Confronting sex abuse rage: a priest’s story

Sexual abuse among members of the clergy and other church leaders has raised its head again in recent stories. It’s seldom out of the news these days, it seems, just some days more than others.

Too often the media is so busy trying to cover how the church is responding to the crisis, how courts and legislatures are prosecuting and how victims are trying to cope and recover, we can overlook or under-report the toll it takes on church leaders — and the rank and file — who reel almost daily from the onslaught.

Father Doyle

Father Kenneth J. Doyle wrote recently in the Feb. 11 issue of the Times Union of Albany, N.Y., about his own feelings of anger and frustration with a former priest whose trial for raping two young boys just concluded.

“Why am I ashamed since nothing I did myself led to this tragedy?” he asked. “I am ashamed because someone in my own family of faith — a brother priest, no less — would commit these acts of cruelty. And I am deeply saddened because this whole sordid saga has damaged the family of faith, the Catholic Church that I love.”

Father Doyle is the pastor of Mater Christi parish in Albany, and chancellor for public information of the Diocese of Albany. He also is no stranger to reporting. Father Doyle is the former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service. He blogged for CNS during the 2009-2010 Year for Priests.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken repeatedly during his pontificate on the toll the sexual abuse crisis has taken on all of the faithful — clergy and laity alike — and that no matter how painful it is, we have to move to a point of healing, Father Doyle piece heart-achingly echoes that lament, but ends in a resolve that he, as a priest, has to “keep on doing what [he was] called to do.”

4 Responses

  1. Mr. Spence is correct that healing must be the goal. The problem I see as a local Catholic who attended the Mercure trial is that the traditional way: act of contrition, sacramental forgiveness, prayer with a resolve to do better…seems to be missing here.
    Perhaps Mr. Spence and others are unaware that Gary Mercure has expressed no remorse. Although Rev. Doyle’s remarks would seem to be blaming Mercure for moral failings (Doyle mentions his daily prayers to keep him from temptation and asserts that he could not keep from falling into temptation without God’s help), a more likely explanation for Mercure’s downfall would seem to be mental illness.
    Readers may not be aware that Mercure was sent away to a church-run mental health facility in Penn. in the mid-90’s; that he was removed from a pastorate at the same time, due to sexual improprieties; that a letter was sent to the diocese in 2000 charging him with abuse; that all three of these incidents were kept from the public as long as possible; and that Rev. Doyle has been the minister for public information since at least 2003.

    This information raises troubling questions about Rev. Doyle’s essay.

  2. Fr. Doyle’s article is troubling for multiple reasons not the least of which is that he does not emphasize enough that the case against Fr. Mercure was 30 years old. Only Catholic priests, and no one else, face the nightmare of having to defend themselves against claims that are many decades old and for which no evidence of either guilt or innocence could possibly exist. Short of a confession by the priest, it becomes a “he said/he said” case. I have written extensively on how justice can be compromised when accusers and their lawyers have a financial stake in the outcome.

    I have recently written an article for the Catholic Exchange about a remarkable website http://www.TheseStoneWalls.com by a priest who has been wrongfully convicted and maintains his innocence most credibly. The link is below.

    Ryan A. MacDonald

    A Voice in the Wilderness: Fr. Gordon MacRae Behind These Stone Walls
    Source: catholicexchange.com

    No priest should be required to sacrifice his life to satisfy the demands of lawyers, insurance companies, and a rabid news media feeding on scandal. The case of Rev. Gordon MacRae opens a new chapter in the story of scandal in the Catholic Church.

  3. I beg to differ with Mr. MacDonald. The two incidents for which the Rev. Gary Mercure was convicted date from 1986 and 1989. So, they occurred 22 and 25 years ago, respectively, not 30 years ago.

    No matter how many years ago and no matter what the evidence, the important point is that the allegations were disposed of in a court of law. This is unlike the vast majority of allegations against clerics, which end in settlements.

    In this particular case, the allegations were proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of 12 impartial men and women.

    The idea that trials amount to some kind of witch hunt against only Catholic priests is questionable. In fact, it would appear from all the research that clergy are in the minority of abusers. That fact alone should encourage the bishops’ conferences in each state to revisit their opposition to changes in SOL (statute of limitation) laws.

    By supporting a wider opportunity for victims to come forward, whether 10, 20 or 30 years late, they would be supporting justice and gospel values.

  4. As with many controversial issues there are two major sides: the “professionals” who have studied and written about it and the people who have actually experienced it. It’s very easy for the professionals to posit their opinions and discuss tragedy in terms of facts. Professionals, for all their education, are often lacking in one key area; they haven’t experienced the trauma they profess to so deeply understand.
    Like Mr. Kelly, I sat in the courtroom for the Mercure trial, next to my husband, one of his victims. He was raped repeatedly for years by this man. Embarassment. Shame. Fear. Self-loathing. Denial. Trauma. Brainwashing. These are a few words that describe why it takes men like my husband years to come forward. They don’t want to believe it happened to them, and often try very hard for a very long time to convince themselves it didn’t.
    To try and discredit men like my husband, who are HEROS, because their abuse happened many years ago, is easy for Mr. MacDonald, unknowing as he must be of the intensity of the emotional pain endured, and how hard it is to admit it to ones self much less to the rest of the world, especially for young men. My husband’s main objective in pursuing prosecution was to make sure Mercure couldn’t hurt any more children. He has not received a dime for his efforts, and has refused to be paid for his silence. Still quite physically capable at 62 years old and with dozens of known victims, this pedophile may well have victimized children until he was jailed. Sadly, there is likely a whole other generation of younger boys whom he abused who don’t yet possess the mature mindset needed to come forward. It took over 20 years for my husband to come forward, because that child who he was 20 years ago needed adult coping abilities and rationale to face such a task. Tools he didn’t have until he was a fully mature 30 year old man.
    Criminal conviction aside, MacDonald and advocates of the catholic church are quick to condemn extending civil statutes of limitations. There’s no denying the RCC’s concern about money. If dioceses feared lawsuits, they would be much quicker to rid themselves of the liability of harboring pedophiles. Sadly, civil suits may be the only method that will have a real impact on cleaning the church of predator priests. And the only way that a victim might have some restitution for the childhood they lost.

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