There have been at least 3,000 child sex abuse victims in the Catholic Church in France stretching back decades—and it’s feared there may be many more, according to an investigation.
Last June, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) was set up to look into abuse claims committed by the clergy in France since the 1950s.
A hotline for victims to come forward has so far received more than 5,000 phone calls. The number of estimated victims represents an average of 40 cases per year over seven decades.
The head of the commission, Jean-Marc Sauvé, said that around 1,500 clergy and church officials carried out the abuse. He believes there are many more victims who had not yet come forward.
“I am profoundly convinced that there are many more victims,” he told reporters, adding in reference to the hotline and the commission’s own inquiries: “What we do not know is how to consolidate these two sources of potential cases.”
Around 30 percent of the victims who have come forward are older than 70 and around half are aged between 50 and 70. The commission has extended its call for victims’ testimony until the end of October. Its full report has been delayed due to the coronavirus and is expected around September or October 2021.
“We must remember this suffering, we must account for it. We are confronted with the shock of the suffering of the victims. We can only be touched and transformed by meeting these victims,” Sauvé told the radio station RTL.
The French church has been left reeling from sex abuse scandals. In January, former priest Bernard Preynat admitted abusing around 80 boys aged between seven and 10 over two decades when he was a French scout chaplain. He said that his superiors turned a blind eye to his behavior.
Preynat was jailed for five years for the crimes, which took place between 1971 and 1991. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was convicted of failing to report the actions of Preynat but had this conviction overturned on appeal.
He said he had heard “rumors” about the priest’s behavior in 2010, but knew nothing of the abuse until he spoke to one of the victims in 2014.
France’s Catholic Church announced that it would fund a compensation fund to pay out lump sums to abuse victims. The decision by the French Bishops’ Conference in December 2019 follows similar moves in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.
Last year, the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, made it mandatory for any clergy to report cases of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups.
A months-long standoff between a Catholic bishop in Virginia and a priest who blogs frequent, strident criticism of the church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse has boiled over, with the diocese suspending the priest from ministry and changing parish and residence locks where he was assigned, the priest said Saturday.
The Rev. Mark White, who has been assigned to two southwest Virginia parishes, had refused to leave the church properties despite a trespass order, saying Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout is the one violating canon law by not giving more details about what Knestout considers White’s wrongdoing and by not waiting for an appeal to the Vatican to play out.
White Saturday blogged that the diocese changed the locks on the two parishes — St. Joseph in Martinsville and St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount — and on one of the residences. The two parishes are half-English, half-Spanish and have about 400 families each, he said. White was pastor to the two parishes from 2011 until April 13, when Knestout ordered him transferred to prison ministry in the midst of their conflict. White told The Post he is waiting for the appeal and is not leaving.
The diocese’s spokeswoman couldn’t be reached immediately for comment Sunday.
The dispute between the two men has been watched by the hundreds and sometimes thousands who read White’s blog, which is a mix of homilies and spiritual musings and frequent lambasting of church officials from Knestout to Pope Francis to disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who ordained White in May 2003.
While a priest being removed by a bishop isn’t unusual, the White-Knestout standoff taps into remaining deep mistrust and anger over the McCarrick scandal and how few bishops and cardinals have been held accountable for his long rise — particularly those who have worked along the New York-New Jersey-Washington, D.C. corridor where rumors of McCarrick’s sexual misbehavior percolated for decades.
The case also reflects the challenge posed to the world’s largest church — one accustomed to tight, top-down control — by the power of social media. The Vatican is increasingly calling social media an essential part of ministry and evangelization, but metrics of what is effective vs. what is divisive are growing more subjective. White had paused his blog last fall at Knestout’s order but restarted it in March because of the coronavirus shutdown, saying online ministering is crucial while parishes and Mass are shut off.
“I can’t recall a case when a pastor was removed because he was blogging,” said Kurt Martens, a canon law expert at Catholic University. “Blogging is a new way of ministry, so how do you stop a priest?”
At the time of White’s ordination, Knestout was priest-secretary to McCarrick. White argues that Catholic Church leaders haven’t come fully clean on what they knew about McCarrick, a former D.C. archbishop and towering leader in the U.S. church until 2018, when he was accused of sexual misconduct with young boys, seminarians and young priests. McCarrick was later defrocked, and it’s become clear that top leaders at least knew of the misconduct and abuse-of-power allegations involving adults who worked under McCarrick. A Vatican report into McCarrick’s career and how he rose to the top amid such complaints is pending.
White’s blog includes items on the role of redemption, St. Paul’s writings and the importance of keeping up spiritual training during quarantine, as well as many posts focused on the hierarchy’s actions as it pertains to clergy sexual abuse. He calls Knestout’s office “opaque” and says on the topic of sexual abuse it puts out “morale-sapping groupthink propaganda.” Bishops who don’t demand details about McCarrick from the Vatican are “feminized cowards.” His home archdiocese — of Washington — is an “edifice of lies.”
Knestout, offering a rare public explanation by a bishop, wrote a letter to parishioners in March that was published in the Martinsville Bulletin newspaper. In it he said White “has worked against the unity of the Church, promoted disrespect for the Holy Father, the Church hierarchy, his bishop, and has demonstrated a will adverse to obedience to the bishop of his diocese, which he took an oath to uphold at his ordination.”
But White, his church lawyer and some parishioners say White is the one promoting unity by pressing for justice and transparency and that Knestout is the one being divisive.
Priests are obliged to work for the “building up of the body of Christ,” concurs a March 27 letter from canon lawyer Michael Podhajsky to Knestout. “In fact, the very blog posts Your Excellency will later criticize were written with this very purpose in mind.”
The Wednesday suspension from ministry and Thursday trespass order are the apex of tension for two men who crossed paths uneventfully in D.C. nearly two decades ago.
White, who grew up in Northwest D.C., began his blog in 2008 and posted apparently without controversy until 2018, after the McCarrick scandal broke.
The revelations “completely threw me and changed my point of view on everything,” White told The Post. “All the outstanding cases, that victims weren’t accommodated, cases were shelved and treated as statistics — it all started to dawn on me.”
In a letter to the Richmond Diocese in July 2018, Knestout laid out the time the two men worked together and wrote that while he was in D.C., “I can tell you I was not approached by anyone with any allegations or evidence of sexual harassment or abuse involving the Cardinal.”
In the fall of 2019, Knestout ordered White to stop blogging or he would be suspended. In late November, White shut down the site.
The two men met twice about the conflict, White says — in November and February — but no agreement was reached. White says the bishop would not be specific about what posts were problematic and in what way. Knestout responded through his spokeswoman, Deborah Cox, who pointed The Post to some of White’s posts most confrontational and critical of church leadership.
Once the coronavirus shutdown began, White appealed to reopen his blog as a way to communicate with the parishioners he could no longer see. He says Knestout was unresponsive, and the bishop says his efforts to communicate with White were rebuffed. Without explicit permission, White restarted the blog.
Tensions continued, and in March the bishop wrote the letter to parishioners explaining his displeasure with his priest.
“From the beginning it has been my desire that Father White’s ministry in the diocese would be fruitful and effective, and that he provide that ministry as a happy and healthy priest. … This ministry is needed even more during a time of distress for so many of our people.”
In April, Knestout announced he was transferring White to prison ministry, but White has refused to leave.
Last week Knestout announced he was suspending the priest’s permission to operate his ministry in the diocese and sent White a trespass warning. Cox would not say explicitly why, calling it a personnel issue, but Podhajsky said it was because White had not moved to his new assignment.
Irma Harrison, second vice chair of the parish council at St. Joseph, said the parishes are strongly behind White. With the pandemic keeping them apart and Mass suspended, the removal of the priest to the communities is “devastating,” she said.
“Father Mark is a good pastor, a good man, and the bishop is not being adult about this,” she said. Of the pastor’s blog posts, she said he “was just speaking truth about the lack of transparency about sexual abuse, and he stepped on a few toes.”
That wasn’t what I expected to hear yesterday. Sure, I knew that there was a possibility that it might happen, but I didn’t expect it.
The only word I can think of to explain how I feel is numb. I’m not angry, upset, happy… just numb.
I have already been contacted by other survivors, and they are shocked and upset. I understand this. They were abused by people with status and power. The abuses were covered up by the Church, and then we had a Royal Commission during which complainants bared their souls.
But nothing changed for them. Yes, some laws were put into place to protect children today and in the future, but nothing changed for complainants. They wanted offenders to be held accountable. They wanted the institutions that covered up transgressions and allowed them to continue to be punished. They wanted justice.
When Pell was first charged, things changed in my hometown of Ballarat, where he was a priest. Half of the people were angry and wanted to see him imprisoned. Many had heard stories and were glad that something was being done. The other half were upset that he had been charged, and blamed complainants, calling them liars.
This was a tough time. It was funny to see the supposedly religious people hurling abuse at us. I was abused at the supermarket, from the windows of cars driving by, in anonymous notes left in the letterbox, and by email and on Facebook. I had to go to the police — they investigated Facebook posts and pages set up to defame me and others. In town, ribbons showing support for survivors were regularly cut down. And as the trial went further on these things did not stop, and still haven’t.
I can assure you that I did not venture outside yesterday.
Yesterday, the High Court said that the jury, judge and appeal judges all “failed to engage with whether… it was reasonably possible that [the complainant’s] account was not correct, such that there was a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt”.
When it’s one person’s word against another, there will always be the possibility that the incident didn’t happen. That’s why it’s in court. While we cannot be certain, I am fairly sure that the jury would have considered that the abuse may not have happened — but obviously they must have thought the evidence of the victim was more likely.
But Pell walks free.
The court is not about justice. It’s about legal procedure. Innocence and guilt are not the end objective — only what can be proven to the standard demanded by the court: beyond reasonable doubt. In cases of sexual abuse without a confession or physical evidence, this standard is nearly impossible to meet.
And this case will make it even harder. There will be fewer cases that make it to court — let alone ones that result in convictions.
All this decision means is that the prosecution couldn’t prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. There are still lots of questions around what Pell knew while children were being abused in Ballarat and when he knew it — matters that were investigated by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Because of his pending criminal trial at the time, the Royal Commission redacted anything to do with Pell in its 2017 report.
Pell claimed he didn’t know why Gerald Ridsdale, one of the most notorious paedophiles in the country, was moved from parish to parish by Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, the head of the Diocese of Ballarat in the 80s. The Royal Commission rejected that claim, insisting that Pell had to have known — he was one of Mulkearns’ consultors. But there was no evidence to prove it.
Editor’s Note: Last autumn, Alexis Record and Tom Rastrelli appeared together in one of many blog posts here that commemorated The Clergy Project’s 1000 Member Milestone. I thought they were a good example of the variety of religious backgrounds that people who leave religion come from. Now they are back together in what I think is even a more interesting way – a former fundamentalist reviewing the memoir of a former Catholic priest. /Linda LaScola, Editor
First, with permission from the publisher, Alexis starts with excerpts from the prologue:
The Church needed something new. In January, the Boston Globe had exposed Cardinal Bernard Francis Law for covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests. As the months before my ordination passed, a mounting number of bishops fell in shame. I doubted my calling. But the Church was different in Dubuque. My archbishop hadn’t harbored pedophiles. He’d turned them over to the police. He’d offered their victims support and healing. I would do the same.
After the archbishop completed the prayer, a priest lifted the deacon’s stole from my shoulder and replaced it with a priest’s stole. Over my head, he lowered a chasuble with gold-and-blue embroidery matching the archbishop’s. I crossed from the center of the sanctuary to the cathedra, the ornately carved oak throne where the archbishop sat. I knelt before him. From a crystal pitcher, he poured syrupy chrism–holy oil scented with balsam–over my upturned hands. Pressing his palms against mine, the archbishop smeared large crosses as he prayed: “The Father anointed Our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” He folded his glistening hands around mine. His dark eyes were absolution. I would sacrifice myself for him, for God.
Hands dripping with chrism, I stood, turned, and walked to my spot at the foot of the altar. I glanced at the front row into my parents’ eyes. They were crying, grinning. I smiled through tears. I was a priest.
Less than two years later, I turned my back on the archbishop. This time, I held my tears. I rushed from his office into February’s darkness. The frigid night air burned my cheeks. In the corner of the icy parking lot, my black pickup offered refuge. My only private space, it was where I retreated to sing, talk on my phone, and cry–all the things a young priest didn’t want his pastor or cleaning lady to witness. I drove through blocks of Catholic neighborhoods, people who trusted the archbishop. Now, I had to obey his command by covering up sexual abuse.
On the north end of town, a boat ramp would provide easy access to the frozen Mississippi. My plan: drive until the ice buckled under the weight of the truck.
Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary
By Alexis Record
For half a decade now I have been a Free Hugs Mom at our local Pride parade with Sunday Assembly San Diego. I become everyone’s mom despite age differences and embrace hundreds of people while making sure they’re drinking water and wearing sunscreen in the summer sun, you know, Mom concerns. Most importantly of all, I tell folks I’m proud of them. Most laugh or smile at my apron, some cry, and a few collapse into my arms as if a stranger’s acceptance might squeeze their fractured parts into some semblance of wholeness. As our group discussed doing an emotionally exhausting two-day Pride event this year, I was still recovering from finishing my tear-stained advanced copy of Tom Rastrelli’s book, Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary. It solidified my resolve to love on those kids.
Recently it felt as if an additional child was in my home: young Tom Rastrelli. I poured my love and support into him as he navigated pure hell. “Oh baby,” I’d tell him as he doubled down on homophobic lessons and planted deeper roots into his own victimization, like a vulnerable plant choosing the darkest corner where growth was promised.
What makes Rastrelli’s story so compelling are his flourishes of detail. His experiences are incredibly visceral–a real strength of his writing–which in turn make the abuses he suffered that much more excruciating. Each page is pure beauty and heartbreak. I found myself unable to put it down, needing to know what happens next. Needing to know Tom would be okay.
Rastrelli excavates the darker parts of his theology and clerical experiences without being anti-Catholic. In fact, I was struck with the humanity of his fellow seminarians and priests. The religious boy’s club included drinking, swearing, smoking, sexism, and jokes about pedophilia as the topic of the day which would not look out of place among a group of men in any other part of society. These boys grow through spiritual practice into priests. They are portrayed with a fair hand, not as monsters, but as loving servants of congregants who become unwitting facilitators of abusive and inhumane doctrines. They encouraged counseling, but not from women who pointed out sexism within the system. They practiced forgiveness, but used it to sweep grievous abuses under the rug. They offered real friendship, but caused their friends to hate their sexualities. They were real people, good people, doing the best they could with the tools they had. It made me want to take my local priest out to coffee to see how he’s holding up.
I’ve never been Catholic. The closest I’ve come is years ago working as a priest’s sign language interpreter during Mass. I outed myself as protestant by signing each word of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” instead of crossing myself and as a result wasn’t asked back. Yet, I did not need to be completely familiar with all aspects of Catholic tradition to follow this story. Any conservative Christian will recognize, as I did, the strong desire to be lost in God’s presence, the pressure to cover up for the sins of godly men, and the deep self loathing after every masturbatory orgasm.
Rastrelli takes the reader on a unique journey most of the faithful never see. Like many of the other wide-eyed liberal students who loved the Church, he set out to affect change from within it only to be gradually and incessantly chiseled into the very shape of those hard beliefs he did not think reflected Christ. Seminarians during this process swallowed larger and larger boluses of cognitive dissonance until they were either consumed from within or vomited out of God’s presence. They were told not to make waves and not to confuse the faithful with their own doubts about the system. It was amazing to me just how so many good people became unwilling participants in facilitating horrific evils. Offering a holy profession for homosexual men who would never be allowed to have sex within the confines of that system and then laying all the blame for child predation upon the gays is just one of those evils.
The brutal parts of this story include the author’s homophobia recounted from his early years and directed selfward like a knife at his own throat, the sexual abuse the reader voyeuristically shares, and, almost worse, the excusing and minimizing of that abuse by the very men supposedly speaking and acting for God himself. Worshipping a tortured savior meant suffering throughout the story was almost always mistaken for love. Oh baby.
Silent no longer, Tom Rastrelli bravely reopens wounds and lays bare scars for all to see. His memoir is a breathtaking, priceless treasure–a bright light in the darkness. I’m proud to recommend it to believers and unbelievers alike. For victims of abuse, I suggest being gentle with yourself while reading. Also, drink some water, wear your sunblock, and avoid hazardous religious systems.
Confessions will be available April, 2020. Preorders available now, from Amazon.
A well-known County Mayo priest who is an outspoken critic of same-sex marriage and labelled himself as a “beholder of all moral virtues” has been arrested due to the inappropriate contents of his laptop hard drive.
Police confirmed today to Meanwhile in Ireland that Father Doyle (63) was caught by peers watching illicit content on his laptop, who then informed the police of the priest’s questionable conduct.
Father Doyle remains in police custody and is facing charges of holding, viewing and distributing illegal content. State prosecutors remain confident of securing a conviction, with the judge presiding over the case said to have an aversion “for them slimy b***ards”.
Opposition to same-sex marriage
Father Doyle first shot to national prominence during the 2015 referendum on whether or not to legalise same-sex marriage in Ireland. The Mayo man had signalled from the start his opposition to the move.
Father Doyle labelled the idea of same-sex marriage as an “affront to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ” and that it would be “the most immoral sin our nation has committed since we legalised divorce”.
He campaigned vigorously across the country, moving from parish to parish, and spouting homophobic after homophobic comments after another. He could be heard hissing “Those gays” when in the presence of a homosexual couple.
Directions to his clergy
Speaking to his clergy in a speech that was aired live on social media, the priest rolled back the centuries with his homophobic rhetoric. In no uncertain terms, Father Doyle forbade his clergy vote in favour of the move.
“Do not dare any one of you vote “Yes” to ‘marriage equality’. Saying the term makes my skin wrinkle. What right-thinking Christian would think they deserve equality in our churches? We are only men and women of a strong moral compass.
“As good Christians, we have a duty to live by the Bible and its teachings. Now, it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that gay people cannot marry. But you can ignore that part, cause I said so.”
Father Doyle was close to quitting the priesthood after Ireland voted overwhelmingly to legalise same-sex marriage, in a vote that was widely accepted across society. Ireland had “lost all moral right of speech” Father Doyle proclaimed after the results.
Father Doyle exposed
However, in a radical turn of events, Father Doyle soon hit the national screens again, but this time he was in handcuffs en route to the Gardaí police station after his phone, laptop and other personal belongings were seized for inspection.
Child pornography, amongst a range of other disturbing content, was found by police on his phone and laptop. It is not worth putting into words what else was found on the devices, but it is believed messages of support to disgraced fellow priests were saved on his documents.
Not so moral anymore
Meanwhile in Ireland have since learned that Father Doyle no longer claims to be “holier than thou” and has admitted that all of his moral rhetoric was a false pretence to cover up his actions. It may not be the last time we report this.