Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Bishops knew about it in the 1950's.

I think I did too. (I just hate dating myself!)
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National Catholic Reporter, published an account of Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paracletes and his appeal to Bishops in the 1950's concerning predatory priests. "...The founder of a religious order that dealt regularly with priest sex abusers was so convinced of their inability to change that he searched for an island to purchase with the intent of using it as a place to isolate such offenders, according to documents recently obtained by NCR."
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What is so startling about the article is Fr. Fitzgerald's passion and sense of urgency in apprising the hierarchy of the dangers deviant priests posed for the Church, and most especially to the children who would be harmed. Sincere though he was, and perhaps a bit naive, Fr. Fitzgerald sought a sort of Devil's Island quarantine for priest sex offenders, whom he referred to as "devils", he wrote: "It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat -- but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle Master said it were better they had not been born -- this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not?"
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The work of Fr. Fitzgerald, his reports to bishops and the pope, speak well of his good intentions and his keen understanding of the problems associated with sexual deviancy in the priesthood. Especially noteworthy is his response to a bishop regarding reassignment of predatory priests who have gone through treatment, Fr. Fitzgerald wrote, "repentance and amendment" in such cases "is superficial and, if not formally at least subconsciously, is motivated by a desire to be again in a position where they can continue their wonted activity. A new diocese means only green pastures."
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There is so very much contained in this article that only an exhaustive study and book would do Fr. Fitzgerald's efforts justice. I recommend every Catholic concerned about the abuse scandal read the NCR article, click here: Bishops were warned of abusive priests. Fr. Fitzgerald even met with Pope Paul VI in 1962. "In August of the following year, he met with newly elected Pope Paul VI to inform him about his work and problems he perceived in the priesthood. His follow-up letter contained this assessment: 'Personally I am not sanguine of the return of priests to active duty who have been addicted to abnormal practices, especially sins with the young. However, the needs of the church must be taken into consideration and an activation of priests who have seemingly recovered in this field may be considered but is only recommended where careful guidance and supervision is possible. Where there is indication of incorrigibility, because of the tremendous scandal given, I would most earnestly recommend total laicization.'"
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Silence of the lambs.
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In my opinion, the Bishops were not always at fault or negligent. I'm quite sure in many cases they believed the sacraments and reformation of life was all that was needed, and since the sins, as well as the remedies were matters of conscience, they were held to be confidential. If an offender declared himself reformed and cured - he was believed - and most likely the offender believed it himself. I think the greater problems developed as the bishops and superiors in charge of these predators began to completely rely upon secular psychological therapies. Fr. Fitzgerald mistrusted lay programs as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, and when such means were adopted and relied upon, these also proved to be ineffective in curing anyone. (By this I'm not suggesting that well ordered psychological treatments should be dispensed with.)
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Back to the '50's and '60s; If the bishops didn't believe Fr. Fitzgerald, the kids who were abused would have. Some of us knew this stuff was going on - and the Bishops did too - but in those days, everyone kept their mouth shut.
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And of course, some of these guys were consecrated Bishops or became superiors of their religious orders and rectors of seminaries. Others may have slipped up sexually themselves, either with women or men, thus they too had something to hide, hence they may have been more willing to protect the others.
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In the early 1980's, while working on a project for a local Bishop, I mentioned to him the need for the establishment of Courage in this archdiocese, explaining that there was very little support for men seeking to live chastely in accord with the teachings of the Church. I mentioned that there were several priests in the area, themselves gay, who taught that homosexuality was not sinful. The Bishop stopped me right there and stated firmly, "I am not aware of any homosexual priests in this archdiocese."
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And then I understood.

5 comments:

  1. I know you hate photos of yourself on the internet, being terribly private and all... but I simply couldn't resist. http://thecrescat.blogspot.com/2009/03/catholic-blogger-think-tank.html

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  2. Terry, Father Fitzgerald must have got close to his dream of isolation because when I once lived in New Mexico, the Servants of the Paraclete had a facility near Jemez Springs, NM. We would drive by it on the way to Los Alamos. It was pretty isolated. Nobody knew what it was back then we just thought it was a monastery, until the Santa Fe scandal broke forth in 1993- almost a decade before the Boston scandal. Unfortunately these priests were set loose on the people of New Mexico and with the expected results. There was a book this kind liked - it was called "The Sexual Celibate".

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Leo - I remember well the Santa Fe scandal.

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  5. When I reflect on these monsters, whom Fr Fitzgerald so rightly refers to as serpants--I think that Islam probably has the right idea about what to do with them. Letting them live among society only risks propagating more like themselves. Disease, if not contained or wiped out, always spreads, and evil begets evil. The Church does recognize that Society has a right to protect itself and a right to assign the death penalty where necessary. Sex offenders, pretty much, are damaged goods, incapable of true rehabilitation. Besides, send a few of them to the chamber, and see it send a message to others who might be "thinking about it".
    *shiver*

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