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Spotlight Report

Priest lauded for 1985 report on abuse

Urged the church to intervene, but study was rebuffed

By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff, 1/26/2003

The report was thorough - almost 100 pages - and its conclusions were stunning: Crisis intervention should begin across the country to stop the damage being done by child-abusing priests.

Produced almost 20 years ago by the Rev. Thomas Doyle, then a canon lawyer at the Vatican's Washington embassy, and two colleagues, the report was ignored by Catholic leaders. Doyle lost his Vatican position, and came to believe that reform would not happen in his lifetime.

Yesterday, though, after a year of mounting outrage at decades of abuse that was kept secret and mounting evidence of accused priests who were reassigned, a year in which hundreds of priests were ousted or resigned, Doyle was honored by the church whose crisis he predicted.

Now 58 and an Air Force chaplain in Germany, Doyle received the 2003 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice during evening Mass yesterday at Boston's Paulist Center, for his "unwavering efforts to bring justice to victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse," said Donna Stiglmeier, pastoral minister at the center.

The award, given to a North American Catholic who has worked for peace and justice, has previously honored labor leaders Cesar Chavez and Dorothy Day, and death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean.

At a news conference in the library of the Park Street center, Doyle said public speaking usually gets him in trouble. He compared the current crisis to the Inquisition, when thousands were persecuted.

"The church left these people behind, and when they were down, it kicked them," he said. "I don't think the careers and perks that go along with the hierarchy are worth the life of one survivor."

This morning, Doyle plans to march outside St. Joseph's Cathedral in Manchester, N.H., with abuse victims and leaders of their movement, at the state's first large public gathering of survivor advocates. Bishop John McCormack, leader of the Manchester Diocese, has been under pressure to resign since disclosures that, as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in the 1990s, he helped move priests accused of abuse from church to church without informing parishioners.

Rather than walking away from the sex abuse issue in the 1980s when his report spurred no action, Doyle spent years working with victims and their families, accused priests, and bishops. He helped found the abuse survivors group The Link Up 10 years ago in Chicago, and has helped develop church policies for dealing with abuse.

His choices "cost him personally," Stiglmeier said. "He traded hierarchical power for the power that comes with solidarity with people in need."

"He was prophetic in identifying the problem, and in recommending a responsible course of action back in 1985, which was ignored by bishops at their peril," said Anne Barrett Doyle, a founder of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors.

A Wisconsin native ordained as a priest in the Dominican order in 1970, Doyle holds a pontifical doctorate in canon law from Catholic University and five master's degrees. He has been an expert witness in about 200 clergy sex abuse cases.

He is motivated, he said, by his relationships with victims, "sitting and listening and feeling their hopelessness."

Law, along with other influential bishops, initially supported Doyle's 1980s study. But when its recommendations were unveiled, suggesting changes in priest education and supervision, and even church culture, that door was shut, Doyle said, and church leaders said the report was written to make money for its authors. "That got me angry," he said.

Doyle has said that the release of damning church documents, long kept secret, distinguished the recent scandal from those of the 1980s and 1990s, beginning "a process that I thought I would never live to see, the rather quick awakening of the laity and the rapid shattering of the wall of denial."

Catholic lay people played the role of "enablers" too long, he said, giving money to the church despite their concerns. Calling himself a pragmatist who doesn't expect an "idealized" church to arise from the crisis, Doyle said he is nonetheless encouraged by the loud demands of lay people.

"No matter how loyal you are, you can only take so much pain when it comes to your children," he said.

Last summer, Doyle received the "Priest of Integrity" award from the lay Catholics' group Voice of the Faithful.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 1/26/2003.
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