The appears to be the scandal that won’t go away, mostly because the Catholic Church can’t seem to get it right. Recent revelations appear to implicate Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) in a scandal to cover up allegations of a pedophile priest, Rev. Peter Hullermann in 1980. You can read the New York Times article for background.
You would expect the Vatican to investigate these allegations, and at the very least issues a “no comment” and hope it blows over. You’d be wrong. On Good Friday, the Pope’s preacher (Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Conv) likened criticism of the Pope to antisemitism, angering both Jews and survivors of sexual abuse. Not to be outdone, on Easter Sunday Cardinal Angelo Sodano compared the publicity on this to gossip. Hard to believe these guys are in charge of anything let alone the Catholic Church.
In the last few days a story has come out about the Diocese of Oakland, Bishop Cummins, and and Fr. Stephen Kiesle. In the early 1980s Fr. Kiesle was convicted of abusing two boys and was removed from ministry. Bishop Cummins wrote to Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) and asked that Fr. Kiesle be laicized, or removed from the priesthood. In fairness there was no attempt by anyone to have Fr. Kiesle returned to ministry. When Cardinal Ratzinger did write, he cautioned against laicizing Fr. Kiesle as it might be a source of scandal to the people of Oakland. Amazingly having a priest abuse boys isn’t scandalous in the Pope’s eyes. The letter goes to to ask Bishop Cummins to provide “as much paternal care as possible.” Did anyone else notice that the Pope never asked about the victims?
This is an issue that is somewhat personal for me. While I was never abused by anyone, I know at least two friends who were sexually abused by priests. I have to believe there were more and I just don’t know about it. I spent most of my early 20s in Boston as a seminarian of the Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers; that was in the early 1980s.
I would later find out that I was in the middle of a great deal of abuse, most of which I was to find out about 20 years later. When the Boston Globe started publishing articles in early 2002 I was astounded at how much was happening literally under my nose.
Much of the information I’m discussing now comes from a web page called Bishop Accountability. It’s an amazing page and I’m grateful for all the work it’s taken to keep track of all this.
The one priest I knew about was Fr. Richard Ahern CSS. I was a seminarian when I learned that at Sacred Heart Parish in Feeding Hills he abused several boys. He was pulled out of the parish and sent for treatment at the House of Affirmation in Whitinsville, MA. While there he confessed to the abuse and was arrested. He died on February 1, 2001. I never really liked him and was actually a little surprised when his crimes came to light. Most abusers are charming people who lure their victims; he always struck me as a lazy guy who made a nice living without having to work too hard. I don’t think anyone is happy with how his case was treated (and it still mystifies me why a 20 year old seminarian wasn’t warned about him). Before 1984 the Stigmatines knew about it but didn’t remove him. That year, according to my memory, his abuse was so egregious that he was sent to the House of Affirmation. It was only when he was there and told his story to the therapist he was arrested and the Stigmatines could no longer hide him. I don’t remember the details but they knew they couldn’t send him back to a parish so they gave him an internal job in the community where he wouldn’t have any contact with children. I also remember talk of how to support him; there was also talk of money being paid out to the victims but that always sounded like “hush money” to me. I don’t think they ever recognized how damage he did nor did they see the long term effects of abuse on the victims.
Probably one of the most infamous cases was Fr. Paul Shanley. He wasn’t a Stigmatine, but when I lived in the Stigmatine House of Studies in the early 1980s, Paul was the associate priest at the church next door, St. John the Evangelist in Newton. It was a French parish, and in French it was called St. Jean L’Evangelist. We called it St. Jean and used the American pronunciation. When I first met Paul I couldn’t figure out why an Irishman like Paul was assigned to a French parish, and why he wasn’t a pastor. He explained to me that he had a fight with Cardinal Humberto Medeiros and was told he’d never be pastor. That was true, as far as it goes, but Paul didn’t tell me that the fight was over Paul’s abuse of teenage boys. When Cardinal Meideros died in 1983 and the pastor of St. Jean’s died shortly after, Cardinal Bernard Law appointed Paul as pastor of St. Jean’s. By that time I was gone and that was where most of the abuse occurred. I taught CCD (Sunday School) at St. Jean’s and leaned that Paul did most of his damage to students of the school who were sent to him for disciplinary reasons. It was generally my policy to take care of disciplinary stuff in the classroom and I don’t remember sending anyone to Paul but I was grateful to see that none of my students were Paul’s victims. I’m still angry that Paul and Cardinal Meideros conspired to lie to me (and the parish) over why he was assigned to St. Jean’s. Paul was convicted in 2005 and is still in prison.
At some point the Catholic Church needs to find a way to deal with this and it will be a hard road. But we won’t start of this journey as long as we’re still more concerned with protecting the clergy than protecting our children.