Catholic Priests Accused Of Abuse

Sometimes Relocated To Mexico -�" A recurring issue in many stories of serial sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is how officials used a system to move accused priests to other communities, here and abroad. Host Michel Martin examines why this happens, and what can be done about it. She speaks with former Benedictine monk and fixer priest Patrick Wall for information.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

On to a very different story. The Vatican issued a statement today declaring that Pope Benedict has accepted the resignation of Irish bishop James Moriarty. This announcement comes a day after the pope pledged to be more aggressive in confronting allegations of sexual abuse in the church.

A recurring theme in many stories of serial sexual abuse abroad and here in the U.S. is how church officials had a system for moving accused abusers from one community to the next, often to a more disadvantaged congregation that had no prior knowledge of the accusations.

Patrick Wall grew to understand that system from the inside. He's a former Benedictine monk and served as a, quote, "fixer priest" for the Catholic Church. That means he'd be brought in to manage a church in the wake of scandal often involving sexual abuse. He left the priesthood and since 2002 has been assisting abuse survivors gather evidence to sue or prosecute their abusers. He's currently a canon law specialist at the firm of Manly and Stewart, and he joins us now. Welcome. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. PATRICK WALL (Canon Law Specialist, Manly and Stewart): You're welcome.

MARTIN: First of all, I just want to clarify, the situations you were brought in to address weren't exclusively child sexual abuse scandals, but do you have any sense of how often that was the issue that you were brought in to work with a congregation?

Mr. WALL: That was always the underlying issue. But the official front page story was usually a financial crisis or a crisis with that particular priest having a, quote, "health issue."

MARTIN: But you're saying that was a cover story.

Mr. WALL: Oh, absolutely. Completely cover story. And just as the problem that Bishop Moriarty is having and the reason he had to step down, we never called the police either because that was understood. You never contacted the civil authorities.

MARTIN: One of the things that we've been wondering about as the stories have unfolded around the world is that how was it decided where a priest would go if he had been accused of misconduct?

Mr. WALL: Well, bishops, remember, have - and they're always people usually in their 50s, 60s, or 70s and so they had years of experience of knowing what traditionally had been done. And so therefore they had a whole cacophony of things they could do. And so when they sat down with that particular priest, they knew they could send them on to a treatment center. They could be sent for evaluation.

But more often than not, they always chose the lowest level of intervention because that's the cheapest. You send them on to a different parish and you get them to a therapist that won't make the report of child sexual abuse and that will work with them as they try to understand whether this guy is a pedophile or this guy is an ephebophile. But the bottom line is they would get him out of the geographic area of where the offense occurred so that scandal would stop and the people wouldn't be able to know or communicate with one another about what happened.

MARTIN: Is there any pattern to the kinds of communities that were selected for priests who had been accused of abuse or who were known to have abused children to go?

Mr. WALL: Oh, there's a clear pattern. You always want to send them to a parish where people are not going to talk. The best ones are parishes of color, parishes of strong Catholic ethnicity, parishes that have a reason to really want the priest. I remember stories of, for instance, Father Jules Convert. He's a French Jesuit who ended up serving in Alaska. Now, he didn't speak Yup'ik, but that's where he ended up and that's where he offended.

MARTIN: Why were they sent to communities of color, particularly, and strong ethnic parishes? Why?

Mr. WALL: Because they were so happy just to have a priest. These were places out of the way. I remember another story of Father Kelly(ph). He was a piano professor at St. John's University in Collegeville. And they sent him, after he offended, up to the Ojibwe Indians in Red Lake, Minnesota. They were so happy to even have a priest, they wouldn't dare accuse him of anything, let alone call the police on him.

MARTIN: There have been a number of stories in the United States where priests who had been accused, or where there were strong accusations of abuse, were sent overseas, like, to Mexico and places like that. Was that also a common practice, to send people out of the country?

Mr. WALL: Oh yeah. One very common California technique is once they offend, they will send them to the diocese of Tijuana just across the border. And the diocese will continue to pay him and then he'll come across the border and he'll have a P.O. box in some place like Chula Vista or somewhere. But he'll continue to work as a priest. But he'll be outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement.

MARTIN: I should mention, we reached out to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a response to this conversation. They did not provide us with such a response before our air time.

In the time that you were aware of these practices going on, did anybody ever object? Did anybody ever say, why is it okay for a person who've abused somebody here to go somewhere else? I mean, I guess I'm just having trouble thinking about the logic of this.

Mr. WALL: Well, there's a fixer in every diocese. There's a fixer in every religious order. And the problem is that only the bishops and only the superiors of religious communities have the overall vision of how many cases there were and how extensive it was. And so you have the individual cleric was working on a specific case. They thought they were protecting the church and helping the church individually.

And then what I've discovered over time is that it's far from a pattern. It's a practice. And after you worked in four or five places, you've heard enough priest confessions and you've seen enough news reports, this is just the way it's done, by geographically moving the guys around.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask why you left the priesthood?

Mr. WALL: Well, you know, after my fifth assignment, it clearly is something that I was probably going to end up doing the rest of my life. And at the age of 33, you have to sit down and think about it. Is the institution, which is larger than any company in the United States, ultimately going to change? I came to the conclusion I didn't think the institution could change because it was so ingrained in the institution.

This is not a patina, this is not an exterior thing. This is an internal part of the Catholic institution. And so at that point, the only thing left to change was me. And then I just had to go.

MARTIN: And by it, you mean this pattern of enabling abusers and allowing them to continue their behavior without being held to account. Is that what you mean by...

Mr. WALL: No - there's no accountability because the secret to the celibate system is that almost everybody's sexual. And if everybody's sexual, everyone's got a story that can be told about them. So, the problem that you have is that the bishops ultimately can't enforce the law because they themselves are not ultimately celibate. I mean, there have been over 20 bishops in the United States removed because they themselves were child abusers.

MARTIN: Patrick Wall is a former Benedictine monk and Roman Catholic priest. He's currently a canon lawyer with the firm Manley and Stewart. He serves as an expert witness and consultant in sex abuse cases involving the church, and he was kind enough to join us from his home office in Dana Point, California. Patrick Wall, thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. WALL: Thank you.

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