A recent article by the National Catholic Reporter reports about letters sent from Father Fitzgerald, former head of the Paracletes physchiatric treatment center for priests, to U.S. Bishops and even the Pope. The correspondence clearly shows Catholic hierarchy was on notice in the 1950’s about the dangers of moving abusive priests to another parish. Relevant today because the excuse of “we took the advice of specialists” is so prevalent, so ingrained in church pr speak, and still being used with a straight face. It is a false excuse Bishops repeat easily, confident records will be kept secret that would prove otherwise.
I don’t want to be angry at Father Fitzerald, I’m sure it took some courage to voice his opinion. However, his motives to deal with known molesters was always to protect the church from scandal, not to protect children. Fitzgerald wrote;
“leaving them on duty or wandering from diocese to diocese is contributing to scandal or at least to the approximate danger of scandal.”
“for the sake of preventing scandal that might endanger the good name of Via Coeli [the name of the New Mexico facility] we will not offer hospitality to men who have seduced or attempted to seduce" children.”
"the tremendous problem presented by the priest who through lack of priestly self-discipline has become a problem to Mother Church."
"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.... Where there is indication of incorrigibility, because of the tremendous scandal given, I would most earnestly recommend total laicization.”
When church officials are confronted with an accusation of abuse, their response is always guided by their most important concern, preventing scandal. Next week at Archbishop Dolan’s installation in New York, he will promise to protect the church from scandal, not to protect children.
Same hurtful language today
Fr. Fitzerald clearly understood the severity and criminality of child sexual abuse; calling child molesters rattlesnakes, vipers, devils, and damned. He questioned why abusive priests were not in jail. Yet, in what NCR reporter Tom Roberts says is “often the language of that era was more circumspect in naming the problem,” Fitzerald minimizes the crimes with terms like;
"seduced or attempted to seduce little boys or girls."
“ tampering with the virtue of the young,
“a series of scandal-causing escapades”
Proving how little has changed in the hierarchies understanding, last year in the United States Pope Benedict XVI also embraced the language of a bygone era. I reviewed the texts of his public statements, and he described the sexual abuse of minors as;
‘a countersign to the gospel’, ‘evil’, ‘gravely immoral behavior’, ‘betraying priestly obligations and duties’, ‘a breach of trust’, ‘seriously wrong’, ‘a situation’, ‘a problem’, ‘causing harm’, ‘a sin’,’ acts of this type’, ‘a shame’, ‘a betrayal of vows’, ‘a scandal attributed to priests’, and ‘a weakness of human beings”
Benedict never used the word crime. How dare him!
Aerosmith - “Same old story, same old song and dance”
Led Zeppelin - “The song remains the same”
Why do I care?
In 1966 a priest named Robert Petrella, employeed by the Archdiocese of Washington, is sent to the Paracletes for “treatment” after molesting two boys. Their recommendation to the diocese, the priest should not be allowed around children and his prognosis is “guarded.”
In 1968 I was molested by Father Robert Petrella, the assistant pastor at St. Columba’s Catholic Church in Oxon Hill, Md. I was eleven years old.