The Catholic Church’s grim history of ignoring priestly pedophilia – and silencing would-be whistleblowers


[Editor’s note: There can be few around the English speaking world who have not heard about the grotesque crimes against young mothers, babies and young children carried out on a widespread scale across Ireland, how the Catholic clergy of that country have been engaging in the worst forms of pederastic physical, mental and sexual abuse of minors and how the Church itself has gone to great lengths and expended great sums of money in covering up this terrible scandal.

It was all to little avail however as, since the scandals first began to break in the 1990s, more and more cases have come to light and large numbers of offenders have found themselves in court. This has deeply wounded the control the church has wielded over the Irish people and in the last 25 years we have seen Ireland drag itself into the modern world by casting off most of the archaic and cruel laws that had long been excised from the law statutes in other Western nations but had remained in Ireland due to the nefarious meddling of the Catholic Church. Today, Irish women enjoy most of the essential freedoms and rights enjoyed for decades in other nations and abortion is no longer illegal, progress has been hard won, but the Irish, notoriously, are always up for a good, hard fight and Ireland’s women have fought very hard.

We have known for decades that what was happening in Ireland was far from unique, that the Catholic clergy was behaving just as atrociously elsewhere, but it is only in the last couple of years, as cases have come to court in countries such as the US and Australia that concrete proof has emerged. The Vatican continues to expend great efforts and finances in trying to keep the lid on these abuse scandals, but they are meeting with less and less success as more and more victims are finding the courage to come forward and seek justice. The pope may have issued a half-hearted apology, but it is far too little, far too late and the Catholic church will never again be able to exert anywhere near the level of influence it formerly did and will never command even a fraction of the respect and trust it once held (but never deserved).

The scale of the systematic, institutionalised abuse is still not fully known, it is certainly global in scope, as the Vatican moved paedophile priests from one country to the next to keep them from being exposed and prosecuted. The cases coming to light in Boston and Philadelphia alone area strong indicator that when the lid finally comes off altogether and the full nature and scale of Catholic abuses is revealed, it will fatally damage and ultimately destroy this corrupt criminal organisation. Ian]

The Conversation
The Catholic Church’s grim history of ignoring priestly pedophilia – and silencing would-be whistleblowers

Widespread public shock followed the recent release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report that identified more than 1,000 child victims of clergy sexual abuse. In fact, as I know through my research, the Vatican and its American bishops have known about the problem of priestly pedophilia since at least the 1950s. And the Church has consistently silenced would-be whistleblowers from within its own ranks.

In the memory of many Americans, the only comparable scandal was in Massachusetts, where, in 2002, the Boston Globe published more than 600 articles about abuses under the administration of Cardinal Bernard Law. That investigation was immortalized in the 2015 award-winning film, “Spotlight.”

What many Americans don’t remember, however, are other similar scandals, some even more dramatic and national in scope.

Doubling down on secrecy

The Vatican has known about priestly pedophilia for many decades. AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

While the problem of priestly pedophilia might be centuries old, the modern paper trail began only after World War II, when “treatment centers” appeared for rehabilitating abusive priests. Instead of increased transparency, bishops, at the same time, developed methods for denying and hiding allegations of child sexual abuse.

During the 1950s and 1960s, bishops from around the U.S. began referring abusive priests to church-run medical centers, so that they could receive evaluation and care without disclosing their crimes to independent clinicians.

Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, who began his ministry in Boston and Quebec, was among those who advocated prayer over medicine. In 1947, Fitzgerald moved to New Mexico and founded the Servants of the Paraclete, a new order of Catholic priests devoted to healing deviant clergy. His belief in faith healing reflected a vocal minority of Catholic leaders who still viewed psychology as a threat to Christian faith.

Fitzgerald based the Paracletes in New Mexico. From 1947 to 1995, the state became a dumping ground for pedophile priests. As Kathleen Holscher, chair of Roman Catholic studies at the University of New Mexico, has observed, this practice forced New Mexico’s parishes to absorb, in effect, abusive priests from across the country.

Other priests sent to the Paracletes were returned back into ministry in their home diocese, reassigned to new parishes that had no way of knowing about their abusive past.

This system was sustained, in part, by the fact that few diocesan personnel files recorded past accusations by children and parents. As Richard Sipe, a psychologist who worked at a similar Catholic treatment center later revealed, bishops generally masked past accusations by instead recording code words like “tickling,” “wrestling” or “entangled friendship” in personnel files.

By 1956, Fitzgerald became convinced that pedophilia could not be treated, even as he continued to believe that prayers could cure other illnesses, such as alcoholism. He petitioned U.S. bishops to stop sending him their child abusers, advocating instead for firing abusive priests and permanently removing them from ministry.

Fitzgerald eventually appealed directly to the Vatican, and met with Pope Paul VI to discuss the problem in 1963.

Hush money

It is unclear when the Church began using hush settlements to silence victims. The practice, however, was so widespread by the 1980s that the Vatican assigned church lawyers to adjust their insurance policies in order to minimize additional liabilities.

These included Fr. Thomas Doyle, a nonparish priest who specialized in Roman Catholicism’s internal laws; Fr. Michael Petersen, a trained psychiatrist who believed that priests with abusive disorders should be treated medically; and Roy Mouton, a civil attorney who represented one of the church’s most notorious pedophile priests.

Together, they authored a 92-page report and submitted it for presentation at the 1985 meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church’s apparatus for controlling and governing American priests.

The document estimated that American bishops should plan to be sued for at least US$1 billion, and up to $10 billion, over the following decades.

Several of the nation’s most powerful cardinals buried the report.

In response, Doyle mailed all 92 pages, along with an executive summary, to every diocese in the United States. Yet there is no evidence that any bishops headed the report’s warnings.

1992: The nation’s first scandal

During the 1980s, victims began to speak out against the church’s systemic attempts to mask the scope of the crisis. In 1984, survivors of Fr. Gilbert Gauthe refused to be silenced by hush money, instead choosing the painful path of initiating public lawsuits in Louisiana. Gauthe ultimately confessed to abusing 37 children.

Representative of SNAP, Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests, talk to the media during a press conference in Rome, in 2010. AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito

As these stories became public, more and more victims began to bring lawsuits against the Church. In Chicago, the nation’s first two clergy abuse survivor organizations, Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse Linkup (LINKUP) and the Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), were created in 1987.

In 1992, survivor Frank Fitzpatrick’s public allegations led to revelations that Fr. James Porter had abused more than 100 other children in Massachusetts. Widespread shock followed at the time as well as after Fitzpatrick’s appearance on ABC’s “Primetime Live,” when news anchor Diane Sawyer interviewed Fitzpatrick and 30 other Porter victims.

The national outcry forced dioceses across the country to create public standards for how they were handling abuse accusations, and American bishops launched new marketing campaigns to regain trust.

In spite of internal pledges to reform their culture of covering up abuses, the Pennsylvania grand jury report demonstrates that the Church’s de facto policy remains unchanged since the 1950s: Instead of reporting rape and sexual abuse to secular authorities, bishops instead continue to transfer predatory priests from one unsuspecting parish to the next.

Victims with no hope of justice

The issue of clergy sex abuse has also unleashed broader questions about justice and faith: Can courtrooms repair souls? How do survivors continue to pray and attend Mass?

As a scholar who studies communities of clergy abuse victims, I have asked Catholics to share their thoughts about the current crisis. Many of them tell me that “at least” Boston’s Cardinal Law “went to jail.” That leads to an awkward moment when I have to refresh their memory.

Cardinal Law was neither indicted nor arrested. Instead, Pope John Paul II transferred Law to run one of the Vatican’s most cherished properties, the Basilica of Saint Mary, essentially rewarding Law for his deft cover-up of the abuses in Boston.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse or their family members react after the release of the report by Pennsylvania grand jury. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In fact, no American bishops or cardinals have ever been jailed for their role in covering up and enabling child sexual abuse. Civil settlements have held the Church accountable only financially. A combination of political complacency and expired statutes of limitations has prevented most survivors from obtaining real justice.

Outraged by this lack of justice, survivors urged the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate the Vatican for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court declined, citing the fact that many of the alleged crimes occurred before the court was formed, and were thus beyond the scope of the court’s “temporal jurisdiction.”

To date, the highest-ranking priest tried in an American court is Philadelphia’s Monsignor William Lynn, who was charged with conspiracy and two counts of endangering children. His 2012 conviction for one count of endangerment was vacated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2016. He now awaits an unscheduled retrial.

Even as scholars and theologians have called for all of the American bishops to resign, there has been little talk of criminal prosecutions. If yesterday’s survivors do not find justice, tomorrow’s children will not know safety.

As the Pennsylvania grand jury emphasized:

“There have been other reports about child sexual abuse within the Catholic church… For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”

Author Details
Ian Greenhalgh is a photographer and historian with a particular interest in military history and the real causes of conflicts.

His studies in history and background in the media industry have given him a keen insight into the use of mass media as a creator of conflict in the modern world.

His favored areas of study include state-sponsored terrorism, media manufactured reality and the role of intelligence services in manipulation of populations and the perception of events.
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  1. Chris, I have researched, and Hollywood is an angel compared to the church. I see the primary difference being, Hollywood does not pretend to be the voice of god, and the knowers of souls. If anything, their practices are rehabilitative to the process of spiritual growth. If they want to be philosophers, then pay for your own retreats instead of soaking our widows for it, after buggering their children. Disgusting.
    Talk is cheap, and the Catholics buy a lot of it. Walking is all that can help the church and it’s rhetoric now. Oh and last I checked, Hollywood is not tax free, and it is based in the US. Funny how all the Hollywood critics watch all the movies….,.especially the disgusting ones.

  2. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard the hypocritical lies of the Catholic Church way too many times before, tell the dumb sheep not to sin while the clergy do the opposite of what they preach – live criminal lives of terrible sinning while safely ensconced in their gilded palaces. The whole rotten structure of the church needs to be burned to the ground, it’s wealth given to it’s victims and the entire sorry, shameful episode of the nightmare scourge of Catholicism consigned to the dustbin of history, which would be to the betterment of the whole of mankind.

  3. Oh dear, trying to blame the Jews again, thus defecting from the guilt of the Catholic Church.

  4. You’re not analytical at all, you’re utterly blinkered and blindfolded, drowning in a deep sea of denial, refusing to discuss the bare facts of the criminal nature of the Catholic Church since it’s inception. Rather, you are doing what David Odell pointed out and trying to defend the church by throwing up a smokescreen of spurious theological bollocks. Everything you just wrote is spurious and irrelevant in relation to the criminality of the church.

  5. This must be why the Pope is so loving towards Mus lims. See GatestoneInstitute dot org for the following articles :

    Germany Imports Child Marriage

    Britain’s Underage Muslim Marriage Epidemic

    • I’m sorry but both those articles are anti-Muslim black propaganda. The Gatestone Institute is a Zionist-Neocon anti-Muslim pro-Israel front run by US-Israeli Nina Rosenwald of AIPAC; therefore any material from them is going to be fraudulent and aimed at demonising Islam and it’s adherents.

  6. This is a problem with “freedom of religion” in our Constitution. Religion has gotten a pass from the lying lawyers who also love secrecy so they can make good money secretly defending criminals as in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is nothing but a world wide criminal enterprise getting away with all sorts of crimes every day even centered in its own “country” outside of any jurisdiction whatsoever! Imagine what went on in the early years before anything got reported about these despicable criminals. The Catholic Church in America should be totally shut down with all its assets surrendered to government here. Period.

  7. The larger point is two fold, He has personally traveled to the Vatican and asked for their codices back, and only those with experience understand the calendar in question. One big area of study the world is missing due to religious dogma is the study of time, when people think of calendars they think of meaningless periodic measurements, when nothing could be further from the truth. To divine, is to seek the invisible, and to divinate is to predict the future, usually for the percentage of success or failure,.. the church uses all of the above, even as they publicly admonish them, and steal and hoard the tools, it is a coven of black robes seeking permanent domination. definitely not friend.

  8. The no Jews in Ireland thing was due to English law being imposed there, Ireland became a haven for Jews as soon as the English were kicked out. The early Christians were all converts from Judaism, so it is debatable to what extent the church of Rome has been Jewish from the very beginning. Certainly, the church of Rome has always been more Jewish than Christian in how it treats people, how it deals with finance, how it seeks to manipulate and control society. The crimes of the church have never been reported on much, everyone in England and Ireland was well aware of what some Catholic priests got upto with little boys long before a single word about it ever appeared in the press.

  9. Ireland was the churches greatest, and (to them) most successful experiment to completely control an entire country. The church is the reason Ireland was so poor for so long. Now that mass graves of children are being unearthed there, actor Liam Neeson has come aboard, and is going after the church.

  10. Going deeper, examine the Nassar case. It is a Catholic operation from top to bottom. Nassar was a catechist, working under the Catholic recruited gymnastics program, from Romania, around the time Romania gained favored nation status, and they were set up in Texas by Catholics. The prosecutor who came out of retirement for Michigan, is the son of the woman who ran the catholic hospital affiliated with MSU. Catholicism runs through the FBI, Universities, sports programs, courts and hospitals. They should not be receiving any government contracts. So, while they are buggering our children, we are paying them with our taxes, and they ride free, and people wonder why I seem angry.

  11. sounds like you are starting to understand, that it is a 3 part harmony , a triumvirate of historical revision.
    old agreements, that pay out dividends to this day, a collective trapped in their own creation, with no idea what to do or how to act, so it all just keeps going until doesn’t.
    The Jewish nature of the Christ is a Catholic invention. They are partners. That should not that hard to see.
    Christianity, Judaism and Islam, have common interests and origins. They stick together. On the surface is one thing, and behind the curtains is another,. it’s not hard to follow,.. all the arguing about petty beliefs is laughed at, by the insiders. Philosophical debate is a primary weapon of concealment and a diversion tactic.

  12. Also, this did not start in the 50’s. The residential schools have well documented abuse throughout the assimilation programs. The worst case scenario, where children were taken from their families and the church was given complete unchecked power over them. In those accounts, sex abuse comes in third behind torture, and murder. Not to mention the cultural genocide. The case that should be heard in the ICC is the case for current fraud, as Pious Fraud becomes international monetary fraud, if it can be proven that the church knowingly employs deceptive practices to obtain finance, and while doing so, uses the divination tools it has gathered and stolen in violation of it’s own codes. We can prove what the book is, how they got it, and what they did to it, and how they apply it. How they use it and hide it.

  13. This is a very light overview, and even borders on “kind report”. Currently, sex crimes are called “scandals” and pedophilia is being called “predatory homosexuality” in the effort to continue belittling victims and exonerating perpetrators. Every day, it is an hours long job to keep up with the stories coming out from nearly every country. Chile is the latest, where nuns were abused, and many were dismissed for speaking out. The one question that I get all the time; What is it about the church that attracts these types of people ? How can this be possible ? I tell them it is a combination. The environment is conducive to protection from prosecution and access to vulnerable victims. The recruitment specifically targets men who do not want to have sex with or marry women. The organization is prone to dishonesty, and is more of a club than a charity.

    • The vow of chastity, or celibacy, in the opinion of most priests, only covers sex between a man and a woman.
      They are given a place to live, a salary, and potential world travel to the door steps of millions of at risk children and families. They assume a great deal of power and receive adoration and respect from the people. It is empowering and many people who seek positions in the spiritual arts, do so for self empowerment. It is the primary motivation. Slowly, they learn the whole thing is made up, and the rules of behavior actually do nothing for spiritual growth. It starts in the seminary and the networks grow from there. More than half of all the men are gay, and another 30 % are pedophiles. Many are also financial criminals.

  14. Some historians have documented that ritual pedophilia was an integral part of earliest Christian practice. In the ancient world the fairest and brightest –and undefiled- children were selected at an early age to train as priests and priestesses of the gods. By sodomizing these children, early Christian clergy believed they were literally saving their souls by rendering them ineligible to serve the devil, which was their intolerant view of all rival religious traditions.

    There are reasons why educated Romans denounced Christians as “the haters of mankind” and persecuted the fanatics of the dreadful cult, though unfortunately not vigorously enough.

  15. We are talking about a large number of children raped and sodomized and a small number of Priests punished. The Church itself covered up these crimes. The backlash is just now developing. Churches are closing and church coffers are dwindlling. Thanks Ian, for a concise well written factual article.

    • Yes, I’ve been trying to make that point, there is precious little about the Catholic church that is truly Christian, it’s more a criminal oligarchy than a true religious organisation.

    • There have been many very nasty, utterly despicable men who have become pope. Some popes were guilty of terrible war crimes, especially those that ordered the crusades, not just those against the Islamic world but the so-called Northern Crusades where they sent the scum of Europe, the murderers, rapists and criminals emptied out of the dungeons ad prisons along with mercenary knights to force Christianity onto the people of northern Europe accompanied by much murder, rape and pillage. The disgraceful, inhuman way the Crusaders sent to the Middle East behaved is responsible for the schism and distrust between Islamic and Christian worlds that exists in the current day. Other popes directly sanctioned and financed genocide and ethnic cleansing and committed all manner of crimes against humanity. At least four or five popes were crypto Jews, so in all, you couldn’t find a greater ‘hive of scum and villainy’ to steal a line from Star Wars, than those who have occupied the papacy. The victims must number in the hundreds of millions over the last 1500 years, the Spanish Catholics killed tens of millions if not more, in the Americas alone.

    • Ian, that’s what I’ve been trying to say too. I’m no Catholic, nor am I Jimmy Swaggart symphatizer, but You should try to understand better the status of ordinary honest Catholic. Confession of sins to a Priest. No good, it’s the Priest who should confess in front of congregation, that would be more like NT. That tradition gives the Priest all the keys to blackmail a honest person. The whole idea of confession is complete BS, nothing but give some people authority, phraisee, of which NT tried to get rid of.

    • That’s a very good point about confession, I am not a Catholic but went to a Catholic school and know very many Catholics, mostly of Irish descent. I can definitely say that Catholics are controlled by guilt, the church teaches them that all these things they can do are sinful, hence the guilt, which drives them to confession and as you say, that gives the clergy a degree of control over them, largely through a kind of spiritual-emotional blackmail. I don’t see how any of this is remotely true to the original, authentic Christian beliefs.

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