincinnati Archdiocese in Centerville OH. He modeled leadership in speaking the truth about a fellow priest who admitted to being an abuser. In his support for the victim and her family, he chose to place the interest of the innocent ahead of all else. His compassion, courage and leadership is an inspiration for those he serves in ministry. Today, we honor his memory and are blessed by his service to the people he pastored.

Fall 2007: 

Monsignor Kenneth Lasch, Pastor, St. Joseph’s Parish, Mendham NJ

Monsignor Lasch is a priest who has spoken at VOTF gatherings, supported surviviors unhesitatingly beginning in 1995, and spoken out both for survivors and the reforms of Vatican II. He is also a founder of Project Millstone. Although his dedication to his ministry has weighed heavily on him, his example has moved the hearts and minds of the multitudes who love him.

Reverend Richard Reissmann, Pastor, St. John-Holy Angels Parish, Newark NJ

Father Reissmann is the only priest in his diocese who was willing to support VOTF in his parish and who is a member himself. His testimony before the Delaware State legislature is credited with helping in the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 29, the strongest bill protecting children; the bill eliminated the two year statute of limitation and provided a two year look-back window. His heartfelt commitment to the good that we can do together is an inspiration to those for whom he is pastor.

Winter 2007:   Bishop Tom Gumbleton

A priest for more than 50 years and a founder of Pax Christi, Bishop Gumbleton was one of the first bishops to speak out publicly about the abuse crisis in 2002. He testified before the Ohio Legislature in order to expose abusers who have still not been brought to account, to make all those responsible truly accountable, and to restore credibility to church leaders. He said, “This may cause pain, embarrassment, and sacrifice for our Church, especially in the short term. It may cause some hardship for us financially. It might seem easier to keep the evils hidden, to move on and trust that the future will be better. But I am convinced that a settlement of every case by our court system is the only way to protect children and to heal the brokenness within the church.” Bishop Gumbleton is a heroic example of living an informed conscience, a man who stood up to his enemies and his associates with courage.

Spring 2008: Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is a retired auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Australia. While on a book tour for his book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, Bp. Robinson was presented with a Priest of Integrity award. Drawing on personal experience in responding to abuse, he is convinced that until the Church confronts the root causes of this crisis, it will continue to be crippled. As he challenges the leadership and insists that the power structure must be reformed, he is adamant that he is not attacking the Church he loves. As he writes in his introduction, “I believe that in this book I describe a better Church, a Church that is not contrary to the mind of Jesus Christ. How others will react to the book is up to them, but the case for reform must be most seriously considered, for we must confront all factors that have in any way contributed either to abuse or to the inadequate response to abuse.”

Bishop Robinson is a highly respected bishop in his country, and has been described as one of the most intelligent and capable of the Australian bishops. He is a former lecturer in canon law and is esteemed for his integrity in coordinating the Australian church’s national response to the abuse crisis in the late 1990s.   It is for his courage, his compassion, and his life-long commitment to the people he serves that we honor this man for his selfless efforts.

Fall 2009:

Reverend Joseph M. Fowler

Fr. Fowler was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, in 1961. Fr. Fowler has served with dedication as a pastor, a teacher and a creative organizer. For example, working with his brother, Wayne, he founded Hand in Hand Ministries to serve impoverished people in Eastern Kentucky, Nicaragua, Belize, and Costa Rica. He is the president of the organization. In 2005, Hand in Hand Ministries facilitated a week-long healing journey to Managua, Nicaragua, for a group of survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.

Over the years, Fr. Fowler has tirelessly worked to make things better for those in need. He has spoken out against injustice and dishonesty in our Church and society. Several years ago he publicly urged that a fellow-priest, who has more than forty confirmed minor victims of sexual abuse, be denied parole from prison so that he could never again harm a child. The man remains in prison and is reported to be helpful to fellow inmates.

In April, 2008, at the signing into law of HB211, Fr. Fowler read the following statement to the media in the Capitol Rotunda of Kentucky in the presence of the Governor and legislators. Click here to read more.

Reverend Donald B. Cozzens 

Fr. Cozzens has been a steadfast supporter of the mission and goals of VOTF since its earliest days. He is a priest who challenges the status quo with wit, wisdom and unflinching honesty. He encourages priests and laypersons alike to be persons of integrity: to speak the truth, to be a voice for the voiceless, to right the wrongs that have been done, to both challenge and encourage one another, and to do so with compassion and kindness.

By the time the scandal of abuse and cover up surfaced in Boston, he had already written books on the crisis in the priesthood. His Changing Face of the Priesthood (published in 2000) and The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest (1997) named the critical issues that impact on priests today.

Those who know Father Cozzens well know him as a gentle and kind person, and one who, by the very fact that he is being honored in this way, would deflect the attention and plead unworthiness. Yet this soft-spoken man speaks and writes with courageous candor about the dangers of clericalism, the importance of integrity, and the inability of a hierarchical system that is feudal in its structure to meet the needs of people today. It is within this system that the abuse and its cover up have occurred.  Click here to read more.
 

Honorary mention is given to the following nominees:

Fall, 2007:

Reverend Patrick J. Brennan (IL)
Reverend William Hammer (KY)
Reverend David Hitch (IA)
Reverend Stephen Josoma (MA)
Reverend James MacGee, omi (FL)
Reverend Michael O'Connell (MN)
Reverend Mark Schmieder (OH)
Reverend Louis Stasker (MI)