Thomas P. Doyle

Letter to Cardinal Bertone

November 22, 2007
Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone
Secretary of State
Palazzo Apostolic Vaticano
Citta del Vaticano

Dear Cardinal Bertone,

            On August 8, 2007, you gave an interview to news reporters while visiting in the United States. In that interview you made several statements about the clergy sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic community in the United States since 1984. If the statements you made then and later in Italy reflect your understanding of the nature and extent of clergy sexual abuse and the response of the bishops of the United States to this terrible phenomenon, then the information upon which you made these statements is gravely deficient and inaccurate, or you are unwilling to accept the scandalous truth of how the Catholic bishops have reacted to this problem and in fact, continue to react.

            I suspect that your primary if not exclusive source of information is the bishops themselves through reports, conversations or cases sent to the Vatican for processing. There are however, more extensive, detailed and factual sources for obtaining much more accurate information. I doubt that the bishops would ever refer such sources to the Vatican since the information contained therein is necessarily highly critical of the bishops collective response over the years. I would urge you however, if you are sincerely dedicated to discovering the truth of this matter, to examine sources of information that are independent of the bishops. To this end I would urge you to carefully read the final reports of the Grand Jury investigations that have taken place in the U.S., especially the most recent report from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

            The most important source of information is not contained in reports. It comes from actually listening to the victims themselves. Most bishops have never taken the time to listen and I am confident that no one in the Vatican has ever met with a victim of sexual abuse by a priest or bishop. The response of many in the hierarchy and among the clergy support the opinion of those of us who believe that the hierarchy do not comprehend just how devastating and destructive sexual abuse is, especially when it is perpetrated by a cleric.

            The experience of the past 24 years clearly shows that this is not a minor problem involving a minuscule number of clerics who have victimized a few children. The problem is complex, widespread and deadly. The victims include children of both sexes as well as adults who have been sexually assaulted or abused. The perpetrators are not a minuscule number of misguided priests but a sizeable number of priests, brothers and bishops. Included also are religious women who have abused children placed in their care or have abused younger members of their own communities.

            It is also imperative that you understand just what most of the sexual abuse has been. It has not been limited to improper touches or boundary violations to name but two of the many euphemisms used to disguise the brutal nature of most abuse. In reality the abuse has included sodomy, forced oral sex, sadistic practices and rape. I have provided pastoral care to countless victims who have described in vivid detail the vicious assaults they have been subjected to, often repeated many times.

            The Catholic bishops have hardly faced this scandal with dignity and courage as you stated in your interview. The bishops have been forced by the media, by an outraged public and by the civil courts to face what they had covered up for decades. The bishops and their representatives have repeatedly lied and distorted their role by trying to place blame on the secular press, on the psychiatrists and psychologists, on invisible anti-Catholic forces, on post-Vatican II liberals or on the so-called sexual revolution. They would have been much better off to openly and honestly admit their direct involvement and the extensive efforts they have expended to continue to distortion and the cover-up. Even today, although a minority of bishops have made honest attempts to understand the depth of this problem, the majority and the Bishops Conference itself continue to try to promote the erroneous impression that they have responded fully and honestly and now the problem is over. This is nonsense in the face of the harsh reality that victims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse continue to come forward on a regular rate. Are you aware of the fact that a number of bishops, including Cardinal Mahony, have lied under oath when testifying in court proceedings?

            The same can be said for the religious communities of men (and women as well) who have been forced to acknowledge that they have harbored members who have devastated youth through various forms of sexual abuse. I might add in this regard that I have had extensive experience with many victims who have suffered such abuse at the hands of a significant number of priests and brothers from your own religious community, the Salesians. Although I do not know the exact number I can tell you that at least 23 Salesian members have been credibly accused in California alone.

            You have mentioned the legal and financial aspect in your interview, directly implying that this is an attempt by lawyers for the victims to extort money from the Church. This too is a gravely erroneous assumption. I have worked closely with victims of clergy sexual abuse for 23 years. The sole reason why they have appealed to the civil courts for assistance is because the Church authorities consistently refused to help them in an honest and effective manner. In the vast majority of cases the bishops and their assistants did not extend pastoral care. Rather, they made every effort to convince and even coerce the victims to remain silent and let the Church take care of it. The lawsuits are the sad result of the historical fact that the Church did not take care of it.

            The Church authorities have been consistent in their response to reports of clergy sex abuse. This response has not had total honesty and the pastoral welfare of the victims as its primary priority. Rather, they have looked to the retention and security of their own image, power and financial resources as the motivating factor that has shaped the response. Hence, the victims, in frustration and desperation have resorted to the civil courts for recognition and justice and there they have received this. In discussing the legal dimension it is vital that you understand that the lawyers who represent the dioceses and religious orders have been paid massive sums of money, money donated by the faithful, to prevent justice and stone-wall victims. This has been evident in countless cases that have occurred throughout the United States.

            By attempting to shift the focus to other segments of society such as public schools, the Church is only trying to re-direct the attention from its own grave shortcomings and offenses in the area of sexual abuse. The only reason Catholic Church authorities have taken any steps that look toward prevention, intervention or response is because they have been forced to do so by public anger, massive secular media attention and civil court judgements. Had none of these three factors occurred in the past two decades, the Catholic Churchs hierarchy would still be hiding clergy sexual abusers and ignoring their victims. The final report of the National Review Board, commissioned by the bishops themselves, clearly stated the lack of proper response:

The first role of a bishop or any other Church leader must be to act as a pastor to the Catholic faithful. When faced with allegations by parishioners of abuse by clerics, however, far too many Church leaders did not deal with victims in a pastoral fashion. As one survivor of clergy sexual abuse told the Board, what victims typically want is to be treated with respect and dignity. In too many cases however, victims were marginalized, and in effect, re-victimized. (A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States, National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, p. 96)

            This report contains a great deal of factual information that can lead to insight into the nature of this vast problem but it does not provide a complete picture by any means. The bishops themselves cannot possibly evaluate and expose the true reasons for the constant problem of clergy sexual abuse and its mishandling because to do so would gravely threaten their self-image. Yet were the bishops to face this problem with total humility and honesty, their credibility would began to return and they would be seen not as frightened and defensive medieval potentates but as true pastors of the most troubled and suffering souls in the midst of the Catholic community.

            The Catholic hierarchy has consistently responded with pastoral concern and solicitude to a wide variety of problems facing the Church and the world. Yet ironically it has not responded as such to the terrible problem of men and women sexually violated by its own priests, bishops, religious brothers and religious women with the same concern and charity. It is shocking and scandalous that at no time throughout the revelations of this tragedy over the past 24 years has there been any clear direction by the bishops or even the papacy for the pastoral response to the countless victims. The first concern has never been the profound emotional and spiritual damage, often irreversible, inflicted on victims by the sexual abusers and the non-caring response of Church authorities. Rather, the first concern has been the protection of the Church as institution and not the Church as people.

            Cardinal Bertone, I fully realize that you will most probably react to my words as being disrespectful of your office and disrespectful of the bishops of the Church. Such a misunderstanding has prevented Church authorities from accurately understanding the extent and seriousness of this problem. Information critical of the bishops has not been consistently studied because it was deemed an attack on the bishops or on the institutional Church. However if we look to the example of Our Lord, the most important persons in this scandal are not the prelates but the innocent boys and girls, men and women, whose relationship to God has been severely harmed by sexual abuse. Those of us who are critical are motivated not by disdain for the institutional Church or its bishops. We are motivated by the profound sense of sadness and shame we feel because of the direct experience we have had with so many victims whose emotional and spiritual lives have been shattered. We are motivated by respect for these most vulnerable people who are, at the same time, the most important persons among the People of God.

            I conclude by asking that you look not to the threat to the Church's image but to the very words of our Lord who said, As long as you did this to one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me.

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D.